A modern city with an industrial past and several competing identities, Nashville, Tennessee is now primarily famous as the Mecca of country music, where struggling artists and aspiring young stars come to follow in the footsteps of giants like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. With storied bars and alleyways and legendary country music venues such as the Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville earns its “Music City” moniker. However, long before country music and hot chicken became the de facto symbols of the city, the city fathers envisioned Nashville as the Athens of the South, with an incredibly detailed replica of ancient Parthenon. The Nashville of today is booming once again, its rich history and emerging businesses attracting all kinds of visitors. In spite of the new developments, hip restaurants, and trendy coffee shops, the old, authentic Nashville is still looming behind it all, in the city’s museum’s and auditoriums, and, more than ever, in the city’s very lifeblood.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NASHVILLE?
There are plenty of things to do in Nashville all year-long, so choosing when to visit the city mostly depends on your own personal preferences. If you want to spend a lot of time outside, then winter is certainly a poor choice. Nashville’s winters are predominantly cool to moderately cold, with below-freezing daytime temperatures and occasionally even snow. The summers, on the other hand, are quite hot and humid, with higher hotel rates and pricey flights due to the peak tourist season. Naturally, it is also the period when the city’s lively music scene is brought to light. For example, the Country Music Fan Fair is in June.If you care about the cost of your stay, aim for the period between November and March. If you care more about ideal weather, then the best time to visit Nashville is either in April or May, with ideal average temperatures and manageable humidity.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT NASHVILLE
The city of Nashville was founded on Christmas Eve 1779. Even if we disregard the stars primarily associated with Nashville, the city has seen its share of celebrities and influential public figures over the years – some of them quite unexpected. For example, Al Gore graduated from Vanderbilt University, and Oprah Winfrey’s meteoric rise first started in Nashville TV, where she was both the first African American and female news anchor. Nashville is not all about country music, either.
The city’s Jefferson street was filled with blues, jazz, and R&B between the 1940s and 1960s, and it was not uncommon to see Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, and Etta Jones performing there. Some of Nashville’s most famous buildings include the AT&T Building, RCA Studio B, and the Grand Ole Opry House. To appreciate each, you need a bit of insider info. The locals call the AT&T Building “Batman” because of the two spires resembling the superhero’s ears, although some may sooner compare it to Barad-dûr or Orthanc from Lord of the Rings. In RCA Studio B, there is still a string of red, blue, and green Christmas lights that were placed there to get Elvis in the mood for his Christmas album. The Grand Ole Opry is a local favorite, with the Goo Goo, the famous Nashville candy, named after the legendary country music stage concert.
ONE DAY IN NASHVILLE ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Nashville.
Start Your Day in Downtown Nashville
Most of Nashville’s landmarks and points of interested are located downtown, which is bordered by the Cumberland River to the east, the I-40 to the south and west, and Jefferson street to the north. Broadway is the main street in the area, lined with teeming honky-tonk bars and legendary venues such as Ryman Auditorium, often called the “Mother Church of Country Music.” The Johnny Cash Museum & Café is also nearby, as is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Most of these Nashville attractions open at 9 AM, so there’s no point in getting there early and hanging out outside until opening hour.
Luckily, there are several nice music-themed diners opened 24/7 in the vicinity, as well as a number of coffee shops and breakfast restaurants. Rise Biscuits Donuts is a real sleeper hit across the street from Downtown Presbyterian Church on 5th Avenue. With food just like your Mama used to make on a Sunday morning and delicious coffee, this charming little place has everything you need to get your one day in Nashville off to a good start.
