Top Tips (That You Won’t See Elsewhere):
- Tour with geography in mind. I read a bunch of internet articles about top Nashville sights and most only listed various sites (scattered all over the city) without suggesting an order, so I’m passing on daily suggestions. You’re welcome 😉
- What you choose to do on your first day in Nashville should depend on your nightlife and entertainment interests. If you think you’d like to really do up the Broadway music scene and cut loose a bit at the bars, I’d strongly recommend doing my itinerary in order and leave Downtown until Day 2 or following my Nash in a Day Itinerary. Why? Well…touring the various murals for Instagram pics and shopping at uber cool stores will NOT be any fun if you’re dragging from too little sleep or nursing a hangover. Hit the highlights while you’re fresh and feeling great not post partying.
- The food scene is stellar in Nashville! Seriously DELISH plus, more than most cities I’ve visited, Nashville’s spin on Southern cuisine really capture the essence of the city. The food much like the city embodies a warm, hospitable yet fun and very current vibe. A quick google search will give you many choices in a variety of price ranges. Choose your 2 or 3 must dine at options, make reservations (if you’re able) and gear your itinerary to that timing. My favorite spots were: Monnell’s, Edley’s Bar-b-que, Hattie B’s, Party Fowl, and (in Franklin) 55 South and Cork & Cow. There are so many more amazing options so do yourself a favor and spend a few research minutes so you can eat your way through Nashville!
- If you’re arriving late at night, like many West Coast flights do, I highly recommend Hotel Preston. It’s a stellar value starting at $ 99 a night! They have free delicious breakfasts, 24 H shuttles to/from the nearby airport plus clean, stylish rooms. Newly renovated (see lobby below) with lots of other amenities like daily live music, a pool and workout room it felt like a much more expensive boutique hotel in style and offerings. It’s absolutely nice enough to stay your whole trip, but since it’s by the airport, you may want to be in downtown at one of the big-name hotels for 2-3 x’s the price to be in the heart of it all, or do go the neighborhood AirBnB route like we did. Sidenote: rental car rates were almost 3 x’s more with a late night pick up so we easily shuttled back for free in the AM.
The Gulch and 12 South: Day One
Ideally get an early morning start here so you can be finished with pics and food before you window shop at 10 AM.
Start in The Gulch at Kelsey Montague’s What Lifts You (302 11th Ave S). The earlier you arrive at What Lifts You the better! The shadows get more and more harsh as the day goes on (see my post editing shadowy pic below 😉) and the lines grow as the day passes.
It’s THE mural everyone wants so the long lines are no shock here…Nashville can be pretty dang hot so waiting on concrete and photos by a huge black wall is seriously toasty. Parking tip: street spots can be challenging to get since everyone and their dog wants a What Lifts You pic, so we used the inexpensive pay lot at 600 12th Ave S.
Next grab breakfast at Biscuit Love (316 11th Ave S), or daily brunch at Hotel Thompson’s Marsh House, or a coffee at one of the other spots there, and do a little bit of window shopping before heading to 12th Ave South.
I loved Kittenish, 304 11th Ave S, a couple doors down from What Lifts You. Kittenish offers its own mural inside (below) plus unique gift items (above) as well as chic, well-made clothing.
If you’re a music lover The Gulch’s The Station Inn is the top spot in the city for Bluegrass, Americana, and Classic Country but you’ll need to flip flop this daily itinerary and start the day at 12th South instead since The Station Inn opens at 4 PM.
Optional: If you’re interested in seeing Music Row’s recording studios or South Nashville, stop at either or both on your way to 12th South. We didn’t do this because I read that Music Row is mostly non-descript buildings where the magic is actually made to this day so you can’t tour or see much.
Next, hit 12th Avenue South – known as 12 South to the locals
12 South is a 7 minute drive for a string of great murals plus fantastic shopping and great eats. Parking tip: pretty available just off 12th on side streets or pop into the pay lot on the 2700 block across from Edley’s.
