If the word Nashville conjures up images of honky tonks, country music and hot chicken, you’d be right. Yet today the city has evolved into a cosmopolitan and progressive stage for all kinds of music, a setting that attracts entrepreneurial people seeking a friendly atmosphere with lots of opportunities. There’s a good reason it’s still called Music City, boasting over 120 live music venues. The old and the new blends beautifully in Nashville and strong art and food scenes along with plentiful urban green spaces contribute to making this a popular destination for all kinds of explorers.
When exploring any new city, we love to start by getting the lay of the land. Gray Line Music City offers Nashville’s only Hop-on Hop-off bus service and includes both Double Decker Buses and Trolleys that take you on a guided tour of Nashville with 16 stops where you can hop on and off whenever you like. A knowledgeable guide can answer your questions about anything you see as you’re traveling along, and at the conclusion of the tour you’ll understand the layout of the city and be able to tweak and customize your days according to your interests. Once you have your ticket, just hop on the bus at any of their stops to follow our suggested itinerary.
Start your first day in Nashville with a scrumptious meal that includes the local favorite of Bananas Foster Pancakes, Cinnabon French Toast, or Eggs Benedict at this very popular breakfast destination. Weekends are very busy and the wait may be long but the reward is well worth it. For those with discriminating tastes who still want a reasonable price, this family-owned restaurant truly delivers. A house that has been renovated into a restaurant, each of the rooms has distinctive, eclectic décor, some of it for sale. This is a place that makes you feel at home and you will want to return any time you are in Nashville.
Any visitor to Nashville will consider the Country Music Hall of Fame a highlight of their visit. The Country Music Hall of Fame has three distinct properties - a museum (Hall of Fame Museum & Audio Tour), a studio (RCA Studio B Experience), and a letter press experience (Hatch Show Print). The Studio B Experience includes Museum admission, and you can buy a separate Hatch Show Print only ticket if you want to do all three.
Situated at the epicenter of the city, you can visit the “Smithsonian of Country Music” immediately before the historic RCA Studio B where the “Nashville Sound” of background vocals and strings was born. The museum’s primary exhibit is called Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, an immersive experience in the sounds and stories of country’s origins. Artifacts, photos, interactive screens and technology-driven activities with an overlay of recorded sound and vintage video take you right back to where it all began and brings you through to the current recording industry. The round shape of the Hall of Fame Rotunda signifies that all inductees are considered equal. Have fun searching for the plaques honoring your favorites, whether Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Patsy Cline, or any of the other more than 130 inductees.
You won’t want to miss the letterpress poster shop, Hatch Show Print, which is located right at the Hall of Fame. The Haley Gallery features restrikes of original posters as well as modern retakes. Learn about the hand-carved lettering and imagery that became synonymous with movie posters, handle some of the tools of the trade, design your own commemorative souvenir and buy an iconic image of one of your favorite entertainers.
No trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame is complete without the RCA Studio B Experience. Learn about the origins of “the temple of sound” where music titans such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson, Porter Wagoner, Dottie West, and many others recorded their hits. Listen to clips from these great musicians, hear a rare recording of Jim Reeves, sit at the piano, and generally get into the spirit of Country’s heydays by dancing and singing along. Your ticket to the RCA Studio B Experience tour includes admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum.
Diagonally across from the Country Music Hall of Fame you’ll see a fantastic neo-classical style building that is home to Nashville’s alternate music scene, the symphony. If your visit in town coincides with a scheduled concert, it is well worth the price of admission. Even if you are not going to a concert, there’s a grand outdoor space everyone can enjoy. The Marth Rivers Ingram Garden has a large fountain that washes over the surrounding sounds of the city and the lush green landscaping is maintained year- round. This is a great change of pace from Nashville’s tourist scene…duck in and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere any time you are in the city center.
Also across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Music City Walk of Fame Park located on the lawn of the Hilton. This is a public park featuring inlaid granite stars honoring legendary greats in the music industry spanning all genres. This space is open 24 hours and if you happen to be in Nashville during ceremonies for the newly inducted, those are open to the public as well!
By this time you’ll be ready to dine again while experiencing another Nashville favorite, the FGL House, just a couple minutes’ walk from the Hall of Fame. Selections range from Hillbilly Surf and Turf to Ahi Tuna, to Nashville’s famous Hot Chicken to Cajun Pasta. Featuring live music every day with a focus on current country trends, this world-class kitchen fuses Southern style with California flair. Local craft beers and mixed cocktails will be welcome refreshment after your energetic morning.
