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Music City (aka Nashville) seems to have it all. There is live music basically any hour of the day, fun places to hang out and relax, and history stretching back to the early days of America. And don’t forget the food. There are oh-so-many enticing things to eat in delicious Nashville. We recently spent some time exploring the city and learning about all the top things to do in Nashville, Tennessee.
Best Things to do in Nashville
Get hooked on hot chicken
Trying hot chicken is a must do in Nashville. The succulent meat gets marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning before being floured and fried.
The last couple of steps are what set it apart from other fried chicken. Right before serving, a cayenne pepper sauce is added to the hot chicken before it is neatly positioned between a slice of white bread and pickle chips. Depending on your request, the sauce can vary from mild to sweet-Jesus-this-is-spicy. Add black-eyed peas, baked beans, French fries, or pimento mac-and-cheese, and you’re good to go.
Prince’s Hot Chicken is the original place to try the treat that is Nashville hot chicken. They’ve been making it delicious and down home for over 70 years. Bolton’s also comes highly recommended. My choice on this trip was Hattie B’s, which has quickly become a Nashville staple. On Sundays, they make hot chicken and waffles, served with a fruit compote. I didn’t have the chance to try it this trip, so it’s a guarantee that I’ll have to return.
Wondering where to stay in Nashville?
Historic elegance: The Hermitage Hotel
Music at your doorstep: Omni Nashville
Resort complex near Opryland: Gaylord Opryland
You’ll find more details about where to stay in Nashville at the end of this article.
Hang out at Pinewood Social
Pinewood Social is…well, it’s almost impossible to come up with a short phrase to describe this distinctive, genius space. A restaurant, coffee shop, bowling alley, outdoor oasis, and co-working space all rolled into one, Pinewood Social serves just about every need morning, noon, and night. It’s one of the best places to visit in Nashville.
Pinewood Social is a great place to have a cup of coffee and get some work done during the day before visiting the pool and grabbing dinner and a craft cocktail in the evening. And don’t forget the bocce ball.
Visit the Parthenon (yes, in Nashville)
Nashville’s Centennial Park is home to a full-size replica of the Parthenon, originally built in 1897. Now functioning as an art museum, the Parthenon houses a group of paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists and provides space for temporary exhibits. Its centerpiece is an imposing 42-foot-tall statue of Athena covered in gold leaf, as it would have been in the Parthenon in ancient Greece. Not exactly an expected sight in the American South.
See The Parthenon and other Nashville landmarks the easy way on a half-day city tour. If you’re short on time, check out out this 75-minute overview tour. To do it all at your own pace, the hop-on hop-off trolley is a great option.
Pull up a stool at Robert’s Western World
On our first day in Nashville, a Nashville native told us that the only honky tonk on Broadway that locals go to is Robert’s Western World. We can’t confirm that, but the recommendation made us change our plans and head for the place with the boot and guitar sign.
Honky tonks don’t have a cover charge, so at Robert’s Western World, you can grab a stool, order the house specialty—fried bologna sandwich—and pay what you wish when the band passes the tip jar (or bucket, as the case may be). Live bands play essentially all day, providing the soundtrack for visitors two-stepping just in front of the stage.
The classic country tunes give the place a laid back but fun atmosphere if you want to have a good time without feeling like you’re in the middle of a rock concert. You can’t have an experience like this just anywhere, which made visiting Robert’s Western World one of our favorite Nashville activities.
Visit America’s best bathroom at The Hermitage Hotel
Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel is one of the finest places to stay in Music City. At over 100 years old, the hotel has welcomed just about everybody who’s anybody into its well-appointed rooms.
The lobby is spectacular and the food is delicious, but one off the quirkiest reasons to visit the Hermitage Hotel is its bathroom. The Art Deco men’s bathroom located just off the hotel lobby has consistently been noted as the best bathroom in America.
The large loo is decorated with bright green and black glass tiles and green fixtures. If you’re in the mood, you can stop a moment in the two-seat shoeshine station that greets you when you pass through the door. At this point, it’s so famous that the bathroom is also open for women. And photos. A visit here is one of the best free things to do in Nashville.
Why not stay in the historic five-star Hermitage Hotel?
Shop at Marathon Village
At Marathon Village, a former automobile plant has been re-purposed–after decades of sitting empty–into a cool shopping center and creative community in the North Gulch neighborhood. There are art studios, galleries, and home decor and gift shops. You’ll even find Antique Archaeology, the shop owned by the guys in the History Channel’s American Pickers show, and one of the famous “I Believe in Nashville” murals.
