Need to know some of the most popular things to do during your visit to Music City? Use this list for starters, then dig deeper to discover points of interest that most folks miss.
1. Visit the Ryman Auditorium.
Among the most iconic things to do in Nashville is to visit the Ryman. Ranked among the most acoustically divine listening rooms in the world, The Mother Church of Country Music is considered holy ground. Originally constructed as a revival hall, it’s such a revered building that arena-level artists want to play here. Think Garth Brooks and Bruce Springsteen to name two. Be sure to catch the multi-media show “Soul of Nashville”–it’s a history lesson with some clever multimedia effects. Fun fact: Garrison Keillor revealed that “A Prairie Home Companion” was inspired by a visit to the Opry in 1974.
2. Roam Lower Broad.
From its riverboat days and up until the 1980s, this was a rough section of town. It was a saloon and red-light district that eventually gave way to X-rated bookstores and vacant storefronts.
Thanks to venerable businesses like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Ernest Tubb Record Store and Robert’s Western Wear, Lower Broad has taken on a new identity as our Honky Tonk District, perhaps most popular among the things to do here.
It’s our version of the Strip in Las Vegas with neon lights glowing from two dozen bars and clubs along five party-hearty blocks. Most don’t have a cover charge unless they’re hosting a special show.
3. Explore the Country Music Hall of Fame.
My brother-in-law, the New Yorker, isn’t a country music fan yet he loved experiencing the history of the roots music that birthed country. The museum is a jewel with great exhibits, a gift shop, a restaurant and two performance theaters. Whether you want to roll back the clock 100 years or see memorabilia from current top acts, this is a must-see destination. You might also want to check out the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, the George Jones Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum.
4. Get tickets to the Grand Ole Opry.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the longest continuously running radio show live. The Opry is low on stage theatrics, high on musicianship. Check the schedule for Friday and Saturday night shows. During peak seasons, you’ll find performances on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. The legacy acts play their two or three songs alongside the current hitmakers. Who might you see? Vince Gill, Carrie Underwood, Marty Stuart, Riders in the Sky, Connie Smith, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and Charles Esten are among its roster of frequent artists. But note: the line-up changes with every show. Take the backstage tour for an added treat. While you’re there, go next door for a walk through Opryland Hotel, a sprawling behemoth with meticulously landscaped atriums. Note: the Opry sometimes returns to its former home, the Ryman Auditorium–that’s a real treat.
5. Listen to singer/songwriters at the Bluebird Café.
Keep your durn mouth shut and listen to songwriters who’ve put their poetry to music. Long before hits were hits, they were test-driven here by the people who wrote them. With the venue mentioned often on the TV show “Nashville,” the Bluebird’s gotten crazy popular. If you want the songwriter experience but don’t feel the need to be where Deacon and Rayna played, there are a number of other listening rooms. In fact, Nashville has more live music performances every night than almost any place in the world.
6. Eat! Eat! Eat!
Run the risk of incineration with our Nashville hot chicken (Prince’s, Bolton’s, Hattie B’s, Pepperfire, for starters). Go downhome at a meat-and-three restaurant (best known is Arnold’s Country Kitchen but there are dozens of options). Taste our growing roster of upscale, chef-driven restaurants (Catbird Seat, Etch, City House, Husk, Henrietta Red and Rolf & Daughters as well as old faithfuls Capitol Grille, Park Cafe, Tin Angel, Jimmy Kelly’s and Sperry’s). Savor some barbecue (Martin’s, Jack’s BBQ and Puckett’s have downtown locations). All the guides tell you to have breakfast at high-profile Pancake Pantry but you have other options–especially if you’re in a hurry.
7. Buy stuff!
Whether you’re in the market for designer fashions, cowboy boots or a guitar, Nashville’s a great place to shop. Go upscale with custom-fit jeans from Imogene + Willie, women’s fashions from Reese Witherspoon’s Draper Hall or specialty garments from Moto Moda. And of course we can send you home with souvenirs ranging from the edible and drinkable to consumer items.
8. Stroll through Centennial Park and the Parthenon.
Practically across the street from the Vanderbilt campus, you’ll find a replica of the Parthenon housing a replica of the Greek goddess Athena and an art gallery. Check out the walking/running paths, arts center, the lake and gardens. Centennial Park is home to Musicians Corner, a early summer and fall series of free concerts on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Shakespeare in the Park calls it home and it’s frequently used for artisan and cultural special events. Near the back of the park are volleyball courts and a covered area hosting Saturday night dances with a big band.
9. Stroll the manicured grounds of Cheekwood.
If you’re into gardening, fine art and elegant homes, add Cheekwood to your list. Located in old-money Belle Meade, this mansion and its stately grounds are a throwback to another time. In recent years, they’ve upped the fun factor with fascinating outdoor installations that range from designer treehouses to light sculptures. Kristi, mother of four, says the grounds and gardens are great when her kids need to burn off energy. If antebellum homes are your thing, you’re not far from Belle Meade Plantation.
10. Admire the works at the Frist Arts Museum.
The Frist (formerly Frist Center for the Visual Arts) is a great escape from the heat or cold in the marbled halls of what was once our main post office. The art deco building itself is worthy of a visit. But’s there’s much more: an ever-changing roster of traveling exhibits along with its own signature holdings. While feeding your soul, satisfy your hunger at the artsy cafe’.