Music City Getaway
Explore Nashville’s Rich History and Culture
By Michelle Bourg
As the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame,and Music Row, Nashville more than lives up to its world-famous moniker of “The Music City.” But this thriving metropolis offers so much else to see and do that it could just as easily be known by at least a half-dozen other nicknames. Expand your focus beyond the iconic music venues (but definitely pay them a visit), and you may come away remembering it as a different city entirely.
Whether your style is upscale elegance or rustic chic, Nashville has accommodations that will suit you perfectly. A downtown Beaux Arts treasure dating to 1910, The Hermitage is Tennessee’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five-Diamond hotel and offers the ultimate in luxury, with complimentary fresh-baked sweets, marble vanities, cashmere and cotton mattresses and twice-daily housekeeping. 21C Museum Hotel combines a boutique hotel with a restaurant and exhibition space presenting curated exhibitions of the best in contemporary art. More art fills the airy rooms, which also feature high-end bedding and plush robes for relaxing. Gray & Dudley serves a thoughtful menu of locally sourced comfort food and craft drinks, perfect for brunch or a low-key evening.
For luxury on an intimate scale, try one of Nashville’s bed and breakfasts. Just minutes from downtown, Thistletop Inn is a French-style chateau boasting a two-story rock fireplace and romantic spiral staircases, overlooking 11 acres of woods and meadows. Unique guest rooms include features like floor-to-ceiling windows, beam ceilings and private decks. A private cabin and carriage house, each with kitchens, offer privacy and style. Amenities include luxury linens and toiletries, baths with walk-in showers and WiFi. Mornings start with a sumptuous breakfast in the main house kitchen, served by the B&B’s gracious owners.
For the sheer jaw-dropping factor, there’s Gaylord Opryland, a 47-acre resort with nine acres of gardens, 16 restaurants, and an indoor riverboat ride. Over the holidays, the resort is decked out in millions of lights and a 48-foot-high Christmas tree.
Before starting your day, you’ll want a hearty breakfast, and Nashville does breakfast right. Biscuit Love, with locations in the Gulch and Hillsboro Village neighborhoods, has something for everyone. Among the choices are biscuit French toast with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote, a French omelet with Boursin cheese, and Bananas Foster oatmeal. The Loveless Café has been a Nashville landmark for over 65 years, serving Southern favorites like fried chicken and ham and eggs with redeye gravy to more than a half million visitors every year.
Duly fueled up, you’re ready to explore. If you have kids in tow, make your first stop the Adventure Science Center, a 44,000-square-foot space housing more than 175 interactive exhibits. Here the entire family can meet an animated Tyrannosaurus Rex, fly aerobatic maneuvers in the Blue Max flight simulator and view the mysteries of the stars at the Sudekum Planetarium. Cap the visit with a climb up the Adventure Tower, four ascending levels of interactive exhibits culminating in a breathtaking view from the giant globe at the top. Animal lovers will gravitate to the Nashville Zoo, home to more than 2700 animals and 365 species.
History buffs will want to visit Belle Meade Plantation, a museum and winery located on the site of an antebellum estate and Thoroughbred horse farm, dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee’s history and horseracing legacy. A much older period of history is represented at The Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the Greek original, built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition and inspired by Nashville’s nickname of “The Athens of the South.” The Parthenon is now an art museum showcasing a collection by 19th- and 20th-century American artists.
Art lovers will find much to enjoy in Nashville. The Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University hosts touring exhibitions and temporary installations from the University’s permanent collections, including biennial showings of The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, featuring works by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, O’Keeffe and other masters. The Art Deco-style Frist Center for the Visual Arts showcases an ever-changing selection of exhibits; visitors can also try their hand at creating their own masterpieces in the Martin ArtQuest Gallery. Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is a 55-acre art museum, sculpture trail and botanical garden set against the backdrop of the rolling Tennessee hills.
If your idea of art is more along the lines of a hat trick or a 50-yard field goal, you’ll be right at home. The NFL’s Nashville Titans make their home downtown at Nissan Stadium and the Nashville Predators of the NHL take the ice just one mile away at Bridgestone Arena.
Of course, Nashville is the Music City, and while country is king, you’ll hear all kinds of music here. The Bluebird Café is a legendary venue for acoustic performances by both famous and up and coming singer-songwriters. In the Music Row neighborhood, you can visit historic RCA Studio B, where records by Elvis, Dolly Parton, The Everly Brothers and others were recorded. On Broadway you’ll find the city’s famed “Honky Tonk Highway,” with dozens of venues showcasing every genre of music, day and night.
Also downtown you’ll find Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and still a major concert venue hosting marquee talent nightly. Not far away is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, home to 350,000 square feet of state-of-the-art galleries, theaters and archives, as well as the Hall of Fame rotunda, where the names of country music’s legends are enshrined. You can catch some of those legends along with country’s rising stars in concert at the Grand Ole Opry, located in East Nashville.
While you’re downtown, stop by some of the many shops and boutiques located in the area’s renovated homes and browse for artisan gifts, home décor items, jewelry and sophisticated fashions. You’ll find plenty of authentic western wear and boots, too. One-of-a-kind works by local artists can be found to grace your home at the city’s many galleries. Be sure to stop by the Nashville Farmers’ Market, where you can sample everything from Jamaican fare to pizza to cupcakes and grab some tasty treats to go while you’re there.
Nashville is home to some of the best dining in the South, and as with the city itself, there’s something for every taste. On Broadway you’ll find Jack’s Bar-B-Que, famous for smoked classics and award-winning sauces. Fort Louise serves comfort food with a twist, including curry fried chicken, saffron-glazed trout with picholine olives and Thai chili wings. At The Treehouse, an unassuming converted cottage (there’s a genuine tree house out back) belies a a creative menu with vegetarian and vegan options accompanied by a carefully chosen wine list and complex craft cocktails. Cocktails, comfort food and simply prepared steaks are given a refined treatment at 5th & Taylor.
Whether you experience Nashville as a city for art, history, great food, shopping, or yes, even music, it’s a place you’ll want to go back to again and again, and odds are good you’ll see it as a different city every time.