Last Updated on April 16, 2023
Known as Music City, Nashville is a gem. It is a city for country music dreamers aiming to get their big break in the many bars and restaurants along Broadway Street. Dig a little deeper and you will find delightful street art and delectable southern cuisine.
Nashville has enjoyed considerable economic development in the 2000s and is one of the fastest-growing housing markets in the United States. There is a noticeable energy to the city; the locals are friendly and tourists are filled with excitement whether celebrating at a bachelorette party or enjoying live music. I must admit I was skeptical as to what I would find beyond the country music scene, but I was happily surprised.
Below are 10 of the best things to do if you find yourself in Nashville.
The Ryman Auditorium
Address: 116 5th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219
The Ryman Auditorium, also known as the Mother Church of Country Music, was initially built in 1892 as a tabernacle for an influential revivalist at the time. Thomas Ryman was a Nashville businessman who owned several riverboats. He was well known in the Nashville area and became friends with Samuel Porter Jones, an evangelist.
To pay off construction debt, the church held non-religious concerts in the auditorium. In the 1920s and 1930s, the auditorium was managed by Lula C. Naff, a widow who went from booking events to full-time manager. Lula Naff was a champion for the Ryman and there is now a restaurant named after her connected to the Ryman.
The Ryman was the first location of the Grand Ole Opry, a popular country music radio and television broadcast. The proximity of the Ryman to the bars on Broadway helped develop the area to what it is today.
It is worth taking a tour of the Ryman to watch the fascinating video history lesson. You can also walk around and see exhibits and costumes of some of the stars that have performed there.
Even if you are not a country music fan, it is a piece of Nashville, American and music history that is worth a visit.
The Johnny Cash Museum
Address: 119 3rd Ave S, Nashville, TN 37201
Located in downtown Nashville, the Johnny Cash Museum is a highlight of the city. Following the life of Johnny Cash in chronological order, the museum holds many artifacts and memorabilia. For the truest fans or those along for the ride, the museum is interactive with many spots to listen to music or view costumes and videos.
Although I was familiar with the “Folsom Prison Blues” album by Johnny Cash, I was not aware of his interest in prison reform in the United States. In 1972, Cash was invited to speak to a Senate subcommittee and discussed the treatment of released prisoners and possible ways young offenders could be kept out of prison.
The museum is all on one floor, but plan at least an hour to walk through. There is also a Patsy Cline museum on the second floor that does require its own ticket. After you are done at the museum, you will find yourself in the gift shop.
I left the museum with a greater understanding of Johnny Cash and his country music legacy.
3. Gracie’s Milkshake Bar
Address: 3814 Charlotte Ave, Nashville, TN 37209
Gracie’s Milkshake Bar is in L&L Market on the west side of Nashville, a short car ride from downtown. Gracie’s offers decadent milkshakes in a 1950s setting with teal bar stools and stainless-steel countertops. Bring your appetite and a friend because the gourmet shakes are large enough to be shared!
Try the unicorn, which features strawberry icing, a glass rolled in vanilla icing and dipped in sprinkles, whipped cream, a pop tart, sprinkles, a lolly pop, and a waffle cone on the top (to represent the unicorn of course). There are kid sizes for smaller appetites, but you still get the full effect of the strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles.
The L&L Market has many other locally-owned boutiques and restaurants. It is worth a look around.
Shop at Boutiques on 12 South
Just a short distance from downtown Nashville, the 12 South district has beautiful craftsman houses and bungalows that offer a pleasant view of Southern charm. Although there are several shops to peruse, I started off at Draper James. The building is painted with blue and white stripes, providing a backdrop for fashionistas to take a quick snap.
Inside, the sales staff offer a glass of sweet tea complete with blue gingham cups and straws. The shop sells clothing and accessories with a southern flair; it is fun to browse and potentially splurge on an item that will provide a pleasant Nashville memory.
Keep walking through the neighborhood and you will find more boutiques with unique finds. If you need a snack or a coffee, try the Frothy Monkey, said to be a favorite of Taylor Swift!
