Nashville, the capital of country music. This city had been on my travel bucket list for a long time. I started playing guitar, singing and writing my own songs as a kid. I then got into country music as a young adult and I first learned about this magical country music paradise.
It was nothing like I expected, far smaller, far less exciting, but still really cool. Sometimes you have such a clear image in your head of what a place will be like, based on tv and movies. So that when you actually get there, you find out it’s nothing like you imagined. It can be hard to let go of that, but it’s something I have had to consistently do in the US. This whole country is nothing like I thought it would be.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I loved Nashville. It’s a vibrant town with lots to do and see. And it is not all country music 24 hours a day. Here are my favorite things I did while visiting Nashville:
Learn about Tennessee history
Sure, Nashville might be famous for country music now, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing more to this city. It is also the capital of Tennessee. The newly opened Tennessee State Museum is the perfect place to learn more about this southern state. From dinosaurs to the colonies and the Civil War to the Great Depression, the Tennessee State Museum covers it all. The exhibits are very informative and interactive, so it’s fun for kids as well. Be sure to check out the temporary exhibitions as well. When I was there it was one about the musical history of Tennessee and one about quilting.
Another great way to explore Nashville and its history is to join a tour. There is a great hop-on-hop-off bus tour that takes you to all the major sites. If you’re on a budget, the Nashville Free Walking Tour might be something for you. Be sure to reserve a place in advance as they tend to book out fast.
Right next to the Tennessee State Museum you’ll find the Nashville Farmers Market. Part of the market are food stalls and restaurants selling delicious Nashville specialities, such as hot chicken. The other end of the market is a fresh produce market, an artisan market and a flower shop.
A stroll through the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park rounds off a nice day itinerary.
Get a little hipster in 12th South and Salemtown
Nashville is a hip and young city and that’s most obvious in the gentrified neighborhoods of Germantown, Salemtown and 12th South. 12th South is where the locals go for Sunday brunch, vintage boutqiues and excellent coffee. Stroll around here, dip into the stores and cafe’s.
There’s also a lot of very Instagrammable street art in 12th South.
Lounge in the sun at Centennial Park
There are several great parks in and around Nashville, so outdoor enthusiasts will find enough to do here as well. The most popular park in the middle of the city is Centennial Park. Aside from lovely greenery and water features, this park has one especially eye-catching sight: the Parthenon. This replica of the Parthenon temple in Athens was erected for the 1897 Centennial Exposition. If you’ve seen the original, you likely won’t be very impressed, but it is one of the city’s most important landmarks. The inside of the Parthenon is an art museum with 19th and 20th century painting.
Centennial Park is also home to a small outdoor theater. This is where on summer weekend you can attend the Musicians Corner. Musicians Corner is a free concert every Saturday and Friday night. Local musicians (of which Nashville has many) play music, there are food trucks, craft beer and activities for kids. It’s the perfect low budget activity for a sunny Saturday or Friday.
Get a little country
You can’t go to Nashville and not get a little country. It is the country music capitol after all. To learn more about this all-American music style, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Famous country music stars have lent their voices to the audio tour, and they’ll talk you through everything country music.
Next to the museum lies the Country Music Walk of Fame park. As a park, it’s nothing special, but the Walk of Fame is fun. Country music legends of then and now have plaques on this little Walk of Fame.
One of my favorite things I did in Nashville was walk into Trail West on Broadway. I had a blast trying on real cowboy boots, hats and leather jackets. There’s a sign that says “no playing dress up”, but rules are made to be broken, right? 😉
Enjoy all the live music
Finally, my favorite thing by far was listening to all the live music. From country to jazz, if you like music, this is the place to go.
If country music is your religion, then the Grand Ole Oprey is your church. This legendary country music venue has shows almost every day, and they’re not even that expensive. Big stars and up-and-comers bring the roof down here.
Sure, Broadway might be a bit gaudy, but you can’t deny the talent that plays here. I avoided all the loud bars and clubs ran by country music stars. Instead, I opted for walking past the open windows to see what caught my ear. These bars don’t charge for music, but they do charge heavily for drinks. So if you’re on a budget, take advantage of the happy hour deals at Tin Roof. It’s the only place on Broadway with happy hour. After that, listen to some real old-school country swing at Roberts Western World. They also serve delicious greasy pub grub.
If you’re in town on a Tuesday, you have to go to the American Legion Post 82 for Honky Tonk Tuesday. This place is as far from touristic as you can get. This is where the locals come for amazing classic country music. Both older folk and young hipsters mingle, enjoy the cheap drinks and great tunes. When I was there they had a two-step lesson before the show, which was a lot of fun as well.
If you’re tired of country music, be sure to step into Station Inn on a Sunday to witness the musicians play a Bluegrass Jam.
I had a blast in Nashville. It’s a fun city and there’s tons to do. Have you ever been? What was your favorite activity? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.
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