Associate Digital Editor Caroline Hallemann takes us on a tour of her hometown.
My old stomping grounds look a little different than they did when I grew up. In the eight years since I’ve been gone, Nashville has exploded. Thanks (in part) to the media world’s fascination with the American South, its “It-City” designation, and a primetime soap starring Connie Britton, the population is rising, the culinary scene is expanding, and the music business is continuing to diversify. Every time I head home, I hear something, eat something, and try something new, but there are still a few old-school spots that reign supreme on my personal must-see list.
Here’s my guide to Nashville:
What to Eat
There’s nothing quite like Tennessee cooking. Whenever I head home, The Picnic is on my must-visit list. Whether it’s just to grab a jug of sugar sweet fruit tea to go or for a sit-down meal with chicken salad sandwiches and cheese wafers, the restaurant is an unassuming gem, and the ultimate “ladies who lunch” spot.
Another long-time favorite is Fido, a dog-friendly coffee shop in the heart of Hillsboro Village—I recommend ordering one of their signature espresso drinks with the huevos rancheros to kickstart a morning of shopping in the neighborhood. And while Nashville’s “signature” hot chicken dish wasn’t a staple in my childhood home (a topic Rachel L. Martin skillfully explores over on Bitter Southerner), I’ve taken a liking to it. For the real deal, head to Prince’s famous chicken shack, or, in a pinch, the famous Hattie B’s will do just fine.
If you’re looking to explore Nashville’s recent culinary revolution, I recommend sampling the fare at Sean Brock’s Husk, Maneet Chahuan’s Ale and Masala House, and Rolf and Daughters. For even more food recommendations, check out this guide to what to eat, drink, and do in Nashville.
Whenever I have friends visiting Nashville, I always send them to White’s Mercantile. A modern take on the general store, the shop stocks jewelry, home goods, and apparel along with a curated selection of made-in-the-South goods. Makeup geeks should make their way to The Cosmetic Market, a West Nashville favorite that stocks both local lines (Therapy Systems, Thistle Farms, Otter Creek) as well as national favorites like Bliss, Lorac, and Kevyn Aucoin.
For music buffs, Jack White’s Third Man Records storefront is a must-see. And my favorite souvenir in town would have to be something from Hatch Showprint. Located inside the Country Music Hall of Fame, this letterpress operation sells concert posters and cards alongside reasonably priced works of art.
It’s not called the Athens of the South for nothing; the Parthenon in Centennial Park is one of my favorite sites in the city. Step inside the full-scale replica to see plaster recreations of the Parthenon Marbles, and a 42-foot statue of Athena in addition to a collection of paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists. Or, plan a picnic right outside to admire the columned façade.
Prefer Nashville’s Music City moniker? Head downtown to explore the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum, or stop in for a songwriters show at the tiny Bluebird Cafe in Green Hills. And while Nashville hosts country music’s preeminent fan event and is a popular stopping point on the annual pilgrimage to Bonnaroo, the best festival in town is undoubtedly the Tomato Art Fest in August. Now in its 13th year, the tomato-themed celebration showcases everything there is to love about East Nashville—good food and music, beautiful art, and just the right amount of quirk (yes, people dress up as tomatoes). For a history of the festival and this year’s schedule of events, head to their website.
Where to Stay
Downtown Nashville desperately needs more hotels—just try booking a room during CMA Music Fest to see what I mean. Virgin Hotels, 21C, and Thompson Hotels are all planning on opening properties in the next few years, but in the meantime, I recommend The 404, a small, five-room hotel known for its "invisible service" and location in the bustling Gulch neighborhood. If you’re looking for more a traditional experience, check in to The Hermitage, a grand, historic hotel right downtown with an excellent on-site cocktail bar, or Union Station, a former 19th-century train station that’s within walking distance of the honky tonks on Broadway.
What I Want to Try
The city is expanding so rapidly and businesses are opening so quickly that I can hardly keep track. Currently on my to-try list? Otaku Ramen, a new traditional ramen shop; The Hook, a fast-casual restaurant from the team behind Sinema; Butcher and Bee, the Nashville outpost of a Charleston favorite; GooGoo’s first-ever dessert bar, and The Catbird Seat, a 22-head chef’s counter that I’ve been wanting to experience for years. Get there before I do? Let me know what you think!
Caroline Hallemann is the associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @challemann.