First things first: You do not need to like country music to fall in love with Nashville. Admittedly, it will not hurt if you are a fan of the lens and the twang, but the No. 1 destination in Tennessee offers something for everyone: from attractions such as the famous zoo and the Grand Ole Opry, to the Lane Motor Museum, with a quirky collection from (mostly tiny) cars and an endless array of in-house and luxury clubs and restaurants.
Nashville, along with being the largest city in Tennessee, is also the biggest tourist attraction. About 16 million hits in 2019. While those numbers dropped dramatically during the COVID peak in 2020-2021, they have recovered well. Wherever we went during our recent spring getaway, things were crazy – whether it was a restaurant or a museum.
It had been almost a decade since I last visited Nashville and it seemed even more tourist friendly and popular than ever. There were families, couples, children and many bachelor and bachelor party participants talking in the city. Whatever draws you to Nashville, this is a city that seems determined to make sure you have a great time.
Known worldwide as “Music City,” Nashville is truly the heart of the country music industry — and it also hosts some of the best players and collectors anywhere. It will be difficult not to find music of your choice in Nashville: along with traditional country, there is everything from jazz to classical to blues, ranging from boring honky-tonks to classical music.
After settling into our elegant (and centrally located) boutique hotel, The Bobby, we enjoyed a fantastic welcome dinner with friends at the recently opened restaurant, Union Tavern. Led by renowned chef Ryan Polly, this relaxed gourmet restaurant included everything from pork belly with lime coriander sauce to puttanesca tagliatelle with serrano ham, capers and olives. There is also a fun rooftop bar.
We decided to start our tour with what turned out to be an ideal overview of the city through a 1-hour Gray Line bus tour. This not only provided us with a decent “layer of the earth”, but also presented many attractions that we would explore later – and one that we could only see from the bus, the city’s famous Parthenon. Built for the 1897 Centennial Exhibition in Tennessee, it is an exact replica of the Parthenon in Greece, with a tall statue of Athena inside, 42 feet high. But why, you may wonder, does this southern city host such a miracle? Because Nashville, with its focus on higher education and home to many colleges, is sometimes referred to as the “Athens of the South.”
Yes, our adventures in Nashville were varied and plentiful. In fact, there are just too many here to see and do it all in four days – but we tried. We did our best, mostly on foot, but do not worry – Uber and Lyft are within easy reach of this busy, beautiful city. The city’s most impressive building is also the tallest: the 617-foot-tall AT&T Building – commonly known as the “Batman Building” because of its resemblance to the superhero hood.
The following is a summary of some of the highlights of our spring getaway – all of which we would recommend to first-time visitors to Nashville:
A trip to the Ryman Auditorium. The reopening of the 2,362-seat Ryman Auditorium – which hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974 – gave a welcome boost to downtown Nashville and now has plenty of shopping and dining options nearby (see the family-run Hattie’s B’s if you look forward to a fantastic fried chicken – with an extremely hot version humorously named “Shut the Cluck Up”). Built in 1892 as a church stage, The Ryman eventually transformed into what would become an international phenomenon, a radio show that continued to air on the Grand Ole Opry. Opry, which debuted during World War II, featured legends such as the Patsy Klein, the Carter Family, Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams around the world. Named “The Mother Church of Country Music”, The Ryman was sadly obsolete and worn in the early 1970s. And when Opry moved to its new location (Opryland, 12 miles away) in 1974, Ryman was left empty. for years. But in 1994, a multimillion-dollar renovation project restored this National Historic Landmark to its original glory. Today, a popular concert hall has hosted everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Harry Styles. Open daily for touring, we enjoyed exploring the many souvenirs from various musicians who have played there.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is worth a visit of at least two hours. that is, if you are a fan of country music. Chartered in 1964, the museum has one of the largest collections of music in the world – displaying everything from Elvis’s white Cadillac to the marijuana-embroidered suit of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Visitors can learn about the country’s early roots and its connection to Celtic music and even modern rock and roll – don’t forget: even the Beatles cover Carl Perkins songs. There are always special exhibits. We especially enjoyed “Kacey Musgraves: All of the Colors”, which chronicles the evolution of the Texas-born star from a child singer and gondeller to an award-winning recording artist. You can get completely lost in this place and time here is good.
The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, located in the historic Municipal Amphitheater of the city, is dedicated to the musicians – sometimes famous and sometimes only famous talented – who played in some of the most popular recordings of all time. There is an interactive 9,000-square-foot exhibition at The Grammy Museum Gallery, where visitors can learn about every aspect of the music industry – from songwriting, to instrumental playing, to recording and engineering. We loved the special report on Jimmy Hendrix, who played at a Nashville club as a supporting musician during the early years of his career. There are countless instruments on display, including the Stratocaster that Hendrix played all those decades before Nashville clubs. This museum is a real gem for any serious music lover.
The National Museum of African American Music, which opened in 2021, is the only museum in the United States to feature more than 50 musical genres and styles created or influenced by Black Americans – including intellectual, jazz, gospel, hip-hop and more. A short introductory film is included before exploring the galleries. do not miss it.
The Johnny Cash Museum, which opened in 2013, and the Patsy Cline Museum, which was unveiled four years later, are housed in the same building, just off Broadway (home to most of the city’s noisiest honky-tonks). Shannon and Bill Miller, who founded the Cash Museum with the full support of his family, were able to pay tribute to Patsy Cline – who tragically died at the age of 30 in a plane crash in 1963 – after her husband, Charlie Dick died in 2015, leaving behind an extensive collection of Cline items – everything from private letters to stage costumes. It’s a touching tribute to an iconic talent.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts – housed in the city’s former general deco post office – is another cultural attraction worth exploring. In addition to his ever-changing exhibits, there is often free, live music in the spacious lobby of the 1934 building. A special exhibition, “Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful,” explores the life and art of this famous black artist. known for its colorful, abstract paintings. It will last until June 5.
If you are longing for something more elegant, take a look at a performance by the Nashville Symphony. For the past 15 years, this prestigious orchestra has set up its home at the beautiful $ 123 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center, known for its remarkable acoustics and distinctive architecture. We were lucky enough to watch the show “Police Deranged” with former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, where he changed well-known hits of the ’70s and’ 80s with the help of the symphony and three very talented singers. It was exciting, to say the least.
Last night, we got a show at the famous Grand Ole Opry. Located about 15 minutes drive from the city center, this was a real highlight. The show is broadcast live and includes a mix of music and comedy. I was most impressed by the rising vocals of the family gospel group, The Isaacs, and longtime Opry member Mandy Barnett, who became known as a teenager as Patsy Cline in “Forever, Patsy.” I wasn’t sure if Opry could get to Ryman (where I had seen a show many years ago), but the acoustics were incredible. you could literally hear a pin fall.
We had so many fantastic meals during our stay in Nashville that it was hard to keep them straight. “Music City” is also a very popular “food” city, so whether you crave barbecue with your finger licking or luxury food, you will find it. Some of our favorite places were the rooftop bar and restaurant, Denim, located on the 21st floor of The Joseph Hotel. One night we stopped at the fun, casual Red Headed Stranger for taco appetizers and at nearby Audrey for cocktails. Named after his grandmother from his mother, Audrey is the third opening of Chef Sean Brock, who has been awarded the James Beard Award in Nashville since the summer of 2020. Every day, he is going to open in June in the same building, a gourmet restaurant with a unique tasting menu focusing only on southern cuisine.
We also enjoyed a wonderful meal at FOLK, named after good appetite as one of the best new restaurants in America in 2018. It is a place focused on pizza, but rather elegant, with many other delicious menu options as well. We also enjoyed a fantastic meal with kabobs and other delicacies at the Kurdish-Turkish restaurant Edessa. (Nashville, we learned, is home to the largest Kurdish community in North America). If you’re looking for real home cooking, take a look at Arnold’s Country Kitchen. Considered the most emblematic “meat and three” joints of Nashville, you will receive a hearty meal with one meat and three hearty ribs. The atmosphere here is extremely relaxed and the food is absolutely delicious.
I decided that Nashville is the kind of tourist city that – like New Orleans and San Francisco – you can visit again and again and find something new to love and remember with each visit. Without a doubt, we will be back.
For more information about Nashville, visit www.visitmusiccity.com
Nicole Pensiero is a freelance writer in South Jersey and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.