Nashville, also known as Music City, is a vibrant destination that captures the heart and soul of the American South, from its rich musical heritage to its burgeoning food scene. Recently, my wife, Sharen, and I spent four days here, seeing for ourselves why this is one of the top tourist destinations and one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
One of the first lessons we learned was that Nashville offers so much more than just the country music scene.
Our first stop had to be in the musical heart of Nashville, Lower Broadway, where live music of every genre spilled onto the street in an auditory flood. Live music bursts from open windows, a surprisingly diverse potpourri of genres ranging from steel guitar twang to heavy rock.
Throughout the day—and especially at night—a contagious energy permeated the air as visitors flowed between the competing venues. Even on a weekday night, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge Food & Drink, and Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk were jumping.
The nearby Country Music Hall of Fame pays homage to the genre’s greatest artists, featuring exhibits that showcase the evolution of country music. A visit here is a journey through time with an in-depth look at the roots and influences that have shaped the Nashville sound. Some not-to-miss exhibits are Elvis Presley’s gold-plated Cadillac and Web Pierce’s 1962 Pontiac with chrome six-shooter pistols for door handles, a shiny Winchester rifle on the hood, and huge steer horns looming over the front grill.
No visit to Nashville is complete without a pilgrimage to the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, from 1943 to 1974. With its rich history and incredible acoustics, the Ryman has hosted such legends as Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. The current Grand Ole Opry is also a must; it’s the longest-running live radio show in the world. We decided to enhance our visit with a backstage tour, which felt like pulling back the curtains to see the Wizard of Oz.
The newly constructed National Museum of African American Music is another must. Ample photo displays and hands-on exhibits reminded us of the immense effect on American music that African American musicians have had.
On Music Row, historic recording studios and record labels were nestled among stylish boutiques and cozy cafes. At the historic RCA Studio B, a guide led us through the studio where more than 35,000 songs have been recorded by artists such as Presley, Roy Orbison, Parton, and so many others.
The best way to learn about the music here is to see performances by the musicians who abound in Nashville. One option is at the Listening Room, where we heard five young performers sing original songs, play their guitars and keyboards, and share insights about their music industry journey.
On a coach tour, we left the bustling city scene and passed through Nashville’s diverse neighborhoods and parks, including Centennial Park, with its full-scale rendition of the Parthenon and an imposing 42-foot-tall replica of ancient Greece’s famous statue of Athena.
Nashville is also known for its vibrant street art scene, and the trendy Gulch neighborhood boasts some of the city’s most Instagram-worthy murals. Here we found coffee shops, galleries, and the Frist Art Museum. Located in a former U.S. Post Office building, the museum houses a fine collection of modern art.
Nashville’s food scene is as diverse as its music. For breakfast, Biscuit Love served a Southern-style breakfast accompanied by mouthwatering biscuits and homemade pastries. For a lesson in community involvement, we had coffee and rolls at Humphrey Street, which helps local youths learn job skills and discipline.
Near the Ryman Theater, we found the Assembly Food Hall, located above the Fifth & Broadway complex and offering 30 artisanal eateries, nine bars, two full-service restaurants, and a couple of live-performance stages.
Dicey’s Pizza served up delicious Chicago-style pizza and local beer, and as an added bonus, across the street was a giant guitar, at least 25 feet long and 15 feet high, with bold lettering reading “Nashville”—a perfect selfie spot.
We enjoyed dining at the popular Martin’s BBQ Joint, with great food and an open roof. The Black Rabbit, located in an 1890s building, had a sophisticated menu and an eclectic list of drinks, including a Hot Lips Houlihan, with jalapeño tequila and grapefruit juice.
Our tour of the Nashville Craft Distillery, which produces and sells its own whiskey, gin, and other craft spirits, took us to the production area and educated us about the intricacies of the fermentation and distillation process. We enjoyed a tasting and left with a clear understanding of the difference between bourbon and foreign whisky.