8 unexpected things to do in Nashville

With titles such as 'Songwriting Capital of the World', 'Music City' and 'Country Music Capital' all associated with this southern belle, it's obvious that Nashville equals music.

Some unexpected things to do in Nashville
Some unexpected things to do in Nashville © F11photo - Dreamstime

Nashville draws musicians, songwriters and performers from across the United States and the world to its recording studios. It is also the base for thousands of session musicians, often referred to as Nashville Cats.

The Honkey Tonk Highway (Broadway Street) pumps out music all day, every day. Virtually every venue along Broadway offers free, live performances and many famous artists got their start right here.

While you will inevitably visit iconic Nashville locations such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry House and the Ryman Auditorium, it's not all music; Nashville is one of the cultural centres of the South, and you'll find much to engage your imagination.

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Sample fine Southern fare

The restaurant scene is booming in Nashville, so try out the new openings: Henrietta Red, Bastion and Martin's BBQ SoBro.

Tennessee is known for its hot fried chicken, BBQ and traditional Southern food such as shrimp n' grits, and cherry smoked baby back ribs, which you will find at Puckett's Grocery Store, Acme Feed and Seed, Etch and The Southern.

Capitol Grille, based at the Hermitage Hotel, is often frequented by those working at the State Capitol and has an excellent menu.

If seeking a chilled beverage on a hot day, try the George Jones Museum's top-floor bar. Cooling jets of mist spray guests as they imbibe and there are magnificent views of the Cumberland River. Another way to cool off is to visit Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a superb parlour with all the flavours.

Hit the shops

Of course, the Honky Tonk Highway is the place for souvenirs as well as cowboy boots: Music City Shop, Nashville Boots, and Boot Country to name a few of the popular retail outlets.

However, you may want to check out other parts of town for unique boutiques. The Gulch not only has great old-style music venues but also interesting shops such as Lucchese Bootmakers, Two Old Hippies and Nashville Boot Co., and is a cool place to hang out.

Interested in antiques? Make your way to Eighth Avenue's Antiques District for some great finds at Á la Maison, the Corduroy House or Fine Offerings Antiques.

For eclectic clothing and handmade jewellery, it's Marathon Village, while Plaid Rabbit and Magpie's in north Nashville are fantastic for kids' clothes and accessories.

Get cultural

There's much to engage history enthusiasts in Nashville. Do take a gander at the beautiful State Capitol Building built in 1859, which is a National Historic Landmark.

Also check out the Tennessee State Museum, which is full of historic artefacts including artillery, uniforms, and flags from the Civil War (please note: the Tennessee State Museum will be opening in its new location in 2018 at Nashville's Bicentennial Mall).

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is housed in the former main US Post Office and is a fine example of art deco architecture and exhibits such as sexy Italian cars from the fifties and sixties.

For those with a specific interest in the Civil War, Historic Tours of Nashville focuses on important sites on a 10-mile loop, which starts at Fort Negley.

Take a steamboat on the Cumberland River

During the hot summer months, many are drawn to the river to cool down. Taking a steamboat cruise in an old-fashioned paddle steamer on the mighty Cumberland River is a tradition that is still popular today. Many of these steamboats offer dinner plus entertainment.

Active pursuits

Check out the Cumberland Kayak Urban Adventure Company to get everything you need to paddle the river. There are further water sports opportunities out at Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort, where there is a water park and marina.

Cycle rentals and tours are abundant so check into Green Fleet Bike Tours, Nashville Cycle Tavern or Sprocket Rocket Party Bike.

For keen anglers, there are half-day and full-day fishing trips on Percy Priest Lake, which is stocked with Tennessee striper, crappie, and bass.

Family attractions

Not far from the city centre is the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, which has loads of activities for children. The kids will enjoy Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort, where there is a water park and treetop adventure park.

For those who can't get enough of gardens, be sure to visit the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, which is also a short journey from downtown. The 55-acre-estate is full of inspiring gardens and landscapes that change with the seasons. Don't miss the Carrell Woodland Sculpture Trail on your visit.

Get to know the city's musical roots

The historic RCA Studio B provides a glimpse into Nashville music-making during one of its most exciting periods - the 1960s. "Are you lonesome tonight?" and "I will always love you" are just two of the hits recorded here.

The Johnny Cash Museum is chock full of recordings of the great man and artefacts of his life. Popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the legendary Patsy Cline's short life is honoured at the Patsy Cline Museum and the Merle Haggard Museum is due to open this year.

The Storytellers Museum & Hideaway Farm brings to life the history of a property, which was built before the Civil War and once owned by Johnny Cash. The tours include the Little Stage, which once hosted Saturday Night in Hickman County and you'll find memorabilia from the famous man in black.

Go architecture spotting

The beautiful Hermitage Hotel was constructed in the Beaux Arts style and is worth a peek inside for the ornate furnishings and stained-glass windows alone.

The Parthenon is an exact replica of the ancient temple in Athens and houses the Athena Parthenos which, at 42 ft high, is the tallest statue in the western world.

The Ryman Auditorium was built in 1892 and considered the Carnegie Hall of the South. Head out of town to see the Belle Meade Plantation, an authentic antebellum mansion and its extensive grounds.

Weather in Nashville

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Find out more about the weather in Nashville and see when we think is the best time to go to make the most of the many things to see, do and experience.

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Lynn Houghton

Lynn Houghton

Article updated on Sunday 7th August 2022 in: City Culture North America

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