The building renovation has been a decades-long labor of love resulting in a contemporary space that’s full of history. In open spaces throughout the building, there is old equipment from the original factory and panels describing the building’s illustrious past.
Seek out street art
Nashville is brimming with street art. Hidden in alleys, under bridges, in construction zones—murals and artworks seem to be everywhere. Finding them around the city feels like a scavenger hunt. Luckily, you never have to look too far.
One of the most popular murals in Nashville is the “Wings mural” by Kelsey Montague, which you can find in The Gulch. There’s even a painted line on the sidewalk to show people where to patiently wait a turn for a photo. When you’re done there, take a walk down 11th Avenue South to see what other murals you can find.
Beyond The Gulch, the Germantown and East Nashville neighborhoods have lots of street art. Wander the area near Werthan Lofts or take a drive down Gallatin Pike, respectively, to see some of the highlights of Nashville’s ever-changing canvas.
Get down home southern at Loveless Cafe
Loveless Cafe in southwest Nashville, Tennessee, is the place to go for Southern cooking. It’s known for all things heavenly, from country ham to red-eye gravy and especially its all-day breakfast. But what people line up for just about every day of the week are the biscuits at Loveless Cafe.
The flaky pillows of love—served with homemade preserves, of course—come alongside almost everything on the menu. That’s because they’re delicious and rival the cooking of any Southern grandma. Made from scratch every day, the biscuits are worth the 25-minute trip outside of town.
Settle in at a listening room
There’s no shortage of great music in Nashville, but the bars and honky tonks—especially downtown—can get a little crazy. If you’re looking for a more relaxing environment, consider one of the venues around town featuring song writers and up-and-coming performers.
Bluebird Cafe is the classic Nashville listening room. It’s super popular, and even their open mic nights sell out faster than you can say “Music City.” The aptly-named The Listening Room Cafe is a great alternative for hearing works straight from the song writers of both new songs and chart-topping hits. They also serve good food and have complimentary valet parking.
Sink your teeth into the city’s favorite chocolate
Take peanuts, caramel, and marshmallow and coat it in some of the best milk chocolate in the city, and you get what is essentially the perfect candy bar—a Goo Goo Cluster. Invented in 1912, this classic candy has its own outpost in the heart of downtown.
At the Goo Goo Shop, you can find varieties of the clusters or go all-out at their dessert bar with different kinds of fudge, ice cream, and other treats. I did the classic with a spin—premium vanilla ice cream topped with a chopped peanut butter Goo Goo Cluster. It was heaven. To immerse yourself in this chocolate world even more, consider their chocolate-making classes that happen most Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
See how the other half lived at Belle Meade Plantation
Once home to the wealthiest family in Nashville, Belle Meade plantation spanned over 5400 acres in the late 19th century. The estate’s owners, the Harding family, welcomed celebrities, presidents, and countless southern gentlemen, to their home, which included the largest thoroughbred horse farm in the country.
Now just 24 acres, a tour of Belle Meade plantation offers a glimpse into the life of the moneyed class around the time of the Civil War and beyond. Take a walk around the grounds to see the carriage house, the slaves’ quarters, the old dairy, and the smokehouse. Then take a guided tour through the old mansion for a brief peek into the Old South at one of the top places to go in Nashville, Tennessee.
Take a walk through Nashville’s history on a combined tour of Belle Meade Plantation and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.
Enjoy the views at a rooftop bar
Nashville is blessed with dozens of rooftop bars with picturesque views and lots of ambiance. From pool decks and live music to seating in swings and private cabanas, they are great places to chill out and enjoy your beverage of choice.
On Broadway, we like the Skybar at Ole Red—it’s a bit more refined than some places and has a great view of the action. In The Gulch, our choice is Up, a rooftop lounge, where you can relax on the couches or chat over the fire pits.
In the Arts District, the super cool Bobby Hotel has a premium rooftop lounge. You can grab a seat at the bar or hang out in the bus. In winter, you may even find yourself in one of their igloos or chic cedar cabins.
Take the stage at the Ryman Auditorium
For lovers of country music, the Ryman Auditorium is the home of the greats. Opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman began as a place to hold indoor revivals. It quickly evolved into an entertainment venue hosting major entertainers such as Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Harry Houdini, earning it the nickname, “The Carnegie Hall of the South.” In 1943, it became the home of The Grand Ole Opry, which was broadcast from the stage every week for 30 years.
In many ways, the Ryman Auditorium made Nashville the capital of country music. Today, visitors can tour the hallowed auditorium and hear Trisha Yearwood, Nicole Kidman, Robin Roberts, and others talk about the history of the building and its performers.
