Thirty years ago, Nashville sightseeing tours focused on homes of the stars. Today most stars live in serious seclusion or in homes so ordinary that you might not even want to photo-bomb them. Sure, you can find your way to the grand old mansion owned by Kings of Leon, John Rich’s fortress, or the high-rise where Taylor Swift owns a condo but you won’t find much that’s funky, flashy or photogenic.
In recent years, the tour business has exploded to meet diverse interests. Some cater to special interests while others provide an overview of Nashville. A few tours are scholarly while others are for laugh-fests or rolling parties. NOTE: I’m not including tours of specific locations such as the Ryman, the Opry House, Belle Meade Plantation, State Capitol or Fort Nashborough in this post.
My friend, Captain Jim Hardaway, knows all about Nashville–country music stories, the Civil War and civil rights, train tales and plenty about old Nashville. Climb aboard his minivan for a highly personal and personable tour with some customization to match your interests. Plus, he’s the only guide I know who sat down to eat breakfast with Johnny and June in their Hendersonville home. He will rendezvous with you at a convenient location or pick you up at your hotel if you’ve got a vanful of friends.
Choose from a mind-blowing 35 custom tours with NHT. David Ewing, the company’s CEO and a seventh generation Nashvillian, is a walking encyclopedia of Nashville history including a wealth of knowledge about the roles African Americans played in shaping the city and nation. Tours include titles include “Rails and Rivers, “Insider Music Tour” and “Horses and Hats.”
These companies give you the option of hopping on and off their vehicles at more than a dozen points of interest as many times as you like for a single flat fee. Both have trolleys traversing the central city; the latter also operates a double-decker bus. Because of the hop-on, hop-off features, they’re Nashville tours that double as short-range transportation. And in case you were wondering, the drivers double as tour guides.
Two songwriters, up to 30 passengers, and miles of stories and songs during their two-hour tour of some of Music City’s most popular sites. It’s an in-the-round format even though the duo are side by side. Although alcohol consumption is allowed on the bus, they’ll shut the door on big boozers.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be in a working recording studio? Here’s your chance to experience it first-hand. Three options: your basic tour, a VIP experience with “The Voice” contestant Meghan Linsey and secret acoustic shows performed by Meghan.
Specialists in Funny
We Nashvillians don’t take ourselves too seriously. We tell jokes about banjos, drawls, rhinestone and (with great respect) Dolly.
Among the veterans of Nashville tours, the sometimes-bawdy Jugg Sisters have been providing laughs-on-wheels aboard their impossible-to-miss hot pink bus for 20 years. If they weren’t doggone funny, they would have landed in a ditch years ago. They’ve recruited some entertaining friends to diversify so now pick your choice of three distinctive tours. Come sober and stay that way; they don’t want to waste their wit on drunkards.
It also offers a raucous ride around town aboard their equally impossible-to-miss camo-patterned bus bound for famous, infamous and historic locations. BYOC–that’s bring your own cooler for beverages including those with a kick. Might want to leave young’uns out of this trip into the tacky and sometimes-tawdry.
This category-defying tour company offers sightseeing, comedy…and singalongs! Who will love their tours? You should be: a) fun-loving because who wants to be stuck on a bus with a bunch of dullards, b) 21 or over due to adult humor, and c) sober because who wants to be on a bus with a bunch of drunk strangers. Bachelorette parties need not apply. See their website for details about on-board alcohol.
A few things set Tommy Garmon’s tours apart. First, he’s a comedian so laughter is guaranteed. Secondly, he’ll pick you up at your hotel and drop you back off again making him logistically superior to some of his competitors. Unlike some of his competitors, he likes to take his clients past the homes of the rich and famous.
African-American History in Nashville
These folks offer three options–Tour of African American Culture (downtown), Civil Rights (downtown), Black Wall Street (Jefferson Street). All three are walking tours, held rain or shine, hot or cold. They’ll gladly answer questions before you book your tour.
Available as a private tour, you’ll spend 3 1/2 hours driving to key points in history including Jefferson Street, Fisk University and Greenwood Cemetery. Admission to the Ryman Auditorium is included in the price.
