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Obviously one of the things that Nashville is most famous for is its music scene. Do you have to love country music to visit the city? Of course not. Should you gauge your own interest in it before deciding which sites to visit? Absolutely.
If you appreciate music history, or just love a good behind-the-scenes insiders look at one of the more famous and flashy venues in Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry tour is probably for you. Obviously they do talk a lot about country music, but it requires no prior knowledge or interest in order to enjoy the tour. It may be the most touristy thing to do in Nashville, but there’s a reason that everyone enjoys going.
If you’re interested in music history, but don’t want all the tourist glitz and glamour of the Opry, then the Ryman Auditorium is the tour for you. The Ryman goes back to the 1800s in terms of music history in Nashville and continues to feature shows from all genres. While much more understated than the Opry, don’t think that this means the Ryman will be completely tourist or crowd free.
This is the only thing in Nashville that I would recommend passing on if you’re not really interested in country music. As with most halls of fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a museum of memorabilia. Rooms full of paraphernalia are perfect for those of us who love the artists on display, but most likely boring for others.
When we scheduled the tour for Studio B, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. By that I mean, I was expecting to be a little bored. How interesting could a studio be? Not only was our tour guide excellent, but the studio was full of artifacts and recordings from its illustrative history. Hearing a recording of Dolly Parton from her session at Studio B was the highlight for me. Note that Studio B can only visited through a joint ticket with the Country Music Hall of Fame, so judge for yourself.
The Bluebird Café is arguably one of the most famous in terms of smaller live music venues in Nashville, however it is by no means the only place. Walk down Lower Broadway on any day of the week and you’ll hear life music every few feet. Follow your ears and I promise you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for a choice that is both iconic and not a total tourist trap, I like Tootsie’s. Good music, good drink selection and their outdoor balcony has a great view of the lights and sounds of Lower Broadway.
As Nashville continues to get even more popular as a tourist destination (as if it wasn’t enough already!) the food scene in Nashville continues to grow. No doubt you can find any type of food you’re craving, but, since you’re in Nashville, make sure you have some barbecue and some Tennessee whiskey.
Hidden in an alley in the 5 Points neighborhood, Drifters is my favorite restaurant in Nashville. Not quite a dive bar, but certainly nothing fancy, go in and have the pulled pork in my honor. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re already on Lower Broadway, we enjoyed Jack’s for a barbecue experience right in the middle of the Nashville hubbub. They seem to always have a long line, but with plenty of staff and seemingly endless floors of seating, it will go quickly. Puckett’s, on the corner of 5th and Church, offers homemade Southern comfort food, but, be warned, it gets very busy around lunchtime during the week. If you’re ok with waiting, it’ll be worth it.
For a first time visit to Nashville (and Tennessee overall), I wanted to do some sort of whiskey tasting. When in Tennessee, right? There also may have been something of an added bonus that I was on vacation with my parents, so it would be everyone’s first whiskey tasting. Corsair has two locations in Nashville, and we visited the one on Clinton Street. It got us out of the bustle of downtown Nashville and gave us an excuse to explore a different neighborhood. Since none of us like whiskey, our opinion on the quality of the liquor is probably moot, but we had a great time regardless.
I can imagine there is some eye rolling at including Antique Archaeology on the list. But, we had such a fun time exploring the store made famous by the History Channel’s American Pickers. (My mom and I had dreams of meeting Mike and Frank – unfortunately, that didn’t happen.) If you’re already at the Corsair location on Clinton Street, it is the next door down. Even if you aren’t already down there, this is a fun pit stop and great photo location. Go in knowing that it’s an overproduced location meant to sell souvenirs, and enjoy feeling just a little bit star struck.
(I debated including this in the ‘Country Music’ section, but the Cash Museum touches on so much more than just his music, that I decided to put it down here.) Upon hearing that there was a Johnny Cash Museum, I immediately assumed it was a museum for suckers. It is anything but. If you only want to visit one museum, make it this one. Learn about the amazing life, career, and activism of a man usually associated only with his music.
*Right across the street from the Cash Museum is the Goo Goo Shop. The Goo Goo is a caramel, peanut, marshmallow cluster that was invented in Nashville in the early 1900s. Stop in for a sugary, afternoon pick-me-up.
No trip with me is complete without seeing the presidential highlights in the area. Due to Andrew Jackson’s problematic history, I had my reservations about The Hermitage, but also felt like I couldn’t leave Nashville without visiting. The mansion and grounds are beautiful, however, the tour and exhibits gloss over the more complicated nuances of Jackson’s life and presidency. If you do decide to go, bring your analytical perspective.
*Just in case you’re interested: James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, is buried on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol building.
And, an honorable mention, but integral part of this list is our dear friend, Cooper who is a wealth of hospitality and knowledge every time we visit his city. Feel free to visit one of his recommendations, a beer garden called The Pharmacy. Thanks, Coop!
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Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer and marketing consultant in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..