photo by Nomadic Pursuits
I Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way: Your Guide to a Long Weekend in the New Music City
Once known primarily for its country music scene, Nashville is now one of America’s newest “it” cities, a hub for healthcare, education, technology, and yes, music. A perfect representation of the new South, Nashville is the kind of place where you can find made-from-scratch biscuits served from a trendy food truck, an artisan hatmaker alongside a tech start up, and a brand new restaurant concept beside one of the nation’s largest hospitals. Full of friendly faces and wild-eyed dreamers, Nashville welcomes you in, pours you a glass of sweet tea, and makes you feel like anything is possible.
Whether you’re looking to get out of town for a long weekend or scout it out for future dream-chasing of your own, we’ve put together the perfect itinerary to help you discover all Nashville has to offer. One word of caution: Nashville has been known to get under people’s skin, and by the end of your stay, you might just find yourself making plans to stay here for good.
Arrive: Whether you fly into town or drive in on one of the three interstates that run through the city, you’ll have no trouble getting here given that half of the U.S. population lives within 600 miles of Nashville. For accommodations, you can choose from the luxurious (the brand new downtown Omni Hotel, or the classic Hutton and Union Station hotels) to the adventurous (the Nashville Downtown Hostel is located right on the Cumberland). For the most affordable and most local experience, opt for an apartment rental from Airbnb. Aim for anywhere between I-65 and Charlotte and north of Wedgewood for an area that’s sure to be safe and offer easy to access to all of Nashville’s hot spots.
Hit the Honky Tonks: As much as locals like to hate on downtown, spending a night honky tonkin’ is the quintessential Nashville experience. Broadway is home to hundreds of bars and music venues, along with Bridgestone Arena, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium (original home of the Grand Old Opry) and other cultural and entertainment centers. Let the flashing lights and music cascading out of every local hot spot welcome you to town, and be prepared for an adventure in a city where anything can happen.
For dinner, downtown offers the typical tourist-friendly fare from Hard Rock to Margaritaville, or you can opt for a more local experience at one of the nicer eateries such as The Southern, Merchant’s, Pub5 or Husk. For a low-cost dinner and true Southern experience, choose Jack’s Bar-b-que on Broadway.
The best way to take in the scene is to hop around, find a band you like, and see where the night takes you. With most of the honky tonks located on Broadway and on Second Avenue, each watering hole offers a different, but similar country-themed vibe. One thing is certain: you’ll have no trouble finding live music, often from some of the best players in town as well as those trying to cut their teeth in the competitive music scene. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can try your hand at karaoke — an intimidating task in a city where it seems nearly everyone can sing.
Before your night is over, be sure to take a stroll up the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge for an unforgettable view of the skyline from high above the Cumberland River. Easy access at the base of the bridge can be found by the Symphony Center at 4th and Demonbreun. Listen to the hodgepodge of sound drifting up from the streets and remind yourself that you’re in Music City
Explore Nashville’s Neighborhoods: Now that you’ve immersed yourself in Nashville tourism, spend the day living like a local. Despite what the TV show might lead you to believe, the real beauty of Nashville lies outside of the lights of Broadway and in the surrounding neighborhoods filled with local coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, bookstores, breweries, and shops ranging from vintage clothing to used records. From the upscale Gulch neighborhood to the funky Berry Hill, each area has it’s own unique culture — and here are a few you don’t want to miss:
Hillsboro Village (21st Avenue between Wedgewood and Blair Blvd.)
Start your day in Hillsboro Village, a youthful neighborhood located right beside Vanderbilt University. Skip the line at Pancake Pantry and instead head to Fido for breakfast. This pet shop-turned-coffee-shop is a popular hangout for everyone from college students to big-name producers and captures the Nashville vibe and flavor perfectly. Browse the boutiques and used bookstores before heading a few blocks over to explore Music Row (16th and 17th avenues).
West End(West End Avenue between Murphy Road and 16th Avenue)
Head a mile over to West End, a popular area for young professionals, lined with restaurants and Centennial Park, home to the life-sized replica of the Parthenon, an icon left over from the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition. Centennial Park hosts events nearly every weekend, from international craft festivals to the popular Musician’s Corner, a free showcase of local musicians each Saturday in the spring and fall. You’re also sure to spot some of Nashville’s many food trucks, and if you’re lucky enough to stumble on The Grilled Cheeserie, you’re obligated to partake.
