* Though the devastation left behind by a March 2020 tornado lingers in parts of Nashville, much of the city is still open for business. AFAR will continue to update the destination guide over the coming months to include the new openings and renovations. *
While the charms of Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville may beckon visitors with live music and honky tonks lit by neon moons, venture beyond this flashy tourist area to explore Nashville’s eclectic neighborhoods. From bohemian East Nashville, to the posh mansions of Belle Meade, to a lively college culture in Hillsboro Village, each pocket offers a local flavor all its own. Cultural and historical attractions are spread out over hundreds of square miles, with plenty of open space in over 100 city parks in Davidson County and several Tennessee state parks worth a day trip.
Can’t miss things to do in Nashville
Catch a show at historic venues like the landmark Ryman Auditorium; as the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and the birthplace of bluegrass, it is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Alternatively, enjoy a more intimate performance at the tiny Bluebird Cafe. Gain a deeper understanding of music’s roots across a variety of genres at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. See the visual side of music at Hatch Show Print, a letterpress for show posters for over 130 years, or tour United Record Pressing, one of only a dozen remaining companies that press vinyl records. Beyond the music world, the Hermitage estate of Andrew Jackson and the Belle Meade Mansion will take you further back in time to Nashville before the Civil War.
Food and drink to try in Nashville
Nashville loves celebrating the juxtaposition of high and low culture, especially at the table. Ask a local where to eat, and you might get a recommendation for the daily tasting menu at The Catbird Seat in the same breath as for Arnold’s Country Kitchen, a classic Nashville diner. Regardless of price point, the best restaurants draw from the area’s agrarian roots, whether it’s the modern peasant cuisine of Rolf and Daughters, the menu of Italian inflected with Southern American at City House, or the daily plate lunches at Husk. Don’t miss Nashville’s culinary claim to fame, cayenne-fried hot chicken, at the joints that made it famous, like Prince’s Hot Chicken; more modern interpretations can be sampled at Hattie B’s.
Culture in Nashville
Nashville has big-city fun but with small-town heart. Locals have a reputation for their traditional Southern hospitality, even as the city grows by leaps and bounds. While new restaurants and condo developments seem to spring up daily, the city keeps a casual and friendly vibe. The music business has been drawing creative types for decades, but not just to perform. Designers, entrepreneurs, engineers, and writers have entered the mix, while chefs, artisans, immigrant business owners, and artists enhance a culture that supports and celebrates collaboration.
Nashville’s creative spirit has given life to a variety of local handcrafted products, making for many authentic souvenirs. Marathon Village, downtown, was once a factory for Marathon Motor Cars but now plays host to unique stores like Antique Archaeology, home base for TV’s American Pickers. Find treasures such as leather goods at Emil Erwin, handmade ties by Otis James, gourmet treats at The Bang Candy Company, sweets from the Goo Goo Dessert Bar, and Corsair Artisan Distillery’s craft spirits. Across town around 12th Avenue South, dress up in Imogene + Willie jeans and Savant Vintage clothing, listen in at Corner Music and Forks Drum Closet, and browse swank gifts at White’s Mercantile, owned by Hank Williams’ granddaughter Holly.
You’ll find all four seasons in the capital city of Tennessee, with hot summers and cold winters, making it best to plan visits for spring or fall. Buses can shuttle you around downtown, but a rental car is best to explore the city. Taxis are easy to find at the airport and downtown, and on-demand ride sharing and car services such as Lyft and Uber are also good modes of transport. Bikes can be rented from stations throughout the city with B-cycle and GreenBikes. Nashville has a population of over 600,000, with around 1.7 million in the greater metropolitan Middle Tennessee area.
Jennifer Justus Nashville Local Expert