Planning a Trip to Nashville
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Nashville is one of my top tourism destinations, and it just might be my favourite city in America. I’ve visited five times on both business and pleasure, and always come away wanting more. From music to attractions to food, Nashville has a lot to offer. If you’re planning to visit Nashville anytime soon, here are my top picks for things to do.
There’s so much to do in Nashville that I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to activities in this exciting town. Aside from the attractions listed below, there are museums, pro football and hockey teams, and a thriving arts community. These are just a few of the many places I've enjoyed.
When in Nashville, this is the place to start your country music education. The permanent collection includes original instruments from country’s earliest influencers, several old-timey costumes from the 50s & 60s and Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac, complete with TV and gold-plated phone. The museum has rotating special exhibits as well, featuring specific artists and eras. Surprisingly, the gift shop is a good place to buy vinyl LPs at a reasonable price. 222 5th Avenue S
[By the way, if you're in the market for a good country music guitar, check out this article on Beginner Guitar HQ. It's an excellent overview of the best options on the market for making country music.]
When you’re done at the Hall of Fame, take a quick stroll to the adjoining Hatch Show Print Shop. As soon as you head into the shop you’ll recognize the iconic typeface that has graced so many concert posters over the years. If you’re a fan of art and design, you might find yourself spending more time here than expected. And souvenirs are pretty much mandatory. 224 5th Avenue S
If you're in Tennessee, it’s a must to learn how iconic Tennessee Whiskey is made. If you don’t have time to get to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, be sure to check out Nelson’s right in the heart of Nashville. The brief tour explains the fascinating family history behind the distillery and walks you through the distilling process. The tasting at the end is worth the price of admission alone. There’s some interesting shopping in the adjoining Marathon building that’s also worth checking out. 1414 Clinton Street
Belle Meade is a classic southern estate complete with antebellum mansion, guest houses and stables. The tour provides an interesting look at the history of the American south and the role slavery played in the lives of so many. Interestingly, it was one of the slaves who played a key role in saving the bloodline of some of the greatest racehorses the world has ever known. 110 Leake Avenue
I didn’t know much about the American Civil War prior to visiting Carnton. Now, I feel like I’ve had an intimate look into the life of one family whose entire existence was thrown into turmoil as a battle raged just outside their home. It’s a beautiful spot, but the hundreds of tombstones in the cemetery are a reminder of the blood that was shed here. 1345 Eastern Flank Circle, Franklin
It's not often that a hotel is also a tourist site. But the Opryland Hotel is a massive indoor property that is worth visiting if you have a few hours to kill on a rainy day. Restaurants, shops, waterfalls and lush garden pathways are all part of the appeal of this place. It’s situated right between the Grand Ole Opry and Opry Mills shopping outlets so you can make a day of it if you’re in the area. 2800 Opryland Drive
Insider Tip: Consider this a word of warning: parking in downtown Nashville is expensive. Very expensive. Especially in the evenings when the lot you paid $9.00 for in the morning suddenly jumps to $22 for a night out on the town. If you’re staying not too far from the downtown core, it’s cheaper to take an Uber than pay for parking. Park wisely my friends.
Nashville’s nickname, ‘Music City’, is spot-on. As a visitor, it quickly becomes obvious that this is the epicenter of country music and its storied history. From the bars on Broadway to the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville lives and breathes music.
The ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ is perhaps the most famous of all the music venues in Nashville. If there aren’t any shows scheduled while you’re in the city, a self-guided tour is also available during the day. It's expensive - especially for walking on your own through an old building. There's no denying though, that this place has a magical feel about it. 116 5th Avenue N
A trip to the Opry is a must. Whether at its current location or at the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry has been hosting shows continuously since 1925. You’re likely to see a combination of established artists, up-and-coming performers, and some legacy acts that were big a generation ago. Virtually every performance sells out so buy your tickets well in advance of your trip. 2804 Opryland Drive
Virtually any guide to Nashville will recommend a visit to the Bluebird Café, a long-established venue to hear songwriters and recording artists play in an intimate setting. But tickets are very hard to come by. Instead, I’d suggest a visit to the Listening Room. It’s the same concept – three or four songwriters playing in a round to an appreciative audience. The night we were there the artists were outstanding. 618 4th Avenue S
While it’s filled with history, Music Row is mostly just a collection of office buildings for various recording labels. There are quite a few limousines driving around, so you never know who you might see if celebrity spotting is your thing. One important note: if you want to visit the historic RCA Studio B where Elvis and many others recorded, you can only do that with a combo ticket from the Country Music Hall of Fame. There is no single ticket entry.