Keep this place in mind for later in the day as well, because FGL House boasts the largest “Cruise” rooftop in Nashville with excellent views and all-day, all-night partying. If you’d rather relax than party, just head downstairs to the basement-level lounge called Little Red Corvette with a baby grand piano and drinks inspired by ‘90’s pop culture. A massive video wall continuously plays the hottest video content from Florida Georgia Line and other favorites, as well as sports events.
Forget about having any dessert at FGL House because you can walk right to GooGoo Clusters, which you can see from the restaurant. The original Southern confection, a GooGoo is a mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, roasted peanuts and real chocolate. Credited with being the first candy bar with more than one principal ingredient, this very gooey and yummy dessert is iconic, but just one of the options available. The dessert bar offers GooGoo inspired cheesecake, pie, cake, and frozen desserts, and the ice cream parlor with lots of great toppings means that there is more than enough here to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.
If you love this candy so much that you can’t get enough, you can also sign up for the Taste of Goo Goo Hands on Candy Making & Dessert Sampling Experience. Thursday and Friday night sessions last about an hour and you’ll get your hands nice and sticky as you concoct your own variation of the GooGoo.
It’s time to get cruising again after indulging in Nashville’s finest offerings so head out on foot to the nearby John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (often erroneously called the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge, which is located several miles from downtown). The John Seigenthaler Bridge is a truss bridge and one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. Offering excellent views of both the skyline and the river, there is an elevator, ramps and a stairway for easy access. Wide bike lanes also make it a safe place for both bike riders and pedestrians, who can walk on 10-foot wide boardwalk style walkways on each side of the bridge. Four scenic overlooks provide photo ops and the Eastern terminus is very close to Nissan Stadium (in case you would like to walk over to a Titans football game). An extensive new lighting system makes the bridge an excellent place to walk day or night.
This is the very same landmark bridge that is often seen in country music videos including “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy”) by Big and Rich, “Moments” by Emerson Drive, and “Together You and I” by Dolly Parton.
The art deco white marble architecture of the Frist Museum reflects what you’ll find inside. With an exhibitions schedule that has new art flowing through every 6-8 weeks, there is always something new to see. The place has become a magnet for Nashville’s ever-expanding arts culture. Examples of exhibits include Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, Nashville Street Art, Paris 1900: City of Entertainment, The Presence of Your Absence is Everywhere: Afruz Amighi, and so many more.
The newly unveiled Martin ArtQuest Gallery is a hands-on family friendly space for creating something yourself! Create patterns with sand on metal plates, contribute to a collaborative textile-weaving installation, explore a shadow theater and stop-motion animation, or draw. A full-body animated digital painting experience transforms visitors into colors and shapes. Lots of fun ways to express yourself means that you’ll want to stay here for a couple hours. But when you’ve had your fill, get a drink at the on-site Café before continuing on to the next museum.
The Parthenon is less than 3 miles away traveling west out of town along Broadway. The Parthenon, as well as the 42-foot statute Athena, are full-scale replicas of the Athenian originals. Built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, it’s the centerpiece of Nashville’s premier urban park. If you can’t get to Greece this is the next best thing. Enjoy the Grecian architecture as you walk around the building, then head inside to see a permanent collection of American artists, paintings and photos of Tennessee parks, and marble busts in the lower museum. Ascending the stairs, you’ll encounter the massive golden statue of Athena, the goddess for whom the original Parthenon was built. Back outside, walk around the park or if it is getting later in the day, hang around to see the glinting of the late afternoon sun on the building. It’s an awe-inspiring place at any time but it’s really special to see in the setting sun.
Back downtown there are some cool places to do a bit of shopping to find unique souvenirs for friends at home or uncommon gifts. Karma Boutique on 3rd Ave. N. offers unique, funky, one-of-a-kind clothing items, jewelry, décor and just fun things to look at, as well as incense.
If you love organic and quality products, handmade kid’s clothing, and other American made clothes and accessories for kids and women, Magnolia Goods on Clinton St. is a retail and studio space showcasing a variety of makers such as Bradley Mountain, Smile & Wave, FashionABLE, Formation Design, January Moon, and more.
Blue Sky Cottage on 8th Ave. S. is just the place for local souvenirs and southern gifts. Advertised as having “gifts and décor that make a difference” you’ll find an eclectic collection of inspirational items for anyone. Promoting the talents of local creators, Blue Sky Cottage donates 10% of all sales to the Make A Difference Program whose mission is to assist at-risk local children. Find jewelry, cards, pillows, signs, and much more.
Or, you can just take a walk along Broadway and find at least three stores selling Cowboy boots! You may not need or want a pair, but it’s a quintessentially Nashville thing to check out cowboy boots. Betty Boots, Boot Barn, Big Time Boots, and Boot Country are some of the names you’ll see. Along with boots you’ll find other traditional southern and country attire and accessories.
