16 4 9.6K
In his song Crazy Town, Jason Aldean describes Nashville as “Hollywood with a touch of twang” — an accurate depiction of the town dubbed “Music City” and collectively regarded as the Country Music capital of the world (mostly by those who have never been). However, I’m going to get the cliché out of the way by saying there’s more to Nashville than just country music (a trope thousands of bloggers have no doubt typed before this groundbreaking realization).
Although there is, indeed, plenty of country music to be found — from the classics to the cover bands to the cover-your-ear bands who play pop country (two words that should never go together). Venture beyond broadway and you’ll find a city rooted in history yet rocked by perpetual change. The resulting strain of the opposing narratives, constantly pushing against one another like two tectonic plates, impart an earthquake of gentrification that’s hard to miss.
While the city is going through some growing pains from the staggering influx of roughly 100 new residents a day, Nashville neighborhoods seem to withhold their existing sense of community — even under such growth pressure. This inherent culture, combined with the burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, provide locals and visitors a spectrum of dining and drink options that are as eclectic as the city itself.
Beyond the cocktail and culinary scene, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Nashville, and the city offers a variety of indoor and outdoor activities to satisfy any appetite. From waterfall hikes, to goat yoga, to karaoke in a Christmas themed double wide trailer — Nashville has it all.
I spent two weeks in Nashville, and (thanks to having an amazing local / friend as my tour guide) I feel like I was able to get to know the city and its neighborhoods, while visiting enough tourist highlights and local favorites to make some solid recommendations on what to do and where to eat and drink in Nashville (by neighborhood — and, therefore, beyond just broadway).
So, without further ado, here are 26 fun things to do in Nashville (including bars to visit and restaurants to try):
Nashville Travel Guide: Drink, Dine, Do
The Best Bars in Nashville
If you’re visiting Nashville and looking to imbibe, Broadway is something you must experience at least once (one visit to this area of “Nashvegas” was plenty for me).
The pulsating heart of Nashville’s nightlife Broadway is a loud, swinging, bad-taste, good time. Home to neon lights, perpetually crowded bars, around-the-clock live music and an inordinate amount of bachelorette parties, Broadway evokes a country-western Las Vegas. If you want to bar-hop and don’t mind a little drunken chaos, this is the place.
Tootsies Orchid Lounge (rooftop):
Located on lower Broadway across the alley from the Ryman, Tootsies is a Nashville country music institution that boasts round-the-clock live music on each of its three floors (with classic honky tonk playing on the lower level and more mainstream music on the top level.). Tootsies is probably the most popular bar on broadway and the rooftop, though constantly crowded, is the favored floor (and usually worth battling the crowds).
- Pro-tip: avoid the lines by entering through the back alley. On your way up to the rooftop, get your drink at the much less crowded bar on the second floor.
Situated about a mile from the chaos of lower Broadway, Pinewood Social is like an outpost for safety and comfort. A place to celebrate your own level headedness while enjoying a craft cocktail and southern comfort food in an industrial-chic setting. Boasting a large bar, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, a bowling alley, bocce ball courts, coffee bar and swimming pool, Pinewood Social has a little bit of everything.
Skulls Rainbow Room:
Skull’s Rainbow Room was one of my favorite bars in Nashville. Located in Printers Alley, Skull’s is a speakeasy style lounge serving up fine dining and craft cocktails amid live jazz music and regular Burlesque shows. The bar’s variety of options result in a medley of patrons, from those seeking a fancy dinner (the food is spectacular), to booze-hounds throwing back drinks (amazing cocktails) to those simply wanting to see naked women (hence, the aforementioned burlesque).
Hannah and I arrived early enough to avoid the cover, but not early enough to score a table. However, we were able to snag a couple of seats at the bar in front of the service well (which Hannah informed me were the most coveted bar seats since, being in front of the service well, we always had a bartender to
annoy order drinks from.). This attentive service resulted in us ordering a spectrum of different cocktails (all of which were incredible), and staying until close.
During that time we met David, the owner, and learned the story of the original owner David “Skulls” Schulman who was murdered in the bar in 1998. Upon learning of his untimely death (that occurred exactly where I was sitting) my follow up question, naturally, was asking if the bar was haunted. The answer, a resounding “yes.” I was regaled of stories about women getting locked in the bathroom and the current owner getting hit in the head with a bottle cap (while sitting in an empty office)… Spooky.
If you’re looking for a place with a little history, great food, amazing cocktails, lively entertainment and (potentially) some paranormal activity, Skulls fits the bill and I cannot recommend this place enough.
If you need a break from the bachelorette parties that plague downtown, head to East Nashville. A favorite local hangout, this neighborhood is blissfully devoid of matching t-shirts, cliche sashes, plastic tiaras and screaming herds of drunken bridesmaids. Though it is somewhat of a hipster haven, you’re guaranteed to find good drinks, trendy bars, and an atmosphere that’s much more laid back than the constantly crowded downtown bars.
Red Door Saloon
I thought Hannah was kidding when she instructed me to lay on the floor of this busy dive bar and look through a quarter-sized hole in the floorboards. As I reluctantly obliged, I’m not sure what worried me more: what I might see through this sketch hole in the ground (a dead body? Spiders? Martha Stewart?), or the prospect of getting intimately close to the floor of this grungy bar. However, I did as I was told (ever the gullible one) and laid on the floor to peak through the mystery hole. Situated below the bar was, in fact, a dead body — Just kidding (kind of). It was a skeleton (fake, obv). Fairly anti-climatic, but a fun secret to check out when visiting (or, better yet, try to convince your friends to lay on the bar floor and look).
In a neighborhood filled with trendy spots and complicated drinks, Red Door is a great “back to basics” bar. Red lights, loud music, cheap drinks and a good variety of people make this a great stop along any 5 Points pub crawl.
(However, none of the above could distract from the cloud of smoke that surrounded the bar. If you’re a non-smoker. Sit outside.)
Fear for your life as you traverse the dark, rapey back alleys of East Nashville in search of the unmarked door that is Attaboy.
… Okay, I’m being dramatic, but that was my first impression as I hesitantly followed Hannah through a sketch, deserted alley toward the promise of a cool speakeasy (the quintessential intro to a horror movie). However, once you locate the unmarked door, Attaboy rewards the tenacious seeker of a good drink.
In true speakeasy fashion, this semi-secret, dimly lit lounge provides an intimate ambiance that’s perfect for enjoying an elaborate cocktail and conversation without having to yell over music (a nice relief since both Hannah and I had lost our voices from all the previous bars).
There is no menu here, so let your palate be your guide and the bartender will muster up something to suit your preferences — unless your preferences is vodka… Then you’re SOL (seriously though, they don’t serve vodka).
The drinks are pricey, but the experience is worth stopping by for a drink.
Because sometimes a deli sandwich from a dive bar is just what you need (especially at 3am).
Part dive bar, part deli, Dukes is sacred to locals (not really sure why, but I was sold at the “no dancing” sign that greets patrons by the dance floor). This no-frills neighborhood bar serves up good sandwiches and cheap, stiff drinks in a laid back atmosphere filled with an eclectic mix of music from nightly DJs.
Though Dukes has a different vibe that’s hard to ascertain (rockabilly hipster / hipster cowboy?) I think the identity crisis adds to the bar’s character and mystique as much as as the “No Dancing” sign displayed prominently on a wall near the dance floor.
In short, It’s an oxymoron of a bar that will leave you scratching your head, but coming back for more.
Two words: Motown Mondays! If you’re in Nashville on a Monday, 5 Spot is a must-visit.
Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, a line out the door (usually starting at 8:50pm to avoid the cover that starts at 9) hints to the popularity of this unassuming, neighborhood watering hole.
Inside rock & roll hits from the 50’s and 60’s blare through the speakers while crowds as diverse as the neighborhood itself squeeze past one another in the small dance space between the bar and the backdoor. Half of the crowd looking for someone new to grind up against, the other half trying not to spill their PBR on their way to fresh air.
