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, Tennessee. We recently spent some time exploring the city and learning about all the great things to do in Nashville.
Get hooked on hot chicken
You can’t go to Nashville without trying hot chicken. It’s just sacrilegious. The succulent meat (breast, thigh, wing) gets marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning before being floured and fried. The last couple of steps are what really set it apart from other fried chicken. Right before serving, a cayenne pepper sauce (really more like a paste) is added to the hot chicken before it is neatly position 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, a four-year-old company that 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.
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 is the place to hang out morning, noon, and night. It’s 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.
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 things to do in Nashville.
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.
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.
See how the other half lives 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.
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 nearly 31 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. The $20 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.
Visit Hatch Show Print
Hatch Show Print’s unique letterpress printing style is known throughout the South. Its images of Americana—especially those related to music and art—and its distinctive 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.
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! (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. Two of our favorites were Corsair Distillery and Nelson’s Green Brier 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 St.
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.
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 one 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 $18 admission fee, the smallish Johnny Cash Museum may be best reserved for Cash’s most enthusiastic fans.
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. Its 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.
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.
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 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. Through 2016, Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, looks at how Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash influenced each other, along with other artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen.
We received complimentary admission to several of these attractions thanks to Visit Music City, and we were the guests of Jack Daniel and the Hermitage Hotel. All opinions of the fun things to do and eat in Nashville are our own.
What is your favorite thing to do in Nashville?