Nashville is starting to heat back up again as things slowly start getting back to normal, so that means I’m getting a lot more “What should I do when I come to Nashville?” type questions again.
So I thought it would be nice to have answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Nashville all in one place. This isn’t comprehensive by any means (so don’t come at me with “you didn’t mention insert favorite bar here,” I know and it’s impossible to mention everything) but it’s a good start for somebody who’s trying to plan a trip to Music City.
Where should I stay?
Visitors to Nashville usually stay in either the downtown or midtown areas of the city. Downtown hotels are generally more expensive, but are closer to the action. The Renaissance, the Hilton, the Grand Hyatt and the DoubleTree are all popular hotels that are steps from the honky tonks of Broadway, but obviously you’re going to pay a premium.
There are also quite a few boutique hotels that have popped up in downtown Nashville the past few years. The Dream, the Bobby Hotel, and the 21c Museum Hotel are all located close to Broadway, and are popular with visitors who don’t want to stay in one of the big-name hotel chains.
If you’re on a budget (because hotels down can cost upwards of $300 a night during peak times), moving a little further out towards the midtown/Vanderbilt area can keep you a short drive away from downtown while also saving you quite a bit of money.
There you’ll find all the names you recognize like your Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, and a Home2 Suites that I personally recommend because it’s right in the middle of all of the midtown bars. But you can also find some more boutique hotels like the Graduate (which is also home to a Dolly Parton-themed rooftop bar called White Limozeen) and the Kimpton Aerston Hotel.
Of course there’s also Opryland Resort, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Nashville and has a ton of restaurants, bars, gardens, and even a river where you can take a boat ride through the resort. It’s also right beside Opry Mills Mall and the Grand Ole Opry, so if you’re in town for a show at the Opry, you may want to stay in that area.
The problem with visiting Nashville isn’t finding things to do. It’s figuring out what you can cut out of your schedule because there’s usually not enough time to do it all.
If I were planning a trip to Nashville, my first stop would be a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. It’s my favorite building in the city, and it’s home to so much of the history of country music. The Ryman offers both guided and self-guided tours, and it’s pretty much the coolest building we have, so I would put this one on my list.
You can also tour the Grand Ole Opry House, which offers guided tours that include a look backstage – and you can even book post-show tours if you have tickets to one of their performances.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is located downtown and is a popular stop for fans of the history of country music. At the Hall of Fame, you can also get tickets to tour Music Row’s famous RCA Studio B that has been used by artists like Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, and is considered the birthplace of the “Nashville sound.”
If you’re into sports we obviously have the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena and the Tennessee Titans across the river at Nissan Stadium, but we also have the minor-league baseball Nashville Sounds (who have an outfield bar at their ballpark, which is a great place to get drunk watching a game) and the Nashville SC soccer club. Oh, and of course NASCAR is making its return to Nashville this year, and IndyCar will be hosting a street race here as well.
There’s also the Frist Art Museum, which recently featured an exhibit of Picasso paintings and is a good way to get some pre-day drinking culture.
You also have the Johnny Cash Museum, the George Jones Museum, the Glen Campbell Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum all in downtown Nashville.
Another popular attraction is the General Jackson Showboat, which hosts dinner and music cruises on the Cumberland River and runs from Opryland to downtown Nashville and back.
There are also no shortage of tour buses that will take you around the city to see whatever it is you’re interested in, whether it’s the history of Nashville or the homes of celebrities.
Where should I eat?
Nashville is quickly becoming a food city, so I’ll just quickly list some of my favorites for different types of restaurants and cuisines.
BBQ: Martin’s, Peg Leg Porker, Von Elrod’s Breakfast: Biscuit Love, Pancake Pantry Brunch: Sinema, Tavern, Josephine, Hampton Social
Burgers: Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, ML Rose, Stock & Barrel, Burger Republic Meat & 3: Puckett’s Grocery, Arnold’s, Monell’s, Katie’s Meat & Three Pizza: Tailgate Brewery, Joey’s House of Pizza, Manny’s House of Pizza (Manny and Joey are brothers who both make great pizza), Five Points Sports Bars: Double Dog’s, Corner Pub, Jonathan’s Grille Tacos: Taqueria del Sol, Mas Tacos Por Favor Trendy Dinner Spots: Husk, Etch, Rolf & Daughters, Adele’s, Mockingbird, Tansuo
And if you want a bunch of options all in one spot, the newly-opened Fifth + Broadwayretail center features Assembly Food Hall, so you can browse until you find something to meet your cravings.
Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to be surrounded by tourists and bachelorette parties while the band plays 80’s rock covers and “Wagon Wheel,” then places like Tootsie’s, Honky Tonk Central and FGL House have got you covered. (Tootsie’s is also pretty historic as far as country music bars go, so it’s definitely a must-stop at least once).
What’s harder these days is finding a place that feels like an actual honky tonk – places that still play old-school country where you can get a cheap beer in a dark room. But luckily there are still a few of those. Robert’s Western World and Layla’s are throwbacks to the days before Broadway was overrun with mega-bars owned by country music superstars. Bootlegger’s is small and low-key but still a solid gathering spot for fans of old school country music. And Alan Jackson’s AJ’s Good Time Bar, still has the feel and character of its previous identity (RIP The Wheel) and plays nothing but good country music.
Other than that, honestly, just go wherever has the shortest line. (Although I’ll admit that Rippy’s has some damn good drunk food).
And if you’re trying to figure out which of the artist-owned bars on Broadway you should check out, I’ve got you covered with that right here.
Do the bars on Broadway have a cover charge?
Nope. Feel free to bar hop as much as you want.
What time do the bars close?
Generally, bars are open until 3 AM. It’s different during COVID times of course, but in normal times bars on Broadway (and elsewhere around the city) are open from around 10 AM to 3 AM.
I both love it and hate it when visitors ask this question. I love it because it means they’re interested in seeing more of the city than the inside of Jason Aldean’s bar, but I hate it because that means telling them about some of my favorite bars that, to this point, are still pretty undisturbed by bachelorette parties and Florida Georgia Line fans.
But with that being said…
Demonbreun Street (pronounced de-mun-bree-un) in midtown Nashville is home to a strip of bars that’s pretty popular with visitors, places like Tin Roof, Two Bits and Dawg House. And then there’s Division Street that’s just a short walk away, with bars like Winner’s and Loser’s, the Red Door Saloon and Rebar.
There’s also Printer’s Alley, which is located just a few blocks from Broadway downtown, which features a wider variety of bars like Ms. Kelli’s Karaoke Bar, Skull’s Rainbow Room (which hosts burlesque shows and jazz music) and there’s even a new bar there called Whiskey Shot that has shooting ranges – using laser tactical training guns of course.
12 South and the Gulch are also two trendy areas of Nashville right now, and there’s plenty to eat and drink in both of those neighborhoods too.
If you want to venture further from downtown, you can find some of my favorite bars in the city. Music City Bar & Grill, Scoreboard Bar & Grill and the Nashville Palace all share a parking lot in the Opryland area, and they’re all fantastic. Great live music, a more low-key (read: non-touristy) crowd, and, in my opinion, a much better atmosphere than the bars of Broadway.
I also have to mention Santa’s Pub. If you haven’t ended a night at Santa’s after getting drunk off your ass, you haven’t experienced Nashville properly. It’s in a trailer basically out in the middle of nowhere (it’s actually like 10 minutes from Broadway but there’s nothing else around it), and it’s the definition of a dive bar. They only serve beer and only take cash, the ceilings are low enough for you to touch, and they have karaoke. And at 2 AM as you’re shitfaced and winding down your night, it’s fucking magical.
And finally there are some great bars to check out in East Nashville, places like Mickey’s, 3 Crow and Dino’s. But remember, these bars are more likely to be filled with locals, so don’t go in there and try to hear “Wagon Wheel” without getting some dirty looks.
The bars on Broadway are known for always having live music from open to close, but generally you can find live music just about anywhere – from bars and restaurants to hotels and, obviously, music venues.
Nashville has music venues for pretty much any taste. Looking for bluegrass? Check out the Station Inn, or the Sutler Saloon‘s “bluegrass brunch” on weekends. Rock music more your thing? Places like the Exit/In, 3rd and Lindsley or the Basement and the Basement East host a variety of artists from all different genres. Blues? We’ve got that too, at Bourbon Street Boogie & Blues Bar in Printer’s Alley and BB King’s Blues Club.
What’s the best way to get around? Is there public transportation?
Is there public transportation? Theoretically yes, there is a bus system. But that’s about it. And the MTA bus system is notoriously inconvenient. So your best bet is going to be either to plan on driving, taking a taxi, or using Uber or Lyft.
