Nashville is so much more than the neon-lit strip of honky-tonks it's famous for. This Midwestern metropolis is more diverse than some may suspect, between the country music-filled streets of Broadway, university campuses, historic districts, and rural suburbs that surround its buzzy Downtown area. A proper tour of Nashville, therefore, requires a visit to some of its more authentic neighborhoods.
The 14 counties that make up the Nashville metropolitan area have their own individual quirks and characters, so exploring just one part of this Tennessee gem would be a downright shame. Squeeze a couple of Music City's off-the-beaten-path communities into your itinerary for a genuine taste of this multifaceted city.
The hub of Nashville is, of course, its bustling Downtown area, which is also home to some of the city's richest history. There are eight distinctive neighborhoods—Gulch, Hope Gardens, North Capitol, Sobro, Rutledge Hill, and Rolling Mill Hill—that include The District, the core of downtown Nashville, which is just across the river from the famous Music Row.
Hermitage and Donelson
Then, there are the adjacent neighborhoods that make up the more residential Hermitage and Donelson borough. Although it has more suburban flair than Downtown Nashville, this region, which also encompasses Music Valley, Stewart's Ferry, Una, Old Hickory, and the Dupont Area, is also steeped in Nashville history and country music. Attractions include Opryland, Percy Priest Lake, and Nashville Shores. Here is also where you'll find the Hermitage, the home of former President Andrew Jackson.
North Nashville is one of the city's oldest communities. It spans from Metro Center down to the border of Bicentennial Mall, including the neighborhoods of Bordeaux, Buena Vista, Fish, Germantown, Hadley Park, Jefferson Street, Richland Park, Salemtown, and Scottsboro. It's perhaps best known for the three universities housed here, including Tennessee State.
East of the Cumberland River is where you'll find some of Nashville's most historic homes. Although a magnificent display of old Southern architecture, this neighborhood has been avoided because of a few neglected parts, but modern revitalization has put East Nashville back on the map. If passing through, be sure to visit Five Points' music venues, quaint bars, and boutiques.
When tourists think Nashville, their minds immediately conjure images of the pulsing streets of Music Row. This is where most of the magic takes place: the nightlife on Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and more. Midtown Nashville—encompassing Green Hills, Broadway, and the gay district along Church Street—is where folks go when they're looking for a scene. It's also home to Vanderbilt and three other universities.
Next door to the heavily populated and suburban neighborhood of Madison is its more-rural sister, the Northeast region of Nashville just off Parkwood and Union Hill. The kid-friendly Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park that's located here has been known to attract families.
The Joelton area is one of the least populated of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County communities. This neighborhood begins at the border of Bordeaux and crosses over Briley Parkway into White's Creek. One highlight you won't want to miss is the Fontanel Mansion, a colossal log cabin built for singer Barbara Mandrell in 1988.
South Nashville is an old community that still hangs onto its historical charm. Bordered by the Cumberland River, Franklin Pike, Antioch, and Briley Parkway, South Nashville encompasses Berry Hill, Mount Olivet, Woodbine, and Woodlawn. It's home to Fort Negley (a Civil War stone fortification) and the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
Southeast Nashville is the southernmost community in Davidson County, containing the neighborhoods of Antioch, Cane Ridge, Elington, and Oakhill. It's primarily a residential area—a perfect place to book an Airbnb—but is also home to the Benajah Gray Log House and Slave Cabin, one of the county's oldest log homes.
Antioch and Priest Lake
The largest body of water in Nashville is located in the Antioch-Priest Lake region if you're looking for a dose of nature between exploring the city and its bustling music scene. There are boat rentals, hiking trails, and opportunities for horseback riding, and just down the road, the remains of the old Tennessee Hospital for the Insane, which operated from 1851 until 1995. The last of the asylum's original gothic revival buildings were torn down when the Dell Corporation moved in, but there are still a couple of cemeteries left to explore.
The neighborhoods of Edwin Warner, Harpeth River, and Newsome Station make up West Nashville. Within this rural community—the inspiration behind Jeanie C. Riley's hit song "Harper Valley PTA"—is a series of lavish homes, the grandest of them all being the Belle Meade Mansion, otherwise known as the "Queen of Tennessee Plantations."
A 30-minute drive from Downtown Nashville, Cheatham might be of interest to a tourist if, say, they wanted to rent a boat and float down the Cumberland River for the day. Watercraft rentals are available at Blue Heron Cruises.
If you find yourself in the cities of Dickson County—Burns, Dickson, Slayden, Vanleer, or White Bluff—it could be worth checking out the scenic lakes of Montgomery Bell State Park or visiting the old (and original) Clement Railroad Hotel Museum, which first opened in 1913.
The populous city of Columbia, home to Columbia State Community College, is located in Maury County, which also encompasses Culleoka, Mt. Pleasant, Santa Fe, Spring Hill, and Williamsport. Things to do and see in the area include the President James K. Polk Home and Museum, the historic Rippavilla Plantation, and Chickasaw Trace Park.
Montgomery County encompasses 539 square miles in the far northwest corner of the Nashville area and includes the cities of Cunningham, Palmyra, Sango, Southside, and Woodlawn. Clarksville is the county seat and home to Austin Peay State University, Dunbar Cave, and Fort Defiance. It is one of the larger cities in this area and many of its residents have some relationship with Fort Campbell, an army base just across the Kentucky border.
The county seat of Robertson County is Springfield, though Coopertown is also of considerable size. In the city of Adams, just a few miles from the Kentucky border, is the famous Bell Witch Cave, a major tourist attraction in the area. The Legend of the Bell Witch likely inspired many of the other haunted attractions you can find in rural areas of Nashville and makes for a good spook around the time of Halloween.
Rutherford County in the southeastern part of the Nashville metro area is home to the Stones River National Battlefield, part of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. Nearby Murfreesboro, the county seat, is where Middle Tennessee State University is located.
Sumner County is a remote part of Nashville, but some tourists come for the quiet atmosphere and its proximity to attractions like Bledsoe Creek State Park, the 18th-century Historic Rock Castle, and Mansker's Station, a replica plantation.
Originally carved out of the south end of Davidson County, Williamson County was established in 1799. Driving down the Natchez Trace Parkway—which the National Park Service describes as "a drive through 10,000 years of history"—is a good representation of how scenic the area is. It's home to several historic cities and towns like Franklin, Leiper's Fork, and Nolensville, which offer quaint settings and an old-timey feel.
One destination to note in Wilson County is Cedars of Lebanon. Part of the Tennessee State Parks system, the 900-acre park has ample opportunity for camping, hiking, and other activities. It's also a popular spot to bring horses for a peaceful trail ride.