Nashville is on a roll that just won't stop. Country-music stars are slapping their names on brand-new honky-tonks. Boutique hotels seem to open monthly. Bachelors and bachelorettes are arriving in hordes to party. And acclaimed chefs are going far beyond the meat-and-three, though biscuits and hot chicken are doing just fine.
But don't fret about all the change. For country fans and wannabe songwriters all over the world, a trip to Nashville is still the ultimate pilgrimage. Since the 1920s the city has been attracting musicians who have taken the country genre from the ‘hillbilly music’ of the early 20th century to the slick ‘Nashville sound’ of the 1960s to the punk-tinged alt-country of the 1990s to the heartfelt indie troubadours of today. Nashville's musical attractions range from the Country Music Hall of Fame to the revered Grand Ole Opry to Jack White’s niche record label.
Honky-tonks, boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants are opening at a head-snapping pace, welcoming bachelors and bachelorette parties galore and a gobsmacking stream of brand-new residents.
The Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville traces the history of country music, whereas museums dedicated to Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson delve into their personal stories. Weekly country-music show the Grand Ole Opry, first broadcast on a Nashville radio station, will celebrate its 95th birthday in 2020.
The Modern Scene
The music scene today is as vibrant as ever: seven days a week the neon lights and beer-perfumed air of Lower Broadway draw crowds of grinning music-lovers into its rumbling honky-tonks, while just to the south the vast, undulating roof of Music City Center imprints a giant guitar shape onto the skyline. The Grand Ole Opry wows guests at Opryland and Ryman Auditorium, and hordes of country-music fans descend on the city for the CMA Music Festival. Several country stars have recently opened their own clubs on Broadway.
Another reason Nashville's hot: a half-dozen flourishing neighborhoods packed tight with unique shops, indie coffeehouses, innovative bakeries, new breweries and distilleries, and a surprising number of bright murals ready to provide a backdrop for your selfie. East Nashville is home to the city's artisan scene, while 12th Ave S brings the shoppers with its stylish boutiques, vintage collections and gift shops. A sophisticated array of restaurants fills the Gulch, and people-watchers pack out patios in Hillsboro Village. Each neighborhood has a distinct personality, but they're linked by a common commitment to Southern hospitality.
The Great Outdoors
If you need a break from bachelorette-party shenanigans or a boring convention panel, step outside for natural distractions aplenty. An ever-growing network of pedestrian and bike-friendly greenways links Nashville's city parks, which unfurl over rolling hills and lush riparian landscapes. B-Cycle bike-rental stations are conveniently placed at greenway trailheads. Nature and outdoor centers inside the larger parks offer kid-friendly activities and nature walks. In total, the city's park system sprawls across more than 12,000 acres in 108 parks, with 19 greenways. Kayaking and canoeing trips on the gentle Harpeth River are well suited to families.
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5 min read — Published March 18th, 2022
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This monumental museum, reflecting the near-biblical importance of country music to Nashville's soul, is a must-see whether you're a country music fan or not. Gaze at Carl Perkins' blue suede shoes, Elvis' gold Cadillac (actually white) and gold piano (actually gold), and Hank Williams’ Western-cut suit with musical note appliqués. The museum grounds also feature the 800-seat CMA Theater, the Taylor Swift Education Center and rotating exhibits that explore the evolution and impact of country music. Written exhibits trace country's roots, computer touch screens access recordings and photos from the enormous archives, and the fact- and music-filled audio tour is narrated by contemporary stars. Just a few blocks away from the honky-tonks that line Broadway, the museum is the perfect place to start a tour of Nashville's musical past and present. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets for adults start at $26. Packages that include both visits to the museum and RCA Studio B run $46. Plan on spending around two hours to visit the museum. Where to eat nearby For quick bites, the museum has an on-site cafe called the Red Onion. We recommend heading over to the nearby Assembly Hall at Fifth and Broadway for a thorough selection of Nashville's top restaurants, including Prince's Hot Chicken, Desano Pizza or The Pharmacy.