Even if you’re not a fan of Jack White, it’s worth the short walk to his record store & recording studio just a couple blocks away from Broadway. The whole shop feels like a cabinet of curiosities infused with White’s unique take on the music world. While there, you need to check out the exclusive selection of ‘live from the floor’ recordings by established and up-and-coming artists that have been produced on-site. 623 7th Avenue S
Musician Ernest Tubb opened this store in 1947 because he couldn’t find anywhere to buy country music recordings. The store's been in business ever since. While you’re on Broadway, it’s worth a quick visit but be prepared to pay top-dollar for vinyl or CDs. Say hi, have a look around, grab a souvenir, but buy your music somewhere else. 417 Broadway
This is the place to buy your vinyl. If, like me, you live somewhere where country music is an afterthought, save up your nickels for a trip to Grimey’s. They have lots of other music as well, but it was the selection of country albums - often at better prices than Amazon - that were the highlight for me. 1060 East Trinity Lane
Insider Tip: When you arrive in downtown Nashville, the first place you’ll land is Broadway. This famous street filled with bars, honky tonks, restaurants and gift shops is a tourist trap to be sure, but one you’ll be glad to get caught in at least once. With music pouring out of every window along the strip, pick a couple of bands you like the sound of and go inside to listen rather than staying out on the sidewalk. There are no cover charges so it’s easy to bounce from one spot to the next. Be sure to bring some small bills with you; the bands will pass around a tip jar - and musicians need to make a living.
I’ll admit it. I’m biased when it comes to recommending restaurants in Nashville. I’m a huge fan of southern cooking so anywhere that knows how to prepare fresh biscuits and grits is probably going to get a thumbs up from me. Here are a few favourites.
The Loveless is my favourite place to experience a down home southern meal. Biscuits, grits, fried okra, creamed corn, fried chicken, ribs…it’s all here. In addition to the great food and fantastic staff, there are a few shops on the grounds to buy souvenirs or take-home food items like syrup and barbecue sauce. 8400 Hwy 100
Voted best breakfast in Nashville, I like to think that this little diner is filled with locals and only insiders know about its existence. That’s probably not true. Either way, this is a great spot to have breakfast before heading off for the day. Good food. Big portions. And friendly staff. It's in East Nashville which has a cool, indie vibe. Spend a little time exploring while you're in the neighbourhood. 805 Gallatin Avenue
A traditional meat & three, Dandgure’s is a great place to have a meal with Nashvillians on their lunch break. The food is served cafeteria style by a contingent of friendly faces in white aprons. Choose your meat, add three side dishes, then cap it off with a sweet tea. I was most impressed by the diversity of diners. Old African-American men sat side-by-side with blue-haired teens and businesspeople in their suits and ties. I definitely felt like a local. 538 Lafayette Street
This is a perfect spot for breakfast or brunch. Be prepared for long lineups – especially on the weekend – but it is so worth it for the huge selection of pancake options on the menu (other food items are available too). My favourite is the pecan pancake with whipped butter and warm maple syrup. The surrounding neighbourhood of Hillsboro is worth exploring for some boutique shopping while you’re there. 1796 21st Avenue S
Woolworth's was the location of a number of lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960’s civil rights movement, making this more than just a place for dinner. The historic site feels a bit like a museum and has been fully restored with several of the original fixtures. The menu features classic southern dishes that are tasty, if a little overpriced. The servers are amazing. 221 5th Avenue N
The first time I visited this Tex-Mex restaurant in the heart of downtown, I thought it was an amazing spot to chow down on some delicious tacos. The second time, I was thoroughly unimpressed. The food was still delicious, but the music was so loud it made conversation impossible and the wait staff was miserable. Proceed with caution. 201 3rd Avenue S
If you have your heart set on a Tex-Mex meal but don’t want the loud atmosphere and high prices of Bakersfield, this little taqueria attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame is perfect. The food is delicious and the WIFI is free. 216 5th Avenue S
It seems like every city has a few specialty coffee shops for those who want something more unique than Starbucks or Tim Hortons. Nashville is no different. When you need a break to plan your next stop, or just want to put your feet up for a while, I’d recommend Bongo Java, Frothy Monkey or Farm City Coffee. All three have a wide selection of high-end drinks with a few interesting twists as well.
Insider Tip: Nashville Hot Chicken is quickly becoming popular across North America. The deep-fried chicken, rolled in a blend of peppery spices with pickles on top, is available on many menus in the city. If you're looking for the authentic experience though, you'll want to try some of the smaller shacks where the dish is the main feature. I've not been to any of these (yet!) but they come highly recommended: Pepperfire Hot Chicken, Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish, Hattie B's Hot Chicken and the originator of the dish, Prince's Hot Chicken.
For shopping, take a drive to Franklin, about 30 minutes south of Nashville. The busy main street is packed with interesting shops and restaurants, with everything from high-end house & home boutiques to funky stationery stores and ice cream shops.
On your way to the Loveless Café, take a drive along a portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway that runs between Nashville and the Mississippi River. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the area is along this route. The view from the Natchez Trace Bridge is spectacular.
If you have time, drive over to Gatlinburg and spend a day or two at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. Although it has the distinct feel of a tourist town, just on the outskirts you can go horseback riding in the mountains or drive the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Loop. Or check out Ripley’s Aquarium while you’re in town. There’s also a Pancake Panty here and some excellent side-of-the-road barbecue places that are outstanding.
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Nashville, you're guaranteed to have a blast in this friendly, exciting city.