There’s a reason why Nashville saw a record-setting 14.5 million visitors in 2017, and why a supposed 100 people are moving there daily. Live music venues dot every neighborhood, as do drool-worthy restaurants. A surprising amount of outdoor spaces surround the city, and it’s certainly not lacking in cultural must-sees.
You could go there a dozen times and have a completely different experience each visit—the choose-your-own-adventure nature of the city means some people might end up karaokeing to Taylor Swift on Broadway while others spend their time seeing unknown singer-songwriters in East Nashville. In other words, there’s something for everyone here, and it’s definitely worth the hype.
Where to Stay
The Fairlane Hotel
A mid-century modern haven in a downtown that’s home to quite a bit of kitsch, The Fairlane is a luxe 81-room boutique hotel. Everything from the lobby furniture to the shampoo and conditioner (from the Five Wits line) to the menu at Ellington’s (try the pork chop with bourbon-soaked peaches and roasted cauliflower with split pea puree) is lust-worthy here. Start your morning with coffee from Mile End Delicatessen, and end the day kicking back in your spacious room with sweeping views of the city. We honestly won’t blame you if you don’t want to leave.
The rooftop pool is the major draw here, especially during those steamy landlocked summer months. It’s worth visiting for a poolside cocktail and dip, even if you’re not staying at the property. The hotel leans way into the Music City theme: Leather-paneling and musical instrument outlines serve as decor, and there’s an old tour bus parked on top of the building, which serves as extra seating for the rooftop bar. Located in the heart of downtown, The Bobby is centrally located and a great jumping off point for whatever kind of night out you have planned. Or, you could grab a table at Tavern, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant that opens onto the street. Order a bunch of share-plates and a Bobby’s Go-To cocktail (made with Chattanooga reserve, maple, cardamom, and lavender), and stay the night.
Where to Eat
The Treehouse is a great place to start a night out in Nashville, since it’s located in the Five Points neighborhood, which is also home to many of East Nashville’s bars. The restaurant was formerly a family-home, and the actual treehouse from which it derived its name still stands in the backyard. Wood from the old property was turned into tables and chairs, giving the space a rustic, repurposed feel. But there’s nothing recycled about the menu, which changes daily and features dishes like tagliatelle bolognese, szechuan numbing pork, and DIY steamed duck buns. It comes as no surprise, since Chef Jason Zygmont previously worked at Noma in Copenhagen, Per Se in New York City, and the James Beard Award-winning 5 & 10 in Athens, Georgia.
The second restaurant from Nashville chef Philip Krajeck of Rolf & Daughters, go to FOLK for killer pizza and well-executed veggies like sweet potato with pepper relish and sunchokes with pears and chervil. Not to mention cocktails like the Hemingway You Want It (averna, Real McCoy maraschino, lime, and grapefruit) and A Long Day’s Night (reposado, campari, lime, cinnamon, egg white). The space is big, with super high ceilings and statement lighting. FOLK is located in a bit of a no-man’s-land in East Nashville, but that’s all about to change as highly-anticipated projects, including Red Headed Stranger (by the folks behind Butcher & Bee) and the refurbished Roxy Theater, move in.
Butcher & Bee
Don’t be confused by the name of this East Nashville restaurant: Butcher & Bee serves up darn good vegetables. The avocado crispy rice is a must, as is the “chicken fried” cauliflower, and the fire roasted carrots with coconut and peanuts. If you are in fact a carnivore, Bear Creek meatballs, the roasted half chicken with Lebanese spices, and the 45-day dry aged steak won’t disappoint. Butcher & Bee started as a simple sandwich shop in 2011, and that straightforward focus on ingredients is what continues to set it apart today. The flavor combinations and food quality feel like fine dining, but the hip hop music, waitstaff, and contemporary decor make it casual and accessible. It’s the perfect combination.
The brainchild of Nashville-native chef Julia Sullivan and her business partner, general manager, and sommelier Allie Poindexter, Henrietta Red was nominated as a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2018. Highlights here include the raw bar and other fish dishes like sea scallops with brown butter and peanuts, and mussels with saffron cream and fennel. The desserts are also definitely not to be missed, especially if the vegan peach cobbler with coconut ice cream is on the menu. Chef Sullivan’s background includes gigs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Per Se, Franny’s, and Haven’s Kitchen, where she first met Poindexter. Henrietta Red is named in honor of Sullivan’s grandparents.