One of Music Row's most historic studios, this is where Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Dolly Parton all recorded numerous hits. The latter did a little more than that, once arriving late to a session and accidentally running her car into the building – a scar still visible today. Tours tell the stories of country music's most famous artists. See the space where session musicians strummed, tapped and belted out the melodies of some of Elvis' most famous tunes, or the recording equipment that captured history in the making. History RCA Studio B played an integral role in forming the "Nashville Sound" in the 1960s. A sophisticated sound characterized by the smooth choruses and tempos typically associated with pop music, the Nashville Sound replaced the rougher melodies of honky-tonk music that dominated earlier generations. The studio was built at the request of Chet Atkins, who ran RCA's Nashville operations and had produced dozens of hits. Atkins helped usher in the Nashville Sound and propel country music to new heights of popularity. Famous songs recorded in Studio B are "Oh Lonesome Me" by Dan Gibson, "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" by Waylon Jennings, and Dolly Parton's "I will always Love you." On August 17, 1977, the studio shut its doors – the day after its most famous musician, Elvis Presley, died. Ownership was transferred over to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. Tickets and other practicalities Tours of the Historic RCA Studio B begin at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, where tickets are purchased, and run hourly. Tickets start at $46 and include entry to the Hall of Fame & Museum. Nearby restaurants The restaurants of the surrounding Midtown area cater to Vanderbilt students and white-collar crowds from local recording studios and hospitals. That means there are a few quality options interspersed with the usual fast-casual spots. Midtown Cafe is consistently ranked among the top restaurants in the South for its long-running menu of American cuisine. Top-dollar Catbird Seat woos patrons with its single, U-shaped table carefully positioned to feature the best seats in the house for the main event: what's happening in the kitchen.
Cheekwood is a botanical garden with an arty inclination, just southwest of downtown Nashville. The numerous gardens combine themes (Japanese, water, wildflower) with art, and surround a straight-out-of-a-Jane-Austen-novel house, where exhibitions are held regularly. Also on view are the furnishings of the Cheeks, the family who built the house in 1932 after selling their share of the Maxwell House coffee emporium. A new children's garden featuring winding paths and a trickling stream has recently opened, and a nearby exhibit dubbed "TRAINS!" will have kiddos exclaiming exactly that when they spot the hundreds of feet of miniature rails and cabooses chugging along. On the north side of the property, the sculpture trail meanders through the woods surrounding the estate, surprising walkers with occasional installations that meld with the surrounding environment in strange and delightful ways. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets that include entrance to the garden and mansion start at $25 for adults. If mansions aren't your thing, you can pay $20 just to see the gardens. Book ahead on holiday weekends, especially around the winter holidays, when the garden lights are the main attraction. Where to eat The on-site Café 29 is a good spot to pick up a quick bite (such as sweet potato waffle fries) or a coffee. If you're hankering for something more substantial, the courtyard is a nice place to sit and scarf down one of the cafe's flatbreads.
A beautiful day trip or extended road trip from Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway runs for 444 miles through three states until reaching its eponymous Mississippi end. Of the many highlights along the way, the Double Arch Bridge near Franklin, the Fall Hollow and Jackson waterfalls and the Tennessee River stand out, and can easily be visited in a day. It's extremely popular with cyclists, who come from surrounding states to ride the miles of truck-free highway. Remember to share the road. Also, look out for deer, beaver and other wildlife.
This unassuming modern brick building seats 4400 for the Grand Ole Opry multiple times per week. Daytime backstage guided tours are offered every 15 minutes daily, allowing guests to peek in the green rooms, stand on stage and see an on-site post office housing exclusive mailboxes for Opry performers.
For a photogenic view of this graceful double-arch bridge, pull into the Birdsong Hollow overlook, about 4 miles south of the northern terminus of the parkway. Completed in 1993, the 1572ft-long span is a precast segmental arch bridge, the first built in the US. For a view from below, drive south to the exit just beyond the bridge. For a pleasant driving loop, follow Hwy 96 east to Franklin then drive north to Nashville.
This 6.5-acre park hugs the Cumberland River's eastern bank across from downtown. For kids, there's a climbing wall and an innovative washboard play area. In summer, splash around in the 'sprayground.' For artistic distraction, admire Alice Aycock's graceful Ghost Ballet sculpture or see what's on tap in the amphitheater. The park's 3.5-mile East Bank Greenway rolls north along the river.
Opened in 1927 and named after two local park commissioners, Percy (the larger) and Edwin (the smaller) Warner Parks are where Nashvillians come to enjoy the great outdoors. Percy makes a grander first impression, with an impressive flight of steps at the main, northern entrance leading up to trailheads and bike paths. But both have hikes and horse routes over wooded hills that draw visitors here.
For an excellent overview of the Civil Rights movement in Nashville, check out the Civil Rights Collection, a permanent exhibit in the 2nd-floor galleries. Highlights from the movement are described on a symbolic lunch counter, which also lists the Ten Rules of Conduct for lunch-counter protesters. Several informative videos spotlight different aspects of the movement, while other special collections include artifacts from Ryman Auditorium's musical history.
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