Even on a Sunday night, there is a low thrumming on Broadway in Nashville. This is Music City, after all, and you will find the beating heart of Nashville on Broadway, right in the heart of downtown.
Walking down the street, you will find all assortment of shops, bars, honky-tonks and restaurants. The neon is almost overwhelming but with so many choices, there is no way not to find a sound you like.
If live music isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There’s a plethora of history and culture in this city to enjoy.
That’s Nashville in a nutshell. It’s big enough to have something for every taste and small enough to make it easy to get to.
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What to Do in Nashville
Not only will you find all manner of music on Broadway but you will also find plenty of music history right in downtown.
Johnny Cash Museum
Not going to lie, I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan. There’s just something special about the gravel in his voice. So, for me, the first stop in downtown was at the Johnny Cash Museum.
The museum is not large, but it gives a thorough picture of the Man in Black’s life. The biggest drawback of the museum is the spacing. You’ll wait in line to enter as folks make their way through the first few exhibits.
The majority of this museum’s exhibits were collected by the owner, Bill Miller, and it is extensive. I particularly enjoyed the exhibit on “Hurt,” a Nine Inch Nails cover and one of Cash’s last hits.
“Hurt” is the only song I have ever heard in which I feel a cover is better than the original.
The Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame is a must for any music fan. Here you will find exhibits detailing the birth of country music from Appalachian fiddle music through its various swings in and out of pop music, 70s variants like Outlaw and Armadillo country all the way into modern artists.
The exhibits are interesting if a bit confused in their layout. And while I love some good country music, I was a bit surprised at the complete lack of mention of Jimmy Buffett, John Denver or Lyle Lovett. I know they don’t fit the Nashville mold, but you would be hard pressed to find a country artist who doesn’t know “Margaritaville” or “Take Me Home Country Roads” by heart.
Nudie’s Honky Tonk, Broadway and the Shelby Street Bridge
We stepped into Nudie’s Honky Tonk on Broadway for a drink and to take in this classic bar. Named for Nudie Cohn, the 70s tailor known for his rhinestone inlaid costumes and custom cars adorned with pistols and silver dollars, this bar has plenty of memorabilia and is both a taste of Nashville’s past and a great place to hear some live music. With a rooftop bar and two downstairs stages, there’s plenty of music to go around.
If Nudie’s isn’t your thing, just look around. There are tons of bars with live music all up and down Broadway. We could easily go to a different bar every night and not run out of places to try for weeks.
While you are in downtown, be sure to head over to the Shelby Street Bridge (now called the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge) and walk out over the Cumberland River. It is one of the best places to view the Nashville skyline and it is quite a view.
The Grand Ole Opry
To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about going to the Grand Ole Opry. I kinda had the preconception that it was the stodgy hall of country music, where old acts played into their last years.
I could not have been more wrong.
We went on a random Tuesday night and, low and behold, saw Dustin Lynch be inducted as a member at the Opry by Reba McEntire!
In all seriousness, the show was fantastic. There were several great acts, some I knew, some I didn’t, but all of which kicked butt on stage. We were really impressed. We saw the bluegrass of Dailey & Vincent, the modern country of Walker McGuire, Dustin Lynch and Luke Combs, plus the almost bluesy Elizabeth Cook, and the classic artists Bobby Bare and the Gatlin Brothers.
We waited until the night before, thinking why would it be sold out on a random Tuesday night? Well, it wasn’t sold out, but the only tickets were for the standing section. That said, we didn’t mind standing through the show.
That’s how much we enjoyed it.
History of Nashville
Nashville is chock full of Southern history. It was settled by the Overmountain Men along the Cumberland River and served as an important river port and railroad hub for most of its history.
Belle Meade Plantation
While it is called a plantation, Belle Meade was not the typical cotton or cane plantation one thinks of when you think of a southern plantation.
This plantation got its start as a blacksmith shop south of Nashville along the Natchez Trace. In the coming years, Belle Meade grew into a 5,400-acre thoroughbred horse breeding program with sawmills and gristmills on the side.
As horse racing grew in the US, so did the plantation and the wealth of the owners. It was not until the late 1890s that the plantation fell on hard times and was eventually sold in 1906. One of the horses, Bonnie Scotland, is known as one of the great sires of American thoroughbred racing and his progeny, including Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, went on to win quite a few races.
The property eventually ended up in the hands of the State of Tennessee, which in turn deeded the property to Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, which now operates the property as a museum.
The museum offers various tours of the property, going into the history of the property and highlighting the historic collection, which is mostly original to the house. The association has tracked down countless pieces from the various public auctions to put together a very accurate representation of the interior of the home when the Hardings and Jacksons lived there.
The grounds also host a restaurant and a winery. While the grapes are not grown on the plantation, the winery produces some rather nice wines, including traditional Southern muscadine and blackberry wines. We were particularly impressed with the Carriage House White and the Gentleman’s Blend 2016, a zesty red, and took home a bottle of each.
The Parthenon in Centennial Park is a bit of an oddity. This is a scale reproduction of the Parthenon in Athens, paying homage to Nashville’s nickname “the Athens of the South.” Originally constructed from plaster as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, the building was rebuilt in concrete in the 1920s.
Inside the Parthenon, you will find two levels. The bottom level both tells the story of the building itself and houses a very nice collection of American paintings, mostly in the Impressionist style. I had no idea to expect that and was really impressed by the collection.
Above, you will find a large reproduction of the Athena Parthenos statue. I can’t overstate how impressive the statue is. In particular, pay attention to the shield, both inside and out.
Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage
Located on the east side of Nashville, The Hermitage is what remains of Andrew Jackson’s once massive estate.
The Hermitage has an impressive museum about the life of the 7th president, the last president to have personally known all of his predecessors. The museum does a good job of telling the story of one of the more controversial presidents and does not shy away from Jackson’s ownership of slaves nor his Indian removal policy.
That said, the museum does overlook some of Jackson’s more entertaining past, such as the first assassination attempt against a US president. Both of the assassin’s pistols misfired; meanwhile, Jackson beat the would-be assassin with his cane, which is on display.
Another fun fact about Jackson overlooked by the museum: Jackson participated in a great number of duels. In 1806, he dueled a man over an insult in a newspaper. The man shot Jackson in the chest, but Jackson returned fire and killed him. The bullet missed Jackson’s heart by an inch and he carried the bullet, along with another bullet, in his chest for the rest of his life.
Once you are done with the museum, you can tour the grounds on your own and then take a guided tour around his mansion. The mansion tour takes a bit more than half an hour and provides a great look into the personal life of “the General” as Jackson preferred to be called.
Be sure to stop by the garden, where both Jackson and his wife are buried and walk back to the original cabins they lived in when they first purchased the land. One of the more interesting aspects of Jackson is his origin as an orphan who worked his way up from poverty to become one of the wealthiest and most respected men of his time.
Save Some Money
One way you could easily save some money on most of the attractions we visited is the Music City Total Access Pass. For $75, you could get into the Pantheon, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation and the Country Music Hall of Fame and it would save you $21.40 a person. There are tons of different options for the card if those spots don’t suit your fancy. Check out the Visit Music City website for more information.
Where to Eat and Drink in Nashville
There’s no shortage of great places to eat in Nashville, from classic Southern to funky ice cream, you will find something you enjoy here.
Nashville has become known for hot chicken, a type of fried chicken seasoned with cayenne peppers. It’s mighty tasty.
We ventured out to two hot chicken establishments while we were in Nashville, Firecracker and Hattie B’s. Both were outstanding. Hattie B’s has three locations scattered around central Nashville. Firecracker is found on the east side of Nashville in Old Hickory.
At both restaurants, we found some tasty chicken. If I were to have to choose between the chicken, I would give a very slight edge to Hattie B’s, but only slightly.
In terms of sides, it was a bit of a draw. I loved the mustard-style potato salad at Firecracker vs the red skin potato salad at Hattie B’s. That said, the black-eyed pea salad at Hattie B’s was outstanding. The Pimento Mac and Cheese at Hattie B’s was good, but not great. Firecracker had a great Southern-style mac and cheese.
We loved them both and would recommend you hit one of them when you go to Nashville.
If you’re jonesing for some dessert to finish off the meal, consider a stop at Jeni’s for some ice cream. Jeni’s, which is found in several cities across the US, is known for high-quality ingredients and unique flavors.
We had such a difficult time deciding what flavors we wanted, we both opted for a Flight of Minis, which is three very large half scoops. Our two favorite flavors were Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks and Wildberry Lavender.
Let’s talk a serious breakfast at Biscuit Love, a perfect New Southern breakfast joint. This place is all about refining that most Southern dish: the breakfast biscuit.
We started with an order of bonuts, which is fried biscuit dough topped with lemon mascarpone with blackberry compote… HEAVEN! These little treasures were so tasty. We must go back and get more!
