48 Tongue-Tingling, Ear-Busting Hours in Nashville

A great weekend features hot chicken and live music, sure, but don’t miss these other essential Nashville experiences.

Nashville is justifiably popular among fans of music, food, and a good time.

Nashville is justifiably popular among fans of music, food, and a good time.

Calvin Craig / Unsplash

Nashville is one of those places whose reputation resonates far beyond the city limits. The word alone conjures images of Loretta, Patsy, and Dolly, hot fried chicken, and southern hospitality. But like all great cities, it’s much more than its global shorthand.

There are bars and music museums aplenty, and first-time visitors should definitely spend a night or two bumping from joint to joint in Lower Broadway. But with numerous, discrete neighborhoods, disparate food options (and people serving them), and ample outdoor spaces to earn a breather, Nashville offers plenty of other things to do for a weekend—or a full week. The main strip is fun for a few hours, but you don’t want to spend the whole time at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Steakhouse. Here are a few suggestions.

Dive into the city’s live music scene

Music is everywhere in Nashville. You’ll likely hear a band as soon as you step off the plane, and hundreds of acts keep the beat going with covers galore along the famous Honky Tonky Highway However, the true pulse of the city can be felt just slightly further afield. The Listening Room Cafe, a 10-minute walk away, is a great spot to hear both up-and-coming singer songwriters and established musicians with impressive resumes in an intimate environment. They’re lined up on stools on a stage, telling stories and singing songs, while the bar serves food that’s far superior to the usual gig offerings. Think smoked barbecue platters, shrimp and grits, and other elevated comfort foods. The Bluebird Cafe a few miles south of the center is another worth checking out.

The city is a firmly established stop for national tours, with arenas playing host to all manner of big name acts. Calendars at the time of writing promised Louis Tomlinson and Arctic Monkeys (Ascend Amphitheater), Janet Jackson (Bridgestone Arena), and Billy Joel with Stevie Nicks (Nissan Stadium). CMA Fest and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in nearby Manchester, Tennessee, are only two of the big annual festivals in town.

How to visit

Download the Nashville Live Music Guide app for the latest on who’s playing which of the city’s 180+ live music venues when, and check Visit Music City’s events page for seasonal happenings. Add Nashville to your Songkick account if you have one ahead of the trip, too.

You can buy tickets for shows at the Listening Room online. Your ticket acts as a dinner reservation, too, and a minimum spend of $15 on food and drink is required. The café is located at 618 Fourth Avenue South.

Neon signs at night along Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville nights center around the Honky Tonk Highway.

Photo by CrackerClips Stock Media/Shutterstock

Discover Nashville’s musical heritage

There are numerous music museums showcasing the cultural history of Nashville—with specific places dedicated to Patsy Cline, Glen Campbell, and Johnny Cash. Of course, country and bluegrass are dominant genres, so you’ll want to swing by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum is running a special exhibition called Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock until May 2025, celebrating the likes of the Byrds and the Eagles.

The Ryman Auditorium in the heart of the city is a must. The venue has had many incarnations, most famously as host to the Grand Ole Opry radio show for many years. Elvis, Johnny Cash, and B.B. King have all graced the stage, and live performances continue to this day with the likes of Smokey Robinson. The Grand Ole Opry show is now recorded a short taxi ride away at Opry House, offering two hours of music and stories by at least half a dozen artists; it is also broadcast on several radio stations.

Nashville’s newest institution is the wonderful National Museum of African American Music, which opened in 2021 right opposite the Ryman. I spent hours here in winter 2022, lost in a pair of headphones connected to one of the many screens depicting Black artists and showing how they’ve been influenced by—and exert an influence on—other artists. It’s full of exhibits, interactive displays, and some seriously fun hands-on booths that let you mix your own tunes and join a gospel choir; the museum demonstrates the power and joy of African American music from sharecropper blues to slick modern hip-hop.

How to visit

The National Museum of African American Music is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (from noon on Sundays). Adults: $25. The Country Music Hall of Fame works 9 to 5 daily. Adults: $28. The Opry show starts at 7 p.m. sharp. Tickets start at around $40.

Get acquainted with Nashville’s distinct neighborhoods

Downtown and Lower Broadway pack in many of the main sights, but Nashville boasts a variety of diverse neighborhoods close to the city center. Head south for SoBro (south of Broadway) and the Gulch; the former is home to Jack White’s Third Man Records and Goo Goo Chocolate Co., for vinyl records and nut ’n’ nougat treats, respectively. The Gulch is an interesting mix of high-end hotels, trendy boutiques, and some original Nashville restaurants. A few minutes south from the main downtown, 12South is a lovely stretch of vintage shops and appealing eateries, with quiet residential streets running perpendicular. Spend an hour or two here browsing the fruits of local creatives’ labor and admiring street art. You’ll find sweet treats aplenty on this stretch; try to time your visit with the Tennessee Cobbler Co.’s truck opening hours.

