Nashville is like a middle school cafeteria. You’ve got your hipsters on one side, your pep crew on the other, and everything else in between. It’s home to several colleges, three of which define the city: Belmont University (home of the hipsters and musicians), Vanderbilt University (home of preppy doctors and lawyers), and Lipscomb (home of the Christians). Plus, there’s “Nashvegas” – a word used to describe the main strip more commonly known as Broadway.
Anyone can benefit from a trip to Nashville. Take your pick – explore the coffee shops and taco restaurants, take tours of every museum in town, hike through every park or visit every bar.
For some of the coolest places to stay in Nashville, click here!
BEST NASHVILLE BARS
Rippy’s – This corner bar is sticky, gross, loud, and makes a damn good pulled pork for you to fill up on while you’re downing beers. Like every other bar on Broadway, there are different bands playing with different atmospheres on every floor – take your pick!
Honky Tonk Central – Another corner bar, Honky Tonk is about as touristy as it gets. You’ll pay $12 for a small plastic cup of something strong, and you’ll go deaf from crowding around the band.
Tootsies – You’re pretty much required to stop at Tootsies when you’re in Nashville. Classic country artists like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson used to stop in there. A few years ago, Keith Urban randomly played there. So, I’d add it to your list just in case.
The Wild Horse Saloon – Did you come to my city to line dance? Wild Horse is the place to go. There is always someone standing in front of the stage up front showing everyone how to line dance to whatever song the live band is playing. It’s lots of fun!
The Row – This place is really fun and it’s not in the heart of Broadway, so you can get away from that craziness. Also, if you’re in town because you’re trying to be the next Garth or Carrie, The Row hosts a great, comfortable open-mic night. They also advertise a great breakfast(M-F only), but I’ve never tried it…I can tell you that they make a mean burger (though if a burger is what you desire, scroll down to my section on burgers because Nashville has a lot to offer in that department).
The Country – I wanted to make sure this one was on the list because I just found out about it like a week ago and it’s a hidden gem. It’s off West End, which is a major street that eventually turns into Broadway. But it’s unsuspecting because it’s shielded by a McDonald’s. Oh 2016. Oh America. It’s one to hit if you’re looking for a writer’s round. You’ll find a lot of Belmont University students playing there, but don’t let the “students” part fool you – there’s a lot of talent. Like, a lot.
The Listening Room – Here you’ll find a healthy mix of professional songwriters and wannabes. Check the calendar before you go because sometimes they host invite or RSVP only nights. Also get the nachos.
The Bluebird – SO full of history and talent. The sad thing is, it’s become more known for it’s role in the TV show Nashville than for the brilliant writers that play there every night. Make a reservation way in advance. You’ll probably still have to wait in line, but at least you’ll be able to say you went and saw one of the guys that wrote “The House That Built Me” singing it himself.
THINGS TO DO
Downtown Shopping – In your walk down Broadway you will pass at least three boot stores. You’re going to think the “buy one pair get two free” deal is too good to be true. It’s true, but remember you aren’t buying ultimate hand-made real leather thousand dollar boots. They’re probably $60 faux leather that you’re spending $200 on and you’ll only wear them once. Pro tip: 99% of Nashville residents do not actually wear cowboy boots and I’m willing to bet 50% or more don’t even own any. Some of the downtown gift shops are pretty cool too, and I recommend stopping in the record store.
Music Row & RCA Studio B – You can drive yourself down MusicRow (16th & 17th Ave) and look at all the little houses that are actually publishers, managers, record companies, and studios, or you can take a bus tour around Nashville and learn about Music Row’s history. It’s literally a row of music companies. I 10/10 recommend touring RCA Studio B because the best of the best recorded there, and it’s amazing just to stand there.
Ryman Auditorium – When booking your trip to Nashville, check The Ryman schedule and see if there’s a cool concert going on. Almost every concert at “The Mother Church” is a cool concert. Putting the history of it aside, the acoustics are amazing!
Bridgestone Arena – If you’re into the sport thing, Predators games are fun. You can also go to a Titans game at Nissan Stadium (previously LP Field…I’m still getting used to that) but considering that for some weird reason Nashville is better at Hockey than football, I recommend a Preds game. The Bridgestone is also your basic concert arena and major artists perform there all the time.
Country Music Hall of Fame – This is a great experience even if you’re not a country music fan because no matter what music you listen to, Elvis’ car is a freaking awesome thing to see. You can take an audio tour or just wander around yourself. P.S. – bring your own earphones so you don’t have to share with millions of other people (lol). Also, sometimes songwriters perform there and they have fun little events, so check out the schedule. ALSO, there are Studio B tours that leave from the hall of fame. That’s a good way to do it – knock out all the music history stuff in one shot.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center / Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC)- Even if you’re not a big classical music person, Nashville’s orchestra often does fun little things like Pixar tribute concerts. It’s worth checking out the schedule. Also, it’s a beautiful venue. If you’re more into musical theater, TPAC always has something going on.
