Your Trip to Nashville: The Complete Guide

•••

SeanPavonePhoto/Getty 

There once was a time when travelers planned a visit to Nashville simply to attend a music festival or spend hours in the city's legendary honky tonks listening to the latest up and coming country band. While those activities remain deeply rooted in the local culture, Nashville now has much more to offer travelers as well.

Over the past decade or so, it has become a culinary hub, offering some of the best food found anywhere in the southern U.S. The city also features an array of outdoor green spaces to explore, a thriving art scene, and some of the best local breweries to sample too. Oh yeah, and the music still remains pretty great, offering a mix of genres and big name stars, along with the hottest new talent looking to make it big.

This guide will give you a good overview of what to expect when visiting the Music City, providing you with valuable information that will help you make the most of your stay.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The good news is that the honky tonks are open all year round and live music can be found pretty much every day of the week in Nashville. That said, the city is well known for its hot and humid summers, which can be challenging for visitors to endure. That also happens to be the busiest tourist season too, with larger crowds filling up hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, and other attractions. The shoulder seasons of mid-March through May and late-September through November provide better temperatures and fewer people to contend with. Winters are relatively free of snow and ice, although it can still get quite cold. Just pack a warm jacket and you'll be fine.

Getting Around: Nashville's public transportation system mainly consists of semi-reliable bus service. The purple WeGo buses can be found throughout the city and can get you to where you want to go provided you're not in a hurry. The Music City Transit Tracker app (only available on iOS) can help make it easier to catch the bus, but honestly using the transit directions option in your favorite maps app (Apple Maps or Google Maps) is just as good, if not better. Nashville is a driving city however, so most visitors bring a vehicle, rent a car, or use ride sharing apps. Electric scooters are common throughout the busier parts of the city as well and are a popular option for getting around.

Check out our guide to Nashville's public transportation for more info on the MTA bus system.

Travel Tip: Nashville is a city that sees a lot of long-weekend visitors, meaning travelers tend to show up on Thursday and head home on Sunday. That means the city can be surprisingly quiet from Sunday evening through Wednesday. If you can plan a visit at that time of the week, you'll find crowds are less of a hassle. Or, if you can extend your stay to incorporate one or two of those days, you'll have an easier time booking a reservation at that hot restaurant or getting into a music show.

Things to Do

For many visitors to Nashville it is all about live music. If that's your goal, chances are you won't be disappointed as there are always bands playing somewhere. But the city also has plenty of great food to sample as well and a number of top-notch breweries too. You'll also find historical places to explore, great shopping, surprisingly great parks, and an array of professional sports teams as well. Whether you're coming for just a day or two, or have an extended stay planned, chances are you'll find plenty of things to keep you busy in the Music City.

Music: If you have trouble finding live music in Nashville, you're simply not looking all that hard. You're likely to find artists and bands playing at the airport upon your arrival, but for a more suitable venue head down to Lower Broadway to check out the honky-tonk scene. Many of the bars in Nashville have bands playing every night, but for a real treat check the schedule at the Ryman, which just might be one of the best live music venues on the planet.

Museums: Nashville has a wide variety of museums to explore, which are great on a hot, muggy day. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a must-see for fans of the genre and the Tennessee State Museum is not only a walk through the local history, it's absolutely free too. Kids of all ages will love the Adventure Science Center, where you can actually have fun and learn something new at the same time.

History: Get a sense of Nashville's historical roots by visiting The Hermitage, a southern plantation that was once home to President Andrew Jackson. For a slice of Civil War history, head over to Fort Negley to learn about the largest fortification built for Union troops after the city fell in 1862. And for a different kind of history, head over to Music Row to see the iconic Nashville recording studios, some of which have been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Parks: The Nashville greenway crisscrosses the city in a variety of places, offering visitors a place to take a quiet stroll and just stretch their legs a bit. But several other parks have a lot to offer as well, including Centennial — which has a full-size replica of the Greek Parthenon – and Radnor Lake, which features 6 miles of walking trail and the chance to spot an array of wildlife.

Sports: The Music City is home to both the Tennessee Titans of the NFL and the Nashville Predators of the NHL. It also has a AAA baseball team called the Nashville Sounds and a pro soccer team called the Nashville SC (soccer club). In short, that means sports fans will find a lot to love no matter what time of year they visit.

Nashville's downtown from the pedestrian bridge
MoreISO/Getty

What to Eat and Drink

Nashville is one of those great destinations where the food can range from simple, down-home fare up to gourmet options that are so good you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. The city's signature dish is without a doubt Nashville Hot Chicken, which brings enough spice to test the taste buds of the most adventurous eaters. Give it a try at Hattie B's or Princes Hot Chicken to see what the fuss is all about. For something a bit more elevated and upscale, try the homemade pastas at Rolf & Daughters or sample just about anything on the menu at City House and Adele's.

As with most cities across the U.S., Nashville is home to some outstanding breweries as well. Yazoo is probably the most well known of the local brands, but places like Jackalope and Black Abbey make many fine options as well. If bourbon is more your style, head over to the Oak Bar to sample their stock. The famous and historical bar has been open for more than century and has 130 bourbons to choose from. For great wine and great atmosphere, pack a picnic lunch and head out to Arrington Vineyards, where the setting is just as enchanting as what's in the bottle.

Where to Stay

There are a number of great hotels to choose from in Nashville, with many of them being centrally located in the downtown area. This makes them a convenient option for those visiting Lower Broadway, or partaking in the city's vibrant nightlife. You'll find some well-known chain hotels located on the periphery of the region, but places like the Hermitage Hotel and Noelle are found right in the middle of the action. If you want to stay a bit further out, the Opryland Hotel is a popular choice, with restaurants, shops, lush gardens, and even a waterpark found on premises.

Getting There

The best way to get to the Music City is by flying directly into the Nashville International Airport. Centrally located in town, travelers can rent a car, catch a bus, take a taxi, or use a ride-sharing service. It is roughly a 20-minute drive to downtown in a car. Alternatively, many people drive into Nashville too, with interstates 24, 40, and 65 providing good access from several directions.

Culture and Customs

In case you haven't figured it out just yet, music is the soul of Nashville. But don't be fooled, this isn't just a place for country fans. On any given night, visitors can find blues, jazz, rock, blue grass, and a number of other genres being played too. Don't expect to find any locals wearing cowboy hats or boots, but the Confederate Flag is not a common site either. This is a rapidly growing, forward-thinking, and enlightened city where diversity, culture, and creativity are embraced. While other parts of Tennessee are steeped in tradition, Nashville is strongly rooted in the 21st century.

That said, the city is still Southern to the core, which means the local hospitality is warm and welcoming. While Nashville has grown dramatically in recent years, it has also stayed in touch with its roots. Technology has become just as pervasive as barbecue and fried chicken, making this large city feel like a small hometown at the same time.

Money Saving Tips

  • Most live music is free. Sure, some bars will charge a cover, but it is easy to find places that to don't charge an admission fee to listen to the band.
  • The area parks are free to use as well and often host events like farmer's markets, art festivals, sports activities, and even live music.
  • Several of the city's museums, including the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee Agricultural Museum have no entry fees.
  • Take a self-guided walking tour of downtown. There is a lot to see and do in the downtown area of Nashville and it is easily accessible on foot. You'll find shops, restaurants, parks, and other attractions that you can explore completely on your own.
  • Discover more free things to do here.
Was this page helpful?