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A traveling insider’s guide to Nashville

From award-winning restaurants to an award-winning music scene, our expert travel guide will help you plan what to do on your next Nashville vacation. | By Paul Oswell | June 20, 2022

Welcome to Nashville, known as Music City for good reason. The city lives and breathes country and honky-tonk music, and the genres have become the city’s biggest selling point. Nashville is also Tennessee’s state capital, and you'll find the historical buildings and institutions that go along with such a status. Best of all, the city is at the forefront of a fresh, modern approach to Southern cooking and there are a wealth of innovative restaurants to discover. Get ready to make some noise in Music City by:

  • Tuning in: Music is the lifeblood of this town, and melodies emanate from almost every doorway

  • Exploring the past: Nashville has an important history that was influenced by everything from the Civil War to the civil rights movement

  • Eating out: Dine at James Beard Award-winning restaurants that are redefining Southern food culture

Why visit Nashville?

Together with New Orleans and Memphis, Nashville forms part of a trio of music-led destinations in the South. Jazz, blues and country and western music are local art forms, and for many visitors, coming to see their favorite artists in their spiritual home is a huge draw. World-famous artists have dropped into play shows around town, so you never really know who might step up onto any stage.

The city's museums also deliver deep dives into the music culture, with both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the National Museum of African American Music well worth any fan’s time. Visitors can also admire contemporary visual arts (and more) at the Frist Art Museum and an impressive full-scale replica of the Parthenon, used here to share the legacy of ancient Greece and its impact on American civilization. Additionally, Nashville was an important city for the civil rights movement, commemorated at the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library, and Woolworth on Fifth, a restaurant (and registered historic site) that held one of the first lunch counter sit-ins.

Speaking of Nashville restaurants, the city has built up a solid culinary reputation, creating an innovative restaurant scene with roots firmly in the traditions of Southern cooking. Hot chicken, a spicy take on the ubiquitous fried chicken in these parts, is a must-try, perhaps at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, where it originated. City institutions such as Arnold’s Country Kitchen (a James Beard Award-winner) serve up” meat and three.” i.e. a plate of protein and sides. Head for Germantown and East Nashville for the most creative takes on barbecue and Southern classics, respectively, while Nolensville Road offers a more global outlook.

When is the best time for your trip to Nashville?

Nashville has a generally welcoming climate year round, without any real extremes. The most pleasant time to visit is from April through October when the warmer weather means more lively venues, though hotel and airfare prices are higher. November through March is more affordable, but temperatures, while not constantly frigid, are certainly cooler. December and January can see freezes, but there’s a charm to the city around the winter holiday season, with the decorations adorning downtown stores and streets.

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Getting to and around Nashville

Nashville International Airport is located about 8 miles east of downtown, and can take 15 to 45 minutes by car, depending on the time of day. WeGo Public Transit runs an hourly bus service between downtown and the airport seven days a week, with express and local stopping options. There are also a number of private shuttles that stop at downtown hotels. Taxis and ride-hail apps both operate and cab rides aren’t too expensive. Renting a car isn’t really necessary if you’re not planning to leave the downtown area — parking and traffic cause more trouble and expense, outweighing the benefits.

Downtown Nashville is served by an extensive and affordable bus network. All-day, unlimited-ride passes are available through an online payment system, QuickTicket. The city has both bicycles and scooters for rent, available at various hubs around downtown. Bird and Lime are the main scooter companies, and B-Cycle is the place for bikes. You can also tour the city via Joyride golf carts for an unusual way to explore Nashville — complete with a local guide, of course.

Most of downtown is walkable, though, so stretch your legs and take in the sights and sounds of the city — just remember comfy shoes and a refillable water bottle.

Nashville culture and customs

Nashville is a welcoming city, focused on entertaining the masses. Although it is known for its country music, it’s close enough to Memphis to have absorbed a tradition of the blues, too. It has a long history of hospitality and musical performances that appeal to diverse demographics, and you’ll find most people are friendly and warm.

The city’s success does mean busy peak times, but be flexible and come with a sense of adventure and you can experience Nashville beyond the obvious. Find your own beat and tune into a destination that has a range well beyond its most familiar songs.

Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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