Outside, the back patio is, seemingly, as big as the bar itself. Picnic tables line the parameter and a food truck restores the energy of sweaty patrons, tired from hours of drinking and dancing.
If you’re looking for somewhere to dance like no one’s watching, this is the place (and you’ll be in good company!).
This dimly lit, speakeasy-style cocktail bar serves up unique drinks in an intimate atmosphere to those lucky enough to snag one of the lounge’s coveted couches and tables. Though seating is limited, ample drink options augment Fox Bar’s meager accommodations.
The large menu was a bit intimidating, as most cocktails consisted of ingredients I’d never heard of — which made ordering a drink similar to a game of Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, rather than an educated guess as to what you can expect.
Though the drinks were alright, my favorite aspect of the bar was a “House Rules” page in the back of the menu that, in addition to a reassuring list of several other rules, instructed patrons to “please respect the privacy of your fellow patrons. No unwelcome or rude advances will be tolerated.” Just as I was laughing at (and secretly rejoicing in) in the prohibition of unwanted advances, a drunk hipster invited himself to our table and spent the subsequent 30 minutes being creepy and failing to pick up on our blatant queues that he wasn’t welcome.
After a half hour of the weirdest, most awkward conversation I’ve ever had to endure (he complemented Hannah on her ears), Hannah and I finished our drinks and made our exit.
“I guess somebody didn’t read the rules” I joked (loudly) on our way out.
Despite being offensively decorated (in my animal-loving opinion) with an abundance of taxidermied wolf heads, Crying Wolf is a fun East Nashville establishment that definitely warrants a visit (if for no other reason than to take advantage of the awesome photo booth).
Wolf heads aside, the bar is beautiful and spacious, boasting exposed brick and a great selection of spirits that are served by some surprisingly talented bartenders. The vibe is a combination of hipster heaven (such is East Nashville) meets western saloon with a pinch of biker bar (…and wolf graveyard, IMHO).
Additionally the bar boasts nightly live music (or DJ’s), a large outdoor patio, and some decidedly delicious food / burgers.
Bar 308 is the perfect combination of a dive bar, cocktail lounge, and dance party (depending on the day/time you visit). From the moment I bellied up to Bar 308 and noticed the bar top covered in Charles Bukowski pages, I was in love. Then I noticed all of their shots are named after authors and I was in double love (is that a thing?).
This bar is everything. They serve great cocktails in an unpretentious, laid back atmosphere and the staff is super friendly. I talked with the owner, Ben, who made us the best shot I’ve literally ever had in my life (though it’s not on the menu and when I returned the following night he couldn’t remember what he made, but it was cucumber flavored and delicious).
Needless to say, it was a good night and this bar ended up being among my favorites in Nashville.
Singing karaoke in a Christmas themed, mobile home bar is an experience you didn’t know you needed to experience — BUT YOU DO!
You really can’t get more divey than Santa’s (and that’s a compliment). Located inside a double wide trailer, the bar is cash only, beer only, and permeated with cigarette smoke — which sounds terrible, I know, but it’s actually really cool. This dive / karaoke bar is delightfully tacky with a vibe that’s reminiscent of Nightmare Before Christmas meets Nashville Star.
Upon entering, we were greeted with a multitude of pitch imperfect voices and strings of lights that glowed red and green over the surprisingly large amount of patrons present on a Monday night. In a city filled with aspiring musicians, karaoke can often seem more like a talent show than a recreational (drunken) bar game — not at Santa’s. Here it’s one big sing along and everyone is your biggest fan.
Great people, cheap beer, and nightly entertainment in the form of drunken karaoke, what more could you ask for?
(Pro-Tip: Avoid wasting your quarters on the breathalyzer on the way out… it LIES!)
Ping pong… and pool… and popcorn.. (oh my?). This is a fun bar for anyone, like me, who would prefer to play bar games than stand around and drink. Red lights and neon signs add ambiance to this subterranean sprawl while speakers blasting heavy metal subtract from it (we visited on “Metal Mondays”).
