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Nashville Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Toe-Tappin' Town
Exploring Music City
by Danielle Solomon with John Ayers

Nashville is the home of country music
Nashville Skyline

Lots of people come to Nashville intending to spend just a little time, and they end up never leaving. The city is quietly irresistible, you see. It doesn’t make a big deal about itself on the national stage, but once you get up close, you wonder why everyone isn’t clamoring to visit. You can't flick a guitar pick without hitting a musician here, it's true, but there's much more to the city than music. It's an everyman's destination, with something to offer families, hipsters, history buffs and newlyweds.

The Union Station Hotel is a former train station
Union Station Hotel

When visiting Nashville, you’ll want to rent a car. Bus service is good, but it can take a long time, especially if you’re taking a cross-town route. Nashville also has a robust bike culture, and there are several shops where you can rent a cruiser for a couple of days. During the summer the General Jackson paddle wheeler runs on the Cumberland River between Riverfront Park downtown and Opryland. Check its schedule before your visit.

The best places to stay are downtown and the Midtown-West End area around Vanderbilt University. We suggest the Union Station Hotel, a former train station built of hewn stone blocks in the early 20th century. With its grand clock tower, soaring ceilings and rooms freshly updated in late 2007, it's a real treat to stay in, and it's situated smack in the middle of the city. If you are looking for the best of the best, try The Hermitage Hotel downtown. From the Capitol Grille restaurant to the concierge service, every detail is polished and delivered on a silver platter. You'll pay dearly, but if sleeping in style is important to you, it's money well spent. On a more modest budget, consider Hotel Indigo, just a half mile from the Vanderbilt campus. Also handy to most of the city is the Hutton Hotel, an intriguing boutique hotel in Midtown.


Bicentennial Mall State Park has a number of wonderfully vibrant attractions
Bicentennial Mall State Park
Fuel up for a day of downtown sightseeing at Monell's in the historic Germantown neighborhood. Located directly behind the Capitol and just steps from Nashville's Farmers' Market, Monell's serves Southern- and family-style food at its finest. The two-story red brick converted home sits on a quiet street among many renovated and lovingly cared for shotgun houses; around the bend modern condos and progressive restaurants are turning this ZIP code into a hip destination. Inside, diners are seated next to each other at big, farmhouse tables. Huge mounds of grits, scrambled eggs, corn pudding, sausage, bacon, potatoes, biscuits and their special peach preserves are graciously passed around. Fried chicken is served with every meal here, and it’s well worth saving room for a piece. Trust us, you will need some exercise afterward.

Get a perspective on the entire state with a stroll through the nearby Bicentennial Mall State Park. Of particular note are the Rivers of Tennessee Fountains, composed of 31 vertical sprays representing the state's waterways; the Walkway of Counties, with vegetation from different regions; the World War II Memorial, a globe with countries as they were in that period; and the Pathway of History, a 1,400-foot wall illustrating significant events of the last two centuries. If you work up an appetite, grab whatever's in season from the Farmers Market for a snack, or head inside the pavilion to any of the cheap but excellent ethnic kitchens.

Make your next stop the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a veritable shrine of twang. They’ve got Elvis’ gold-plated Cadillac, Mother Maybelle Carter’s guitar and scores of instruments, outfits and other artifacts.

Make sure to check out the Johnny Cash exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum!
Country Music Hall of Fame

Step into a recording booth and listen to a genuine country jam, and then learn about the greatest bluegrass stars in the Museum's Hall of Fame. You can also see live performances, including shows by "pickers," in the Songwriter's Theater. Allow about two hours or more here, as there's plenty to please fans of all kinds of music, not just country.

A couple of blocks up the street you'll find the Ryman Auditorium, the spiritual home of the world-famous Grand Ole Opry. During the day you can tour the landmark, built in the 1890s as a site for revival meetings. Named for riverboat Captain Thomas Green Ryman, the building served as a stage for classical performances long before it became a temple of modern bluegrass. Check on performances of all types scheduled in the evenings, as it's perhaps the best-sounding (and by far the most storied) music venue in the city.

To the west several blocks, the landmark Art Deco Post Office building now houses the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The center hosts traveling exhibits of all stripes, from Old Masters showcases to cutting-edge installations, plus a special interactive room for children. You never quite know what you'll discover! In addition, you'll also find a lovely café offering soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch, with outside seating available. For lunch, head just up the way to Rotier's, a glorious dive that's been in business since the 1940s. Nashvillians are fiercely loyal to the juicy burgers, especially the grilled cheeseburger. It's not on the menu, but make sure to order the milkshake!

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts has a number of entertaining exhibits for the whole family
Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Cap off the day's sightseeing with a tour of The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, in Donelson. The white-columned Greek Revival home dates to the 1830s. Jackson, who served as seventh president of the United States from 1829-1837, and his wife Rachel settled here in log cabins in 1804 and expanded the farm into a cotton plantation. A film serves as a good introduction to this president and his life. Besides taking a guided tour of the home, you can wander around grounds that include a garden and other buildings and see ongoing archaeological excavations (be sure to ask about the home's summer music programs).

If you're looking for some great grub, cross the Cumberland River and dine in East Nashville, one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in the city. Many chef-owned restaurants offer entrées made from that day's harvest. Among the best is Margot Café and Bar in Five Points. Chef Margot McCormack scours local farmers' markets for the freshest ingredients and plans her menu accordingly. The menu, which changes nightly, always includes a brace of small plates for sharing, meat and fish selections, at least one vegetarian option, and beautiful desserts.

A little deeper in East Nashville sits Eastland Café, which serves hybrid French bistro/contemporary American food. They’re known for their green chile mac ’n’ cheese, and most of their meats are locally sourced.

Continue to Day 2


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* Images courtesy of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau

(Updated: 06/14/13 JDM)

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