Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short trip to Tennessee’s music city.
Nashville, the talented Southern city on Tennessee’s Cumberland River, is a vacation spot that’s a beautiful hybrid of metropolis and American heartland. Even if you think you don’t like country music, this soulful city will sway you with its attractions, amazing food, and a nightlife scene filled with stellar live performances.
Nashville’s central location makes it an ideal destination for a road trip, but if you’re flying in to Nashville International Airport, head downtown to the center of the city. Hotels like Music City Loft and 404 Hotel , in the Gulch, are walking distance to your first stop. Nashville has plenty of public transportation, cabs, and rideshares—there’s even a free Joyride shuttle downtown—but if you rent there’s also plenty of parking. Start the day at Puckett’s Grocery. The place has been around since the 1950s and serves breakfast until 11 a.m. Order the ham steak and eggs with red-eye gravy.
Now properly fueled, walk down Fifth to Ryman Auditorium, the most famous former home of the Grand Ole Opry, two blocks away. You’ll soak up more than 100 years of American music history in the humble building that was originally built as a church. When your indoctrination is complete, take a left toward Broadway. Your first stop is the lavender Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which shares the alley with the Ryman and often hosts Ryman performers after their shows. Spend the afternoon bar-hopping Honky Tonk row from Fifth Avenue to the waterfront, and seek out every stage for the best singers, fiddlers, and local talent.
For dinner, make a reservation at Husk, just south of downtown, for chef Sean Brock’s amazing ways with produce and creative noshes like fried chicken skin, served up in a country-house setting.
Start your day off early by heading out on Highway 100 for Loveless Cafe’s famous fried chicken and biscuits. It’s worth the ride and serves breakfast all day long.
Afterward, head into town for a walking tour along the waterway to the capitol. Start from Riverfront station and walk along First Avenue past Nissan Stadium and Riverfront Park to Woodland Street. Then hang a left toward the nearby Tennessee State Museum. It’s free and stocked with artifacts from Native American stone tools to early settlers’ household items. Then continue your walking tour around the Tennessee state capitol in Victory Park and head north along the Capitol Mall. You will end up in Germantown, where some of the city’s best pubs and restaurants have been cropping up.
In Germantown, City House opens at five, and you’ll want to be there early for their stellar wood-fired pizza with pork belly and cocktails with names like “Kevin.”
Your last stop of the day is Bluebird Cafe, outside of town in Green Hills. It’s a 90-seat spot in a strip mall, but don’t be surprised to see famous faces like LeAnn Rimes or Keith Urban on any given night. This songwriter’s venue has made names like Garth Brooks famous and is featured on the TV show Nashville. Make a reservation at least a week in advance for the nine o’clock seating and prepare to be schooled yet again by some of America’s greatest songwriters.
Later, head over to 404 Kitchen (especially if that’s where you’re staying) for a bourbon tasting.
No trip to Music City is complete without a taste of Nashville’s own hot chicken, and there are a few solid choices. Hattie B’s, for instance, a relative newcomer, gets recognition for its Midtown location and open, airy space. But only the tried and true original, Prince’s Hot Chicken, will open your world to all that is cayenne fried chicken goodness. So hop in your car and head to the north side of town; plan to arrive a little before noon to beat the crowd. Each quarter comes with white bread and a pickle, and don’t be ashamed to order the mild to start.
Go back into town to the Country Music Hall of Fame and sign up for the Historic RCA Studio B tour. You’ll visit the historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley recorded over 200 songs and performers like Carrie Underwood make special recordings. Take a walk along 16th and 17th Avenues, also known as Music Square East and Music Square West, to immerse yourself in record labels, radio stations, live music venues, and the heart of America’s music scene. Try Tin Roof for laid-back live music of all kinds and draft beer or head up to Patterson House for craft cocktails and fancy bar bites like shrimp corn dogs.
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