People who visit the Music City for the first time are always surprised by the lack of public transportation. Like many large cities in the Mid-South, Nashville has spread out, taking over land from plantations and farms and now covering a large area that limits the ability to walk from one district to another. Granted, there are a few public bus routes and many taxi companies, but Nashville is a lot like Los Angeles (at least in one respect): people here like to drive. There are more parking lots downtown than office buildings, and yet parking remains at a premium. If you arrive by plane, your first step should be to rent a car. Don't depend on public transportation—it's just not a dependable or convenient option.
The one exception to this overriding need for a car is if you plan on spending most of your time downtown. It's a short walk from tourist-friendly Second Avenue to famed Printers' Alley and all parts in between.
Begin your visit Downtown and visit
In the early days of the city, all of the printers were located on Printer's Alley. This section of downtown takes up three city blocks between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Today there aren't many printers turning out playbills and newspapers, but there are museums and shops for visitors to explore.
The West End/Music Row
The West End of Nashville is home to Music Row. If you have any interest in country music or the music industry, this is a place where you should spend at least a day. Every major recording label in the United States has an office here. You won't see anything like the imposing Capitol Records building in Los Angeles, though. This is Nashville, and record companies here work out of renovated homes and warehouses. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, which is the reason a lot of artists are choosing Nashville as the place to record their next projects. Some of the best recording studios in the nation share real estate with the record companies on this famous street. Stand outside Emerald Studios or Quad Sound and see what famous musical artist walks out the door.
Two blocks from Music Row on West End Avenue lies Elliston Place. This is one of Nashville's trendy neighborhoods. Small homes and cafes typify the tenants of the area. And then there's the Elliston Place Rock Block, a block-long section of Elliston Avenue that is home to six of the loudest nightclubs in town. This is not the place to go if you are interested in quiet conversation—this is where you go to listen to great country music and party into the wee hours of the night.
The West End is also home to Vanderbilt University, one of the nation's finest private universities and the alma mater of former Vice President Al Gore. The lush and expansive campus provides much-needed green space in Nashville's West End area, as well as opportunities for visitors to enjoy collegiate sporting events, art museums and symphonic concerts.
South of the Music City lies the suburb of Brentwood. This is where the affluent live and where corporations have been relocating over the last decade, meanwhile escaping the congestion of downtown traffic. Brentwood offers the best shopping in town with two large shopping malls and a number of factory outlet centers. Brentwood also suffers from poor public transportation. You will be lucky to even find a bus, much less catch a ride on one. This is definitely a place where you should drive your car.
A little further South is the historic town of Franklin. One of the oldest towns in Middle Tennessee, Franklin is famous for its numerous antique malls and neighborhood cafes. A drive down Main Street is like driving through a Norman Rockwell painting. This is typical small-town U.S.A., filled with history and charm and friendly folks who are always willing to offer directions or tell a tall tale or two. After 200 years, Franklin has retained its quiet Southern charm.
If you arrive in Nashville via the International Airport, you will be in the Opryland area. For many, this is the final destination, and with good reason. For decades, the district around the Opryland theme park kept the city of Nashville alive. The Music City owes a great deal to the now defunct amusement park that was once home to the
Business and leisure travelers have one thing in common: a need for convenient accommodations. For some, the solution may take the form of a simple hotel room with a comfortable bed. Others require a luxury suite with plenty of room to work and to prepare for a full day in the trenches of the business world. Still others prefer the quiet setting of one of Nashville's hospitable bed and breakfast inns. No matter what you are looking for or what district you will be staying in, you will be able to find quality accommodations with a down-home touch.
If you are looking to stay near the downtown business or tourist district, you have a number of hotels to choose from, both in the luxury category and in more moderate price ranges. Whether you are in Nashville to close an important deal or just to see the legendary home of country music, you can stay near all the action. The Downtown Sheraton overlooks the State Capitol and offers 400 rooms at moderate prices. Travelers who need a little more space may want to opt for the Doubletree Hotel Nashville. Every room here is a suite and features luxurious comfort and impeccable service. If you are in town on business, there are few places better suited to meet your needs—the business center is equipped to rival your own, as it has office with computers, copiers and fax machines. The luxurious Hermitage Hotel offers a taste of southern hospitality in elegant surroundings.
West End/Music Row
The West End of Nashville attracts visitors to famed Music Row, Vanderbilt University and the Green Hills Shopping area. No matter what brings you to the West End, there is a hotel nearby ready to accommodate you and your family. The West End Courtyard by Marriott is extremely popular with business travelers, as it is a familiar chain hotel with business facilities and a complimentary breakfast buffet. If you are a train buff or you just feel like sleeping somewhere interesting, try the Union Station Hotel. This Romanesque Revival structure was once a thriving railroad station; in the late 1970s, the Wyndham Hotel chain took over the station and transformed it into a marvelous hotel. Many features of the elegant old terminal remain today. In fact, you can still check the train schedules—they are written on an old slate behind the front desk.
