Arriving in Nashville, a sign at the airport will greet you: “Welcome y’all!”. They really mean it – in Music City, everyone is welcome. It’s a feeling that continued throughout my time spent in America’s Deep South – friendly locals who were as keen to learn about Britain as I was to learn about Tennessee!
If you’re headed to Tennessee and you’re wondering what to do in Nashville, here are my top picks.
I flew to Nashville on the British Airways direct flight from Heathrow. I was in Premium Economy, which was just fantastic: delicious food, lots of white wine and good movies to watch. The flight time to Nashville is 9 hours and the flight goes at lunchtime, so if you can stay awake for the whole thing, you’ll be glad of it. I arrived into Nashville around 5 pm and was able to head to the hotel, have a relaxed dinner and head to bed, waking up with virtually no jet lag!
I chose to stay at the Westin Nashville, a lovely 4* hotel with huge rooms, nice bathrooms and a little café in the lobby that does a mean bacon and eggs. I was visiting in December and the lobby was beautifully decorated for Christmas with a huge tree covered in spangly decorations. There’s also a great pool on the roof with glass overhang giving you impressive views of the city, meaning this hotel is perfect whether you visit in summer or winter.
Top tip: if you want to head out for brunch, I’d recommend Milk & Honey, a little restaurant 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel.
Heading out of the hotel, the first place you’ll want to visit is the Country Music Hall of Fame. This fascinating museum will reveal the near-religious importance of country music to this city. The museum is modern and interesting: you can see Carol Perkins’ blue suede shoes, Elvis’ gold piano and listen to a vast array of platinum records, as well as spot some of Country’s more famous (and outlandish!) outfits.
Inside the museum, you can also visit the Hatch Show Print, a printing house that has been churning out hand-printed posters, handbills and artwork since 1879. You’ll get to see the current posters being made – they still hand make prints for all sorts of events and campaigns, as well as seeing some of their historic artwork. It really is an interesting little place, and the shop is full of prints you can buy.
Another highlight is a visit to RCA Studio B, over in the Music Row neighbourhood. This historic studio is where Elvis made over 200 recordings, as well as where Dolly Parton recorded “Jolene” and Don Gibson sang “Sea of Heartbreak”.
The tour of the studio is fascinating and will really open your eyes to the history of music in Nashville. Listening to Elvis sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight” as it echoes softly around the studio was magical! We can book entry to the Country Music Hall of Fame for you, and include a trip over to RCA Studio B, which will finish back at the museum. If you have time, the Johnny Cash Museum (pictured below) is another brilliant pitstop on your music tour.
As the sun starts to set, head down to Broadway, where neon signs and lively music fill the air. Here you can hop between bars, try some line dancing and get caught up in the excitable atmosphere of the party heart of Nashville. If you don’t like the music in a bar, you don’t even have to leave – just head up to the second or third floor for an entirely new band! My best night was spent on the top floor of the Stage on Broadway, just 5 of us at the bar singing along to Strawberry Wine!
The most famous bar is Tootsie’s, just behind the Ryman Auditorium, where actors used to run down the alley between the two venues for a drink before hot-footing it back to the theatre for their next performance.
After enjoying a night or two on the tiles down on Broadway, you should venture down in the day to the Ryman Auditorium. This theatre has so much history and was the original location of the Grand Ole Opry, before it was moved 9 miles out of the city.
The Grand Ole Opry is Nashville’s most famous export – a weekly country music concert known as “The Show That Made Country Music Famous”. Country music legends consider membership of the Opry to be one of the genre’s crowning achievements. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Blake Shelton and Dolly Parton have all performed here on a regular basis.
After learning about the history of the Opry, there’s nothing better than to experience it! Book your tickets and head on out, it’s performed every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from March to November. I have to say, when I arrived in Nashville, the only thing I knew about country music was a vague image of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson – by the time I left I was clapping my hands and stamping my feet along with the best of them. “The Stage” on Broadway is not a place for wallflowers!
After all this excitement exploring Nashville, you’ll be ready for some food. There are two favourites you must try – chicken and BBQ! Nashville Hot Chicken is a delicious spicy speciality of fried chicken covered in cayenne pepper, served on white bread with a few pickles. Hattie B’s near Music Row is the best place to try it. You’ll find several BBQ joints around the city, but my favourite was Puckett’s – the brisket sliders were out of this world (I still think about the sauce!).
Another Nashville classic is the Goo-Goo, a heavenly heap of peanuts, chocolate and nougat that was the first combination chocolate bar in the USA. Head to the Goo-Goo shop downtown and you can make your own in a class or just try the different varieties (my favourite was pecan). It’s a delicious way to spend the afternoon!
If you have a bit of extra time, I’d recommend a visit to one of Nashville’s coolest neighbourhoods – 12 South. There are lots of beautiful shops to visit, including Draper James, which is owned by Nashville’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon. You can take a photo at the iconic “I Believe in Nashville” mural before tucking into a brisket sandwich at Edley’s Bar-B-Que and grabbing a jelly doughnut to go at Five Daughters Bakery. A cute little neighbourhood that’s perfect for a morning of exploration.
And that is Nashville in a nutshell! I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit here – brilliant music, sensational food and just a great atmosphere.
If you're planning a trip to the USA, Nashville can easily be added as the starting point or final stop of an American road trip across the Deep South (read Annette’s blog about her New Orleans to Nashville road trip), so get in touch to find out more about what to do in Nashville and get some advice. We can tailor-make your USA holiday, arrange car or campervan hire and book any hotel to suit your budget. Just give us a call on +44 1273320580 or send us an email request and we'll get back to you.