This past summer, I took my first trip to Nashville with my wife and some friends. It was more out of curiosity than anything. We’d heard good things about the city’s tourist appeal, so I wanted to check it out for myself. After spending a week there, I’m really glad I did! Here are some tips we accumulated from our own experiences as well as a few based on research of how other recent visitors spent their vacation time.
If you’re thinking about visiting Nashville for the first time, the best time to visit is from April through October, when the warm weather brings the city to life and you can experience peak enjoyment. Start your day in Nashville by heading downtown and just taking in the vibe. The Music City Trolley Hop On/Hop Off Tour allows you to hop on (or off, obviously) at your leisure. You’ll get a chance to visit historic spots such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which features more than 40,000 square feet of country music history and artifacts.
Another must-see is the Grand Ole’ Opry’s Ryman Auditorium, which is affectionately known as the Mother Church of Country Music. See for yourself where hundreds of famous artists, from country crooners like Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift to rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Mumford & Sons, have performed. It’s also home to the world's longest running live radio program.
For family attractions, check out the Nashville Zoo and spend an afternoon with the animals, or the Adventure Science Center, where you can interactively explore their Adventure Tower. There’s also the Sudekum Planetarium, where astronomers will show you how to identify the various constellations, bright stars, and planets viewable in the sky every night.
At night, you will want to stop by one of Nashville’s world-famous honky-tonks on lower Broadway. There’s nothing that will give you the authentic Nashville experience more than spending some time in one of these dusty venues where artists spend their nights (and their proverbial blood, sweat, and tears) in pursuit of their musical dreams.
Twang Not Your Thang?
Not in the mood for country music? You can explore Nashville’s thriving arts scene by checking out of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ many temporary exhibits, or popping in on any of the downtown art galleries, most of which are on the “Fifth Avenue of the Arts”. Or you can see something really unique—the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which is the world’s only full-size reproduction of the Greek Parthenon and home to Athena, the tallest indoor structure in the Western world. Additionally, consider the First Saturday Art Crawl throughout downtown Nashville. As the name suggests, it takes place on the first Saturday evening of every month, and visitors can view many great galleries in the downtown area.
You can spend the afternoon at Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville’s largest and wealthiest private estate, once a renowned thoroughbred horse farm. You could also experience some presidential history by paying a visit to The Hermitage, home to President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Check out the mansion and tombs of Andrew and Rachel, as well as Rachel’s beloved garden. Another must-see is Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, which features a rotating exhibition schedule, events, and breathtaking gardens to explore.
Finally, if you’re a real fan of modern country music, be sure to take in a show at the popular Bluebird Café, made famous in the TV show, “Nashville”, where patrons can enjoy songwriters performing in an intimate “in the round setting”. But fair warning—it can get quite crowded, especially during open mic nights.
Connecting To The Music
There’s a free Nashville Live Music Guide app available for iPhone and Android users that locates live music venues throughout the city and tells you who’s on stage at a given date/time. You can search by area of town or venue name, and a handy map function will display your location and the live music venue options nearby. The app’s calendar will search live music events up to 14 days in advance. Don’t have an iPhone or Android? No problem. Throughout Nashville, there are a series of quirky guitar pick-shaped signs that indicate if a location is a music venue. If that particular venue features four or more live shows a week, a pick-shaped sign is placed outside so visitors know where they can go for music.
Your visit to Nashville will most certainly leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. But between the history, the music, and the people, you’ll never be able to see it all in one vacation!