As Nashville grows and its metro area expands into the outlying areas, more and more people are finding that a stay in nearby Brentwood makes a lot of sense. Only 10 minutes from downtown Nashville, this small suburb is convenient to the business district and all popular attractions, yet it is out of the snarl of traffic congestion that typifies the Nashville experience. Harried businesspersons looking for a comfortable bed and adequate workspace have made Hyatt Place Nashville/Brentwood a popular destination. If you need a little extra luxury, try the Hilton Suites.
The small town of Franklin lies 20 miles south of Nashville and offers visitors a respite from the hectic atmosphere of the Music City. Rich in history and famous for its antique shops, Franklin is a popular destination for Civil War historians and collectors of antique furniture. There are a lot of hotel options in this small burg, such as the La Quinta Inn, an inexpensive hotel that caters to business travelers. If you are planning an extended stay in Franklin, the best choice is Homestead Village. Guests enjoy a fully equipped kitchen, which allows for some home cooking when you don't feel like venturing out. The in-room work area provides ample workspace in which to handle the day's paperwork. An extra data-port phone line provides access to e-mail and Internet services.
Opryland, once a theme park, has been transformed into the South's largest shopping area, Opry Mills. If you are planning on staying in or around the Nashville Airport or Opryland, there are myriad choices including the famed Opryland Hotel, which is a tourist attraction in itself. It has fountains and waterfalls, theme areas, gardens and, most notably, a river that flows right through the middle of the hotel. With 23 restaurants, lounges and cafes inside the complex, you will always be able to find a place to fit your cravings. It's all here, from Italian and contemporary American cuisine to French, Cajun, Southwestern and Asian food.
If you are more interested in getting some work done than in wandering around a hotel the size of Rhode Island, consider Studio PLUS. This national chain offers affordable suites designed to help business travelers be more productive.
As you might have guessed, there is a lot of music in the Music City. Everywhere you turn, an aspiring singer is performing his or her latest work or a classic country favorite. The performances are not limited to honky-tonks and music halls, though. Take a stroll down Second Avenue and you will see up-and-coming stars singing their lungs out from the front stoops of clothing stores, from the display windows of specialty shops and from the small stages constructed in the backs of restaurants. Music put Nashville on the map, and music is where we will start.
Country Music is King in Nashville. If you hear a country song on the radio, it's virtually certain it was performed, recorded and mixed right here. You can hear your favorite songs and see your favorite artists perform virtually anywhere in Nashville, but there are a few tried and tested venues that stand out.
The Ryman Auditorium was the first home of the Grand Ole Opry show. Today, the radio show has moved, but there is still something special about the Ryman. Originally a church, this building's most famous visitors were not pilgrims on a religious journey, but rather country singers like Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton. Although the big name stars now perform in the new Grand Ole Opry House, you can still hear great live music at the Ryman nightly. Country, blues, pop and jazz musicians take the stage to honor the past and look to the future. The Grand Ole Opry House is the venue for the biggest names in country music. On any given night you will find the likes of Leroy Parnell, Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks performing before a packed house. The Country Music Awards (CMAs), country music's version of the Grammies®, are presented from this stage each year.
The Bluebird Cafe has been the starting point for many of today's top names in country music. Aspiring stars from Nashville and beyond take to this stage, and with good reason, as record company executives frequent the establishment looking for the next big star. For the wannabe country sensation, playing at the Bluebird is almost as big a thrill as playing at the Grand Ole Opry. You will hear Nashville's best here, and you will be able to say you knew them when.
Fan Fair is the biggest and most popular country music festival in the United States. This five-day festival draws over one million visitors to the city each June. You will hear the very best and brightest in country music for one low ticket price.
For decades, the people of Nashville cried out for professional sports teams. Finally, the powers that be have heard their cries, and franchises of both the National Football League (NFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL) have been brought to the Music City.
The Tennessee Titans play home games in the modern LP Field. Owner Bud Adams brought the team to the city after many unsuccessful years as the Houston Oilers, and won an AFC Championship and an appearance in the Super Bowl in their first season as the Titans. The Coliseum is state of the art and is quickly becoming known as the NFLs loudest stadium, thanks to the legions of fans who have waited patiently for a professional football team. Go Titans!!!
