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Music to your ears: The Best Things To Do In Nashville

The sights, sounds and tastes of Nashville will keep you coming back for more. | By Paul Oswell | December 11, 2021

It's hard to argue with Nashville’s nickname, Music City. Memphis has the blues, New Orleans has jazz, but in this town it’s all about country. People flock here to see world-class performers take to stages that are equally renowned: The Grand Ole Opry House, Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe, to name a few. Pack your best plaid shirts and prepare to get a little rowdy, but don’t worry, there are plenty of options away from the packed music halls if you need some down time.

Compose a memorable Nashville vacation by:

  • Hooting and hollering: Join the crowds of music lovers along Broadway to see musical legends, or find a hole in the wall where the next big thing might be waiting to be discovered

  • Learning the history behind the sounds: Enjoy the stories behind the biggest names in the industry at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

  • Throwing your hat into the ring: Give yourself a country-flavored makeover at one of the city’s specialist outfitters

Where to hear live music

You can’t help but be inspired by the buzz of musical creativity that bubbles up from the streets in Nashville. From the dive bars where hopefuls strum with the desire to be discovered to the huge concerts on Broadway, music is everywhere here.

The big music venues, like the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe, get all the press, and demand for tickets can be high. Yes, downtown and Broadway are expensive and can get crowded at weekends, but bring yourself down during the middle of the week or in the off season and you can appreciate the music scene like a local. Plan ahead or come on a Wednesday night and you’ll skip the worst of the lines.

There are ways to enjoy the legendary venues that aren’t obvious; the Grand Ole Opry, for instance, operates a fantastic Backstage Tour that feels like VIP treatment. There’s also talent galore on display at lesser-known but more intimate venues away from the masses: Exit/In, The Basement, the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and 3rd & Lindsley are all solid venues that are always on locals’ radars.

Museums and tours

If you want to round out your musical education beyond the live music scene, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is an obvious place to start. Within its walls, you can scope out rare, early recordings or lose yourself in the interactive exhibits. At nearby Historic RCA Studio B you can walk the actual rooms where Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers and Elvis recorded some of their most famous tracks.

Beyond country music, the National Museum of African American Music showcases a thrilling diversity of musical genres and has exhibits featuring greats from Nat King Cole to Whitney Houston.

Even die-hard music fans need a change of scene every now and then, and the tranquility of the Frist Art Museum beckons, with its dynamic rotation of modern art, backed up by the futuristic multimedia works of the Martin ArtQuest Gallery. History buffs should make time for Fort Negley, a historic fortification built by Union troops during the Civil War.

When the crowds of Broadway get too much, clear your head in the greenery of Centennial Park (take a selfie in front of the full scale replica of The Parthenon), or the floral surroundings of Cheekwood Estate & Gardens.

Nash-Trash Tours are perhaps the most fun for a music tour, with their striking pink bus. You can also travel back in time -- at least on a certain level -- by booking a ride on one of the two paddle-wheel steamboats that drift along the Cumberland River: the General Jackson Showboat and Music City Queen.

Where to eat and shop in Nashville

The local culinary delicacies might not be health food, but it’s hard to pass up on the cayenne-tinged delight of hot chicken, served on fresh biscuits. Check out Hattie B's Hot Chicken and Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and order the “meat and three.” It’s the classic local diner order, and you can mix and match fried chicken, barbecue or pork chops with sides such as macaroni, sweetcorn and potatoes.

Surprising recent additions to the culinary scene here also include innovative ramen shops, gourmet burgers and a wealth of craft breweries.

Shopping areas in the city are spread out, and you'll mostly find musical memorabilia and related merchandise of varying quality downtown. 8th Avenue South is a better bet with its host of more antique stores, and if you want to immerse yourself in the local style, then places like Betty Boots and Nashville Cowboy will happily help you with your country makeover.

Make your Nashville memory

The near-endless options for live musical entertainment in Nashville are incredibly alluring, but be sure to plan ahead to avoid disappointment. The biggest concerts sell out quickly, so you’ll need to be organized if you want to step foot in one of those hallowed theaters. There’s music everywhere, though, and heading out beyond the main drag and following your nose can turn up some unexpected delights and leave you with the best memories.

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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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