How you approach 12 South is a matter of taste and timing…you can hit the 7 murals along the area’s 5 main blocks and then relax with food, coffee and shopping OR you can start at one end and work you way down doing all of the above as you go.
I’m going to reiterate my beat the heat photo tip above if it’s hot weather season…again, I’d strongly recommend getting your IG pics early in the day before the glare and sun is a factor. With that in mind, I’ll start off with the mural tour of 12 South and follow with the exceptional food and shopping options.
12 South Mural Guide:
- Start at the 2900 block beginning with the Green Pea Salon Flowers and Make Music Not War murals then work your way north 4 blocks
- Next up at 2702 is Draper James Stripes (and bench) directly across from I Believe in Nashville
- Although not a mural, another great pic is Amelia’s Flower Truck in from of Imogene + Willies at 2601 12th Ave S
Then Nashville Looks Good On You mural (at Frothy Monkey 2511 12th Ave S) and last, end at the awesome rainbow explosion of Nashville Peace Love Good Deeds at the corner of Beechwood and 12th South.
There are a lot of great food and drink spots in this neighborhood. We loved Frothy Monkey for an iced coffee break (2509 12th Ave S) and Edley’s Bar-B-Que (2706 12th Ave S) for a heavenly lunch of pulled pork loaded nachos (below). Edley’s Tip: skip the super long line by going straight to the bar and ordering your food and drink there. But seriously, any amount of wait for the nachos is soooo worth it!
12 South Shopping is stellar! Start at Holly William’s shop White’s Mercantile, 2908 12th Ave S (above) and work your way north up the street.
If you don’t follow Holly on IG ( @hollyaudreywilliams) or if you haven’t checked her out the many magazines she’s been featured in – DO IT! She’s a talented musician with amazing style and is deeply rooted in Nashville since she’s Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter.
I also loved Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James and Imogene + Willies. Draper James (below) ranges from super flattering, stylish clothing to fun accessories and tees. And really, if it’s Reese’s it’s got to be fantastic right?!? I love her brains and beauty and wit. Pick up a copy of her book “Whisky in a Teacup” while you’re there – it’s a fun read and gives you a great glimpse into life in Nashville and the South in general.
Imogene + Willies. is the perfect place for denim that fits like a glove and cool, edgy tees and sweatshirts. I’m still lusting after their cropped denim jacket that’s was a modern, chic interpretation of the classic.
Finish off Day One with an amazing meal – try Monell’s At the Manor or one of the many fantastic restaurants – and some live music near your hotel and you’ve got an amazing capture on Nashville. Or check out the hip bowling eatery Pinewood Social – it’s got everything from coffee, food morning/noon/night and cocktails to an outdoor fun area including a pool and diner in an Airstream. You can even join locals in the co-work area.
Downtown, Germantown &/or East Nash: Day Two
Germantown is my pick for the best start unless you really want to hit all the downtown hot spots and museums (which would take an entire day just downtown). After a good chunk of time in Germantown, and depending on your speed, add East Nashville in before so you end up downtown in the early afternoon.
Downtown alone is anywhere from half day to full day so plan accordingly. Given that the music scene heats up downtown in the late afternoon into evening, you’re best off doing the other neighborhoods first and ending downtown.
Planning tip: give yourself enough time to hit the “Mother Church of Country Music” a.k.a. the Ryman, the various record stores, the Country Music Hall of Fame and then bar hop in the various Broadway honky tonks before it gets too crazy later in the evening.
Germantown is the hipster, seriously happening neighborhood that’s full of vintage coolness. Architecture (see above), shops and restaurants like Germantown Pub (below) will start your day off perfectly as you soak up the local scene. A few minutes in Germantown make it clear that Nashville has evolved way beyond the touristy old-school Rhinestone Cowboy city it was a couple of decades ago. One must see was Wilder because my sister is a major Mid Century Modern fan. I loved it too even though MCM doesn’t ring my chimes as much as hers. My must see was Peter Nappi an incredible shoe store that’s worth a stop just to check out their chic displays.