Frist Center For Visual Arts – If you’re more into visual art than music, this is the place for you. The building is fairly new; they opened in 2001. They have a wide variety of exhibits, and it’s free for students on Thursday and Friday nights.
Johnny Cash Museum – If the country hall of fame wasn’t enough for you, you can stop by the Cash museum. It’s small, so you don’t have to plan your day around it and it’s downtown where everything else is. It’s also near the pedestrian bridge which provides an absolutely gorgeous view of Nashville and the polluted Cumberland River (kidding…it’s not that bad…I lived near the Hudson in NYC for awhile there).
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park – As you may have learned in middle school, Tennessee played an important role in the Civil War and the foundation of our country. Bicentennial includes a timeline of the history of Nashville. I wish every city had this; you won’t want to read the entire thing but I like to walk along the wall and stop once in awhile to read about a certain time period. Plus, I love that it includes the development of Belmont (my school). This is also near the Nashville Farmer’s Market which is larger than you’d expect, so it might be worth taking a walk through if you’re into that sort of thing.
Opryland – If you’re a country music fan, it’s almost a law that you have to visit the Grand Ole Opry. You can pick up some concert tickets, or you can stop in and take the tour during the day! You can also visit the Opry Mills mall, which is huge and wonderful. They have all your basics covered – Victoria’s Secret, Saks Off 5th, like 10 different shoe stores, Nike, etc. They also have a gift shop or two in there if you’re looking for a souvenir. What you HAVE to do is check out the Opry hotel. You don’t have to be staying there to walk through the lobby and admire it. It is always seasonally decorated. Just be sure to park for free at the mall and walk over, or get your parking validated by one of the restaurants inside. Bellmeade Mansion – In the 19th century, the Bellmeade Plantation was a breeding ground for race horses. My mom and I visited a few weeks ago and LOVED the tour. They take you through the house itself, where you’ll learn about the family and their business with horses, including the original horse Bonnie Scotland, who bred and led to famous horses like Secretariat.
Hermitage – Hermitage is the land and home that former President Andrew Jackson once lived in. The land is huge, and so is the tour. It’s breathtaking. I’m usually not a fan of audio tours, but this is a great one. Even if you just wander the land without taking the tour, it’s so beautiful. Andrew Jackson’s story is fascinating, though…if you don’t know much about him, now is a good time to learn.
Two Old Hippies – This indie clothing and music store has a small stage in the back. You just might be lucky enough to hear some of Nashville’s best raw talent playing while you shop! Plus, the building is in one of the trendiest neighborhoods – The Gulch! While you’re there, grab a burger and a boozy milkshake at Burger Republic.
Mckay’s – This is what I imagine heaven looks like. It’s a giant warehouse (wait for it) filled wall to wall with used books, music, movies, video games, and more. There are even a few book cases filled with scratched CDs that go for mere pennies. I’ve gotten some real gems for 19 cents! You can also really build up your vinyl record collection from McKay’s…and other area record shops like Grimey’s, which I also recommend checking out. Us Nashvillians love our vinyl.
J. Percy Priest Dam, Lake & Park – Tennessee notoriously has a weird amount of parks, and I love it. Percy Priest is one of my favorites, mostly because I hadn’t seen a working dam before coming to Nashville. That’s something to see. I even filmed a parody of “Uptown Funk” called “Upriver Flow” in front of it for my History of the Wild West class. You will not be seeing that video. It’s a small park, but I think the dam is a cool thing to see if you’ve never seen one.
Edwin & Percy Warner Park – If you’re looking for somewhere to have a picnic or go for a run, this is where you’re going to want to go. It’s also super close to McKay’s Used Book Store, which I’ll address later.
Radnor Lake State Park – If you’re like me and you prefer hiking to running, Radnor is where you’re going to want to go. The trails aren’t exactly difficult, so if you’re an expert hiker you might think it’s small, but the woods are beautiful and laced with small creeks. You also might see deer and/or wild turkeys.
The Parthenon and Centennial Park – Centennial includes a life-size model of the Parthenon (you know, that big thing in Greece?). You can check out the museum inside and see the statue of Athena. Centennial also has things like town tennis courts and a pool, and it’s home to Live on the Green, a FREE yearly music festival at the end of the summer hosted by Nashville’s indie radio station, Lightning 100.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens – Because every major city needs an arboretum, this is ours. It’s beautiful, naturally, and the holiday lights are a must-see, if you happen to be in town at the right time.
As a resident, whenever family and friends ask me where they need to go in Nashville, food is always the first thing that comes to my mind. Honestly, there is a LOT to do in Nashville, but there are even more restaurants that you don’t want to miss. Here are my favorites.