Places to Drink
Perhaps the world’s most perfect dive bar, Dino’s serves greasy food and canned beers. Dubbed the oldest beer joint in East Nashville, the interior is all wood paneling, Christmas lights, Dolly Parton paraphernalia, and a dry erase board menu. The backyard features simple picnic tables, cactuses, and murals, and is the ideal place to spend an afternoon.
There’s no menu at this speakeasy-style bar, where bartenders ask what your vibe is and whip up a cocktail that they think fits the bill. The lighting is moody, the bar is pretty, and there’s plenty of intimate booths and tables, making it a good spot for a date. Just be warned that you’ll have to knock on the door and wait for the host to let you in or give you a wait time—it can be difficult to get into on some nights.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Yes, the honky tonk bars on Broadway are full of drunk tourists singing along to early 00’s hits, but you might never experience better people watching in your life. It’s worth a stroll down Nashville’s most notorious street, if only to peek inside and laugh. Should you find yourself wanting to indulge in Music City’s biggest tourist attraction (and why not?), Tootsie’s is the place we recommend—there’s live music, crowds, and feel good vibes on all three levels.
What to Do
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is often called the “Smithsonian of Country Music” because it’s home to just about every artifact related to the genre that you can imagine, from Elvis’s gold 1960 Cadillac, to Johnny Cash’s black suit from The Johnny Cash Show. The 350,000 square foot museum celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. If nothing else, get tickets to the Historic RCA Studio B tour, which departs from the museum every hour between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily. It’s Nashville’s oldest recording studio, and home to Elvis’s favorite piano. More than 35,000 songs were recorded there, including the Everly Brothers’ “Dream,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
Radnor Lake State Park
This 1,368-acre park is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Nashville and has six miles of easy hiking trails. On the 1.35 mile loop around the lake, you’ll see deer, pelicans, butterflies, and other wildlife—a good reminder that Tennessee is home to 54 state parks and 15 state forests. Plus, there’s no better way to work off a night on Broadway than getting some fresh air.
Frist Art Museum Tour
The Frist Art Museum opened in 2001, and since that time has hosted an array of art from the region and around the world—everything from Nashville Press photography taken during the Civil Rights Movement to Impressionist masters. There’s no permanent collection here, and new exhibits open every six to eight weeks. The building is a former U.S. Post Office built in the 1930s that’s maintained all its art deco glory—a visit to view the architecture alone is worth it.
Wedgewood-Houston First Saturday Art Crawl
Every first Saturday beginning at 6 p.m., head to the Wedgewood neighborhood to tour over a dozen art venues, including commercial art galleries, artist run collectives, and pop-ups. It’s a front row seat to Nashville’s up-and-coming art scene, as well as a delightful display of the city’s hipster enclave. Closing times vary from 8 to 11 p.m.
Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum
You’ll learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about any musician who’s touched some of the greatest recordings of all time here. There’s a Jimi Hendrix exhibit and a collection of Johnny Cash’s personal items and awards. And there’s Brian Ahern’s Enactron Mobile Studio, a trailer where over 40 Gold and Platinum records were recorded by artists like Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, The Band, Dolly Parton, Keith Richards and more. It’s impossible to see everything here, so dedicate a couple of hours and take in as much as you can.
Where to Listen
The Basement and The Basement East
Our pick for best venue to discover new talent in Nashville, both locations of The Basement have nightly shows and an inexpensive cover. No need to look at who’s performing—just drop by and get ready to add whoever is playing to your Spotify queue immediately.
Grand Ole Opry
Yes, everyone’s heard of the Grand Ole Opry, but somehow, almost 100 years after it started, this live radio show still feels special. Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood have all performed here, and the various talent that performs nightly is world class. The backstage tour is highly recommended.
The Bluebird Cafe
You wouldn’t expect this to be one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms, since it’s essentially a small 90-seat venue inside a strip mall. But it has gained worldwide recognition as a songwriter’s space. Expect a “writer’s round” performance on any given night, when three to four songwriters take turns playing their songs. It’s intimate and authentic, even after all the publicity. More often than not, a celebrity will be in the audience and end up performing on stage.