Check out the Ryman Auditorium
After breakfast and/or coffee, take a short walk downhill past the Nashville Central Church of Christ. After you cross Commerce Street, the Ryman Auditorium is the second building to the left, less than a 3-minute walk from Rise Biscuits Donuts. Now famous as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” the venue served as the Grand Ole Opry House from 1943 to 1974 and Union Gospel Tabernacle before that. This is a place for all music fans, not just fervent country music aficionados. There is a great organized tour of the venue, telling the story of the place in a very fun, engaging way. The tour begins with a movie followed by a visit to the auditorium, where you can often see stage preparations for the evening show. The members of the staff are very knowledgeable and willing to interact with visitors and provide all the necessary information. The Auditorium was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001 for the key role it played in making country music as popular as it is today.
Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The tour of the Ryman Auditorium is relatively short, but worth it due to the venue’s historic significance and the unique atmosphere where you can almost feel the history and all the big names that stood there before. After the Ryman Auditorium, take a short 5-minute walk south on 5th Avenue until you reach the Music City Walk of Fame Park. The area around the park is one of the most beautiful parts of Nashville, encircled by Hilton Nashville Downtown, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the neoclassical Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. At the museum, the story of one of the most popular musical genres in America is told through interactive exhibits and more than 2.5 million unique artifacts.
There are both permanent and temporary exhibits, some telling the stories of contemporary artists such as Taylor Swift, while others focus on legends like Elvis. You can even see a car that used to belong to the King, as well as a whole host of awards, outfits, and guitars. The popular Songwriter Session is another reason to visit, where artists hold small 60-minute concerts and talk about the creative process of writing songs. The place is huge so expect to spend 2-3 hours there, depending on your preferences.
Head on over to the Johnny Cash Museum & Café
Once you leave the museum, head northeast on Demonbreun Street and then turn left when you reach the 3rd Avenue. After a short walk, The Johnny Cash Museum & Café will be to your left, set in a pleasantly old-fashioned red-brick building. The museum displays photos and collectibles from the life of legendary musician Johnny Cash. While small in size, the place is overflowing with memorabilia, and does a good job of presenting the life and career of the music icon, from his humble beginnings and rise to fame to all the amazing and little-known details and events that make up his inspiring story. There is also a small gift shop where you can get T-shirts, books, and CD-s. The second floor is dedicated to Patsy Cline, and is also worth a visit, although you’ll need to purchase a separate ticket for that. Touring the Johnny Cash Museum on its own should take you 45 minutes to one hour.
Take a Break and Have a Bite to Eat
While you are still at The Johnny Cash Museum & Café, it is worth noting that they also serve sandwiches and pastries, pretty good coffee, and (of course) cold beer. You can kill two birds with one stone and grab a quick bite after exploring the museum. Otherwise, check out the nearby Honky Tonk Central on 4th Avenue and Broadway. A lively 3-storey barroom with pub grub and non-stop live country music, Honky Tonk Central is an iconic spot with great cold beer where you can enjoy your food while listening to amazing bands and rising stars singing on stage. It is a good idea to go there early (i.e. around lunchtime or a bit later), as it gets very crowded in the evening.
Take the Bus/Taxi to Centennial Park
The first stop after lunch is Centennial Park, the city’s premier urban park located two miles west of the city center, directly across West End Avenue from the Vanderbilt University campus. Getting there is easy, even with public transport. Just hop on bus line 5 on the corner of 6th Avenue and Commerce Street, directly behind Renaissance Nashville Hotel, which you can see from Honky Tonk Central. Ride the bus for 13 stops and exit at West End Avenue & Natchez Trace. The Centennial Park World War I Monument is near the park entrance. Some other points of interest in Centennial Park include the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, the Civil War Memorial, and the Centennial Performing Arts Studios, a gallery in the park displaying local and regional art, also with painting and pottery workshops.
The star attraction, however, is The Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the most famous building from Ancient Greece. Finished in 1897, The Parthenon of Nashville is now home to American art galleries. It is located in the center of the park, so it is impossible to miss. Visiting The Parthenon is one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids, especially if they love Greek and Roman mythology. The park is also a great place for families in general, with a nice playground, gorgeous, well-maintained gardens, and a charming lake with geese and ducks.
Check out Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
Not all major Nashville attractions are located downtown. Getting to some of them requires a bit of driving. For example, the Grand Ole Opry and the nearby Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center are located 13 miles northeast from Centennial Park, approximately 20-25 minutes by car via I-40 E and TN-155 N. Public transport takes 90 minutes (bus line 5 then 34), so you’re better off getting a cab if you don’t have a car. The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, located on Opryland Drive, is a sprawling hotel/convention center with 2888 rooms, making it one of the 30 biggest hotels in the whole world. You can visit the hotel’s complex even if you are not staying there. However, since the parking can get quite pricey, park at the Opry Mills Mall and take a short walk north to see Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The hotel’s conservatory/arboretum is absolutely gorgeous, like a little town with trees and parks under a glass ceiling. You’ll love the little ponds, artificial waterfalls and charming cafés. The place looks like a fairy tale.
Take a Backstage Tour of the Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry House is right next to the hotel, just a short walk south across the parking lot. There are three kinds of tours of the Opry House. The regular daytime tour provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the artists, locations, and stories behind the show that has launched innumerable successful country music careers. You get to see the dressing rooms and stand on the stage, with an interesting video presentation by Blake Shelton. In case you catch a performance, you can do a post-show tour. However, this tour, just like the VIP tour, require planning and booking in advance. In case you are not familiar with the Grand Ole Opry’s significance, suffice to say that it is the longest-running radio broadcast in the country’s history, founded in late 1925 as an hourlong “barn dance” on WSM. Today, the Opry hosts rising stars and famous chart-toppers who play not only country music, bus also folk, Americana, bluegrass, and gospel music, plus occasional skits and comedic performances.
Check out Madame Tussauds Nashville & Other Fun Things to Do in Nashville with Kids
After touring the Grand Ole Opry, take a short walk back to the mall and visit Madame Tussauds, not far from the Aquarium Restaurant. Perfectly complimenting the tour of the Grand Ole Opry, Madame Tussauds is a famous tourist attraction where you can see the legends of country music brought to life alongside famous icons from other genres. Whether you want to take a photo with Kid Rock, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, or Miley Cyrus, Madame Tussauds has got you covered. If you’re looking for things for kids to do in Nashville, take them here and let them appear on stage with some of their favorite music idols. Some other family-friendly attractions in Nashville include the Adventure Science Center, the Nashville Zoo (with petting and zipline riding), the Lane Motor Museum, and the Nashville Children’s Theatre. If one of our other attractions sounds too dull for your little ones, feel free to replace it with one of these kid-friendly alternatives.
Experience Everything the Music City Has to Offer at Night
If there is a performance at the Grand Ole Opry House, consider spending the evening there or at least get the ball rolling with a show (they usually start around 7 PM) before going out for a night on the town. Otherwise, pick a spot either downtown or in East Nashville, famous for its quirky vibe and a vibrant nightlife and culinary scene. For the first option, consider B.B. King’s Blues Club on 2nd Avenue, near the bus stop. The club serves food, making it an excellent choice for dinner/first stop, especially if you like barbecue (Memphis-style) and typical Southern comfort food with flavors inspired by New Orleans cuisine. There’s live music on stage, from performers touring the country to fine local talent.
Coyote UGLY is right next door, with bartop dancing, scantily clad female bartenders, body shots and an all-round good time. For something a bit more off the beaten track, check out Cafe Roze on the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Porter Road, near the train tracks. Loved by locals and visitor alike, Cafe Roze is a bit more modern and stylish compared to the previous two options. While the food is delicious, the welcoming, friendly staff are the real highlight, especially the owner, Julia, who treats all her guests like family. Since Cafe Roze closes at 10, you can keep partying across the street at Vinyl Tap, an unusual craft beer taproom that also doubles as a neat, unique record store.
WHERE TO STAY IN NASHVILLE?