Why Drive When You Can Walk
New for 2020 is a series of self-guided walking tours with smartphone connectivity so you can hear audio commentary about each site. Among the nearly two dozen diverse tours: Music Row, Women’s Suffrage, South Broadway Architecture, Old Time Religion, Fort Negley, Downtown Public Art and Murals, Civil Rights Sit-Ins and Downtown Civil War. Each tour covers between 1-2 miles. FREE and cloud-based with nothing to download.
Local music history. Bill DeMain is a singer, songwriter, author and journalist who will take you deep into Nashville music history with a sense of humor during one of his mile-long Walkin’ Nashville tours. There’s even a potty stop at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Call it a progressive dinner on foot as you and up to nine others graze from eatery to eatery with a tour guide who’ll give you both the abridged and unabridged version of East Nashville or Midtown. You’ll walk about a mile, stop in at 6-8 destinations to sample the fare, and enjoy unlimited conversation.
This walking tour operation in downtown offers two options: The Live Nashville! Walking Tour which hits the historical and entertainment highlights, and the Nashville Bar Bash where you’ll hit four bars while getting a bit more boozy story of Nashville.
I give props to the tour guides with this outfit. Read their bios and you’ll see they got a lot more depth than the people whose knowledge is limited to factoids they’ve read on postcards. If you’ve got questions, i’d put my money on them as one of the best equipped teams to know the answers.
Free??? What’s the catch? Well, no hidden costs but your tour guide works for tips. In this case, he’s a native Nashvillian who will hike you around some of the more interesting downtown sites. He also makes a point of serving as Answer Man for any questions you might have about dining, lodging, attractions and more.
Offered by Experience Nashville, this entertainment-focused tour sets out from the front of Ernest Tubb Record Shop and tells the tales of some of our most celebrated country artists. Bonus: Free to those in the military.
Got a group? This company has you covered. They aren’t afraid of birthday celebrations or bachelorette parties. They also do the corporate, team-building kinda thing.
Can’t get much more self-explanatory than this. This 21-and-up tour hits 4-6 downtown bars and showers you with Nashville insights along the way.
Don’t limit yourself to garden-variety vehicles when there’s a fleet of fun alternatives.
Segway anyone? Get a tutorial, then head out in a convoy of the little contraptions to tour the downtown entertainment district. Surely among the most novel of Nashville tours.
Not a lot of historic insight but a lot of fun as you go rollin’ on the river aboard a paddlewheeler. Feast on a fine meal and enjoy live entertainment as the boat churns up the Cumberland to Riverfront Park before returning to the dock adjacent to Opry Mills.
So you’re thinking of daytripping to Lynchburg. Leave the driving to these folks who offer packages that include transportation, the Jack Daniel distillery tour and lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s Tearoom. They also offer CMA Music Festival package including lodging and tickets. If you want to venture to Memphis or other southern stops, they might be just what you’re looking for.
Whether you want to visit the legends (Jack Daniel in Lynchburg and George Dickel in Tullahoma) or keep things local with a trio of rising newcomers, these folks can set you up and transport you safely via a 14- or 23-passenger bus. Snacks, bottled water and ice are provided, small coolers welcome. Sampling available at distilleries for those 21+.
They go by a variety of names (Nashville Pedal Tavern, Sip’nCycle, Sprocket Party Bike, Country Music Crawler and that’s just for starters) but all offer the same basic features. Bike your way around Lower Broadway drinking as you go; some tours include bar-hopping stops along the route. Unlike the first entries on my list, partying is the priority so don’t climb aboard if you a) don’t like drunken people, b) have a really poor sense of balance, or c) really want to learn a good bit about Nashville. Wildly popular with bachelorette parties. Don’t wanna peddle?
Other Forms of Party Propulsion
The tours near the top are about information; these are more about intoxication. Most are akin to keg parties on wheels. You might be interested in knowing that there’s also a party barge, a party wagon , an open-air bus with a dance floor and some new form of mobile debauchery seems to appear every weekend. The latest arrival: the rolling hot tub party.
What’s the best way to get around downtown Nashville? Here are your options.
And here’s a broader look at citywide transportation options.