Outside Atlanta: Music City
Explore Nashville’s Rich History and Culture
By Michelle Bourg
As the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of
As the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall ofFame 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-cotton blend 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 5.5 miles from downtown, the Belle Air Mansion is an inn located inside a restored Greek Revival antebellum home built in 1832. Located on six acres in Nashville’s Donelson neighborhood, it includes a 200-year-old rose garden. Each of the 10 bedrooms in the main house, plus the five rooms in the Retreat House, is decorated with antiques and includes many modern amenities such as refrigerators and WiFi. Belle Air is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the sheer jaw-dropping factor, there’s Gaylord Opryland, a 47-acre resort with nine acres of gardens, nearly 20 restaurants, and an indoor riverboat ride. The hotel also offers SoundWaves, featuring four acres of indoor and outdoor play structures, waterslides and on-site dining choices.
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 a biscuit with ham, two over-easy eggs and sausage gravy; the SEC biscuit (with sausage, egg and cheddar) and cherry jam oatmeal. The Loveless Caf as been a Nashville landmark for over 70 years, serving Southern favorites like ham and eggs with redeye gravy and fried chicken 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-squarefoot space housing more than 175 interactive exhibits. Here the entire family can explore nature’s wonders at the Galactic Gardens, fly aerobatic maneuvers in the 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 nearly 3,000 animals and over 350 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 college’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 Art Museum showcases an ever-changing selection of exhibits; visitors can also try their hand at creating their own masterpieces. 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 a hat trick or a 50-yard field goal, you’ll be right at home. The NFL’s Tennessee 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 Music City, and while country is king, you’ll hear all kinds of music here. The Bluebird Cafe's 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 country music’s legends are enshrined. You can catch some of those legends as well as rising stars 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 d or items, jewelry and sophisticated fashions. You’ll find plenty of authentic Western wear and boots, too.
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. East of downtown you’ll find Folk, which specializes in Italian fare, including pizzas and seafood. At The Treehouse, an unassuming converted cottage (there’s a genuine treehouse out back) belies a menu of creative small plates accompanied by a carefully chosen wine list and complex craft 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.