Nashville’s like that little sister who was always hanging around annoying you as a kid, only to grow up and become the much cooler sibling. That’s to say that being lauded as an “it city” is something relatively new to the Tennessee capital, a designation it’s only adopted in the past decade. (It also means it’s still finding its footing in a construction boom that seems to speed up more quickly than it abates.)
Whereas as recently as 20 years ago downtown Nashville is not a place you’d want to go—sites like Hard Rock Cafe occupy former brothels—today it’s morphed into a full-on entertainment district with pedestrians slowing the traffic along Broadway and clogging its arteries, dancing and music found around the clock at iconic establishments like Robert’s Western World.
But it’s got more than its tireless Honky Tonk culture; Nashville has become a bastion of culture, a destination among foodies who have grown weary of the coastal metro areas and are seeking the next big thing. It’s been compared to Austin and Portland, but the reality is that Nashville has its own distinct identity, one that can only be properly understood and, subsequently, dissected via a firsthand experience.
Nashville is great for curiousfoodies who know that New York and San Francisco aren’t the country’s only culinary destinations, families wanting to take advantage of all of Nashville’s green space and ample museums, and couples or friend groups just looking for a real good time.
How to Budget for a Trip to Nashville
You can have a champagne experience on a beer budget in Nashville—or go whole hog and spring for that top-shelf Dom Pérignon stay instead. Music City may have once been a cowboy-boots-and-PBR kind of town, but that image no longer holds true with an influx of luxury hotels, like a Four Seasons and Thompson Hotel, being added to a lodging mix that includes historic properties such as the Hermitage and Union Station alongside newer boutique stays like the Bobby and the Joseph. For a mid-level stay, plan on budgeting between $250 and $350 a night, though if you don’t mind being in an outlying suburb like Brentwood, you could halve that number. (And in peak times like October, the price could easily double).
Nashville, like any big city, has its share of crime, though downtown has traditionally seen lower rates of violence with its density of hotels and sheer bodies no matter the hour of the day. If you’re looking to make your base in the safer parts of town, choose downtown or any of the adjoining neighborhoods surrounding Belmont and Vanderbilt universities such as Music Row or 12South.
Weather in Nashville
The saying goes that Tennessee weather is like a winning Powerball number, meaning the number on the thermometer can wildly oscillate from day to day no matter the season. It’s best to be prepared for all the elements: intense heat, scorching sun, soup-thick humidity, torrential downpours, sudden thunderstorms.
When to Visit Nashville
The mildest weather in Nashville typically arrives from March through April and October through November with summer temps soaring in the high-90s and the heat index much, much higher. Spring—which also correlates with tornado season, it must be noted—brings a bevy of big events like the Tin Pan South songwriter festival and the beloved St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Nashville marathon, half-marathon and 5K, which falls on the last Saturday of April annually.
The biggest event of the year is the annual CMA Fest, held over a four-day period in early June each year. While many of the concerts around downtown are free to attend, you’ll need a ticket for the nighttime shows at Nissan Stadium—and to plan your accommodation early as things sometimes book out a year in advance.
If you want the lowest prices, plan to visit Nashville in the winter. Even in the coldest of months, temps tend to stay mild around 50 degrees with it rarely dipping below freezing, though there’s an occasional flurry or ice storm every January and February (often following 70 degrees earlier in the week).
Money Saving Tips
Downtown Nashville hotels can be insanely expensive no matter the month of the year. On a strict budget but have access to a car? Consider staying out near the airport or 15 minutes out of town down in Brentwood, where hotel prices fall dramatically.
Take advantage of free live music. The great thing about visiting a destination that is literally referred to as Music City is that live music is plentiful and oftentimes free. Look into free summer concert series like Live on the Green and Musicians Corner and check out the round-the-clock shows at the many Honky Tonks on Broadway (few, if any, charge covers during the day).
Rental cars or rideshare lifts can quickly eat into your budget. Save money (and gas) by renting a BCycle bike at one of the many stations all over Nashville.