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
The aforementioned Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is so massive and beautiful that many travel guides now list it among places you absolutely must see in Nashville. Located only a 10-minute walk from the Grand Ole Opry, this upscale resort’s is easy to get to from Nashville International Airport, with all the major attractions approx. 20 minutes by car from the property. In addition to a gym and spa, the resort has 19 restaurants and bars, two outdoor and one indoor pool, and numerous indoor gardens sprawling over 9 acres.
Surprisingly, there are even boat turs of the little canals and lakes inside, reminiscent of Venice. While the Grand Ole Opry and the mall are very close, the hotel’s shuttle service certainly comes in handy when you want to head downtown. If you happen to go to Nashville around Christmastime, then this hotel stands out as the absolute number one choice. Their Christmas display is mind-blowing, with something new added every year and plenty of options for young children, such as little trains you can ride.
Located on Union Street, mere steps away from Broadway, Fairlane Hotel is the perfect choice for travelers who like to stay in the heart of the city and do most of their sightseeing on foot. The retro-modern rooms are very stylish and well-appointed. Some of the rooms come with floor-to-ceiling windows providing breathtaking views of downtown Nashville. Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill is a real gem, with delicious Southern-inspired dishes and an upscale rooftop location. The hotel’s urban chic décor and fantastic feel are perfectly complimented by its highly professional and friendly staff, quick to help and always going the extra mile to add personal touches.
Hyatt Place Nashville Downtown
Mere minutes from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, The Johnny Cash Museum & Café, and all the other must-see Nashville attractions, Hyatt Place Nashville Downtown is one of the hotels with the best location in the city. Luckily, everything else the hotels has to offer is up to par, starting with the spacious & inviting air-conditioned rooms, each with a comfy sofa and large private bathroom with stylish granite counters. The breakfast bar is another highlight, with a large number of options even for a prolonged stay. The hotel’s décor, especially the artwork at the front desk, epitomizes the true spirit of the Music City.
Nashville Downtown Hostel
One of the first things you notice about Nashville Downtown Hostel is the friendly and welcoming staff at the front desk, going above and beyond to make sure every guest feels like home. The comfortable, well-decorated shared area certainly reinforces that feeling, providing the guests with a place to socialize, relax and even play billiards. All of the rooms at the hostel are named after famous musicians, which is certainly a nice detail, and some of them come with a view over the river. Clean and comfy, the rooms are tailored according to the needs of the hostel’s guests, and the cost is very modest in light of the property’s top-of-the-line location, mere 500 m from The Johnny Cash Museum & Café.
DAY TRIPS FROM NASHVILLE
With its rich history, numerous music venues, and exciting modern restaurants, you will never run out of things to do in Nashville, even if you decide to extend your stay. And that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the unique places and experiences in the state of Tennessee. Consider, for example, the Tennessee Whiskey Adventure to Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, a guided tour with a stop at Lynchburg, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the most famous whiskey distilleries in the world, complete with tastings and a Southern-style lunch.
For die-hard fans of Elvis, there is the Memphis Day Trip with VIP Access to Graceland. You can even book a super-exclusive Private Tour of the Nashville Recording Studio with Meghan Linsey from the Voice. Whatever your preferences, check out this Day Trips from Nashville article for some seriously tantalizing offers to make your stay in Nashville even more unforgettable.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING NASHVILLE
Many businesses in Nashville are closed on Mondays, a remnant from the past, when Nashville was an industrial powerhouse. Take that into consideration when planning your trip.
The Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), rebranded since July 2018 as WeGo Public Transit, serves all of Nashville and Davidson County. The bus system is pretty good, but you’ll still have to occasionally rely on Uber or Lyft to get to places.
When it comes to free things to do in Nashville, there are free festivals and events in the city almost every weekend from spring to fall, including concerts, craft shows, beer festivals, and the like.
PIN FOR LATER!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Nashville Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comments below!