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Skyline of Nashville, Tennessee by the water at sunset
SeanPavonePhoto | Adobe Stock

The 10 Best Things to Do in Nashville

SmarterTravel

There’s no reason to be bored in Nashville. This 24/7 city has something for everyone, whether it is somewhere to eat, somewhere to drink, somewhere to play, somewhere to learn, or somewhere to shop. And all of that is accompanied by a soundtrack of music, from country to bluegrass to rock. So whether you show up with a guitar on your back or you don’t know a fret from a saddle, you’ll find something that sounds good to you. Here are the 10 best things to do in Nashville.

Writer and author Margaret Littman tells the stories of Music City. Since moving back to Nashville 15 years ago she’s acquired a cowboy boot collection, but not the ability to carry a tune.

Hit the Honky Tonks

Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee illuminated at night with neon signs
erwin widmer/EyeEm | Adobe Stock

They don’t call it Music City for nothing. The epicenter of Nashville’s rich, live music scene is Lower Broadway, a street in the middle of downtown that features neon lights, late-night bars, and live music all day everyday. To get an authentic Nashville experience, select one of the bars, called honky tonks, that play classic Western swing music, such as Robert’s Western World or Layla’s. There are so many of these spots some people call this the Honky Tonk Highway (but not Music Row, that’s a different part of town where you’ll find music publishers’ offices). Don’t forget to tip the band generously. They’re the ones who make Nashville sing…literally.

Walk Across a Famous Stage

Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee
Dave Newman | Adobe Stock

Not all of us can experience the adulation of playing music in front of an appreciative crowd. But we can get the general idea by taking an information-packed tour and getting to walk across a hallowed stage. Two of the best backstage tours to take are the Grand Ole Opry’s Opry House and the Ryman Auditorium. Both offer lots of details about the famous folks who have performed on these stages and give you a photo op to impress your friends back home.

Explore Civil Rights History

The Civil Rights Reading Room in the Nashville Public Library
Nashville Public Library

Students from three Nashville universities were essential in helping the civil rights’ sit-in movement go national. There are several places to learn about their methods of nonviolent protest (and the violent responses they faced.) Start with the informative Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library. Then walk over to check out the windows of the Woolworth Theatre, which include artifacts from Rep. John Lewis. Then continue to read the inscriptions on the outdoor Witness Walls.

Visit Little Kurdistan

Mural in Little Kurdistan, Nashville, Tennessee by artist  Tony Sobota
Little Kurdistan Mural by artist Tony Sobota | Image: Visit Music CityVisit Music City

One of Nashville’s claims to fame is that it is home to more Kurdish-American residents than any other city in the country. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the culture and food of the Kurdish region which includes parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. (Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without their own autonomous land.) Just off of Nolensville Pike, you’ll find an area nicknamed Little Kurdistan, a neighborhood with a concentration of restaurants and shops owned by Kurdish immigrants. Highlights include the baklava and black tea at Newroz Market, the fresh-baked bread at Azadi International Food Market and Bakery, and the shawarma at Sulav International Market.

Listen to Singer-Songwriters

Close up of the hands of a banjo player strumming a banjo with a bandmate playing guitar in the foreground, out of focus
michelangeloop | Adobe Stock

Honestly, it is almost difficult not to listen to live music, as music is in Nashville’s DNA and it is played almost everywhere, from on the sidewalks on Lower Broadway to hotel lobbies to official music venues. To really get a feel for Nashville’s storytelling through song, pick a venue where you can hear singer-songwriters play acoustic sets and talk about how they come up with their ideas (these sessions often include multiple songwriters who take turns, a format that is called “in the round”.) Best bets for this intimate experience include The Listening Room, Backstage Nashville, and the famous The Bluebird Cafe (for which tickets typically sell out).

Get Glam, Nashville-Style

Close up of three pairs of rhinestone cowboy boots in a row
Laura Faye | Adobe Stock

No, not everyone in Nashville wears cowboy boots and hats bedecked with rhinestones every day. But many talented designers live and work in Music City, making it a good place to shop for the fashion accessories of your dreams, particularly if your dreams include some personal customization. Get cowboy boots made -to-order at Planet Cowboy, a one-of-kind hat at Daisy May Hat Co., artisan bling from Judith Bright Jewelry, and clothing with sequins from Any Old Iron.

Go Greek

Full sized replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee
Jbyard | Adobe Stock

Since 1897 one of Nashville’s most distinctive landmarks has been a full-size replica of Athens’ Parthenon, a monument to education, intellect, and architecture. Head to Centennial Park to see the head-turning icon. During the day you can tour its art galleries and see the 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena inside. At night, watch the shadows play off the columns as lights automatically highlight its shadows and form starting at dusk.

Tour a Music Museum

Display room in the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum

A well-designed music museum takes you beyond great sounds to help you understand the people and places that created your favorite genres and songs. Nashville has many essential stops for going deep into what made the soundtrack of our lives. Lorenzo Washington’s guided tour of The Jefferson Street Sound Museum shows you what life was like for Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, and others who made Jefferson Street thrive. The National Museum of African American Music is an interactive, multimedia experience that includes R&B, gospel, blues, and more. The Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline Museum feature smaller, intimate collections built by family and friends devoted to the country stars. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum documents the birth of a genre while the Musicians Hall of Fame highlights the people who keep the beat.

Eat at a Meat ‘N’ Three

Plate of fried catfish and hush puppies next to smaller plates of hush puppies, green beans, and coleslaw on a wooden table and a red and white plaid table cloth
pamela_d_mcadams | Adobe Stock

The cafeteria-style meat ‘n’ three is a Nashville institution, a place where everyone, no matter how famous or not, stands in line with a tray and selects dishes from the comfort food of the day. Traditional meat ‘n’ threes are open primarily at lunch and feature fried chicken, meat loaf, and fried catfish, with sides such as green beans and mac ‘n’ cheese. Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Silver Sands Cafe, and Swett’s are some of the best Music City meat ‘n’ threes.

Sip Tennessee Whiskey

Glass of whiskey and ice on a dark wooden table and backdrop
FoodAndPhoto | Adobe Stock

What would a trip to Tennessee Whiskey country be if you didn’t sample the brown liquor? If you want to explore the Middle Tennessee distilleries, including the world-famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery and George Dickel, let Mint Julep Tours do the driving for you. Inside the city limits, there are many options, including Pennington, where you can blend your own bottle, Corsair Artisan Distillery, and Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery.

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