Take advantage of the area’s many free green spaces. One of Nashville’s biggest selling points is the bevy of green space in both Davidson and adjoining Williamson County—like Edwin and Percy Warner Parks, Centennial Park, Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary, Bells Bend Nature Park and Radnor Park. Pack a picnic and make a low-budget (but high-fun) afternoon of it.
Nashville is one the country’s most buzzworthy street art towns, and in addition to seeing large-format pieces by notable artists from around the world like Guido van Helton and Herakut, mural-chasing is an activity that is also completely free.
What to See, Do, and Eat in Nashville
The Top 10 Things to Do in Nashville
Nab a well-worn pew in the Ryman Auditorium as you listen to a world-class act belt out from the hallowed stage of the Mother Church of Country Music, built in 1892 and once the home of the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
See the seasonal exhibits at Cheekwood, Nashville’s 55-acre botanical garden.
Go to a live show at the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio broadcast in the world.
Wander among the columns of the Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the original in Athens and the centerpiece of Centennial Park.
Pick up a souvenir at the Hatch Show Print letterpress shop, a Nashville icon for more than 140 years.
Take a selfie from John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. This footpath connects downtown Nashville to the east side of the Cumberland River where the Tennessee Titans play at Nissan Stadium.
Make your own candy at the Goo Goo Chocolate Co. Nashville’s century-old candy brand not only whips up some of the best chocolate around, but also invites visitors to partake in the experience: The recently upgraded downtown store features a design-your-own confection station, full-service chocolate bar and retail shop.
Rock out with the pickers at Station Inn’s weekly Sunday night Bluegrass Jam, a must for lovers of stringed instruments and Americana-style tunes.
Admire the art at the Frist Art Museum. At the forefront of Nashville’s current art boom is the Frist, which opened in the old Art Deco post office in 2001 and sees many of the top traveling collections like the recent Picasso Figures exhibit.
Indulge in a meat-and-three. (That’s meat and three vegetables, served cafeteria style, for those of you outsiders.) While many Southern restaurants have such lunch offerings on the menu, few due it to perfection the way Arnold’s Country Kitchen does.
The Local Picks for Top Attractions and Activities in Nashville
Sure, Centennial Park is lovely, but if you want actual R&R—with a side of wildlife—you’ll head to the 1,368-acre Radnor Lake State Park instead.
Food halls are trendy and all, but for a literal taste of the best food in town under one roof, you can’t beat the Market House at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, open seven days a week.
Spend an afternoon in the interactive Tennessee State Museum, which got a serious upgrade by way of a brand-new $160 million building a few years back, then take a stroll along Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.
Downtown Nashville was home to many sit-ins and protests during the civil rights movement. You can read the Ten Rules of Conduct protestors abided by during sit-ins in the downtown library’s Civil Rights Room, have lunch at Woolworth on 5th where the late Congressman John Lewis was first arrested with a hundred others for participating in a non-violent protest and see the Witness Walls by the Davidson County Courthouse that depict the events and people who made civil rights history through art. Just this year, a historic marker honoring Lewis was unveiled in front of a former Greyhound station where he and other Freedom Riders boarded a bus to Alabama.
Visitors may think the Adventure Science Center is primarily for kids, but locals know that the Sudekum Planetarium and its 63-foot dome theater—featuring laser light shows, skies that change with the seasons, educational films and more—is a good time no matter your age.
Traveling with kids? Escape the chaos of Broadway and retreat just over the river to the 6.5-acre Cumberland Park where your younguns can run through the water features and scamper among the playground equipment.
What to Eat & Drink in Nashville
Nashville’s food scene runs the gamut of food halls, tasting experiences and dive bar food alongside some of the country’s most celebrated new restaurants like Vivek Surti’s Tailor. With notable chefs like Deb Paquette, who owns Etch, Etc. and Jasper’s, and Sean Brock—formerly of Husk; now the proprietor behind Audrey, the Continental and Joyland—at the helm, one thing’s for certain: You won’t go hungry.