You can take a photo on the Ryman’s famous stage and even make a record–one of the must do things in Nashville. The self-guided tour is at your own pace and is probably best reserved for avid country music fans. If a tour isn’t quite your speed, you can grab a ticket to one of the performances (country and beyond) that still happen here almost every night of the week.
Country music buffs will appreciate the discounted pass to visit the Ryman and three other top music sites in Nashville.
Visit Hatch Show Print
Hatch Show Print’s distinctive letterpress printing style is known throughout the South. Its images of Americana—especially those related to music and art—and its vintage lettering have made it sought after by entertainers and businesses. One of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, Hatch Show Print is open for tours, and you can even make your own poster.
We loved browsing all the examples from art through the years and seeing presses and fonts on display. When you’re finished, pop into Bajo Sexto Taco (in the same building) for great street tacos. We loved the carnitas and the coconut shrimp tacos. You can even grab a margarita to-go.
Play around at Downtown Sporting Club
Downtown Sporting Club on Broadway has a little bit of everything. There’s great food and drink all day, a sports bar, and a rooftop bar.
You’ll also find plenty of activities like shuffleboard, corn hole, and even axe throwing. There are board games, old school video games, and lots of places to hang out, including an area around a cluster of TVs set up to feel like you’re lounging in your backyard. If you’re looking for a different experience, head here.
Take time for tea
Stepping into High Garden in East Nashville makes you feel like you’ve entered a magic spot in the forest. That might sound a little odd, but go with me here…
Surrounded by wood, dried herbs, and the aromas of all the herbs and spices, High Garden is cozy and welcoming. The signs around the shop and cafe all have gnomes and little woodland creatures, and the tables are decorated with branches and other natural items. On top of the cool environment, the staff here knows pretty much everything there is to know about tea. You can take home their 100+ options of teas, spices, and tinctures, or try a creative “potion” in-store at the cafe.
Stop for shopping and music at Two Old Hippies
Two Old Hippies is a mix of clothes, music, and sass, all in the best of ways.
At their store in The Gulch, they feature a collection of guitars and a room for playing them along with a stage where they host live music five nights a week. All of that is set within a store with clothing, decorations, and gifts—some with tongue-in-cheek humor that lets the store’s personality shine through. And, of course, you can’t have a store called “Two Old Hippies” without a VW bus on display.
Try your favorite spirit at a local distillery
Distilleries are always on the top of our list any time we visit a new destination. About 90 minutes from Nashville in Lynchburg, you’ll find the home of the top-selling American whiskey in the world—Jack Daniel’s. A tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery demonstrates the care and craftsmanship that goes into this line of incredibly popular beverages.
Whether you’re a Jack drinker or not, we couldn’t recommend the tour here more highly. And, if you are a Jack drinker, definitely take the tasting tour. It’s one of the best things to do in Tennessee!
If you’d like to visit Jack Daniel’s but don’t want to drive yourself, check out this convenient transportation option.
If craft spirits are your thing but you want to stick a little closer to Music City, there are several great Nashville distilleries to visit. Three of our favorites were Corsair Distillery, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, and Nashville Craft Distillery.
We visited Corsair’s location on Merritt Ave. where the drinks were flowing freely at the bar while a tour went on behind-the-scenes. Stop in to try some absinthe, whiskey, gin, or any of the other spirits on offer.
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is another great option in the city. Pre-Prohibition, Charles Nelson’s distillery was one of the biggest in the South. Today, his great-great-great grandsons are working to recreate the magic with their white whiskey, bourbon, and sherry cask-finished bourbon. They offer tours and tastings at their warehouse and distillery on Clinton Street. Around the corner, Nashville Craft Distillery produces small-batch spirits like gin and bourbon as well as unique offerings made from sorghum. I particularly liked their spiced honey liqueur.
Have dinner at Woolworth’s
Woolworth on 5th has a story to tell. In the 1960s, the lunch counter here was the site of several significant sit-ins protesting the Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans from being served at the popular restaurant. Led by future Congressman John Lewis and other passionate Civil Rights leaders, the protests helped turn the tides of segregation at Nashville’s lunch counters.
Now, Woolworth on 5th has been revitalized as a restaurant that pays homage to the building’s history. Details from its Art Deco past and the 1960s when the Woolworth diner’s popularity soared are visible throughout the restaurant. Grab a drink at the bar and try some of the Southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits (my personal favorite).
Stroll the pedestrian bridge
The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, formerly the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, spans the Cumberland River and connects downtown Nashville to the football stadium. There is no automobile traffic, so cyclists and walkers move at their own pace, often stopping to take photos of the river and downtown.
Hang out in Printers Alley
Once the center of Nashville’s printing industry (hence the name), Printers Alley is a National Historic District. But, more importantly, for visitors to Nashville, it’s a center of nightlife in the heart of downtown.