How to visit

Download a map of Nashville’s neighborhoods on the city’s tourism site. Some neighborhoods are adjacent and walkable; others might require a short and cheap (~$15–$20) Lyft.

Discover tempting local food

It’s against Tennessee law to leave Nashville without stuffing yourself full of hot chicken and barbecue. Head to Party Fowl for the puns, but stay for the chicken, which is served on a heat scale ranging from “southern friend” (no heat) to “poultrygeist” (you may not survive). The latter is dusted with cayenne, habañero, ghost, scorpion, and Carolina peppers. Get it with gravy, collard greens to temper the heat, and some bourbon-glazed beignets. For barbecue, we love Edley’s, which has five locations across the city, including a branch in 12South. Hot links, burnt ends, ribs, wings—it’s all good. Don’t sleep on the sweet, tangy beans.

Nashville is constantly welcoming new spots; even Eater admits it’s hard to keep up (although their list is a great primer). Buzzy options include Spanish newcomer Lola, South Asian American spot Tailor in Germantown, and Italian Carne Mare at the Gulch’s W Hotel. In February, the month-long Dine Nashville: The Music City Way celebrates the city’s food scene with chef collaborations, special deals, and dozens of participating restaurants. Some proceeds go to the Giving Kitchen, an organization that supports food service workers.

How to visit

All the places mentioned have websites with opening times and menus. For a food-centric festival, come for the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in July or one of the other food fests throughout the year.

Enjoy the scenic Tennessee outdoors

You don’t have to jump on one of those beer bikes to get your exercise or fresh air in Nashville (although they exist, and they’re popular); the city’s bikeshare program offers an easy way to explore on two wheels. Find plenty of open space at the city’s parks, from the 132-acre Centennial Park featuring the Parthenon, a replica of the Athenian original, to Cumberland Park, with splash pads in the summer. There are many more. In spring 2023, Nashville Zoo will open a new Komodo Dragon habitat, which it says will be the largest in the Americas. Two adults, three females, and several younger Komodo dragons are expected to move in. More adventures await the whole family nearby, including the ziplines and rope bridges at the Adventure Park at Nashville, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage (and gardens), and the huge caves of Cumberland Caverns.

How to visit

Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, to give it its full name, is open every day except major holidays. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during October to March (and until 6 p.m. the rest of the year). Adult prices vary between $16 and $24 depending on the day. The Adventure Park at Nashville opens for the season each year in March. General admission for adults is $57 at the gate and $52 in advance. Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Tuesday and a Mansion tour is $26. Cumberland Caverns has 26 miles of passageways, offers varying experiences from “easy” to “extreme” and an overnight option. Prices vary.

The Lounge at Blue Aster at the Conrad Nashville

The Conrad Nashville’s Blue Aster restaurant is named after a wildflower found in Tennessee. It’s one of the city’s newest gathering places, offering locally sourced meals with a focus on seafood and fish.

Courtesy of Conrad Nashville

Check into a new hotel

Four Seasons Nashville

Book now: Four Seasons Nashville

The Nashville skyline has been full of cranes and new skyscrapers of late, with construction underway on a number of new hotels. The latest addition is the Four Seasons Nashville, which opened in November 2022 and offers 235 rooms and suites, a pool deck, and a restaurant, Mimo, “where southern Italian cuisine meets southern hospitality” right in the heart of the action in the SoBro neighborhood.

Conrad Nashville

Book now: Conrad Nashville

On a recent trip to the city I stayed at the new-for-2022 Conrad Nashville, a 15-minute walk from Music Row and the heart of downtown. Designed to reflect the city’s music heritage, with a sweeping spiral staircase and brass balustrade that mimics the curves of a piano, it’s a warm stylish place accented with mahogany, leather, and bronze, with walls showcasing local artworks—the work of Champalimaud Design, who renovated the Raffles in Singapore.

Conrad Nashville lobby

The Conrad Nashville’s lobby subtly nods to the city’s music heritage.

Courtesy of the Conrad Nashville

Rooms offer unfussy comfort with Frette linens and Byredo amenities and, in some cases, a Peloton or Echelon Fitness Mirror. Blue Aster restaurant serves steaks and seafood, and the cocktails at Thistle & Rye on the third floor are worth a visit even if you’re not staying. Organized by era—the Golden Age, Post-War Tiki, and so on—they come with a sense of occasion, smoked with a live flame or poured from a glass water pipe.

Options in the city also include the boutique Holston House in the building of the former 1920s James Robertson hotel, the city’s only art deco hotel. The 110-year-old National Historic Landmark that is the Hermitage Hotel underwent a full renovation in 2022, and two restaurants from Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten—the seasonal, new-American Drusie & Darr restaurant, and a laid-back café, the Pink Hermit—are worth trying. A Ritz-Carlton is expected by 2025.

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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