Nashville, Tennessee is the country music capital of the world and there’s no shortage of country music related history to see and activities to take part in. Go to the Grand Ole Opry, hit the honky tonks on Broadway, wander Music Row, see a show at the Ryman, the list goes on and on. But at the very top of your list should be the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Not only do I love museums (good ones), but I grew up on country music, so this place is pretty much right up my alley. I did pretty much alllll of the country music things in Nashville, and this was my favorite. Let me convince you…
Why You Should Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame
If you love country music
If you love music in general
If you love museums in general
If you’re looking for something to do downtown besides the honky tonks
What I Thought
As a country music fan, this is 100% a must do in Nashville. And really I would say it’s probably worth planning a trip to Nashville just to see it.
It’s large in scope, but not overwhelming. It’s designed and laid out in a very linear way so you never feel unsure about where to turn next or get tired or lose interest.
Because the subject matter of this museum is music (and it’s a type of music that I personally love), I think it adds a lot of emotion and nostalgia to the experience.
We spent 1 hour and 45 minutes in the museum (not including the gift shop) and it didn’t feel like we rushed, but also like we could’ve spent more time enjoying some of the video loops they have set up in different places. I swear every attraction and activity in Nashville costs $25, and this one felt most worth it.
Also, a very very good gift shop.
Highlights of the Country Music Hall of Fame
Oh boy there’s a lot…I would say this museum is divided into three sections:
Classic Country (Origins-60s)
Outlaw Country (70s)
Modern Country (80s-Modern)
Individual artists (and groups) are recognized with captions about their contributions to country music as well as personal items, but this museum is about the flow and progression of country music in general and never focuses too much on any one person.
The top floor (you take an elevator to the top floor and work your way down) of classic country was my favorite. Highlights include Elvis’ gold-plated Cadillac, Hank William’s boots, a wall of gold records, an interactive table where you can design your own country star outfit (you have to go with Dolly’s hair), and a small theater where they play a loop of classic performances and comedy sketches. If you’ve never seen Merle Haggard’s impersonations…you’re missing out. This is one of those places where you could’ve sat all day and watched.
My favorite thing I learned all day was about country music making the PR transition from “hillbilly” music to “western” music. Here’s an excerpt from one of the signs:
“Many country artists bridled at the word “hillbilly,” considering it loaded with negative cultural stereotypes. By contrast, “cowboy” implied romance, bravery, and the self-sufficiency of life on the open range. By the mid-1930s, western fringe and cowboy hats and boots had become part of many performers’ wardrobes, especially after Gene Autry and other Hollywood singing cowboys began to tackle the world’s ills in their fantasy version of the West. As Autry wrote of one of his typical movies, “While my solutions were a little less complex than those offered by FDR…I played a kind of New Deal cowboy who never hesitated to tackle many of the same problems.”
The Outlaw section (“Country’s Roaring 70s”) is the section with the most “reading” to do and it really gets into the emergence of Austin as an alternative country music capital to Nashville and all of the politics in the industry. Don’t miss Willie Nelson’s sneakers and bandanas.
The tail end of the museum (80s to modern day) is the music I grew up on so it was fun to see, but it’s definitely the smallest part of the museum and while it hashes out micro trends and waves in country music, they’re just that in comparison to everything else in the museum…micro. Highlights include George Strait’s hat, Shania Twain’s iconic leopard print outfit, and Taylor Swift’s rhinestone guitar.
Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits at the end where you can go inside a guitar, see Taylor Swift’s tour bus, and take a quiz that will tell you what role you’re best suited for in the music industry based on your personality.
The actual Country Music Hall of Fame is located in a rotunda after you exit the museum exhibits. Only a fraction of the artists that you see in the museum are actually in the Hall of Fame.
Tips for Visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame is open daily from 9AM-5PM. Tickets are $27.95/adult and $17.95/child.
There are a couple of add-on experiences to the general museum admission that I think look really cool and am definitely planning to do on my next trip to Nashville. Both of these have limited capacity so you should definitely book in advance:
Hatch Show Print Tour: Hatch Show Print has been Nashville’s go to print shop for screen print posters for 140 years. Onsite at the Country Music Hall of Fame, you can tour the studio and even print your own poster. Additional $20.
RCA Studio B Tour: Tours of historic RCA Studio B (home of Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and MORE) on Music Row are coordinated through the museum. An additional $20.
Find more info about visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame here.
Would I Go Back?
Maybe, maybe not. I really loved it so I’d have no problem spending another hour or two there, but I also feel like I saw everything I wanted to see and there’s so much else to see in Nashville that there’s not really a reason to go back unless they have a special exhibit.
Other Things to Do in the Area (& Where to Eat Nearby)
Pretty much everything in downtown Nashville (which is where most visitors will spend 90% of their time) is within walking distance.
Other Museums Nearby: National Museum of African American Music (world class-don’t miss), Johnny Cash Museum (go if you’re a fan), tour the Ryman Auditorium.
Where to Eat Nearby: Nashville’s original hot chicken place (Prince’s) is right on top of Nashville’s most famous hot chicken place (Hattie B’s). Also pretty much every current country music star has a restaurant bar and grill on Broadway.
More posts about the area: