A few months ago I hopped on a plane to Nashville with nothing planned (not my usual travel style), food recommendations from friends, and plenty of time to explore.
I’m not here to be your definitive guide on what you should do and see in Nashville. After only one visit I’m hardly an expert. I do have expert friends though–musician, food writer, and photography friends who live in the city and sent all their local knowledge my way.
I booked an Airbnb three days before the trip, and it was tough. There was only one option under $1000, and it was only available because the owner had JUST joined Airbnb that day. Nashville is the number two bachelorette party destination in the United States (something you will notice very quickly on Broadway), and in general a tourist hot spot lately. Tourism has been growing steadily for the past five years, faster than most other US cities. Lesson: Book early! I actually liked the Airbnb we stayed in, as it was in a quiet area, a nice apartment, and the owner was really helpful with suggestions. It was within walking distance from busier nightlife streets, which was a plus.
We had a rental car because we were heading out to the Smoky Mountains after our visit, and it came in useful around the city as well. Nashville is not a walkable city. There are lots of awkward overpasses and things are really spread out. (That said, we did walk a lot one day. It’s definitely possible to get around the city by foot, but will take time). At night, a rental car is no use because drinking and driving is bad. Obviously. So if you think you’ll only need it to get home after going out, take Ubers instead.
What to Do
There’s the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, and a few other museums all worth visiting. I liked Centennial Park, where we walked around the lake then sat for hours talking and watching the sun set over the Parthenon replica.
Spending a night walking up and down Broadway is obviously a lot of fun. Live music everywhere! The first time we stopped I was thinking, ‘wow they’re so talented, why aren’t they famous?’ And then thought the same thing at the next place, and the next, until it was obvious that the reason they aren’t famous (maybe yet) is because the competition is just too good.
We spent a day walking around the Bicentennial Capitol Mall and nearby market, then wandered all the way across the city stopping to take photos and eat grilled cheese from a food truck.
One of my favorite things we did was actually getting out of the city and hiking in Radnor Lake State Park. The hike wasn’t difficult (I did it in a dress and sandals, much to the ranger’s dismay), but it was very green and peaceful. We also detoured to the Carnton Plantation, which had pretty gardens and an interesting cemetery.
Where to Eat
Saving the best for last. Of course the main reason I was in Nashville was to eat! Everyone raved about Crema coffee, and it did not disappoint. We also had great coffee at The Red Bicycle, but if you can’t stomach the most hipster setting and crowd you can imagine, don’t go. We had a very filling but delicious brunch at Sky Blue Cafe–the biscuits made my morning! The wonderful Mark Boughton took us to lunch at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, where the wraparound line is definitely worth the wait. (Get the hot chicken sandwich and mac and cheese). The theme of the trip seemed to be eat so much that you’re in pain and hate your life until the next meal, and that continued at Acme Feed and Seed, where we ate some of the best food, but were probably also the most uncomfortably full after, of the trip. We also saw an amazing band here.
The Five Points neighborhood is a fun place to spend a night, and we ate there at Five Points Pizza, where our waiter was awkward but the pizza was good. We spent another night drinking way (way, way) too many cocktails and glasses of wine at Flyte, but we couldn’t help it. The drink list was so good! Finally, on our way out of town we stopped at Mitchell Delicatessen for sandwiches in a rainstorm. There are so many great restaurants in Nashville and this is just a sampling. Can’t wait to try more on my next trip!
This was such a fun first trip to Nashville, and I’m sure I’ll be back again. One thing that really stuck out to me was how enthusiastic people who live there are about the city. There are a few places like that, my own Chicago being one of them, where the people really, truly, love their city, and it’s an infectious feeling.
Nashville Packing List