We stayed at Melrose Bar long enough to have a couple of beers and play a game of shuffleboard, but decided to make our exit when the second set of would-be contenders asked if they could join us.
If you’re looking for cheap drinks, laid back atmosphere, and no threat of man buns, this is a great place start the night.
The Best Restaurants in Nashville
It’s 2:30am and I’m famished (as a night of drinking in downtown Nashville tends to have that effect). Hannah and I walk past tourists waiting in line for pizza and hot dogs. I slow, tempted by the sweet scent of greasy street food, but Hannah keeps walking and says “We’re getting oysters.”
I follow her away from the lights and congestion of Broadway, wondering where on earth we’re going to find oysters at 3am…
Enter, The Diner.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, The Diner’s offerings are vast and varied. This six-floor restaurant, boasts different fare on each floor, providing 18,000 square feet of nirvana to 3am patrons craving everything from pancakes to pizza.
Though the first floor is, in fact, a diner, locals (and intuitive tourists who cautiously walk through the diner to find the elevators in the back) know the higher floor is where the better food is at. The sushi and oyster bar is on the top floor, and it was surprisingly packed for 3am on a weeknight.
The best part? The Diner’s owner found a loophole in the law that allows them to serve alcohol 23 hours a day (the only time they don’t serve is between 3-4am). Therefore, The Diner is also a popular spot for local service industry workers to visit for food/drinks when they are off work at 4am.
Despite its location in the heart of Nashville (Midtown), this French Brasserie will make you feel like you’re enjoying a meal in Paris. Everything from the menu to the decor to the china (white china emblazoned with the La Sel logo) create an ambiance that’s *almost* as enjoyable as the food.
Hannah and I visited La Sel for brunch and enjoyed a breakfast of epic proportion. After seeing the menu we decided to order a three course breakfast, which — to the untrained eye — may seem like lofty goals. But we proudly inhaled every course at a pace that made even the bartender raise an eyebrow. (I regret nothing.)
We began our La Sel breakfast experience (and it really was an experience) with deviled eggs and oysters — and, of course, coffee and mimosas. After that was the main course: Avocado toast (topped with an over-easy egg) and potatoes followed by dessert (yes breakfast should include dessert too), beignets and a chocolate croissant. The whole experience — the menu, the food, the service, the ambiance — was amazing.
La Sel was, in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in Nashville and I highly recommend it.
Open from 10pm to 1:30pm this greasy spoon diner caters to downtown partiers, working musicians and service industry folks who want an early morning meal at a great price. Admittedly, Hermitage Cafe is probably best experienced when not completely sober (which is why their “rush hour” occurs at 2:30 am after the bars close), but I guarantee visiting this hole-in-the-wall diner after a night on the town will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made at 2:00am.
The portions are huge, the food is good, the staff is super cool, and the prices are shockingly low. Also note, In true divey fashion, this place is cash only (however there’s an ATM outside).
We can argue all day about whether resort casual wear is a good uniform idea for servers in a Mexican/Spanish restaurant (white pants? Are you serious? You might as well scream “Pour some salsa on me.”). However, Def Leppard references aside (assuming you got the reference in the first place), the nautical themed restaurant actually does present a very California coast vibe that’s as relaxing as it is Instagrammable.
Located in Nashville’s trendy 12 South neighborhood, BarTaco was one of my favorite restaurants in Nashville. I’m not exaggerating when I say these were literally the best tacos I’ve ever had. Add to that the beautiful ambiance and delicious margaritas and you’ve got, arguably, one of the best restaurants in Nashville (IMHO).
Between the two of us, Hannah and I ordered (and therefore tasted) nearly every taco on the menu. Hannah also informed me of the “off-menu” (secret) items that included some winners like a daily taco special and “corn off the cob” (mexican style corn served in bowl), which ended up being two of my favorite items.
(Also, if you’re hoping to spot some celebrities during your Nashville visit, this is a good place to do so.)
My last night in Nashville, Hannah and I treated ourselves to an amazing dinner at Urban Grub, a casual yet fine dining restaurant in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood. This “last supper” (as I jokingly called it) was definitely the culinary highlight of my visit.
Once again, we ordered entirely too much food. Starting with a charcuterie plate (filled with house-cured charcuterie from the restaurant’s in-house butcher) and oysters from the impressive raw bar. For the main course, I ordered the Lobster Cannelloni (which was terrific) and Hannah ordered a steak (which was absolutely incredible). We also ordered sides of Mac & Cheese, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts. Everything was delicious and my mouth is still watering just thinking about it!
Lastly, let’s talk about the impressive service. When you ask your server to take a photo, and she pulls up a chair on which to stand in order to get the best angle, you know you’ve found a good restaurant.
The food was wonderful, the rustic yet modern ambiance was enjoyable, and the service was some of the best I had in Nashville. If you’re looking for a nice dinner, look no further.
Dino’s (East Nashville)
Per recommendation from my good friend, Anthony Bourdain, I decided it absolutely necessary I try a burger at Dino’s (a popular burger restaurant in the East Nashville neighborhood). However, evidently everyone else took Tony’s advice because the line was way larger than warranted for a weekday night. Although patience has never been one of my (many) virtues, I persevered.
When I finally got to the front and excitedly ordered my burger, the cashier nonchalantly informed me that they had run out of burgers. (WTF?!)
I tried to reason with the cashier while simultaneously attempting to blatantly ignore a large group of men in the corner table who were incessantly waving their hands and trying to get my attention.
“But but but”
“Sorry no more burgers.”
“Hey! Girl! Over here” (waves)
“But.. How.. Why… Are you sure you’re out.”
“HELLOOO, Blonde Girl! Hey!”
Irritated, I finally turn my attention from the cashier to the table of men and ask curtly: “What do you want?!”
“We have an extra burger” They replied. (this caught my interest)
As I walked over to them, I played the game of “risk vs reward” in my head (Risk: it’s poisoned and I die. Reward: I’m starving and NEED a burger. Risk: It could be roofied. Reward: If Anthony Bourdain likes it, it must be amazing). When I made it to the table, all apprehension vanished as they shoved a perfect plate of burger and fries my way. Like a kid lured by the promise of candy, I forgot all risks (what risks?) and eagerly accepted the free, just-happened-to-order-one-extra burger.
Unfortunately nothing good comes for free and the cost of this burger meant manners forcing me to stay and conversate with a table of middle-aged men in khakis while I stuffed my face with a serendipitous (yet lukewarm) burger. Even though I risked who-knows-what accepting a burger from strangers, I was fairly disappointed, as the burger was only average (This is the problem with high expectations). It was just a regular burger, nothing special, and although it was good, I’ve definitely had better. Regardless, it was an experience.
Loveless Cafe (SW Nashville / Highway 100)
Located about 30 minutes south of Nashville (near Natchez Trace Parkway), Loveless Cafe has long been a soul food staple for tourists and locals alike. Boasting world-famous biscuits, homemade preserves, country ham and southern fried chicken, the food is worth the inevitable wait.
Basically anything you order is going to be good. However, be sure to save some room for dessert. Their pies are amazing!
Things To Do in Nashville
I’m kind of a wineo, so if I’m visiting a new city I always seek out some local wineries/vineyards to try. Although Nashville has a fairly limited local wine scene, Arrington Vineyards provides an oenophile oasis that’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to do some wine tasting while in/near Nashville.
Founded by Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn) Arrington Vineyards is located in Arrington, TN (about 25 miles south of Nashville). It’s close enough for an afternoon visit, but far enough to feel quintessentially “country”. Here, the wine is only a small part of the overall experience. The large lawn and stunning surrounding vineyard scenery provide a perfect place to escape the city and enjoy some good wines and company.
