Since Nashville seems to be THE PLACE TO BE, I thought my living here could be a possible writing topic. It’s not some exotic corner of the earth, but it is a place that people appear to want to come on weekend trips, so here I am to the rescue.
Nashville, metro population 1.8 million, is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Lots of music, pro sports teams, good food and it hardly ever snows. Nearly smack dab between Atlanta and St. Louis and only a short distance from Memphis or Louisville. Oh, and you can be out of the city and into a forest full of waterfalls in less than an hour. Did I mention it hardly ever snows?
Although it’s not all rainbows living here (one word: drivers) it’s something else living in a tourist mecca. Every single person downtown on Broadway is on vacation, which makes the vibe gobs of fun when we have people in town to take down there. Here are, in my opinion, some highlights of Music City. (hotels/restaurants are linked)
The nerve center of Nashville is Broadway. It’s where country music began and it still hangs onto those roots today. Every hour of every day there is someone playing music in every one of the endless bars. Each door you pass has a different song blaring out, beckoning you to come in and grab a drink and sing along to a cover of “Wagon Wheel” or “Cruise”. And it’s only 3 in the afternoon.
If you want to truly be a tourist, have a go on the pedal taverns or the booze bus or anything like it. Basically you pay someone to drive you and your drunk friends up and down Broadway in a themed vehicle of sorts. There are tractors, trucks and I’ve even seen one pretending to be a pontoon boat. (Pro tip: The Pedal Tavern pictured below is BYOB so not only do you have to supply your own, you have to exercise while you’re at it.)
I am a sucker for tacky souvenir shops. I adore them. It doesn’t matter where I am; I hunted them down in Paris for crying out loud. Funnily enough, I typically don’t buy anything, I just like looking around at all the gaudy trinkets. (I did buy a coffee mug from one in Iceland) Nashville certainly has no shortage of kitsch.
Once you’ve made it up and down Broadway a few times, you can take a walk on the pedestrian bridge that crosses the river. It’s a lovely bridge and you have beautiful views of the city. It’s the perfect place for an afternoon photo op with the city as the backdrop.
Broadway at night turns into an adult playground of music and lights and dancing and bars and clatter. In the three years I’ve been here, they’ve actually had to widen the sidewalks into the main road with a fence because so many people are here all the time. This isn’t just on the weekend either. Any night of the week.
My favorite bars downtown are The Valentine and Paradise Park. The Valentine has all black walls and several stories that’s open in the center with balconies. Dropping down through the middle of the levels is a giant crystal chandelier. I love it. From the many times I’ve been there, typically the lower level plays country that can be heard on the floor above. A third level plays rap and hip-hop and the rooftop plays dance/pop. I’m sure it changes around but that seems to be the norm. It’s one of the few places downtown that isn’t dedicated to country bands (although I do very much love those).
Paradise Park is trailer park themed and no I’m not joking. Think AstroTurf floors, Christmas lights and wood paneling complete with a jacked up smashed car right inside the bar. The walls are also adorned with framed pictures of raccoons and Dale Earnhardt. It’s a magical place.
Downtown pro tip #1: Head off Broadway a few blocks and go to Printer’s Alley. It’s literally a gritty alleyway with string lights, but it includes dive bar Ms. Kelli’s and another place I love, Skulls. Ms. Kelli’s is billed as a karaoke joint, but really it’s a smokey dive bar that serves Jell-O shots. It’s fun, but make sure it’s the very last place you go after you’re already three sheets to the wind, if you get my drift.
Skulls has a prohibition era vibe complete with burlesque shows on the hour. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time with the jazz playing and the dark wood interior. Drinks are pricey, but the ambiance is worth it.
For dining downtown, you’ll find a lot of pub/bar/casual food restaurants. A few (delicious) exceptions are: Jack’s BBQ right on Broadway. If you’re not standing in a line out the door, count yourself lucky. Also don’t let the Styrofoam tray throw you off. A few blocks up on Church St. is Puckett’s, a Nashville staple. Like everything downtown it’s always crowded and the service feels rushed sometimes. They have another location in Franklin, which I prefer, but I’ve always enjoyed the southern cooking. For more upscale dining, across from Bridgestone Arena is the Palm which has the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had in my life.
Pro tip #2: Museums/tours. I’ve done most of them including the Ryman, Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and George Jones Museum. If you are into country music history, you’ll have a ball going through these. The Ryman seems to be the best in my opinion, because they let us on the stage and I got to pretend to belt into the mic. The Hall of Fame is huge and tickets are pricey, but it really has a lot of things inside and changes singer exhibitions once in a while. Johnny and George are smaller, George being the smallest. Personally, I don’t care too much about either of them but it was still interesting enough to keep my attention.
The Gulch as a relatively newish area of Nashville. They built it all up from basically scratch after the flood wiped it out. It’s a little far to walk from Broadway, but still only a few $ Uber ride. It’s a bit more of an upscale area with fine dining, shopping and hotels, yet it still has a casual air. It’s also home to many of the murals you see on social media including the giant angel wings.
The Gulch is a wonderful area to spend a day. You can start by having some breakfast/brunch at Biscuit Love. (For the love of all things holy, get there early. There is a perpetual line.)
Then you can wander in and out of all the shops and boutiques. There are the small local ones and also bigger like Urban Outfitters. For lunch, stop into Otaku Ramen and slurp your cares away. If you have a hankering for a mid-afternoon coffee, head right around the corner from Otaku and there you’ll find Barista Parlor, an unassuming white, sky blue and orange building that doesn’t look like it’s even anything at all, let alone a trendy coffee shop.
Once all your shopping is done and you’re ready for your evening out, head to the Thompson Hotel rooftop bar, L. A. Jackson, for a pre-dinner drink. The hotel is nearly brand new and has such a 70s vibe with wood and gold accents (I die) and the rooftop is the perfect place to hang out.
For a splurge dinner, I suggest Prima or the little less expensive, Virago. Tip for Virago: if the weather is nice, make a reservation for the outside patio upstairs. You have a view of the city skyline. There is also Kayne Prime, which I’ve never been to because A. I can’t afford it and B. I don’t really like steak. But I hear it’s fantastic.
Pro tip: Go to the Station Inn on Sunday night. The Station Inn is easily looked over, however you won’t grasp the gem that it is until you experience it. It’s legendary here in town, but only if you know about it. From the outside it looks a bit like a run-down bar, but entering inside and you’ll find the greatest bluegrass scene on earth. I don’t think it’s been renovated since the 70s, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Every Sunday at 8pm, it’s the Bluegrass Jam, where anyone can come, bring their banjos and join the ever-growing group on stage. So grab a popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the twang.
Hillsboro Village/12 South
These areas are a little southwest of downtown but are the cute, boutique-y areas where, as a resident here, I’d rather spend my time. The tree lined streets, older buildings and charming shops are definitely worth a visit. This area also has a lot of the murals, including the I Believe in Nashville one.
For some lunch, stop into the Grilled Cheeserie which is exactly what it sounds like. A restaurant. Dedicated to grilled cheese. It was a popular food truck around but now it has a brick and mortar so you don’t have to chase the truck around. My favorite is a brie-pesto-butternut squash concoction. They also do some heavenly milkshakes.
You can also run across the Sprinkles cupcake ATM and yes you heard me right. There are only a 15 of them located across the country and one is right here in good ol’ Nashville, so stop while you can. It’s not just some silly novelty either, the cupcakes are sensational. It’s located right next to Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s boutique that, although has some super cute stuff, is priced well out of my bank account.
Pro tip: 12 South and Hillsboro village are two separate areas about a mile or two apart so you will have to drive or get an Uber between the two (but they are both worth it!). You’ll drive through the cutest neighborhood streets separating them but don’t let those small 1930s bungalow houses fool you, they go for a cool $1 million a piece. As for parking, you can park on any of the side streets for free so long as you aren’t blocking anyone’s driveway.
Franklin is about 30 minutes south of downtown, however it’s worth the drive if you have some afternoon time to kill. It’s the historic part of the area, being where the Battle of Franklin was fought. All the tree-lined streets are full of enormous 1800s homes (that now go for millions, with an s) and the main street is the cutest you’ll ever see with ice-cream shops, spice markets and art galleries. If you’re a history buff, you’ll really enjoy all the Civil War attractions and tours. (ps these photos by my mother)
Pro tip: If you want antiques, Franklin is the place to be. I swear every other store off the Main St is an antique shop stuffed to the ceiling with dusty old things.
Before I sign off, I’ll let you in on one last pro pro pro tip and that’s about Opryland. Yes, the Opry is famous and sure you may want to go for a tour, but I would never recommend actually staying at the Opryland Hotel. People don’t realize that the Opryland Hotel is not a short walk to all the attractions. As a matter of fact, it’s about a 20 minute drive (without traffic, good luck). Sure, they provide shuttles and things like that, but unless you want to rely on a shuttle time schedule and be stuck that far from just about anything, go ahead. There’s a mall right next door and that’s really about it. There’s nothing of value out that way that would make your Nashville experience excellent, so do yourself a favor and stay downtown.
Have you ever been to Nashville? Are you planning on coming soon? What do you like to do when you’re here that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments!