When it comes to finding a good time in Nashville, Broadway and SoBro are the usual tourist hotspots. But the blocks north of honky-tonk-strewn Broadway, between 8th and 3rd Aves N, hold hidden treasures for Nashville visitors, including secret bars, historic pockets, outdoor concerts and more.
The best way to explore the area is on foot, but you can also hop aboard the free Music City Circuit Bus. Here’s what you need to know.
The well-appointed lobby of the Noelle hotel is a hangout for visitors and locals © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
Bedding down north of Broadway
After decades of having an accommodation shortage, Nashville now has hotels popping up on a regular basis – and better yet, they’re cool. If you’re up for sleeping in an art gallery, 21c Museum Hotel features more than 10,500 square feet of exhibition space, which regularly rotates through contemporary art and installations. One block west, Noelle channels the glamour of 1930s Nashville through a modern lens, and its grand bar, Trade Room, stuns with original brass detailing, Tennessee pink marble, terrazzo and travertine limestone. Also on 4th Ave N, Fairlane finds its design sweet spot in the retro-modern interiors of the 60s and 70s.
Long the city’s grand dame of lodgings, the Hermitage Hotel, built in 1910, is swathed in history, and has been a pied-à-terre for governors, cowboys, movie stars and music luminaries. If sleeping there is not in your budget, you can stop by to marvel at the elegant architecture, which includes a painted-glass skylight in the lobby and an art deco-style men’s bathroom in the basement. And if you’re partial to bourbon, treat yourself to one from the lengthy selection at the majestic Oak Room Bar.
Woolworth on 5th is an upscale diner that pays tribute to the past © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
A caloric adventure to satisfy your belly
Anyone coming to Nashville with a plan to eat healthy the whole time is likely either sorely misguided or deals very well with temptation. Calorie-laden Southern fare is a given in the Tennessee capital, and you’ll find plenty of places to indulge north of Broadway. The newer hotels are a sure bet – 21c is home to restaurant Gray and Dudley, while Noelle’s rooftop bar Rare Bird, restaurant Makeready L&L and, ahem, secret bar are also all worth stopping by. Over at the Fairlane, Mile End Delicatessen is a relaxed all-day locale, and when an occasion calls for something a little fancier, the Capitol Grille at the Hermitage is likely to impress.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant on 5th Ave N is an outpost of the original (a no-frills, 50s-era grocery in nearby slip of a town, Leiper’s Fork) but is beloved nonetheless. Alongside greasy Southern staples like hot chicken sandwiches, fried catfish and a fried green tomato BLT, it also offers live music on a regular basis. Nearby, Woolworth on 5th takes residence in the former F.W. Woolworth department store, which was the location of several important lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Its updated design pays tribute to the era and preserves much of the original space.
If you’ve had your fill of carbs and are in some desperate need of fresh produce, stroll over to the Nashville Farmers’ Market next to the Bicentennial Mall, where you can pick up all sorts of farm-grown fare and locally made souvenirs. Time for your visit for the third Friday night of the month to revel in the Night Market, or check the Facebook page for a list of events, including cooking classes and workshops.
Music-filled Printers Alley is just one of the many spots North of Broadway for visitors to discover © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
Catch some tunes away from the honky-tonks
If it wasn’t food that drew you to Nashville, chances are it was music – and north of Broadway is home to the scene’s beating heart, the Ryman Auditorium. Fondly nicknamed the 'Mother Church of Country Music,' the building is hallowed ground for anyone with a passion for the genre. In the winter months, it hosts the Grand Ole Opry shows on weekends, but keep an eye out for intimate gigs by non-country artists who are passing through town. Even if you aren’t able to snag tickets to a concert, try to make time for the self-guided experience, which takes you on a tour of the building with multimedia exhibits.
A few blocks north of the Ryman, Printers Alley provides a local-approved live-music alternative to the rowdy honky-tonks of Broadway. Once the hub of the city’s printing and publishing industry, the two-block strip is now lined with late-night venues like the speakeasy-style Skull’s Rainbow Room and New Orleans-inspired Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar.
Since Nashville boasts pretty balmy weather for a good portion of the year, outdoor concerts and festivals are plentiful. Several of them take place in Public Square, the green space in front of the Davidson County Courthouse – including the free outdoor music festival Live on the Green, which occurs every August and draws national acts like Sheryl Crow, Portugal the Man and Passion Pit.
The spacious and light-filled Nashville Public Library has community programming and yes, music © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
Delve into Nashville’s history and culture
You’ll have plenty of opportunity to brush up on Nashville’s history while strolling the blocks north of Broadway. In addition to hosting regular traveling exhibitions, the Tennessee State Museum gives visitors a crash course in Southern history with permanent exhibits about the first Tennesseans, Andrew Jackson and Antebellum, among others.
If you happen to be in town on the first Saturday of the month, Fifth Avenue of the Arts hosts an art crawl throughout the galleries in the 5th Ave N area, including several in the Italian-inspired Arcade, built in 1902 as one of the region's first enclosed shopping areas. Admission is free, and most locales even offer refreshments.
The Greek Doric-style War Memorial, built to commemorate the Tennesseans who died in World War I, is a good place to stop when you need a breather, though it may be a more somber, contemplative one. That said, in the evenings things are a little more celebratory – the War Memorial Auditorium features various shows with big-name acts throughout the year, as well as weekly Nashville House Concerts.
The classical architecture of the light-filled Nashville Public Library alone makes it worthy of a visit, but check out its events calendar. The Salon@615 regularly books big-name authors for little or no cost in the building's auditorium; plus there's lunchtime music in the tree-filled Robinson courtyard on weekdays during the summer and fall. Puppet shows and story time in the well-designed children's area make it a great destination for families.
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