12South (12th Ave. between Wedgewood and Gale)
The perfect Nashville neighborhood, 12South is a mix of quaint homes and trendy hangouts, young families and urban hipsters. Start at Imogene + Willie, a husband-and-wife run custom denim outfitter located in a retrofitted gas station. More than just a staple in the Nashville fashion scene, Imogene + Willie has become a community center in the neighborhood, where friends come to meet and hang out. Grab a coffee at Frothy Monkey next door or a gourmet popsicle at Las Paletas and stroll through Sevier Park. If you’ve worked up an appetite with all this eating and touring, 12South is home to some of Nashville’s best and budget-friendly restaurants: Burger Up, Edley’s Bar-B-Que, and 12 South Taproom are highlights of the neighborhood.
Cocktails and Cinema: When nighttime rolls around, balance last night’s honky tonkin with a classy night of cocktails and independent films. After grabbing a bite to eat in one of the local restaurants that caught your eye during your tour de Nash, head to The Patterson House, the speakeasy-style brainchild of the Goldberg brothers, some of Nashville’s youngest restauranteurs. Located in Midtown, on Broadway/21st Avenue between downtown and Hillsboro Village, Patterson House is inconspicuously housed in a blue building at the end of the block. It boasts craft cocktails made with high-end ingredients (they even make their own ice) and house rules to preserve the Prohibition-era ambiance. Our only rule is that you have try the donuts – they’re that good.
After drinks, head back down the road to Hillsboro Village to catch a film at The Belcourt, a renovated historic theater that is the spot in town to catch an independent flick or music documentary.
Start with brunch at either Marche or Mad Donna’s – both East Nashville darlings. The French-inspired Marche offers an unforgettable menu, while Mad Donna’s is a classic neighborhood brunch joint. Continue your tour of the east side with some of East Nashville’s eclectic shops such as Old Made Good, Fond Object, and the Shoppes on Fatherland. Head over to the Eastland area of town for Jeni’s ice cream, which offers flavors such as Lavender and Salty Caramel, or to The Pharmacy for one of their house made sodas or shakes.
East Nashville has so many hidden treasures, from Barista Parlor to Five Points, from shared creative co-ops to bean-to-bar chocolate shops. Spend the afternoon exploring, and we promise you won’t be disappointed.
Catch a Show: No trip to Nashville is complete without a live music experience. Even if you can’t land tickets to the Ryman, there are plenty of other options for to immerse yourself in the music scene. The Bluebird Cafe is a classic venue, surprisingly nestled in a strip mall the busy Green Hills area. Their Sunday shows at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. give visitors a chance to catch local songwriters (hint: Get there early. Sunday shows are first-come, first-serve, and the line typically starts forming about three hours before showtime). Each Sunday night, Lightning100, Nashville’s independent radio station, also sponsors bands at 3rd and Lindsley, a well-known club hosting local and national acts.
photos by Emily Bailey
Take it Easy: After a full weekend of exploring, you deserve some R&R at Pinewood Social, the newest creation from the Goldbergs. A one-stop shop for fun, Pinewood Social offers Crema coffee and fantastic breakfast — along with a retro bowling alley and community pool.
If nature is more your style, drive 30 minutes south of town to Edwin and Percy Warner Parks, which boast 2,600 acres of hiking trails through the Tennessee hills. Also 30 minutes out of town is downtown Franklin, a cute Civil War Southern town with a vibrant downtown, and Arrington Vineyards, owned by Kix Brooks. Both offer a chance to get out of town and see that while Nashville is bustling, the country is just a short drive away.
Take a Tour: Now that you know the city, go deeper into its history by taking a tour. The Ryman offers backstage tours, and the Country Music Hall of Fame includes a tour of historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Wilie Nelson and others laid down of their most famous tracks. For fans of the Man in Black, the Johnny Cash Museum recently opened off of 3rd Avenue in the heart of downtown. If antebellum history is your thing, head to the Belle Meade Plantation or the Carnton Plantation, the site of a bloody Civil War battle where they say you can still spot a ghost or two.
Though your bank account and waistline will be glad to see your weekend coming to a close, you’ll want a takeaway to remember your new-found love for this Southern gem. Stop by Grimey’s, the local record store, on your way out of town to pick up a uniquely Nashville souvenir, and take the sound of Music City with you wherever you venture next.