Nashville hot chicken. Sure it may be touristy, but you can’t come to Tennessee and not try what has become the local dish on a global scale. Prince’s is often credited with popularizing the blazing hot poultry dish, but Bolton’s and 400 Degrees are also serious contenders on the heat scale.
BBQ. Every local will have an opinion on who makes the best barbeque, and with Memphis favorites like Central opening Nashville locations, it’s a more crowded field than ever. Our suggestion? Try them all—Edley’s, Martin’s, Jack’s, Whitt’s—and form your own educated opinion.
Kurdish cuisine. One thing many visitors don’t realize is that Nashville has the highest population of Kurds in America, and there are plenty of places to sample their native cuisine in Little Kurdistan (off Elysian Fields Court), like Newroz Market or Azadi International Food Market.
Whiskey. Whiskey is to Tennessee what bourbon is to Kentucky, and there’s a distinct difference between the two—Tennessee whiskey must be aged for two years or longer in new charred oak barrels. Many bars around town like Black Rabbit, Patterson House and 404 specialize in inventive cocktails made with the state’s beloved local water, though you can also go straight to the source and do a tour or tasting at one of Nashville’s resident distilleries like Nelson’s Green Brier.
Beer. Like many cities of its size and demographic make-up, Nashville has been brewing up an impressive selection of beer in recent years with more than two dozen breweries and taprooms now calling the city home. Among the most notable are Yazoo, established in 2003 and widely considered Music City’s OG brewery, and the woman-owned Jackalope, whose second taproom in Wedgewood-Houston, the Ranch, is the perfect patio hang for balmy Southern afternoons and evenings.
Where to Stay in Nashville
The bulk of the city’s hotels are clustered in downtown Nashville in a grid between 1st and 12th avenues, with many of the hotels centered on or just off of the three main arteries: Broadway, Demonbreun and Korean Veterans Boulevard. If you prefer to stay in a less trafficked neighborhood, a vacation rental may be the answer for you: Airbnb is hot in the Nashville market with roughly 6,000 rentals locally. Just do your vetting via previous guest reviews so you know what you’re getting as many are located in more transitional neighborhoods.
Top Nashville Neighborhoods for Visitors
“East Nashville” is a catch-all for the hip (and hipster) neighborhoods just east of the Cumberland River, which include Lockeland Springs with its charming Craftsman bungalows, the walkable and retail-and-bar heavy Five Points, Cleveland Park and Inglewood, both where many young families are moving (and subsequently, the taco bars and patios are following).
What previously was a residential neighborhood—and one on the National Register of Historic Places at that, with many houses dating back to the early 1800s—has become engulfed by downtown as the Nashville Sounds’ home, First Horizon Park, went in a few years back and development popped up all around it.
The up-and-coming dining and art neighborhood primed for Millenials, the Nations out in West Nashville is not only seeing a boom in condo complexes, but also beer and dining; Fat Bottom, Southern Grist, Nicky’s Coal Fired Pizza and a new Corsair Distillery tasting room are all Nations residents.
Once Nashville’s scrappy neighborhood where artisans and indie boutiques could test the waters—Imogene + Willie and Judith Bright are just two designers that got started here—has become a polished row of expensive chain like Madewell and Outdoor Voices alongside Music City-exclusive boutiques like Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James.
The South’s first LEED-certified neighborhood is less than a mile from downtown and a popular spot for fresh-out-of-college students to flock thanks to its walkability and numerous trendy restaurants and bars.
The Dive Motel, $199 a night, a retro style icon (complete with an outdoor pool!) in a seedier part of town
Hermitage Hotel, $378 a night, the classy dame among a sea of trendy newcomers
Vandyke Bed & Beverage, $233 a night, a whimsical eight-room property with individually decorated guestrooms boasting names like Rum, Tequila and Wine
Thompson Hotel, $389 a night, a glitzy hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows giving the illusion of space (not to mention, offering great views)
Hutton Hotel, $269 a night, a recently renovated boutique hotel for those who want to be near the action but not right in it
Union Station Hotel, $395 a night, a 1900 train station-turned-luxury hotel with jaw-dropping stained glass as its centerpiece
Getting Around in Nashville
Public Transportation Options in Nashville
Don’t come to Nashville and expect to get around by public transportation; it barely exists here. Sure, there’s a bus system, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a local who takes it—let alone knows how to direct you to the closest stop—and you’d be better served renting a car or using your own two feet to get around. If you’re staying downtown, it’s easy enough to walk from Point A to Point B, and multiple ride-share services makes it easy enough to bop around different neighborhoods. Nashville also has an electric fleet of bike-share BCycles, as well as plenty of electric scooter services, too.
Nashville International Airport (BNA) is the busiest airport in the state. It serves as a focus city for Allegiant Air, and it’s also the main headquarters of the Tennessee Air National Guard. Nashville’s airport is less than 10 miles from downtown. As of this writing, BNA is undergoing a massive multi-year expansion, so it’s something of a construction zone. The project is slated to finish by 2023.
How to Get to Nashville from Nashville International Airport (BNA)
As mentioned, public transport options in Nashville are scarce, and that includes from the airport into the city. There are plenty of taxis on hand, however, and the flat fare from the airport into downtown is $25 for the roughly 15-minute trip. The Nashville Express Airport Shuttle serves the Nashville metro area. A one-way ticket from the airport to downtown costs $45. Lyft and Uber are also available, with fares usually in the $15-20 range.
Where Else to Go from Nashville
Day Trips from Nashville
Thanks to the vision of developer Aubrey Preston, this unincorporated community of Leiper’s Fork brimming with artists and galleries is protected by a land trust, meaning the charming hamlet of just 650 residents will never run the risk of losing its Mayberry-like feel.
Winding 444 miles from the north terminus in Nashville to the south terminus in Natchez, Miss., the Natchez Trace Parkway straddles three states and is brimming with waterfalls, parks and large swaths of hardwood trees. A popular path for cyclists, it’s more than just a scenic road along some of the most pristine natural landscapes in the South; it’s also chock full of 10,000 years of history. Pay close attention to the historical markers that shed insight on the rich Native American history in the Deep South.
Fancy a little whiskey with your road trip? Book a driver (or secure a DD) and take your tastebuds on a journey along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. While Nashville boasts four distillery members—Nelson’s Green Brier, Corsair, Nashville Craft, Pennington’s and Big Machine—you can also venture about 40 minutes south to the Leiper's Fork or H Clark distilleries.
Where Else to Visit from Nashville
Boasting one of the world’s largest and most recognizable brands, Lynchburg is a must-visit for any whiskey lovers (or those who want a taste of that downhome Southern charm). Book the Angel’s Share tour at Jack Daniel’s Distillery, then loosen your britches for a full-on feast at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant, a former boarding house where knowledgeable docents invite you to dine with them communal-style as they regale you with tales and trivia of this stories area.
Hickman County is home to the late, great country musician Minnie Pearl, and a growing destination in its own right. With a charming downtown square in its county seat, Centerville, and a prime location along the Piney River, Hickman County has been a favorite respite for plenty of stars like Johnny Cash over the decades for a reason.
The country’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, is appealing for a reason—with windy ways such as Tail of the Dragon primed for motorcyclists and road trippers alike. Make your base in Townsend in the Peaceful Side of the Smokies, rent bikes and cycle the 11-mile loop that runs right through the verdant valley of Cades Cove, or—if it’s warm enough—borrow a couple of tubes from Smoky Mountain Outdoor Center and float the Little River.
Books, Movies, and TV Shows Set in Nashville
Starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn, the 1980 musical Coal Miner’s Daughter was adapted from the country artist’s biography of the same name and follows her upbringing in Hurricane Mills to the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Highlighting a bevy of A-list talent—some names you’ll recognize, others you won’t—For the Love of Music chronicles the beating heart of the Nashville community: the songwriters. You can watch this 43-minute-long documentary for free on YouTube.
For five seasons, TV viewers got a glimpse at the inner workings of the music industry via the ABC show Nashville (available on Hulu), which starred Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton as rival country music artists, and while sensationalist at times, it was filmed at many beloved local haunts around town.
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