If Nashville isn’t the most buzz worthy city in the country right now, then I don’t know what is. It seems like everyone is either moving there or planning a bachelorette party there.
While Nashville has long since been an attraction for country music lovers and a center for regional travel, it’s having a “moment” as a trendy travel destination in the US. Besides the aforementioned bachelorette party trips, Nashville is on many international visitors lists for cities to visit to experience unique American culture and also high on the list of Americans looking to experience “the south.”
So basically, everybody wants to go to Nashville right now. Well, being the intrepid travel writer that I am, I scooted Nashville right up to the top of my list of places to visit this year.
Besides Nashville being a hot spot right now, here’s what piqued my interest:
Why I Planned a Trip to Nashville
It’s an 8 hour drive to Nashville from where I live in Oklahoma. And with air travel still being somewhat hectic, being able to drive is always attractive to me.
I’m a huge country music fan. More classic country and music from the 90s and early 2000s than current country music, but still…Nashville is the epicenter of country music and it seemed like a place that I should see.
The hotel scene in Nashville is pretty good. A lot of good Marriott Bonvoy options (I stayed at the Noelle), cute boutique hotels, and even a Four Seasons opening later this year.
Nashville has a strong regional food scene. I’m talking about food that Nashville is known for, not trendy restaurants of the week. Hot chicken, fried chicken, meat and three, bbq, southern favorites.
My Nashville Trip
So around the first of March, I planned a four night trip to Nashville to see what it was all about.
Here are the details from the trip:
Where I Stayed
The Noelle. This boutique hotel in the middle of downtown is part of Marriott Bonvoy so you’ll get the point perks but still get that boutique atmosphere. Super convenient location to walk to all of the downtown attractions. I was happy with it and would recommend it, but there are a LOT of good options for downtown hotels (luxury, boutiques, and budget). The JW Marriott is supposed to be one of the best in the country and the new Four Seasons is slated to open soon. Now that I’ve done the whole downtown Nashville scene, I think next time I will try the Graduate Hotel because it looks CUTE, but I was hesitant to try it this time because I didn’t want to be driving downtown every day and trying to find parking.
What I Did
Alllll the country music things. We toured the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. We walked down Broadway and heard covers of George Strait wafting over Garth Brooks and mingling with Dolly Parton. We did the Johnny Cash Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum. We also visited the National Museum of African American Music and drove down to Franklin for a little shopping.
What I Ate
Sooooo much chicken. Seriously, I have never consumed so much fried chicken and mac and cheese in a four day period. And I’m from the south. We had hot chicken at Prince’s (the original) and Hattie B’s (better than Prince’s). It was good, but I think it’s lost a lot of its novelty now that some version of “Nashville hot chicken” is available in most cities. We did the trendy favorite Biscuit Love, but we loved the “bonuts” more than the biscuits.
Loveless Cafe outside of town was the highlight of the trip. It’s just downhome southern food, but it’s done right and they’re set up to handle the crowds. It feels like the original Cracker Barrel (a good thing though!) and we just thought they had good food, but I can see how if you’re not from somewhere where green beans are traditionally made with bacon, this place would seem like a real novelty.
A few random bits: We had the best breakfast at Frothy Monkey and they have several locations including one downtown. We got milkshakes one night at Legen-dairy Milkshakes downtown and it was pretty wild. We also tried the famous Puckett’s BBQ (they serve absolutely everything though) and it was…hardly fit to eat. Also I was surprised by how many restaurants were closed on Monday and Tuesday night, so double check your game plan if you’re there during the beginning of the week.
The Scoop on Nashville
After spending a few days in Nashville, here’s the rundown…
Nashville has an interesting vibe. At its heart I would say it’s pretty southern. But not deep south. I think a lot of their culture and history is probably more what you’d call “hillbilly” (there was actually an interesting bit in the Country Music Hall of Fame about how “country” music adopted the “western” mystique that was popular in Hollywood in the 1950s to take away from the hillbilly image which were the roots of the music style). But because country music is so steeped with the western persona, there’s a cowboy hat and boots vibe that buzzes around a bit even though you aren’t going to see any actual cowboys.
I read somewhere that on Broadway you’ll find plenty of hat and boot shops, but no cowboys; plenty of honky tonks, but nobody knows the line dances. And that pretty much sums up Nashville.
There’s also been such an influx of people moving to Nashville over the last 5-10 years that it makes for an interesting dynamic. I can’t tell you how many servers we had at restaurants that had been in Nashville for less than a year. And I also think there must be a class you have to take when you move there where they tell you that it’s mandatory that you greet people with “hey y’all.” I’m not kidding…it’s the universal greeting in Nashville and it didn’t seem entirely natural from about half of the people you heard it from haha.
So all of that being said…
If you are a country music fan, or you grew up on country music, I think Nashville is a must do. There is so much history in Nashville and so many country music themed things to see and do that you could fill a week.
Also there are a lot of “things to do” in general in Nashville. For a city it’s size, I was actually pretty surprised by how much there is to see and do. Now…while there are some truly world class museums and sites, there are also a lot of spots that have more of an “attraction” vibe. Not sure exactly how to describe it, but there were some things that gave me Branson or Pigeon Forge vibes (i.e. attractions that charge a fairly high admission rate for only 20-60 minutes of entertainment). If you’re super curious, I thought the Johnny Cash Museum and Patsy Cline museum were firmly in this category whereas the Country Music Hall of Fame and the National Museum of African American Music are in the world class, Smithsonian level category.
