Over the past decade or two, Nashville has experienced a major cultural shift—evolving from a rough-and-tumble town known for its honky-tonks to a spring break-style destination popular with bachelorette parties, earning it a new nickname—NashVegas.
While the growth brought both the good and bad, the downhome vibe of Music City remains and is why I continue to visit. It’s home to legendary country music venues such as the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium. And although flashier bars are popping up along Broadway, I can still step into gritty joints like Tootsies in the hopes of hearing the next Loretta Lynn or Patsy Cline. Here’s how to experience the best of the city in three days.
Pack for hot, muggy summers with frequent thunderstorms and relatively cold winters.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the Country Music Hall of Fame.
First-timers to Nashville should start their stay along Broadway, the major downtown thoroughfare, navigable via many modes of transportainment, including a golf cart, party tractor, and hop-on hop-off trolley. In the morning, browse the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to see both permanent and temporary exhibitions featuring instruments, stage wear, recordings, and more.
About a 5-minute walk away, you’ll find one of Nashville’s newest attractions, the National Museum of African American Music , which celebrates the genres inspired, created, or influenced by African-Americans. Following that, cross the street to reach the Ryman for a behind-the-scenes tour. Known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” this venue has hosted legendary performances, so check the box office for show tickets.
Now that you understand the city's rhythm, explore other Nashville neighborhoods. Once a bustling railroad yard, The Gulch is home to chic hotels, boutiques, and restaurants, as well as the Frist Art Museum. To get around, the Nashville MTA offers free bus service including the Music City Circuit, which runs three routes through downtown Nashville every 10–15 minutes, Monday–Saturday.
In the afternoon, head to Music Row, home of the country music industry, to stroll past iconic record labels, radio stations, and recording studios. Stop by watering holes such as the Bluebird Cafe (reservations are highly recommended) to catch performances by established artists and up-and-comers. Or travel across town to the Grand Ole Opry for a backstage tour and show.
Nashville isn’t just whiskey and country music. Venture further from the city center to see historical sites and institutions such as Vanderbilt University, Belmont Mansion, and Belle Meade, a 1853 Greek Revival mansion. Here, you can explore the grounds, visit the thoroughbred horse farm, and enjoy a tasting from the on-site winery.
History buffs can head to Franklin, located just south of Nashville, to visit sites where the Union and Confederate armies fought during the Civil War and learn about the Battle of Franklin, which is known as one of the bloodiest hours of the war.