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 Belmont University (my school) – hipster musician central, Vanderbilt University – preppy southerners majoring in pre-law and engineering, and Lipscomb – Christian to the max. There’s also “Nashvegas” – a word only tourists ever use to describe the main strip more commonly known as Broadway in downtown Nashville. You can probably guess why it’s called that.
Anyway, my point is that 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.
I’ve decided to list it all by general location because Nashville is bigger than people typically think. You can see a lot without a car if you stay downtown, but it’ll probably be cheaper if you drive in and stay a bit farther out.
Food and Bars –
- Rippy’s – Two words: Pulled Pork. Tbh there are probably better places in Nashville to get pulled pork, I guess it’s more the atmosphere of this place. Also totally go there for a beer on your Broadway bar hop. It’s sticky and gross and just like every other place on Broadway, there’s a different live musician in every corner. It’s fun.
- Honky Tonk Central – Though the name may be misleading, this place is a (small) step above Rippy’s in terms of class. It’s more like a sports bar – at least, during the day it is. It’s less sticky, but you get the same deal – southern beer and appetizers with live country music.
- Tootsies – This is like the ultimate tourist stop because it’s been there for so long. 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 – If you’re in Nashville, there’s like a 70-30 chance you like country music, in which case you might find the joy in line dancing, in which case you should go to the Wild Horse Saloon. My friends and I went here often during our freshman year of college. Back then we were still tourists so it was somewhat acceptable. We typically went for the dancing and stayed for the food, but you can do it the other way around. Also, I’ve never been here and not seen a Bachelorette Party. Side note: If you’re coming to Nashville for a bachelorette party, check out the Pedal Tavern. My friends and I always make fun of it but truthfully it looks like it’d be fun, especially if you’re a tourist.
- Palm – This is strictly for when you’re in town on business and your company is paying for your dinner (kidding…kind of). There’s a Palm in several major cities across the country; Nashville is one of them. It’s great if you want a break from the chaos that is broadway and you want to make reservations and eat a fancy-schmancy steak dinner instead.
- Puckett’s – *Note that they also have a location in Franklin, an adorable little town to be discussed later.* 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.
- 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.
- Mike’s Ice Cream – Another downtown charm. This = super helpful in college because most of us weren’t/aren’t 21, which makes downtown Nashville on a Friday night obsolete. BUT Mike’s was a great place to go post-line dancing at the Wild Horse or laser-taging. Also they have really good ice cream and they’re open decently late.
- 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.
- Shopping – First of all, in your walk down Broadway you will pass at least three boot stores. I lost count of how many are down there now. 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. Or, you can look at it optimistically and say that you’re spending $200 on three pairs of cowboy boots and you can tell everyone that you got them in Nashville. 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. The chances of you buying anything might be pretty slim but it’s a record store in downtown Nashville, so I say go. Otherwise, why are you in Nashville?
- Laser Tag – I’m mostly throwing this one in for the people I know who say “there’s nothing to do in Nashville besides the tourist stuff.” It’s laser tag, people. And it’s a pretty bomb venue, too. It’s big and scary and people will hide around corners and attack you from behind and you’ll feel like a super secret ninja spy in outer space. Anyway, this exists.
- The Escape Game – This new fangled thing is all the rage. All the kids are doing it. You literally get locked in a room for four hours and you have to find your way out with nothing but the other people in there with you. Good luck. I don’t know when getting locked in a room became a form of entertainment, but I gotta say it’s pretty cool, and whoever came up with it is a money-making genius.
- 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. Especially but not exclusively if you’re a music junkie.
- 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 Ryman is a cool concert. Not even because of the history and the Opry but because the acoustics are amazing and there are very few “bad” seats in the venue. You can also take a tour there, and that’s pretty cool, but wow wow wow there’s nothing like a show at the Ryman.
- 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.
- 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.
Outer Nashville Activities –
- Opryland – If you’re a country music fan, it’s almost a law that you have to visit the Grand Ole Opry. You can look at the calendar to see who’s performing or you can buy tickets and just kind of wing it, especially since surprise guests are not unheard of. You can also visit the Opry 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. My favorite is the Disney store, and there’s a fairly large food court. 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. They basically have their own indoor park in the lobby and it’s beautiful. Also, the Opry hosts one of those ice shows where you walk through and literally everything is made of ice. Obviously that’s only a thing in the winter months, but it’s worth seeing if you’re there during that time. They also set up an ice skating rink.
- 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.