Hockey fans will love the bone-crushing action of the Nashville Predators. Joining the NHL in 1998 as an expansion team, the Predators took to the ice and to the hearts of Nashville fans in a serious way. The "Preds" play in the Nashville Arena.
If music and sports are not for you, perhaps you will enjoy one of the city's many museums. From fine art to local history, there is a lot to see and learn in Nashville.
The Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art features several galleries in one location, a 1920s mansion built by the prominent Cheek family. The mansion sits on 65 acres of beautifully landscaped property and houses a museum of fine art, a contemporary art gallery, gardens and more.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum features over 3,000 exhibits, including the gold records (plaques commemorating million sellers) and stage costumes of the early country stars. You'll learn about the origins of country music, what made it so popular and how it maintains its fierce following today.
In 1835, President Andrew Jackson built the beautiful Hermitage for his beloved wife; the home is now a popular site for visitors to the Music City. Everything has been perfectly preserved and restored to its original state. You will see what life was like in the early 19th century as you roam the halls of the immense home. Stroll through the tulip gardens, which were planted for the former first lady, and honor the memory of the late president as you pass the memorial to him and his wife.
The natural beauty of the Tennessee hillsides is the area's greatest resource, and you can enjoy it via one of the many state parks in or around Nashville. If you enjoy hiking, biking, swimming or boating, you owe it to yourself and your family to stop by one of these magnificent facilities.
Built to commemorate Tennessee's 200th birthday in 1996, the Bicentennial Mall State Park features a replica of the Parthenon and a statue of the Goddess Athena. If you can pull yourself away from the beauty of these two structures, you will find a number of walking trails and picnic areas.
For true nature-lovers, Lawrenceburg's Davy Crockett State Park is worth the two-hour drive. There, you can lie in the sun while the sounds and sights of nature lull you to sleep.
At the Warner Parks Nature Center, you will have a chance to experience the ecological diversity of Tennessee first hand. Take a hike on the more than 10 miles of trails, listen to lectures on environmental concerns and conservation, or take part in a guided tour of the wildlife preserve. Protecting the environment is the focus here, but this is also a top-notch outdoors facility meant to be enjoyed by you and your family.
The Music City may have earned its fame through country music, but eating here is every bit as much a "foot-stomping" good time. You can find virtually every type of food imaginable, from a spicy lunch at a Mexican cantina to a romantic dinner at a French bistro. The requisite tourist restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe are on Second Avenue, but they are certainly not the kings of the strip.
As delicious as the food tastes, the real joy of dining in this city is the exceptional service you receive everywhere you go. Folks in the South do things differently. There is a slow and easy style to everything here, and that includes the restaurants. You will seldom find an establishment that does not greet you with a smile and a handshake. Reservations are a courtesy, not a requirement. Servers are actually interested in serving rather than just achieving a large gratuity. From fast food to more upscale fare, you will quickly discover the intangible quality that makes dining in Nashville different from anywhere else.
Popular local establishments such as Mulligan's Pub and Big River Grill and Brewing offer relief for diners who can't stomach another high-priced cheeseburger. Sample the constantly-changing menu at Mad Platter Restaurant & Catering, located in an 18th century house. Here, the food and surroundings are as distinctive as Nashville itself. If you're in the mood for something a little more exotic, try Sitar Indian Cuisine to get your taste buds jumping.
West End/Music Row
Noshville New York Delicatessen is a West End favorite bringing you a taste of the East Coast, from bagels to pattie-melts and even pickled herring, you'll be noshing down at Noshville. If you haven't had enough of traditional southern favorites, Hog Heaven is the place to go for authentic, mouth-watering barbeque or Arnold's Country Kitchen for the best cream-filled pies. Don't miss Elliston Place Soda Shop for that old-fashioned, small town appeal.
Just outside of Nashville, Brentwood offers many good dining choices whether you're staying there, or just want to get a little ways out of the city. Cozymel's, in the Westgate Commons is a good place to take your taste buds on a trip south of the border. Milano's Pizzeria serves up creative combos along with traditional pizzas and delectable deserts. If you're in the mood to watch a show with your dinner, Shogun Japanese Steak & Sushi serves up hibachi style meals with flair.
Many tourists make it out to Opryland to take in the Grand Ole Opry, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center and the massive Opry Mills, so it comes as no surprise that numerous fun dining options abound in this area. Cock of the Walk makes its business catfish, any way you want it, so don't miss this requisite Nashville meal. Gibson Café and Guitar Gallery has a fitting place here in Music City, where you can feast your taste buds on delicious food while you feast your eyes on treats like diamond encrusted Les Paul guitars. Another fun themed eatery is Aquarium Restaurant in the Opry Mills, where you can dine as if you're on the bottom of the ocean.