We decided to split an order of the Blacklock Hash, which has skillet potatoes, smoked sausage, peppers, onions and sunny side up eggs. So glad we decided to split it. It filled us for the rest of the day… seriously tasty and hearty. Add in some of the Chronic Bacon and we were in heaven.
Pro tip: Check out the menu online since the line in the door is to order, not to be seated.
While I love New Southern cuisine, there is something truly inspired about Monell’s. This is classic Southern cooking at its finest.
First and foremost, you need to understand how it works. Monell’s seats everyone and serves everything family style. We were seated at a large table with plenty of folks from all over.
The dishes come out and are all passed around. If they need more of something, more is brought to the table. And, oh my, come hungry!
This is some of the best fried chicken I have ever had, the green beans were to die for and, oh! the cornbread! This was some of the best “home-cookin’” I have had since my grandmother passed. Shh. Don’t tell my mom.
This is Southern cooking at its best and I can’t recommend it enough.
Rock Bottom Brewery
This brewpub is located on Broadway in downtown Nashville. We hit it up before heading out to Nudie’s for some live music.
Y’all know I love a good brewery and Rock Bottom did a good job with its beer. I enjoyed both the Kolsch and the hefeweizen.
The ambiance was nice and we sat on the covered patio. The food, however, was just mediocre and there were some serious service issues. Our server was busting tail to cover quite a few tables with no backup.
Still, if you are looking for a good spot for a beer and to cool your heels after walking around downtown Nashville, it’s a good spot.
When we got into Nashville, we visited the Parthenon. Afterward, we were pretty hot and thirsty, so we headed over to the Corsair Distillery.
I tried several of their beers, which are brewed at another location across town, called their Brewstillery. All were outstanding. This space, located in an old factory, was very cool and inviting. Bonnie had a whiskey cocktail made with Triple Smoked Whiskey. Mmm.
Later, we came back to do a distillery tour and tasting, where we learned about their small-batch distilling process. It was a very cool tour and trying some of the different whiskeys was an eye-opener.
The Quinoa Whiskey was surprisingly good, as was the Triple Smoke. The Ryemageddon was incredibly smooth for a rye. The Oatrage (oat whiskey) was just plain weird, however. In all, we came home with a bottle of Ryemageddon and Triple Smoke for our bar at home.
Even if you are not doing a tour, this is a great place to grab a cocktail or beer.
Where to Stay in Nashville
In An RV
For this trip, we brought our camper and stayed at Nashville Shores.
Located on the east side of Nashville, this waterpark and zip-line adventure park has a really good RV park attached with sites right on the lake.
Not only is this campground convenient if you have kids and want to spend time at the water park, but it is also close to The Hermitage and the Grand Ole Opry.
They offer a shuttle into downtown or you can easily make the drive in 15-20 minutes.
We would certainly stay here again. It is not far off the Interstate, the sites are nice and the people are friendly.
There are also plenty of hotels in downtown Nashville walking distance from all of the main attractions like Broadway and the Johnny Cash Museum.
We love a good Hilton property and the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Nashville looked great when we walked by. We are already thinking about taking another trip to Nashville and staying in downtown. That rooftop pool looks amazing!
Nearby National Parks
Nashville is the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace, which runs 444 miles to Natchez, MS. While we have not driven the entire length of the Trace, we have driven parts of it and it is a great way to experience the history of the South.
Nashville is also a good jumping off point for those interested in the Civil War. About an hour and a half northwest of Memphis is Fort Donelson National Battlefield and about 35 minutes southeast is Stones River National Battlefield.
Final Thoughts on Nashville
Nashville certainly lives up to the hype and the name Music City. You can’t help but rock along with the boot-stomping tunes floating up and down Broadway.
But there’s history and culture there as well. The town is nicknamed the Athens of the South for good reason. We just spent a few days and missed a few sites, like the Frist Art Museum and Ryman Auditorium. Hopefully, we’ll make a return trip before too long!
Traffic, however, can be a bear. While we didn’t have too many problems, we can certainly see where big events could make for a difficult time getting around downtown. Additionally, a lot of the sights we visited, like the Grand Ole Opry and Belle Meade, are located outside the city center, making having a car or using Uber/Lyft a necessity.
All told, Nashville was a blast and we look forward to going back.
Thank you to the folks at Visit Music City, who sponsored a large portion of this visit to Nashville, including the campground stay and attraction tickets. As always, all opinions expressed are our own.