Check out Five Daughters Bakery for gourmet donuts, but just know they may sell out, especially on weekends.
12 South is quieter and slower paced than the downtown Broadway scene. It was nice to be off the main tourist track and enjoy some beautiful shops and street art.
Street Art Murals
Address: 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37204
Nashville has many street art murals throughout the city, and I found a great selection in the 12 South area. From Looking Good Music City on the side of the Madewell store to the blue and white stripes on Draper James, take some time to enjoy the variety of art in the area. There might be a line, but everyone was friendly and patient.
The original I Believe in Nashville mural is just across from Draper James. The mural is one of many throughout the city, however, the 12 South mural is the original.
My favorite mural was the wildflower mural, a wall full of painted wildflowers. The artist is unknown, but it was a beautiful scene in the middle of the city.
The Broadway Honkytonks
Address: Broadway between 1st and 3rd Avenue
As I wandered down Broadway to the Johnny Cash Museum, I heard live music even though it was 10 a.m. Lower Broadway from 1st through 3rd Avenue is full of honkytonks, or bars, with live music. Usually, the music is country, but that can mean many styles with the change in music since the 1950s.
With open windows and rooftop decks, the atmosphere is jovial. Although now a main tourist spot with bright neon lights and bachelorette parties, it was once where country music artists would go to get their start.
The most famous location is Tootsies Orchard Lounge, just across the alleyway from the Ryman Auditorium. On a walking tour I learned that as the green room space was small at the Ryman, the musical acts would make their way to Tootsies. Customers could get a show without needing a ticket to the main event.
Although it can be touristy, you would be missing out if you did not listen to music on your visit. So sit back and find a comfy spot to listen to the next big music star.
Sample Southern Comfort Food on a Walking Tour
Address: Various Nashville sites
When I visit a new city I enjoy taking a walking tour to understand the city’s history and get recommendations from a local. I was traveling solo so I found joining this walking tour a great way to blend in and not feel as alone.
The tour guide provided a central meeting place on Broadway and the tour was about two miles of walking. A blend of food and history, it was a full three-hour tour! From southern BBQ, chicken and waffles, and a Goo Goo Cluster candy bar, I did not need another meal that day.
The tour ended at Printers Alley, a historical part of Nashville that had a booming printing business in the 1940s but is now home to live music venues. Even in the middle of the day, there was live music playing and we got a balcony view to take in the action.
Enjoy good food, learn history, and take in live music all within a three-hour window. The tour provides a good view of Nashville and other sites that might be of interest during your visit.
The Farmers Market
Address: 900 Rosa L Parks Boulevard, Nashville, TN, 37208
Part outdoor market and part indoor food hall, this farmers market offers a range of fresh produce and local goods. The market is open seven days a week, year-round, and gives a good glimpse of local culture.
The vendors are kind and the merchandise plentiful. Come hungry as the indoor food hall offers a wide range of options from wood-fired pizza to Asian cuisine. It is widely enjoyed by locals and a great way to see another area of Nashville.
Hatch Show Print
Address: 224 5th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203
Hatch Show Print is one of the original American printing presses, starting in 1879; they have made original show posters for stars of the Grand Ole Opry and Elvis Presley. The printing press is still in business and offers tours showcasing how the prints are made. In today’s digital age of photoshop and computer graphics, Hatch Show Prints are a delight of bright colors and block letters.
You will see some of the popular music show prints on display along with Nashville memorabilia.
The Hatch Show Print store and workshop are located within the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even if you decide to not take the tour, it is worth a look inside as Hatch Show Prints are an important part of Nashville’s music history.
Country Music Hall of Fame
Address: 222 TN-1, Nashville-Davidson, TN 37203
In the same building as Hatch Show Print, you’ll find the Country Music Hall of Fame. With various changing exhibits of country music stars, it is a great way to learn about the history of their careers and legacy. The museum was founded in 1964, and it is an interesting look into how country music has evolved since.
Even if you are not a country music fan, the museum has interesting architecture and is worth a look around. Also, country music is so connected with the southern region of the United States; understanding the music provides an insight into the local culture and people.