My mom and I visited Nashville, Tennessee for the first time a few weeks ago and from our 3 day visit we crammed so many top sites into our few days of adventure. We wanted to take full advantage of our time so we did more tours that wondering around the city, but we both claim we will be back some day for the ‘walking around and see what we stumble upon’ portion of our trip! I did a lot of top 10 searches for Nashville; where to shop, eat, go, and listen to music. The links to the things we did will be in this blog for you.
The timeline presented below is slightly different than the one we took, this is to benefit a future traveler based on our experience to maximize your time.
We started off by going to the Nashville Visitor Center (on 5th Ave South and Broadway) to purchase our Total Access Passes, we did some research on the tours and sites we wanted to see and we found that the $60 passes would save us some money instead of buying admission separately. You can go to four places on their listing, you get 25% off the Hop On Hop Off Tour and free admission to Nashville’s Parthenon. More info here.
Parking tip: downtown Nashville has pay to park lots, it might be worth a dollar or two to drive a few blocks in search for a cheaper parking lot. We paid about $10-12 dollars for full day parking. For day 1, we parked and kept our car there the whole day.
Just a few minutes walk away from the Visitor Center is the Country Music Hall of Fame, also one of the ticket items in the Access Pass. The walk around the Museum is a medium- long one. Do it in the morning when you are rested and willing to walk the distance!
For lunch, we walked a few more blocks from the CMHF to the Rock Bottom Brewery, it was very, very tasty! I had Chicken fried chicken and I would highly recommend it with the mash potatoes!
After lunch, I would recommend going back to the Country Music Hall of Fame and getting on the Studio B Tour Bus, the bus is another ticket from the Total Access Pass and will drive to the historic Studio B where so many famous artist recorded from Elvis Presley to Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. This tour has you back at the Museum in about an hour, it’s a small studio but you get to see a ton of awesome recording equipment. Can you find where Dolly Parton ran her car into the side of the building?
After the Studio B Tour, head back toward the Rock Bottom Brewery, on the other side of Broadway between 2nd Ave N and 3rd Ave N is Mike’s Ice Cream shop. Grab yourself a cup or a cone of that delicious ice cream, also it makes for a nice break from all the walking. After the ice cream shop, walk up Broadway to the Ryman Auditorium along the way you can stop in the shops and see what there is to see. As you walk there is music that, at times, can seem to come from nowhere. Chances are its either from the open door of a bar, a street performer or the street lights which have speakers and play hit country songs.
The Ryan Auditorium has a self-guided tour that starts with a 15-20 minute video of the history of the Ryamn. While listening to the video, you can hear the amazing sound the Auditorium is famous for. Now, just imagine that sound as a country music concert. I can understand why so many artists want to play there! Make sure you go to the second level, in the back hallway there are many printed band/ concert posters. Nashville seems to be littered with them but they are very fun to look at. This was the third Access Pass ticket we used.
My mom and I learned that the most consistent way to hop on the Hop On Hop Off tour was to use the waterfront location (also downtown), where you go in a little building (and yes, they have bathrooms). The Hop On Hop Off was great if you want to hear more about the city, it’s history and not have to worry about parking. However, the places we hopped off I could just as easily driven to. If you’re into saving money, grab their flier and drive. If you’d like to be entertained and chauffeured around, buy the ticket. We had some very funny drivers and some very informative ones too. Our first stop might easily take someone the better part of a morning, we hopped off at the American Picker’s second store, Antique Archeology. After buying a t-shirt at AA, there are various other unique shops to explore and a gallery across the street.
After the Marathon Motor Creative Village stop, we hopped on and went to see the Parthenon. It features a temporary exhibit and permanent gallery spaces, as well as a small museum dedicated to the reason and events that the Parthenon were built. Photography is not allowed in the Parthenon but with your free admissions ticket from the Total Access Pass, it’s worth a 45 minute gander. The Parthenon does not like guests to have large bags, the docents may ask you to leave it at the front with an attendant. Also, you will hop off at the front of the Parthenon and have to walk around to the back side to enter the museum.
We had one more thing on our MUST list that we wanted to finish on day 2 so we finished the Hop On Hop Off tour and noted the places we’d like to go back to if we had time on day 3. (We did go back and I will get to those later.) We got our car out of full day parking downtown (we didn’t look for a pay by the hour or 1/2 day parking but this might have been more cost effective) and headed southwest for the Belle Meade Plantation.
UPDATE: I can’t find where the Plantation still has a restaurant called the Harding House. There is a Winery on the grounds.
Try to be at the Belle Meade Plantation when the Harding House is open and serving food. They serve wonderful food: mom and I both tried Fried green tomatoes for the first time and dare I say we were hooked! The wait staff was absolutely wonderful and it was a classy, quiet and calm atmosphere (a place more for adults than kids in my opinion). Do take a tour of the Belle Meade House, this was our last ticket we used for the Total Access Pass. Photography is also not allowed inside the house, which saddened me but I would still be there photographing all the wonderful furniture, pictures, decor, and trinkets. Afterward, wonder around the grounds to see parts of the grounds that have been preserved through the years.
Each night, we ran completely out of steam. Neither of us are used to walking so much! If you’re still ready to go for dinner, I’d suggest finding a top place to listen to music while you eat dinner. Like the Bluebird Cafe or the Listening Room Cafe, they are open in the evening times and these places are highly recommended from tour websites to tour guides because the artists that perform there have proven they are good! You might, okay, probably will have to wait in line but it should be worth it.
Mom and I both watch the show Nashville on ABC so she had to stop by The Bluebird Cafe and just take our picture standing outside the venue. It’s a tiny place with no parking, even first thing on a Saturday morning! There is one thing worth mentioning about mornings in Nashville on the weekend, everything opens late. We suspect this is because everyone (besides us) went to bed late listening to music, drinking and eating well into the morning. Starbucks and McDonalds are open! So maybe just sleep in! Or get up at 9 am and head out around 10 am, places will start opening around then.
After The Bluebird Cafe, we headed back to town to one of our stops from the Hop On Hop Off tour, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall and Nashville’s infamous Farmers Market just across the street. Even in the winter on a cold Saturday morning venders are still selling even though the crowd volume is low. The indoor portion of the farmers market features several little restaurants and an international food market. Oh, and it is heated! In the Capitol Mall, it really looks like a park, take a walk along the low wall that explains milestones in Tennessee’s history. It really is very interesting to walk along and read. You can see patterns in history; cause and effect. For example, Memphis had several sickness-and-health related epidemics; it was even quarantined at one point. Along down the wall you can read where Memphis becomes home to one of the leading medical colleges in the state.
The last stop on the must-see list is the Gaylord Opryland area. This includes the Resort and the Opry Mills shopping mall. The parking for the Opryland Hotel and Resort is just under $30 so I’d say park near there and walk. It is an amazing resort, complete with many, many indoor waterfalls, I don’t know that I’d pay $30 to walk all over the hotel. The Opry Mills are long, not much in the way of a food court but the mall sure does offer a lot of shopping and some of my favorite stores like, LOFT Outlet!
Some of the other websites I consulted for the “must see” places in Nashville are listed below:
Visit Music City is a great place to start, this is where we learned about the Total Access Passes.
Southern Living has great places to see, stay, eat and things to do.
The most important thing, is to enjoy Nashville! Feel free to email me if you have questions about anything I have discussed! I will try my best to answer.