I loved, loved, loved this neighborhood and it’s coffee shops plus people watch that can’t be beat. We ran out of time so skipped East Nash yet I’ve heard it’s worth the stop too.
Downtown Nashville Next Stop
The Ryman Auditorium is the crown jewel of Music City and has tours, or if you’re lucky, there will be a concert you’re interested in on a night while you’re in town. We were lucky enough to catch Vince Gill doing a special Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman concert. It was a splurge (especially since I’m not a major fan) but it was worth every dollar just to experience great music there.
The gift store alone is a cool stop even if you skip a show or tour. Untested parking tip: I read is that during concerts, you can valet park for free at the Ryman if you are driving a Nissan. We couldn’t get a Nissan from our rental place so ended up paying $42 (ouch!) at a nearby lot.
Once inside, you could just feel the history and your imagination runs a bit wild wondering about the many extraordinary musicians who played there.
It’s first incarnation was as a church and its original pews as well as the stage and displays takes you back in time to 1894 through the 20th century concerts of the Grand Ole Opry.
Greats like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Elvis played there. One timeline I saw noted that it’s also been used for appearances by Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, Bob Hope with Doris Day, up to more recent concerts like Coldplay and Mumford & Sons.
Music lovers should definitely check out Third Man Records, 623 7th Ave S, that’s owned by Jack White (half of the White Stripes and also done solo gigs and played with other bands).
Either time your tour to end at sunset, or take a short break from Broadway, to stroll across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge connects downtown to the Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans so it’s an easy walk from most downtown locations. Great parking tip: (sorry – don’t have source noted! Apologies to who ever this awesome person was!) that if you’re driving, use GPS to get to Nissan Stadium home of the Titans and find Lot R. As long as there is no football game or other big event, it’s free to part and you are parked right at the foot of the bridge.
Because we splurged for an evening concert at the Ryman, we did an early, low budget dinner at Robert’s Western World. We opted for some tasty burgers even though they’re known for the Recession Special of fried baloney sandwiches, moonpies and PBR. We enjoyed the cocktails there as they were well done basic fare served in dixie cups and they didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The servers were fantastic which is often rare in busy, music-oriented bars. Most importantly though, the music was awesome and the band we heard was pretty old school which felt perfect early in the afternoon. Note that the bands there do vary day to day so what niche or country variety they play does too. Think touristy yet fun and you’ve got the picture.
We popped in and out of a few other bars on the row but of them, Robert’s stood out as the best experience.
Many people had kids with them too so if you’re traveling with family, Robert’s Western World is a great bet.
If you catch it between music sets though it empties out and is a bit ho-hum so stick around long enough to hear some music.
We also caught a really amazing set (above) at Tin Roof a block down on Broadway as well generally enjoyed all the music we heard at the honky tonks. Most do not have cover charge so you’re free to roam around and check out the scene and you’re guaranteed to hear some extraordinary music.
Beyond Nashville: Day Three
If you have a third day or if you want to skip some of the above, check out the Farmers Market is directly across from Centennial Park. The Hermitage and Belle Meade plantations are both worthwhile stops too. Also, we adored Franklin which is a historic town 20 minutes south of downtown.
Franklin is an important Civil War battle site and it boasts a darling downtown shopping area with many wonderful eating and drinking spots.
Centennial Park and it’s Parthenon are another stop worth considering when you put your Day 3 itinerary together. We didn’t make it because it frankly was just too darn hot on the day we’d set aside.
We did make it to The Nashville Flea Market though and had fun walking around for a couple of hours one morning. It wasn’t incredible (ok my hopes were a little high…) but it had a few gems hidden here and there.
Local Distilleries abound so check out reviews to know which would suit your style and tastes best.
What ever you do while you’re in Nashville, be sure to relax and soak up the Southern Hospitality, food and music! Let me know if you’ve found other great spots that I missed by commenting below.
Feature photo by Joshua Ness. All photographs No Qualms Mom except when noted.
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