Top 12 things to do in Nashville - Lonely Planet (2023)

The self-styled home of country music, Nashville is evolving faster than a chicken-pickin' guitar lick. Entrepreneurs are filling formerly run-down buildings with shaking honky-tonks, hip shops, boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants. But don't fret – Music City, USA, is still the ultimate pilgrimage for music fans and anyone looking for a good time.

The home of the Grand Ole Opry has expanded far beyond the country music legends that put the city on the map, but it pays to get a handle on how to get around Nashville's neighborhoods before you start to explore. From brand-new museums that elevate the city's significance in American music history to feasting on fiery fried chicken, these are the best things to do in Nashville.

Top 12 things to do in Nashville - Lonely Planet (1)

National Museum of African American Music

African American music is the backbone of America’s musical landscape, so it’s fitting that the nation's tribute to those who helped shape the Great American Songbook is situated in Music City itself. It's no overstatement to say that African American musicians and singers changed music across the globe. From gospel to jazz, R&B to hip-hop, funk to rap, house to techno and soul and more, the African American influence on music stretches worldwide, bending genres and transcending cultures.

Opened in 2021, this intriguing museum traces Black music traditions from the 1600s to the present day, covering more than 50 genres and subgenres and the social conditions that shaped them, from the Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement.

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The Grand Ole Opry

This unassuming brick building has hosted more country music legends than most fans have had chicken dinners. The Grand Ole Opry started life as an hour-long 'barn dance' on We Shield Millions radio in 1925, bringing emerging country stars to new ears across the nation, before moving to the current premises in the 1970s. It's still going strong today, and touring the green rooms and recording stages is an essential rite of passage for country music pilgrims, though best done on non-recording days, as there's a whopping premium (US$150) for pre-show tours while the show is recording.

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Tootsie's Orchid Lounge

The hotter, louder and more crowded it gets at this raucous honky-tonk, the better locals like it. A Lower Broadway mainstay, this boot-stompin' joint has nurtured singer-songwriters since the 1960s, when owner Tootsie Bess provided a platform for the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The club shares an alley with the Ryman, and back in the day musicians slipped over from the Grand Ole Opry for a beer. So c'mon, y'all. Young or old. Hillbilly or high-falutin'. Squeeze yourself in for a cold beer and one last chorus.

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Appreciating vinyl

The old-fashioned vinyl record still rules the roost in Nashville, where locals browse the racks for pre-loved albums and freshly pressed records as if CDs and MP3s never happened. Third Man Records, a labor of love from White Stripes frontman Jack White, presses records for his boutique label and it's open for recording and tours. Also check if tours are currently running at United Record Pressing, which has been churning out vinyl records since 1949. The used-vinyl collection at Grimey's is extensive, and you might find an old favorite or two at Carpe Diem Records in Franklin.

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Country Music Hall of Fame

The past, present and future collide in this immersive tribute to a uniquely American art form, which has spilled out from the hollers of Appalachia in the 1920s to global appreciation today. Country music's mournful sentimentality is proudly on display; the 'Sing Me Back Home' exhibit is the heart of the collection, tracing country music history through archival photos and videos, music recordings and fascinating artifacts. In the family gallery, you can step into a recording booth or try your hand at songwriting.

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Ryman Auditorium

Whether you come for the acoustics, the history or the personalities, your inner line dancer will surely be stirred by a visit to the Mother Church of Country Music. Though renowned for its role as the former host of the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974, the Ryman doesn't rest on former glories. The 1892 auditorium still hosts the famous show for three months every winter, but it's also known today for its compelling and diverse line-up of musicians, plus shows by comedians and writers. Backstage tours delve into the venue's illustrious past.

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Nashville's hottest chicken

Nashville's signature dish? Fried chicken with an attitude. Infused with a fiery blend of spices, the crispy skin of a piece of hot chicken is a tantalizing challenge for your taste buds. If you're only previously experienced the tame KFC take on southern fried chicken, prepare to be blown away. From old-school Prince's to low-frills Bolton's to the hip scene at Hattie B's, the fun is in picking the heat level and seeing what you can handle; the 'Shut the Cluck Up!' option at Hattie B's needs no further explanation.

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Shopping your way round downtown

Every shopping crawl through Nashville should start in the 12th Ave South shopping district, with a 100-layer doughnut from Five Daughters Bakery. Why at the beginning, not at the end? Because these delicious flavor bombs sell out fast. From here, clothing boutiques line the sidewalks, showcasing apparel lines from New York, LA and Nashville.

Reese Witherspoon's preppy Draper James brought celebrity oomph to 12th Ave South when it opened in 2015, but intriguing vintage stores, buzzy patios and top-notch eateries round out the appeal. And having your photo snapped beside the 'I Believe in Nashville' mural is almost obligatory. To fully immerse yourself in country attire, head across the hwy to Broadway, where womenswear specialist Betty Boots has cowboy boots and flared jeans to spare.

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Exploring Nashville's green spaces by bike

You might see a deer grazing in the woods as you pedal beside the Cumberland River on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, a calm bike-friendly transect through East Nashville. The comfortable hybrid bikes rented out by Bike the Greenway are a fun and convenient way to enjoy more than 80 miles of multi-use greenways, which link lush green parks, attractions and neighborhoods across the city. Alternatively, grab an electric bike from B-Cycles, Nashville's bike-share scheme.

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Craft breweries and distilleries

The old-fashioned neighborhood pub isn't dead: it's just evolved into a brewery taproom where the focus is on fun and games and seasonal ales. What makes Music City's brewery scene so appealing? The ease of walking between downtown brewhouses, we'd say. Many of the best are clustered within the downtown 'Brewery District' between the Gulch and SoBro, but the pick is Germantown's Bearded Iris Brewing.

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Several distilleries have also opened their doors for tours and tastings, accessible onBrews Cruise Nashville tours, or you can sip and cycle your way round the city on one of Nashville's pedal-powered mobile taverns (touristy, but fun). For local spirits as well as ales, stop by the innovative Corsair Distillery in Marathon Village.

Exploring East Nashville

East Nashville is often overlooked, so why not spend a day or two across the river? Artisans and entrepreneurs are opening shops at breakneck speed in this ever-changing section of town. Chocolate. Tea. Jewelry. T-shirts. The list of items you'll find in these passion-filled boutiques is ever changing.

Dive bars and hard-charging clubs provide an alternative to Broadway's country-music honky-tonks, but craft breweries like Smith & Lentz allow folks to sip beer and enjoy a sunny afternoon in peace. The Tomato Arts and Hot Chicken festivals keep the scene eclectic and local, while photogenic murals put East Nashville onto global Instagram feeds.

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Arrington Vineyards

To understand the appeal of country music, you have to spend some time in the country. You'll get sweeping views of Nashville's bucolic surroundings from the picnic tables fronting Arrington Vineyards, a vast winery and vineyard 30 miles south of the city. Enjoy the view with a glass of the house favorite, Stag's White. Co-owned by Kix Brooks of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, the vineyard is the place to be on weekend evenings, when locals descend for bluegrass, jazz, wine tasting and picnicking.

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This article was first published in June 2021, and updated in September 2021.


What is the number one thing to do in Nashville? ›

The 20 Best Attractions and Sights in Nashville
  • Nashville Zoo. ...
  • Frist Art Museum. ...
  • The Hermitage. ...
  • Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. ...
  • Bluebird Cafe. ...
  • Grand Ole Opry. ...
  • John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. ...
  • Ryman Auditorium.
Sep 2, 2022

What is the funnest thing to do in Nashville? ›

Top Attractions in Nashville
  1. Grand Ole Opry. 13,596. Theaters. ...
  2. Ryman Auditorium. 13,643. ...
  3. Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery. 7,482. ...
  4. Ole Smoky Distillery & Yee-Haw Brewery. 4,271. ...
  5. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. 15,084. ...
  6. RCA Studio B. 3,676. ...
  7. Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. 5,778. ...
  8. Gaylord Opryland Resort Gardens. 6,104.

What is the coolest street in Nashville? ›

Find yourself mesmerized by the live music and neon lights of Broadway on Honky Tonk Highway – Nashville's famous street. World-class live music plays 365 days a year on the city's main drag.

What is there to do in Nashville not bar hopping? ›

Wineries, Breweries, & Distilleries

Visit one of Nashville's many breweries, like Yazoo Brewing Company, Black Abbey, Jackalope, or Southern Grist. City Winery offers a fun environment for wine lovers with live music, food, and wine on tap.

What food should you not miss in Nashville? ›

Nashville Food Guide | What to Eat in Nashville
  • Hot Chicken. We dropped it like it's hot when we ate this hot chicken at Pepperfire in Nashville. ...
  • Biscuits. Biscuits come in different shapes and sizes in Nashville. ...
  • Meat and Three. ...
  • Brunch. ...
  • Chocolate. ...
  • Donuts. ...
  • Third Wave Coffee. ...
  • Tennessee Whiskey.
Jan 30, 2023

What is the famous Alley in Nashville? ›

One of the most well-known spots in the city, Printer's Alley in downtown Nashville is a must-see when planning your Nashville vacation. Tucked away between Third and Fourth Avenue, an array of nightclubs and restaurants beckons visitors and locals alike—and holds a vibrant reminder of the city's rich heritage.

What should I do with one day in Nashville? ›

In One Day in Nashville
  1. Pinewood Social. ...
  2. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. ...
  3. Historic RCA Studio B. ...
  4. Bajo Sexto. ...
  5. Hatch Show Print. ...
  6. Schermerhorn Symphony Center. ...
  7. Johnny Cash Museum. ...
  8. Goo Goo Shop.

What is the number one tourist attraction in Tennessee? ›

With over 3 million visitors each year, Dollywood is the most popular attraction in Tennessee. This theme park has something for the whole family including rides, concerts, a water park, and a spa. The park has won numerous awards for its restaurants, entertainment, and children's activities.

What is the best street to walk in Nashville? ›

Nothing exemplifies everything Nashville has to offer like Broadway Street. Running through the heart of downtown Nashville, Broadway Street is home to some of Nashville's best music, restaurants, and bars. To explore this area fully, you'll want to spend a few days in this increidlbe city.

What is the hippest neighborhood in Nashville? ›

Visit The Heart of Nashville's Hipster Scene. The East Nashville neighborhood is hands-down the most hipster-friendly borough in the city. East Nashville is a hotspot for young locals trying to make it big in Music City, as well as those who enjoy diverse, underground shows, great food, and cheap drinks.

What is the fancy part of Nashville? ›

Beyond its history, Belle Meade is an affluent area that boasts homes valued upwards of $20M. The most affluent area in the town is Page Road. There you will find luxury homes that span over 20,000 square feet and that are valued anywhere between $10M and $20M. Tyne Ridge is also notable for high-end living.

Is there a dress code for bars in Nashville? ›

In general, Nashville does not enforce a dress code. If there are dress codes enforced, it's rare. Most of the time, you'll get away with what you want. You'll see lots of t-shirts, jeans, hats, jackets, dresses, cowboy boots and hats.

Why is the Bluebird Cafe so famous? ›

Though the Bluebird still has a stage, it's best known for hosting shows in the round, with four songwriters facing one another in a circle, right in the middle of the cafe floor. That setup was started in 1985 by songwriters Don Schlitz, Fred Knobloch, Thom Schuyler and Paul Overstreet.

What is the popular strip in Nashville? ›

Broadway is a major thoroughfare in the downtown area in Nashville, Tennessee. It includes Lower Broadway, an entertainment district renowned for honky tonks and live country music.

What drink is Nashville known for? ›

Fruit Tea. The South has sweet tea, but Nashville is known for its fruit tea.

What is the best month to go to Nashville? ›

The best time to visit Nashville is from April through October, when the warm weather brings this music city to life. Although December is quite charming with Christmas decorations at the Opryland Hotel and the Belle Meade Historic Site, winter is low season.

What is the most popular street in Nashville? ›

Nothing exemplifies everything Nashville has to offer like Broadway Street. Running through the heart of downtown Nashville, Broadway Street is home to some of Nashville's best music, restaurants, and bars.


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