What about parking downtown?
Parking downtown is generally at a premium (and heavily patrolled), but a couple helpful tips: You can park at the library on 6th and Commerce, which is about 3-4 blocks from Bridgestone Arena and the Ryman Auditorium, for $20 a day.
And generally, there is free parking at the Titans stadium in lot R just across the pedestrian bridge from downtown (unless of course there’s an event going on at the stadium or at Ascend Amphitheater). The bridge itself is a little over half a mile long, but once you get across you’re just a block from Broadway.
So if you don’t mind the walk, you can save a few bucks by parking there most of the time. Just make sure to check the signs to make sure you’re parking in the right lot.
Where can I find the angel wings mural?
It’s on 11th Avenue South in the Gulch, right beside Taziki’s. Just follow all of the other bachelorettes (and the two hour line) and you’ll find it.
That usually depends on whether you have tickets to their concert or not.
But seriously, believe it or not, most artists don’t hang out on Broadway or in the major tourist areas.
Will you occasionally see somebody famous ? Sure. Kid Rock shows up at his bar from time to time, John Rich hangs out at his Redneck Riviera, and even Alan Jackson has played his own bar a few times. Or maybe you’ll see Chris Young just hanging out at Tin Roof.
But honestly, your best bet for seeing your favorite country singer is to go to the grocery store in their neighborhood. Or just buy a ticket to their show.
Does everybody in Nashville wear cowboy hats and boots?
No, that’s usually how we know you’re a tourist. The brand new cowboy boots that you bought at the 3-for-1 boots store before you got to the bar are a dead giveaway.
For style ideas, Whiskey Riff Shop is all you need to know.
I’m kidding. Tipping the band is technically optional.
But in all seriousness, most bands play for tips. Sure, the bars may pay them a little bit, but sometimes that’s not even enough to cover their parking. So the bulk of what they make comes from tips. And let’s be honest, most of the guys and gals playing in these bars are ridiculously talented, so throw a few bucks in their tip jar if you’re going to be hanging out listening to them or you want them to play a particular song. Hell, most of them even take Venmo tips now.
And if you want to hear a song like “Free Bird” or “Devil Went Down to Georgia” or something else that they get sick of playing because literally everybody requests it, expect to have to throw a hundred dollar bill in the tip jar before you get to hear your song.
Why so expensive? Simple. Because drunk people will pay it.
Do I have to be 21 to get into the bars?
Most bars on Broadway allow kids and people under 21 during the day, but then switch to 21+ at night. The cutoff time usually varies from around 6 PM to 10 PM.
What is there to do that doesn’t involve drinking?
It always surprises me these days when people come to Nashville for reasons not related to drinking. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But still, getting blackout drunk seems to be the goal for most visitors these days.
But if that’s not your scene (or you just need to give your liver a break for awhile), you have plenty of options. There’s Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, home of the former president. And there’s the Nashville Zoo, located about 15 minutes from downtown.
We also have a full-scale replica of the Parthenon located at Centennial Park in midtown Nashville. Why? Hell if I know.
If outdoor activities are your thing, you can take a kayak trip down the Cumberland River, go hiking at Warner Park, or spend a day at Percy Priest Lake.
Where’s the best hot chicken?
Are you trying to start a civil war among Nashville residents?
The question of who has the best hot chicken is one that everyone has their own opinion on. Prince’s is generally regarded as the “original” hot chicken. And of course Hattie B’s is the one that everybody knows and is generally the one that’s sought out by visitors. But there’s no shortage of good hot chicken here.
You have the more touristy spots like Party Fowl and Hattie B’s. Then you have the local favorites like Bolton’s, Helen’s, Pepperfire and 400 Degrees.
If you’re looking for options, choose one of these and you can’t go wrong.
I’m not big on shopping, but some of the areas I’ve already mentioned will probably suit you well if shopping’s your thing. Places like the Opry Mills Mall of course, but also the Mall at Green Hills and Fifth + Broadway.
There are also plenty of places to shop on Broadway and in the downtown area, everything from those 3-for-1 boot stores to Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop.
And 12 South is home to some more boutique stores (and Jeni’s Ice Cream, which is how my fiancée convinces me to go out there with her).
What’s with all the pedal taverns and party buses?
I dunno, they’re annoying.
I’m planning a bachelor/bachelorette party, where should we go?