Make your last afternoon shopping expedition to the retail shop at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant. Take the island vibe home with you in the form of a cool shirt or hat. While Jimmy Buffet morphed into the mainstream music genres, he began his career as a country singer in Nashville.
Time for a drink at last! The most popular margarita is appropriately named Perfect Margarita, but other equally compelling drinks include Last Mango in Paris, Changes in Latitude, and Watermelon Margarita as well as some Moonshine favorites like Tropical Thunder and Tsunami. Start your meal with Caribbean Chicken Egg Rolls or Asiago and Crab Artichoke Dip. Or you could go for just a jumbo pretzel served warm with homemade queso. The dinner menu is wide ranging with a selection of Burgers in Paradise, a variety of Salads, Seafood, Ribs and Steak. On the lighter side, you could opt for a signature Fish Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Sandwich, a Beach Club or an Island Cuban. The beloved Key Lime Pie is made fresh daily and is a smooth finish to the meal.
Would it really even be a trip to Nashville if you didn’t visit a few honky tonks? Most of the establishments have guitar or boot-shaped neon lights outside and country/western memorabilia adorning the wood paneled walls but the real draw is the live music drawn from local talent. Occasionally there will be a celebrity appearance but even though it’s infrequent, hope springs eternal and people are drawn to honky tonks like moths to light. Dimly lit bars promise a night of mystique and friendly people drinking beer together as they stomp on the stages, dancing and singing along as the night wears away. Create your own pub crawl and visit several of the legendary places grouped in the same locale. All-time favorites include Honky Tonk Central, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Whiskey Bent, Legends Corner, The Stage on Broadway, Nashville Crossroads, and many more.
Spend 2-3 hours out on the town before crawling home to bed because you’ll want to wake up the next morning ready for Day #2 of your 24-hour Nashville adventure.
Wake up and smell the espresso! You’re headed to the Frothy Monkey back on 5th Avenue for a great breakfast in a cool coffeehouse. While Nashville may be better known for fried food, biscuits and pancakes, (and you can get those at some really great restaurants if you’re willing to wait in line for an hour), Frothy Monkey has plenty of room for customers on two floors in a kind of swanky old-mill type atmosphere. The floors are wood, the walls are brick, the lighting is trendy and the entire place looks like it could be featured in a fantastic restaurant makeover for HGTV. You can get breakfast and lunch food here all day long, and there is an additional menu for dinner.
Espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, latte or regular drip coffees are available to please all types of coffee lovers. You can also get specialty bottled water or herbal infused hot or cold teas, as well as traditional drinks. Frothy Monkey appeals to a broad range of tastes, as indicated by the menu choices of either a Britt (Atlantic smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, capers and sprouts served open faced on a bagel of choice,) or a Plain Jane (Bagel sandwich with farm eggs, swiss and tomato). You can also get biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, eggs and omelets, parfaits or pancakes.
Now that you’re full it’s time to head out on the town once again. Frothy Monkey is located in the 12 South neighborhood so you’ll want to wander around this cute area for a little while and check out the local shops. But then, off you go to have some fun rubbing shoulders with celebrities.
Just in case you don’t run into any of the stars who call Nashville home, such as Keith Urban, Alan Jackson or Niki Taylor, you’ll be happy to know you can still rub shoulders with many of the (wax) celebrities and enjoy their company, even taking selfies with your favorites. It’s possible your friends won’t be able to tell the difference in a photo since the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s are extremely life-like. Of course, if you pose with Johnny Cash people will know, but it’s still an awesome picture and a perfect likeness of the Man in Black.
Make your way through the 1950’s neighborhood where people gathered around the radio, listen to the the music by greats such as Billie Holiday and Muddy Waters. See Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Randy Travis, Minnie Pearl, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, and so many more. Some of the figures will start singing as you approach so be ready to join in if the music calls out to you.
Now it’s time to get outside and out of the immediate downtown area for a change of pace. Two great options are either the Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, which is 10 miles out and reachable by bus in 45 minutes, and the Lotz House Museum, which is about 20 miles away.
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is a Georgian mansion with 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas. Here you can relax in the serenity of a rain garden or terraced boxwood gardens, follow a path through gorgeous flower gardens, or meditate in the Japanese garden. There is also a sculpture trail about a mile long featuring the work of contemporary artists. Inside the house, twelve of the thirty-three rooms have been transformed into galleries where you can see American pottery, English porcelain, Chinese snuff bottles, and a silver collection made up of 650 pieces.
The Lotz House became a focal point in the Civil War after the Battle of Franklin, when 10,000 Americans died in the front yard of the Lotz family home. It became a hospital in the immediate aftermath and today it’s a museum complete with period furnishings, fine arts and antiques. It’s a fascinating piece of history as you can still see blood stains and a patched ceiling where a cannon ball came through. Consider taking the Lotz House Cellar Tour for a fascinating look at this newly-found archeological excavation that gives new insights into the battle.
Peg Leg Porker is the place to go for lunch. You may have seen it featured on the Food Network or in Bon Appetit as one of the top barbecue spots in America. Get a Pulled Pork sandwich or platter, BBQ Nachos, a Soul Potato or a side of Ribs. With meats that are smoked daily and sides made fresh each day, Peg Leg Porker deserves its reputation of southern hospitality and “best ever” BBQ and Smoked Pork.
The John Cash Museum takes you inside the hard life of the Man in Black. Ranked the #1 music museum in the world by Forbes and National Geographic Traveler, the small but mighty museum is filled with memorabilia, handwritten notes, personal artwork, outfits, walls of his hit records, and even his piano. Follow the course of his entire life and learn some unexpected facts. Recordings of his music and video clips accompany the displays, personalizing the stories of his life in the military, in prison, with June Carter, and in the music industry. There is also a gift shop and small café.
Patsy Cline fans will want to go right upstairs and see the museum dedicated to her life as well. Although her music career lasted only about six years she accomplished a great deal in that time. Learn what else she did with her life as a committed wife and mother and a designer of clothes. Artifacts include her clothing and jewelry and her life story as told in words and pictures.
Here you will find a General Store selling all the expected trinkets and clothing that you can put Willie Nelson’s face on. You can get a Willie Nelson doll, funny signage, greeting cards, bedazzled trucker hats and local art. There is a huge selection of fun stuff and it’s a great place to buy any souvenirs you wanted to take home or fun gifts for friends. In the back of the store you can pay to go into the museum itself.
It’s on the small side but full of Willie photos and memorabilia, costumes worn by yesteryear’s performers, and a collection of items belonging to his friends, Dolly, Kenny, Patsy and Mel.
If you’re a Dukes of Hazzard fan you will totally love the free admission to this Museum and Shop operated by ol’ Cooter himself, Ben Jones, who played the Duke’s stalwart sidekick. Pictures, props, costumes and other memorabilia are on display, as well Cooter’s Tow Truck, Daisy’s Jeep, Roscoe’s Patrol Car, and of course a General Lee 1969 Dodge Charger. Well Yeee-hawww! Come on in and celebrate the 1980’s era iconic television show.
Get outdoors in the park that is patterned after the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In the middle of the park is the 2,000-seat Tennessee Amphitheater featuring terraced lawns and a dramatic view of the State Capital. It is patterned after the Green Amphitheater Epidaurus and is the setting for outdoor concerts, which you may happen upon if you are lucky. A 95-bell Carillon plays a part of the song The Tennessee Waltz each quarter hour and at the top of the hour the bells play the entire song. A Pathway of History and Walkway of Counties gets you walking and learning at the same time in a beautiful setting.
One block west you will find the Nashville Farmer’s Market spanning 12 acres and hosting farmers, artists, cheese makers, bakers, crafters, and many more. Find jams and jellies, honey and all the produce you can imagine. Spend some time roaming around to find special demonstrations or flea market items.
An excellent conclusion to your 48-hour Nashville experience would be a show at the Ryman Auditorium but the schedule of shows may or may not coincide with your visit. A self-guided tour of the building can be purchased for the day of your event, taken at your leisure from 9 AM to 4 PM that same day. Café Lula at the Ryman is open until 5:00 PM, or later on days when there are shows. If you do go to a show at the original home of the Grand Ole Opry make it a grand finale by combining the tour, dinner, and show all at the same location.
Another great option to top off your trip is to spend the evening at Wild Horse Saloon, where you’re encouraged to be part of the show, not just watch it. The world-famous Wild Horse Saloon is a 66,000 square foot live music and dance destination as well as a top-notch restaurant with its signature fried pickles and hot chicken. If you haven’t yet tried hot chicken in Nashville, now’s the time. Chef Nic’s spectacular creations include Barbecued Ribs, Hot Chicken, Biscuits ‘N Gravy, Smoked Sausage, and vegetarian options. This is a very large venue where you can eat, listen to live music all day, learn to line dance, and join others in dancing the night away. The atmosphere is family friendly while still having a complete bar with reasonable prices. If you’d rather be IN the show than just watch it, this will be the highlight of your Nashville experience. Just do it!