99% of all of the “things to do” are in downtown Nashville. Probably not really, but it seeeeems like everything. And downtown is just….okay. There are good hotel options, it’s pretty walkable, and everything is pretty heavily concentrated, but it still feels a bit like…the downtown of a big city. Not necessarily unsafe, but you’ll need to watch out for all of the things you normally need to watch out for in larger cities.
And then you’ve got Broadway. Okay. Broadway is a street running through downtown Nashville, but there’s a couple of blocks near the river that are ground zero for the “honky tonks.” If you’re not from the south or familiar with country music…a honky tonk is basically just a bar that plays country music. So “back in the day,” the honky tonks on Broadway were where so many country stars were discovered. It was the heart of the Nashville music scene.
Today, it’s pretty much just a tourist scene. Walking down Broadway you’ll hear a cacophony of country music wafting out of the open doors and windows into the street. But it’s mostly cover bands playing mega hit after country mega hit. It’s fun, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of place where people get discovered anymore. More just a place where tourists can go to hear their favorite country songs by a house band. At this point I would say Broadway is about half and half famous old honky tonks (Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Nudie’s, The Stage, Robert’s Western World, etc.) and restaurant bar and grill combos owned by current country stars. Jason Aldean, Dierks Bently, Alan Jackson, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and Miranda Lambert all have places on Broadway.
I hate to say it, but if you’ve been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis, or 6th Street in Austin, you’ve been to Broadway. To me, they’re kind of all the same thing with slightly different branding. They’re basically just strips where you can drink and walk around.
Enter…the bachelorette parties. I’m guessing about 5 years ago, some Instagram influencer had her bachelorette party in Nashville and drinking her way through country honky tonks while wearing a veil attached to a cowboy hat and pink cowboy boots looked like so much fun that it soon became THE thing to do. I’m not one to knock on anybody’s fun, but it’s just kind of a fact of Nashville. Starting at 10AM on Broadway until the bars close down for the night, it’s just one string of bachelorette parties after another. It’s that kind of place.
So my two cents…I think I’ve painted a picture, but if you’ve read much of my blog and feel like you relate to my opinions…let me spell it out. I really love country music. Like a lot. So walking down a street and hearing Amarillo by Morning turn into Walk the Line while you pick up a few notes of Crazy across the street before you stop outside a window to watch a band play Callin’ Baton Rouge is my element. Because of the MUSIC you’ll hear on Broadway, I think I had a higher tolerance than I normally would have for being in this kind of place. Also, I adore a good neon sign and Broadway is absolutely lined with them. But honestly, besides the music, there is nothing about Broadway that appeals to me. It’s incredibly touristy, kind of dirty, wild at night, and in general just a vibe that I try to avoid in life haha. So for me, Broadway is a place you walk through during the day (or early in the evening) or have dinner at one of the restaurants) and then bounce before it gets really wild. And if it weren’t for the country music, I would steer clear from Broadway by a mile.
So that’s the deal with downtown Nashville. Here’s the deal…every “local” I talked with anywhere in Nashville went on and on about how they NEVER go downtown and how there’s so much to Nashville besides country music and downtown. I get that, but as a travel blogger I’m still at a bit of a loss as to what to recommend to you beyond downtown Nashville. I drove around the city a bit and saw some different neighborhoods that are supposed to be THE places to be in Nashville. But while they were cool, they’re just that. Neighborhoods. Mostly restaurants sprinkled with some shops and the everyday types of businesses that are essential to your life but don’t add much to your vacation.
So, some very cool areas of Nashville outside of downtown, but not as much “to do.” Mostly restaurants, but when you’re visiting somewhere you can only eat so many meals a day. I think part of this is just a common disconnect between visiting a place and living in a place. But I’m already planning to go back to Nashville to spend more time outside of downtown to see what I can round up as far as what’s there for visitors.
Dovetailing into that, I’ll cover the restaurant/food scene real quick. Well the short of it is, Nashville has a whole restaurant scene. Trendy restaurants of the week are opening every week and entire blogs and websites are dedicated to covering just all of the best places to eat for every meal. That kind of thing overwhelms me. I’m pretty simple when it comes to food, but I do like that Nashville has a pretty strong regional food tradition. I’m usually a lot more interested in the “institution” spots that have been around for 50+ years than the new must try restaurants and Nashville has a lot of them. Nashville is best known for hot chicken, fried chicken, southern comfort food, and bbq and you’ll find places that do those staples pretty much on every corner.
Is Nashville Worth a Visit?
Yes! I think I’ve pretty much spelled out exactly who is going to like this place. If you love country music, or you’re looking for a taste of southern American culture, you’re going to love Nashville. It’s a big enough city to have plenty of conveniences (good airport, great hotels, all the sports teams, convention center, etc.) but still manages to have a smaller town feel.
Overall, I had a really great time in Nashville, and it’s a place that I’m already planning to go back.
More posts about the area: