Music City: Things To Do in Nashville, TN on Vacation

Established in 1779 and named after Revolutionary War hero Francis Nash, Nashville quickly grew due to its strategic location on the Cumberland River, becoming Tennessee’s capital by 1843. The city played significant roles during the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, landmarks of which still resonate today.

Throughout the 20th century, Nashville emerged as a central hub for the music industry, notably country music, earning its nickname, “Music City.” This historical backdrop has shaped Nashville into a dynamic city that honors its past while continuously evolving, making it a center of music and culture and a living museum of American history.

Beyond music, Nashville’s thriving culinary scene, featuring classic Southern dishes and innovative cuisine, invites travelers to indulge in flavors that are as rich as its musical history.

Things to Do in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville offers activities that cater to all interests, making it a perfect destination for those seeking a mix of historic charm and modern entertainment. Here are some of the best things to do in Nashville while on vacation.

Broadway Street

Broadway Street in Nashville, TN
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

Broadway is an exciting thoroughfare that serves as Nashville’s entertainment heartbeat. This iconic street stretches through downtown Nashville and is lined with honky-tonks, bars, and live music venues, offering a unique glimpse into the city’s music scene.

During the day, the street buzzes with tourists and locals exploring shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions, while at night, it transforms into a lively hub of nightlife and music. Neon signs light up the street, inviting passersby to step in and experience the authentic Nashville sound performed by up-and-coming artists and seasoned musicians.

Honky Tonk Highway

If you’re looking for live music, dancing, and drinks, check out Honky Tonk Highway. Located on Lower Broadway, this strip of honky-tonk bars promises a good time any day of the week from 10 AM to 3 AM. And the best part? You will never pay a cover charge! Here are a few notable places worth a visit:

  • Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge: Tootsie’s is perhaps the most famous honky-tonk in Nashville. It is known for its rich history, where legends like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson played before they became famous.
  • Robert’s Western World: Known for its authentic country music, Robert’s Western World is a favorite for its traditional boot-stomping tunes and its retro atmosphere, making it a staple in the Nashville music scene.
  • Legends Corner: Legends Corner offers a vast collection of country music memorabilia and a stellar lineup of performers, making it a must-visit for music enthusiasts wanting to experience the essence of Nashville’s musical heritage.
  • The Stage on Broadway: With its large dance floor and walls adorned with memorabilia from country music’s greatest, The Stage is a hub for those looking to dance the night away.
  • Layla’s: Layla’s stands out for its eclectic mix of bluegrass, rockabilly, and Americana performances.
  • Nudie’s Honky Tonk: Named after the legendary Nashville tailor, Nudie’s has the longest bar in Nashville and is adorned with country music memorabilia, including Nudie Cohn’s famous rhinestone-studded suits.
  • Bootleggers Inn: Offers a Prohibition-era ambiance, specializing in Tennessee moonshine and live traditional country and bluegrass music.

Country Music Hall of Fame

Visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame should be on your Nashville itinerary. As you journey through the museum, you’ll find precious relics from many iconic figures, new and old. From stage costumes and musical instruments to vintage vehicles and a recording studio, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a playground for music lovers.

For the whole experience, purchase a self-guided audio tour and give yourself at least two hours. When you’ve completed the tour, take a moment to check out the museum store and galleries. You can also purchase a souvenir from the Hatch Show Print store, which houses the oldest working letterpress in the United States.

Johnny Cash Museum

Courtesy of JohnnyCashMuseum.com
Photo Credit: JohnnyCashMuseum.com

The Johnny Cash Museum offers a self-guided tour through the life and times of the legend. Housing the most Johnny Cash memorabilia globally, fans will appreciate getting to know the musician more intimately. As you walk through the museum, you’ll learn about his childhood, U.S. Air Force career, love life, and famous prison concerts.

Here are a few things to know before you go. The museum is located in downtown Nashville and does not have a parking lot. You’ll have to use public parking. Be sure to give yourself about an hour to experience all the exhibits fully. If you get hungry, there’s an on-site café and a souvenir shop for a little retail therapy.

National Museum of African American Music

National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, TN
Photo Credit: National Museum of African American Music

The National Museum of African American Music is a profound cultural institution dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans.

You are taken on a comprehensive journey through the history of African American music, from spirituals and blues to jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop.

Each exhibit showcases the music itself and highlights the social and political contexts that shaped these genres and their impact on American culture and beyond.

The museum provides an immersive experience that educates and inspires, reflecting the profound narrative of African American musical innovators and their lasting influence on the world’s musical landscape.

Take a Music City Tour

You’ll find plenty of conventional and creative ways to see the Music City if you enjoy tours. Take a pedal bike, golf cart, van, bus, trolley, or even a tractor for a ride around the city. Most offer pub crawls, tours of downtown Nashville, mural tours, and Nashville bachelorette party tours! However, if you prefer to take in the city at your own pace, try a hop-on/hop-off bus.

Many tours take you by Nashville landmarks such as the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, down Broadway’s famous street, and through the Music Row neighborhood. When looking for things to do in Nashville, consider taking a tour. It’s a great way to learn more about the city.

Madame Tussauds Nashville

Madame Tussauds Nashville
Photo Credit: Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds Nashville offers a unique and interactive experience that celebrates the city’s rich musical heritage, distinguishing it from other Madame Tussauds museums around the world.

This attraction focuses on America’s musical icons, featuring life-like wax figures of legends from various genres such as country, rock, jazz, and blues. Exhibits allow guests to get up close with famous personalities, offering fun photo opportunities and engaging multimedia presentations that enhance the experience.

Gaylord Opryland Resort

If you’re looking for hotels in Nashville, Tennessee, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center offers a lot. You’ll find a full-service spa, a golf course, over fifteen onsite dining options, shopping, and a massive water park!

Even if you don’t plan to stay, you should stop by for a stroll or a bite. In the center of the hotel, you’ll find a luscious indoor landscape complete with cascading waterfalls, a lazy river, and a koi pond. Several restaurants are in the indoor garden, giving you a temperature-controlled al fresco experience.

Try Nashville Hot Chicken

Hattie Bs hot chicken Nashville
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

Hot chicken has been a Nashville staple since the 1930s. It’s a local favorite and a must-try when on vacation in the Music City! It’s essentially fried chicken, coated with a sauce made of herbs and spices, served on a piece of bread, and garnished with pickles.

Legend has it that a gentleman named Thornton Prince was not a faithful man, and as punishment, his girlfriend made his favorite fried chicken—with hot peppers. Her plan, however, backfired, as Mr. Prince loved his hot chicken. He and his friends loved it so much that they decided to open a barbeque chicken shack in Nashville. Today, you can try the original Prince family hot chicken recipe at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in several locations in Nashville.

Other great places to try Nashville Hot Chicken include:

  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken: With several locations across Nashville, Hattie B’s offers a modern take on hot chicken with various heat levels ranging from “no heat” to “shut the cluck up!” Their sides, like pimento mac and cheese and Southern greens, perfectly complement the spicy fare.
  • Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish: Bolton’s maintains a loyal following for its traditionally prepared hot chicken and fish. This no-frills joint delivers intense flavors with a heat level that is not for the faint of heart, staying true to the roots of hot chicken.
  • Pepperfire Hot Chicken: Known for its deep-fried chicken topped with a layer of cayenne-infused oil, Pepperfire takes hot chicken to new heights. They also offer unique items like the Applejack, a deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich topped with hot chicken.
  • Party Fowl: Specializes in hot chicken with a twist, offering dishes like hot chicken poutine and hot chicken tacos. They also feature a variety of local beers, making it a great spot to enjoy a meal and a drink.

Taste Tennessee Barbeque

Tennessee barbeque, specifically Memphis-style, is one of the four main styles of barbeque in the United States. Its unique flavor is sweet and tomatoey, and it is often slow-cooked and smoked in a pit.

While Memphis is considered the barbecue capital of Tennessee, Nashville restaurants have also made a name for themselves. This year, the Peg Leg Porker was recognized by Southern Living Magazine as having the best barbecue in Tennessee in The South’s Best 2022 edition.

Other well-known Nashville barbeque spots include Edley’s, Mary’s Old Fashioned Pit, and Jack’s. And while not of Nashville origin, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is known for its smoked, dry-rubbed chicken wings served with Alabama white sauce.

Music Row

Considered the “heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry,” Music Row is a historic district and home to RCA Studio B. Studio B is a recording studio where many legendary musicians have recorded hits, including Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Dolly Parton, and The Strokes. The Country Music Hall of Fame currently operates the studio and offers tours.

