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
According to archaeologists, the first residents of what is now known as Nashville were the Mississippi Indians. This agricultural society left behind significant evidence of their existence, including some exquisitely painted pottery. However, after 400 yrs they disappeared, leaving historians and archaeologists divided on the reasons for this. Some believe the culture evolved into a nomadic society and simply moved to another region. Others believe they fell victim to a plague of some type, or were massacred by another Indian tribe, such as the Cherokee or Chickasaw, who would later make this area their home.
The first European visitors to the area were French fur traders, who arrived around 1720. These traders prospered along the banks of the Cumberland River. The first English settlers ventured here in 1779. Led by resourceful pioneer James Robertson, they built a primitive fort and named it Nashborough after General Francis Nash, a hero in the United States Revolutionary War. (A reproduction of that first settlement can be seen at Fort Nashborough.) The new town was part of the state of North Carolina and soon became a hotbed of activity. Some 60 families, led by John Donelson, moved southwest from the colonies and began farming the fertile soil of the Cumberland Plateau. In 1784, the town changed its name to Nashville, and in 1796 Nashville and the surrounding area broke away from North Carolina and declared statehood. Tennessee became the 16th state of the union, and Nashville was its capital.
In 1860, there were rumors that the southern states were planning to secede from the United States. Southern plantation owners depended heavily on the slave labor. The northern states condemned slavery and demanded that the government abolish the practice. Tennessee, a border state, was reluctant to join the secessionist movement and voted to remain loyal to the Union. However, pressure from neighboring states, along with a strong desire to determine their own destiny, caused the citizens to reconsider. When the first shots of the war were fired in Charleston, South Carolina, the decision was made to join the Confederacy. In 1861, the Confederate States of America, or CSA, was formed. Jefferson Davis would become its president. The divisive war lasted four years and left an indelible mark on Nashville's history.
Fort Donelson was constructed on the banks of the Cumberland River in order to protect the city of Nashville from northern aggression. Fort Henry was erected further west on the Tennessee River in order to defend Middle Tennessee. The Union armies struck with surprising force, and the small band of Confederate soldiers was no match for the better-equipped, more experienced northern troops. Both forts fell in only three days. Confederate forces retreated, and the mayor of Nashville surrendered the city on February 25, 1862. The Union wasted no time in reclaiming the city and set about the task of building forts of its own. Fort Negley, the largest, was the center of military operations in the Western theatre. President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as governor of Tennessee and charged him with reestablishing its citizens' loyalty to the Union. Most Tennesseans were reluctant to pledge loyalty, but were convinced by threats from Johnson that failure to pledge loyalty would result in losses of property and freedom.
The Union occupation wasn't a quiet one. Confederate troops routinely raided the city and attempted to regain control. On December 15, 1864, a final campaign was staged to recapture the city. The Battle of Nashville was fought for two days and resulted in victory for the Union army and the near devastation of the proud city. General Hood and his Confederate soldiers were forced to retreat, and the city of Nashville was decidedly in the hands of the Union army.
Governor Johnson was elected vice president in 1865 and left Tennessee for Washington, DC. After the assassination of President Lincoln, Johnson assumed the presidency and saw the war end on April 9, 1865. The business of reconstruction kept the citizens of Nashville busy for many years. As the Union armies returned to their homes, Nashville turned its attention towards reclaiming its Southern heritage and found support from its neighboring states. The United States was one nation again, but the wounds would take decades to heal, and the scars would last even longer.
As the city of Nashville was rebuilt, the population grew once again. Riverboats and barges chugged up and down the Cumberland, opening up the city to trade. Industry developed, and the farming communities died away. The new source of commerce was manufacturing goods, not growing crops. By the beginning of World War II, the manufacturing industry was booming, and when the United States entered the war, the city retooled its plants to build military equipment and artillery. After the war, heavy industry saw a decline. Financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies took the lead in building the city's wealth. Today, Nashville depends on its service and tourism economies rather than on manufacturing.
In the 1930s, Nashville began playing a new song. Country music was a hybrid of European-rooted folk music and African American spirituals. Fiddler and songwriter Roy Acuff was the first real country music star and hosted the wildly popular live radio broadcast, Grand Ole Opry. Country music gained popularity throughout the country, and people everywhere tuned in to NBC radio to hear the latest tunes.
The 1950s were the real heyday of country music, though. Artists such as Hank Williams wrote songs about life, love and loss, and the message connected with listeners. The recording studios on famed Music Row were filled with aspiring singers and songwriters hoping to make their mark. By 1960 the city was earning a reputation as the center of the country, pop, and blues recording industries and became known as the Music City. Today, the early pioneers are remembered in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which also features exhibits on new country megastars such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, who found their success right here in Nashville.
Nashville is a vibrant city. It is the home of Fortune 500 companies such as First Tennessee Bank and telecommunications giant BellSouth. It is also home to professional sports franchises like the National Football League's Tennessee Titans and the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators. Nashville's growing arts community has gained national recognition with the works of Norris Hall, and the city will always be the home of country music.
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.
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.