With nightclubs, karaoke joints, bars, and places for live music, Printers Alley is a fun place for a night out. Check out Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar for blues music or grab a bite to eat at Skull’s Rainbow Room.
Indulge in Five Daughters Bakery
The donuts at Five Daughters Bakery are the best I’ve ever had. Ever.
With two locations (in 12South and East Nashville), this family-run bakery makes a variety of donuts. There are traditional yeast donuts and vegan and paleo options. But what they’re known for is their 100-layer donut–the combination of a donut and croissant is rolled in sugar, filled with cream, and glazed. I’m head-over-heels for the maple glazed donut. SO. GOOD.
Support small businesses at the Idea Hatchery
The Idea Hatchery is a hub of creativity. This collection of eight small businesses in one shopping center makes it easy to see lots of unique offerings in one spot. See the treasures at the unconventional fine jewelry store Riveter or browse used, rare, and out-of-print books at Defunct Books. See artistic exhibitions at Raven & Whale Gallery or shop for amazing vintage cowgirl boots and other stylish finds at Goodbuy Girls.
Tour Belmont Mansion
Belmont Mansion was the antebellum summer estate of Joseph Acklen and his wife Adelicia, who was the wealthiest woman in Tennessee in the mid-1800s. Once in the Nashville countryside, the home is now right in the heart of the city.
The house, which was built in 1849, is sumptuously furnished in period pieces, about 40% of which belonged to the Acklen family. There are Roman sculptures, gifts from a US President, and treasures brought back from a Grand Tour of Europe.
A visit to Belmont Mansion is a look at the luxuriant lifestyle of a family who seemingly sailed through the Civil War with little repercussion, which was very uncommon in the South. Unfortunately, due to the lack of record keeping at the time, information about the enslaved workers who built that fortune is scant, which means visitors only get a part of the story. But an opulent story it is.
Pay homage to the Man in Black at the Johnny Cash Museum
As you might expect, the Johnny Cash Museum is dedicated to the life and music career of the country legend. In this small space, you can listen to a retrospective of Cash’s music through the years and see exhibits like his costumes, instruments, photos, and handwritten lyrics. Personal items like his high school yearbook and his marriage certificate with June Carter Cash are also on display.
One of the more unexpected items is a stone wall that was part of his home before it burned down in 2007. The museum is well-done and interesting, but with an $20 admission fee, the smallish Johnny Cash Museum may be best reserved for Cash’s most enthusiastic fans.
Next door, you’ll find Johnny Cash’s Kitchen & Saloon. Each of the two floors of this Southern restaurant has a stage for live music and a bar, so you can eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes, sip whiskey, and listen to some of the city’s best music all at once.
Browse or eat at the Nashville Farmers Market
Open year-round, Nashville Farmers Market is home to a variety of not only farmers but artisans, restaurateurs, crafters, and more. Since it began in the early 1800s, the market has been a bustling place and a must see in Nashville.
The Farmers Market covered farm sheds host up to 100 farmers, depending on the season, along with dairies, cheese-makers, and other selling their products. Inside the market are 16 restaurants and shops. Whether you’re looking for gourmet pizza, Jamaican specialties, or anything in between, you’re likely to find it here.
See what’s behind the curtain at the Patterson House
At this speakeasy on Division Street, a floor-length, gray velvet curtain separates the entryway from the main bar. It’s the first sign that the Patterson House is a kind of cool you don’t experience many places. To get in, there must be a seat for you. No seat, no drink. It all contributes to the upscale but relaxed environment where the bartenders will engage with you at length before recommending one of their custom-crafted cocktails.
In addition to the drinks, you’ll also find a menu featuring delicious bites like shrimp corn dogs, fried brie, and fried chicken po boy sliders. It gets busy here, so show up near opening or closing time if you don’t want to wait. It’s worth it to see this institution when you visit Nashville.
Spend some time at The Gaylord
The Gaylord Opryland is like an indoor city. With more than 15 restaurants and bars, 2800+ rooms, and lots of shops and other features, I’m embarrassed to say how many times we got lost during our stay here. (OK, I got lost. Lance is annoyingly good with directions.)
If you’re looking for an easy-to-manage adventure with everything you need in one spot, this is it. Take a boat ride through the hotel, watch a radio broadcast in the on-site studio, or check out their water park called Soundwaves where you can slide, swim, or float the lazy river. The choices for things to do here are insane.
Visit Arnold’s for some home cooking
“Meat & 3” (meat and three vegetables) is a staple of home cooking in the South, and almost nowhere does it as well as Arnold’s Country Kitchen. In a city that averages a new restaurant opening every week, Arnold’s has been consistent for 30 years, even winning two James Beard awards. Put lunch here on your list of what to do in Nashville, and plan ahead because the line can be long.
Visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage plantation was the home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, and his family from 1804 until his death in 1845. The 1100-acre property includes the mansion and garden (including a tomb), former cotton fields, and several 19th century cabins that housed Jackson’s many slaves.
One of the more historical things to do in Nashville, a tour of the Hermitage’s museum and grounds paints a picture of a popular but complicated president with a fiery personality and provides information about the lives of the slaves on the plantation. Guides inside the mansion provide commentary about life in the house and are proud to point out that the Hermitage is the most accurately-preserved of the early Presidents’ homes.
Book ahead to tour President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
Get cultured at 21c Museum Hotel
It’s not uncommon for hotels to have artwork, and very high-end hotels sometimes even have artwork by people with highly recognizable names. What is uncommon, though, is for a hotel to actually be a museum. That’s what we found at the 21c Museum Hotel in Nashville.
When we walked in, there was some sculpture, some beautiful portrait photography—all typical enough. But near the check-in desk is where we found the installation of the woman holding the leash to the puma skin rug. Exhibits—of all these types and more—rotate regularly in the galleries that are open to the public every day. Twice a week, there are even tours by docents. Stop in for a unique experience.
See music’s past and present at the Country Music Hall of Fame
You certainly don’t have to be a country music fan to appreciate the Country Music Hall of Fame, but a visit here is one of the quintessential best things to do in Nashville. One of the world’s largest museums, it is home to 2.5 million artifacts, including recordings, photos, instruments, and so many other things. Just the collection and variety of cowboy boots and clothes is kind of mind-blowing. There are also larger, one-of-a-kind items like Elvis’ “Solid Gold” Cadillac painted with crushed diamonds and fish scales.
The Country Music Hall of Fame makes an effort to pay tribute to county music’s heritage while also having a focus on contemporary and even cross-over artists. While there is a permanent collection, some of the exhibits rotate, such as the one we saw about the career of Keith Urban.
Try a board game café
A cute café in East Nashville, Game Point Café is fun whether or not you’re into the 400+ games they offer. There is a sizable food menu in addition to lots of coffee and select beer offerings, and there’s lots of space for people to work, chat, or chill out.
Unlike many game-focused cafes, Game Point Café doesn’t charge an entry or playing fee. They offer game coaches on weekday evenings and weekends and host regular events. The whole environment is laid-back and designed to encourage fun. If you’re in East Nashville, don’t miss it.
Where to Stay in Nashville
The Hermitage Hotel–The elegant Hermitage Hotel provides comfort, class, and top-notch service in downtown Nashville. Don’t miss the bar and the famous bathroom, and keep your eyes open for possible celebrity sightings (See TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room).
Omni Nashville–Just a short walk to the music and activity of Broadway and actually connected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, it’s hard to beat the location of the Omni Nashville. The pool (and its awesome views) are a godsend on a hot Nashville day (See TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room).
Gaylord Opryland Hotel–The Gaylord Opryland Hotel has so many things to do that you may never want to leave. Visit the spa, shop, or indulge in the more than a dozen restaurants and cafes at the hotel. As a bonus, the Grand Old Opry is just next door (See TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room).
Where to Eat in Nashville
Husk–Always voted one of the top restaurants in Nashville, Husk is a celebration of Southern ingredients.
The Southern Steak & Oyster–With a wood-fire grill, oysters, and locally-grown produce, The Southern is a culinary delight. The food is amazing, and the cocktails are even better.
Josephine on 12th–In the 12 South neighborhood, Josephine on 12th features a regularly-changing menu of the best produce and meats available daily. Standout dishes range from steak frites and crab cakes to heriloom tomato salad.
Tips for Visiting Nashville
Plan ahead – Nashville is a really popular place and weekends can be very crowded. Make reservations and buy tickets in advance when you can. This is particularly important if you have your heart set on seeing a ticketed concert or performance.
Think about timing – Because weekends are busy, planning a mid-week trip could help you see more things with fewer people. Just make sure to check the hours of the places you want to visit to ensure they’re open.
Know your game plan for getting around – Parking in downtown Nashville can be super expensive. Consider using rideshares like Lyft and Uber. If you’re driving, the most reasonable parking rates we’ve found near Broadway and some of the main attractions are at the Nashville Public Library.
We received complimentary admission to several attractions thanks to Visit Music City. All opinions of the fun things to do and eat in Nashville are our own.
What is your favorite thing to do in Nashville?