However, if you don’t want to pay for a tour, at least stroll through the neighborhood, you’ll also find radio stations, music-related art, a green space, and other businesses with recording studios.

Grand Ole Opry House

Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN
Photo Credit: Grand Ole Opry House

The Grand Ole Opry, originally a radio show, has been a country music performance since 1925. Fans can access live performances in person, on the radio, and on TV. According to the Guinness World Records, it’s one of the longest-running radio shows in the world.

From country and bluegrass to folk and gospel, people around the globe tune in to the show. If you’re in the city, you can purchase a backstage tour or a post-show tour or grab tickets to a live performance. Most people would agree that catching a show at the Opry is easily one of Nashville’s top things to do.

Ryman Auditorium Concert

Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. TN
Photo Credit: [@fotofoster1/DepositPhotos]

The Ryman Auditorium is another music venue significant to Music City and the state of Tennessee. It’s where bluegrass music was born; many famous musicians caught a break, and country music helped grow a larger audience. The Grand Ole Opry show even called the Ryman Auditorium home for a while.

These days, the Ryman mainly hosts concerts and comedians. Self-guided and guided tours are also available to those who want to learn more about this historic landmark.

Frist Art Museum

Frist Art Museum in Nashville
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

The Frist Art Museum resides in a former U.S. Post Office building built in the 1930s. The museum is non-collecting, which means its exhibits are constantly changing. Famous museums from all over the world lend their art to the Frist.

Art lovers can arrange a group or individual tour to learn more about these rotating exhibits. The museum is also kid-friendly. The Martin ArtQuest Gallery features over thirty interactive art stations suitable for all ages.

Historic Landmarks in Nashville

The Parthenon in Nashville, TN
Photo Credit: [@f11photo/DepositPhotos]

Nashville is rich in historic landmarks that reflect its deep cultural and historical heritage. These landmarks each tell a part of Nashville’s storied past, from politics and social history. Here are some notable historic landmarks in the city:

  • The Parthenon: Located in Centennial Park, this full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens is a monument to Nashville’s reputation as the “Athens of the South.”
  • The Hermitage: The home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, this well-preserved plantation offers insights into early American history and President Jackson’s personal life.
  • Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery: Known for its beautiful Greek Revival architecture, this historic plantation includes a mansion that dates back to 1853 and tells the story of the South before and after the Civil War.
  • Fort Negley: A significant Civil War site, Fort Negley is the largest inland fort built during the conflict. It offers educational exhibits about its history and the war’s impact on Nashville.
  • Tennessee State Capitol: One of the oldest working state capitol buildings in the nation, it’s a magnificent example of Greek Revival architecture and houses several historic figures’ tombs, including that of its architect, William Strickland.

Nashville Zoo at Grassmere

Nashville Zoo
Photo Credit: [@Stan DaMan/Shutterstock]

The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is an engaging destination for visitors of all ages. The zoo features a wide range of animals from around the world, including exotic species, and a number of interactive exhibits that allow guests to get up close with wildlife.

The zoo’s layout is designed to provide an immersive experience, simulating natural habitats and promoting conservation through education. Seasonal events and daily animal shows add to the educational and entertaining offerings.

Professional Sports Game

Nissan Stadium, Home of the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, TN
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

Did you know that Nashville, TN, is home to four professional sports teams? That’s a lot of sports fanatics in one area! Sports teams include the NHL Nashville Predators, NFL Tennessee Titans, Nashville Sounds (Minor League Baseball), and the ALS Nashville Soccer Club. Sports fans visiting from out of town will love experiencing a hockey game at the Bridgestone Arena or a Titans game at the Nissan Stadium!

Vacationing in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee
Photo Credit: [@sepavone/DepositPhotos]

This list of top Nashville attractions is an excellent place to start when creating your Music City itinerary. Of course, this is only a few things to do in Nashville. There’s more music, cuisine, culture, art, and history. Enjoy your trip– Nashville’s going to look so good on you!

Featured Photo Credit: [@sepavone/DepositPhotos]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandrea Sumuel - Groves is a nationally syndicated travel writer and founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog. Her work has appeared on MSN, YAHOO!, Euronews, and FOX, ABC, and NBC affiliates across the United States. 

Alex travels to experience, eat, explore, and occasionally escape! She collaborates with destinations, vacation property management companies, and hospitality technology firms to provide her readers with exclusive insights and information.