Hannah and I packed an adorable picnic and visited on weekday afternoon. We stayed to watch the sunset and were rewarded with the best southern sunset I’d seen during my visit to Nashville.
My two weeks in Nashville concluded with a visit to Natchez Trace Parkway to watch the sunset from the famous Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. Driving along the picturesque Parkway with the music up and the windows down, it’s easy to see why Natchez Trace is considered one of the most scenic drives in the country.
The two-lane road winds through 450 miles of protected land and the surrounding scenery is absolutely stunning (think forests, waterfalls, hiking trails, wildlife, etc.). If you’re in Nashville, this little slice of heaven is definitely worth the dive.
(I am definitely adding this drive to my autumn bucket list. The fall foliage here must be spectacular!)
Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
Nashville has long been synonymous with country music, so you can’t visit Music City without a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum (one of the most popular things to do in Nashville).
The museum is a treasure trove of memorabilia that covers a significant period of time. Everything from outfits to instruments to cars are on display, making it almost a sensory overload.
My favorite part was the wall containing framed notebook paper with original, handwritten lyrics by Taylor Swift and Eric Church (among others). Also (being a closet Taylor Swift fan), I totally geeked out over her guitars and outfits that were on display nearby (specifically her dress from the Love Story music video).
I arrived at 4pm and got a discount ticket. However, since the museum closes at 5pm I felt like I had to rush through slightly. Therefore, I would recommend getting there a bit earlier and taking your time (allow at least two hours).
I absolutely adore street art, so I spent quite a bit of time wandering around Nashville, seeking out some of the city’s famed murals — and it definitely lived up to my expectations.
Thanks to the Nashville Walls Project, the city’s street art is growing almost as fast as its population. New murals are constantly popping up on walls, buildings and Instagram feeds throughout Nashville. If you’re visiting Nashville and looking for a good photo opt, here are some of the most popular murals you don’t want to miss:
- “I Believe in Nashville” Mural: Created in 2012 as a unifying symbol for Nashville and newcomers, this is probably the city’s most recognized street art. (Tip: There are actually two “I Believe in Nashville” murals, so if the 12 South one is too crowded, check out the other one.)
- “What Lifts You”: Located in the Gulch (short walk from downtown) these 20ft wings provide the perfect photo opt.
- 302 11th ave s. Nashville
- Import Flowers
- 3636 Murphy Road
Visiting Nashville you probably expect to see some live music, celebrities and cowboy boots, but I bet you didn’t expect to see a full scale replica of the Parthenon. Yet drive down West End and there it is, in all of its ancient greek glory. At first glance this may seem a little gimmicky, however look again you’ll find an awe-inspiring icon created with incredible attention to historical accuracy.
This American Parthenon was created for the Centennial Exposition in Tennessee (serving as the festival’s art gallery) and was, initially, supposed to be temporary. However, within six months of its inception, this impressive American Parthenon drew almost 2 million people and became somewhat of a local institution, speaking to the city’s self-declared reputation of the “Athens of the South.”
Ultimately no one had the heart to tear down the increasingly popular Parthenon, and it still stands in Centennial Park. If you’re looking for something different to to do in Nashville (that provides great photo opts), the Instagrammable Parthenon is definitely worth a visit.
Percy Priest Lake
Between round-the-clock live music and drunken herds of tourists, Nashville can be so noisy that it’s sometimes necessary to escape city bustle and go somewhere silent and serene. Enter, Percy Priest Lake. Boasting trails, beaches, picnic areas and boat ramps, the lake is a short drive from downtown Nashville and a fun way to spend the day if you’re visiting during the summer.
Hannah and I packed a picnic (we like picnics if you can’t tell) and spent the day catching some rays, lakeside. With all the noise in Nashville, it was great to escape somewhere silent and serene.
In summary, my time in Nashville was definitely a highlight of my summer.
And to Hannah (my aforementioned friend and amazing local guide + hostess with the mostess, + drinking & dining buddy + photographer) this blog would not have been possible without you and is a woefully inadequate thank you.
Pin for Later ⇓