Puckett’s – This is your stereotypical and delicious southern restaurant. Now you can go for dinner and enjoy live music just like at every other place in downtown Nashville, or you can go for breakfast. Yum. Southern breakfast. It’s like a fancier Cracker Barrel. If you’re physically young or pretend to be you can even order a Mickey Mouse shaped pancake – though I haven’t figured out how they can get away with that considering that the character is copyrighted.
all the Tacos:
Taqueria Del Sol – While not unique to Nashville, they only exist in TN and GA, so now is as good of a time as ever to try it out. They have a small menu but don’t complain about it because you literally cannot pick wrong. I love the fried chicken tacos because you can’t find that anywhere else, and their queso is delicious. One thing I love about this place is that the owner/manager (I’m not sure which) is always walking around, it makes it feel very mom-and-pop even though it’s really not.
Taco Mamacita – My absolute favorite restaurant in Nashville. They also have locations in Chattanooga and SC. Again, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, just make sure you ask for no spice if you’re not into that because almost everything has it. I’m going to say the queso is delicious again, but I will probably always say that because I love queso. They have a combo where you can get two tacos (feel free to mix and match) and a side for $8.99. You may think you don’t need a side, but this deal is like getting it for free, and the Mexican street corn is my favorite food in the entire world. That’s an exaggeration. I think. I don’t know. My favorite taco they have is the loaded gyro, but I enjoy all of them.
Nashville Hot Chicken:
Hattie B’s – They literally only serve hot chicken. The line will be out the door and around the corner but you absolutely will not regret waiting.
McDougals – The walls are packed to the max with license plates and the outdoor environment is great in the summer. They only serve chicken, just choose the sauces you want.
Martin’s – The best BBQ in Nashville, in my humble opinion. Try the Alabama White Sauce, pulled pork, brisket, or anything else on the menu. Super casual and sticky environment (how any good bbq place should be).
Edley’s – A little nicer than Martin’s in terms of the interior – it’s more like a sports bar that serves barbecue. I think the location is the best part about this place. It’s on 12 south, among several other restaurants including Las Paletas which you 100% need to hit afterwards for desert. They have 20 or so popsicle flavors to choose from and their menu is constantly changing.
Burger Up – Get the lamb burger. Add truffle fries.
The Pharmacy – Not a drug store. You’ll wait an hour for your table but then you won’t want to leave until you’ve tried everything on the menu.
I mean this in the nicest way possible when I say all of these are almost exactly alike. Bongo and Fido are owned by the same company. The look (slightly) different on the inside and have (slightly) different menus, but they all stem from the same basic idea: good coffee and a law that states you have to be a hipster (or at the very least, wish you were) to work there. There are more, but these are my favorites.
- Bongo Java (Belmont Blvd.)
- Fido (Hillsboro Village)
- Frothy Monkey (12 South)
- Edgehill Cafe (Near Music Row)
- Starbucks (Kidding.)
ICE CREAM AND DESSERT:
Mike’s Ice Cream – Another downtown charm. Mike’s is a great place to go post-line dancing at the Wild Horse or laser-taging. The ice cream is great, and they are an easy place to grab a sweet treat in between bars.
Cosmic Creamery – Are ice cream and cereal two of your favorite things? Have you ever tried them together? Now you can, at Cosmic Creamery! This place infuses their ice cream with your favorite sugary cereal flavors for the ultimate dessert.
Pied Piper Creamery – This local East Nashville sweet shop hosts unique and delicious flavors with punny names like, “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margarita,” “Cherry Springer,” and my personal favorite, “Some Like It Hot” (chocolate with cinnamon and cayenne).
Savannah’s Candy Kitchen – A southern candy store chain headquartered in – you guessed it – Savannah, Georgia. They have a Broadway location in Nashville, so it’s worth checking out if you a) don’t do the bar thing, b) have kids, or c) enjoy sugar.
J. Christopher’s – One of the most underrated places in town. Maybe it’s just because I’m a north eastern-er experiencing southern breakfast foods for the first time, but I can’t get enough.
Pancake Pantry – You’ve probably read about this on every travel site. If you don’t want to wait in line for an hour or two, go on a weekday after 11 or a weekend after 1. They don’t stay open past like 3pm, though so be careful. Half the things on the menu are sweeter than you’re going to expect, so be forewarned about that. This is located in the wonderful Hillsboro Village, near Vanderbilt University’s campus.
Find Southern Charm in Franklin
Downtown Nashville is perfect for a crazy Saturday night, but what are your plans for Sunday? You will LOVE driving down to Franklin, TN for a southern brunch, boutique shopping, civil-war era homes and tours, etc.
Just type “Main Street Franklin” into your GPS and look for the signs for the municipal (free) parking garage. Have brunch at Puckett’s, then shop around – find everything from unique clothing items to fresh spices and herbs.