For a music-themed vacation, there is no better city to visit than Nashville. It boasts a wealth of music history — serving as the proving ground for legendary musical artists, performers, and broadcasters of decades past — while also culling the best songwriting, publishing, and recording talents of 2019. Indeed, Nashville is a musician’s town, but it also boasts captivating cultural features, standout restaurants, and charactered neighborhoods well worth on-foot exploration.
Lay of the land
“Music City” (aka Nashville) is a hub-and-spoke town that includes many walkable neighborhoods. Getting from area to area can sometimes be challenging; however; public transportation is limited, so get a rental car and factor in some driving time. While you can find live music everywhere, there are a few areas you won’t want to miss; we’ve curated these below, organized from east to west to keep your path continuous and minimize your time on the road.
Downtown is Nashville’s business and government center (the hub) and includes historic buildings, hotels, galleries, and restaurants. Some of the town’s better-known attractions are here, including the Johnny Cash Museum, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, and the iconic Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman has been around for over 120 years and has hosted everyone from Patsy Cline to the Foo Fighters. It is one of the best auditoriums to hear live music, anywhere.
As you cross Broadway into Sobro (South of Broadway)/The Gulch, take note of recommended honky-tonks Robert’s Western World (country) and the Station Inn (bluegrass, county, and Americana). Sobro’s dynamic music scene also includes 3rd and Lindsley (Western swing through ‘70s rock) and The Listening Room Café (for singer-songwriter grooves). Grab a coffee at Crema to recharge between shows. Then, head over to Jack White’s (of indie band “White Stripes”) vinyl store and recording studio Third Man Records. It’s a small shop but offers something for everyone, including a tour and a tiny recording booth you can rent.
Next, check out the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home to Nashville’s symphony orchestra, and the start of the Music Mile. This stretch of road connects downtown (where the music is played) to Music Row, where the music is made. The area is dotted with recording studios, record labels, and radio stations. Standouts include RCA’s Studio B (once frequented by Elvis), the Music City Walk of Fame (between Sobro and Music Row), and Southern Ground Nashville Studios, which has hosted everyone from Willie Nelson to Taj Mahal.
Midtown is just adjacent to Music Row and is known for its chef-driven restaurants (Tavern, Henley), bars (Hopsmith Tavern, HiFiClydes), and a host of hotels. To be sure, there is also good music to hear. Try The Local for blues on Tuesdays.
As you continue west, look for the full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, the beacon of West End/Elliston Place. This neighborhood, dubbed “Rock Block,” features celebrated rock clubs like Exit/In (established artists), The End (newer acts), and even the Elliston Place Soda Shop for ice cream (registered as a National Historic Place).
Farther afield, there are a few one-offs that you might want to visit before you leave Music City. The Bluebird Café (of TV series “Nashville” fame) is in Green Hills, and is significantly smaller in real life. Still, it attracts great songwriters, so be sure to reserve far in advance. Also, East Nashville is worthy of a stop. It serves as the eclectic, up-and-coming area with lots of bars, restaurants, and newer music venues.
No musical tour through Nashville would be complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, located 13 miles northeast in Music Valley. Its world-renown radio program (first launched from the Ryman Auditorium in 1925) is still broadcast live every week. Garth, Springsteen, and Aretha have all been guests.
Regardless of your musical preferences, you are bound to find great sounds in Nashville — not to mention inimitable eats, cultural icons, and history like no other U.S. city can offer. Consider making your next vacation to America’s “Music City.”