- TN Colleges – Nashville is home to Belmont University, Vanderbilt University, Lipscomb University, Nashville School of Law, Fisk University, Trevecca University, Tennessee State University, Aquinas College, and believe it or not a whole bunch more. Belmont and Vanderbilt have the prettiest campuses, but I’m biased with Belmont because I’m, you know, a student there. But seriously we have a beautiful campus, and you can take a tour of the historic Belmont Mansion which is conveniently located on our campus.
- 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.
- 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. The entire top floor is dedicated to music, and that includes vinyl. 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, and even though they look scratched I’ve never had a problem. My only recommendation is that you look inside anything with a case (music, DVDs, etc) to make sure you’re paying for what you think you’re paying for. They’re usually good about checking everything, but I once bought two copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban thinking that one of them was Goblet of Fire. Needless to say, I was not happy, but now I check everything I buy, and I completed my Harry Potter collection in case you were wondering. I got the entire set from McKay’s (though it took months of going back and looking) for under $20. At somewhere like Target, you can barely get two movies for that price unless they’re in the $5 section. I’ve also built an extensive book collection of everything from Jane Austen and Dickens to 5 ingredient cook books and a book called “America, You Sexy Bitch.” I haven’t read that one yet…I’ll let you know when I do.
- Cheekwood – Because every major city needs an arboretum, this is ours. It’s beautiful, naturally, and the holiday lights are a must-see.
- Zoo – I have a soft spot for the Nashville Zoo because I took a job there in my sophomore year of college and absoloutley loved it. I was an “adventure guide,” meaning I ran birthday parties. I loved it so much that I’m a member now, and I’ll even go by myself sometimes (don’t judge me). The zoo is steadily expanding thanks partially to a 50k grant. The tiger exhibit is growing, the elephant exhibit is expanding to include room for breeding (save the elephants!) and they are currently adding an Andean Bear exhibit. Soon they are hoping to add penguins, lions, and more. I’m very excited for the expansion but the zoo also has some fan favorites already! The lynx is a beautiful cat; they also have mountain lions, zebras, cassowaries, flamingos, a petting zoo, and you can even walk through the kangaroo exhibit and pet them (as long as they’re in a good mood that day – they’re feisty creatures).
- 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.
- SATCO (San Antonio Taco Company) – If you call this place by its full name you are a tourist. It’s not as good as the others in terms of taco level, but it’s extremely cheap and sometimes I crave it. Also they occasionally host writers rounds and things of that sort. Occasionally. Also their outdoor seating area is really nice in the summer. ALSO, drinks are free for Belmont students, so I can essentially have two tacos and a coke for like $6 and that, as a college student, is all I really need. They also have a really well put-together system. When you walk in, you write down your order on little notepads that line the wall so that when you get to the register all you have to do is hand them the slip instead of standing there muttering like an idiot and holding up the line (I speak from personal experience because I am an awkward penguin).
- Chagos – It’s kind of a running joke among Belmont students that Chagos has really crappy Mexican food but you crave it all the time and it’s like $10 a plate so it’s incredibly worth it. I don’t think it’s bad, but that’s a New Yorker’s opinion on Mexican food. I think all the Italian food here is bad. Anyway, I leave it here for you if you’re on a budget and looking for Mexican plates that are not just tacos. Also they have giant margaritas, so that’s a thing.
- 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.
- PM – This is an ASIAN RESTAURANT and they have what I consider one of the best burgers in Nashville. Also good fries. You can also go there for sushi, if you’re into that.
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 (Almost on Belmont’s campus)
- Fido (Hillsboro Village)
- Frothy Monkey (12 South)
- Edgehill Cafe (Near Music Row)
- Atmology (West End, near Vanderbilt)
- Starbucks (just kidding)
- 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, which brings me to…
Placed conveniently between Belmont University and Vanderbilt University. I won’t try to describe them, but there are a few cute shops that are worth stepping into, especially if you’re gift-hunting. Otherwise, here are some things I love:
- BookMan BookWoman – New and used books! It’s not anywhere near as cheap as McKays (mentioned earlier), but it’s worth taking a look!
- Double Dogs – Easily my favorite sports bar in Nashville, but it’s just that – a sports bar.
- Jennis – Best ice cream in Nashville, also on 12 south. Flavors change constantly, don’t get too attached.
Franklin is this adorable, perfect-in-every-way town about 20 miles south of Nashville where nothing bad every happens. Ok, that last part may not be true, but you are guaranteed to enjoy your time there. If you’re like me and you grew up 40 miles outside of NYC, you’ll enjoy driving through the winding roads and looking at the expansive farmland. Put main street into your GPS and find somewhere to park so you can walk around. It’s a small little village, but there’s everything from craft stores and gift stores to Anthropologie, and there’s a Pucketts (mentioned earlier in the downtown section) that you can both eat at and shop at.