Nashville has grown immensely over the past decade, having capitalized on its reputation as a country music mecca. While the reasons have been many, including the revitalization of Nashville’s East End and a burgeoning culinary scene, the results have led to a bolstering of an already-strong tourism market.
What many don’t realize before visiting the Music City, however, is that Nashville offers much outside of the culinary and music scenes, leading some to feel a bit lost when it comes to finding out exactly how to spend your time in Nashville. As a Nashville native and someone very intimately familiar with the city, there are nooks and crannies you can’t find information about simply anywhere.
Here are the best options for a three-day Nashville itinerary, and things you must see and do in the Music City!
If you’re flying into Nashville, you’ll arrive at the only major airport in the city – Nashville International Airport (BNA). The airport is ideally situated, only about nine miles east of the famous Music Row area and downtown area.
You’ll want to stay in or near the downtown area, in one of the main boroughs such as The Gulch, West End, or in downtown near Broadway and 2nd Avenue – where many of the famous music clubs still stand. Our personal preference is the upper West End area, where it meets the lower downtown Nashville area around 8th avenue. From here, you have easy access to all of the downtown bars, clubs, and music clubs, as well as the West End area and Gulch. It’s ideally located, and also puts you within a few hundred yards of Music Row without paying “Music Row” prices. In this area, we like the Indigo Hotel or Hilton Garden Inn, which can be booked easy and affordably on Expedia for around $150 per night. While this sounds steep, staying just a half-mile away in downtown will cost you $300 per night easily.
You want to separate your three days in Nashville by theme, focused primarily on being able to experience the history, culture, and flavor of the city. Our advice? Dedicate Day 1 to the downtown scene. Hit all the honky tonky and visit the “juke joint” hotspots so you can familiarize yourself with where you want to spend your time most comfortably while you’re downtown. You’ll want to simply get lost in the music and culture of downtown, have some drinks, and walk the path of Broadway and 2nd Avenue, where most of these famous establishments are.
In doing this, you’ll get an idea of what areas and clubs suite your tastes best, and eye a few great restaurants that catch your eye. In other words, organization isn’t necessarily a key on Day 1. Get acclimated, “do” downtown first and allow yourself to have a little more structured time on ensuing days. Depending your travels and how you actually got into Nashville will determine how much you really feel like doing anything cultured, and odds are you’re going to want to unwind.
On Day 2, you should have a plan. It’ll be your first full-day in Nashville and your first chance to wake up and pass out in the Music City. The temptation might be to hit the bars and restaurants downtown, but with your choice of hotel, you’ll be able to head there for a nightcap. During the day, see the city. Experience some of the culture, and find out what really makes Nashville unique.
We’ll give you a list of things to do in Nashville that are unique to Nashville, that spell out the culture brilliantly and provide you with a real feel of the best Nashville has to offer, regardless of the area of town.
Day 3 should be spent a little differently. As where Day 2 will be spent thinking of “things” to do, Day 3 will be sub-areas in Nashville you want to see. You’ll experience The Gulch, Nashville’s East End, and the “Vandy” area. If time permits, you might even be able to fit in a few of the historic things you weren’t able to see on Day 2. Your final nightcap will likely lead you back downtown, where you can get lost in the shimmer and neon glow of Nashville’s downtown.
If you don’t have an early departing flight on your final morning, make sure to get a great, classic southern brunch. Ideally, you won’t want an early departing flight from Nashville, as the traffic around the airport can be absolute grid-lock seven days a week, and we advise you target an early afternoon take-off somewhere between 1:00pm and 3:00.
This is the general roadmap and how the trip should be structured, but you want to know exactly what to do, right? We’ve got you taken care of! Check out the three-day sample overview to see how to maximize your time visiting Nashville – the Music City.
Theme – Downtown
The focus on Day 1 is going to be on making use of what time you have, given whatever time you happen to arrive in the city. If you stay near downtown, it’s easiest and best to head downtown and see all you can see in a casual setting, and familiarize yourself with places where you’ll probably want to go for nightcaps. Because of the “looseness” of the schedule, we’re not including any times or schedules, merely recommendations of things to see and do.
Arrival Day – Arrive in Nashville, and cab or shuttle to hotel. There isn’t a public railway station, but many of the hotels in/near downtown offer shuttle to the airport either free or very inexpensively. For a full list of hotels that shuttle to the airport, check this out.
After arrival – Check into the hotel, and head straight for the heart of downtown. If you’re looking for a drop-off point, simply ask the driver to drop you off at 5th Avenue and Broadway. From here, you’re on the beginning cusp of one of the most famous music mappings in the world.
You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the Bridgestone Arena – home to the NHL’s Nashville Predators – which is actually located on 5th and Broadway. From here, just start walking and exploring. Continuing downhill on Broadway takes you toward the Cumberland River and into the denser area of downtown, where you’re sure to find many great watering holes with music pouring from them.
Three Nashville Giants – The first thing you’ll see are three legendary Nashville establishments – Rippy’s, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, and Legends. Go to one, at minimum, but ideally check out all three. These were some of the locations where the early Nashville legends first began their careers in smoky downtown beer joins in mid-1900s.
These are all located very near the famous Country Music Hall of Fame, so take your time here to visit the museum as well.
Printer’s Alley – Between 3rd and 4th Avenue, conveniently off Broadway, is Printer’s Alley. Famous since the beginning of the 20th century, Printer’s Alley was home to a thriving publishing industry that once existed in Nashville. The area was home to two large newspapers, ten print shops, and thirteen publishers, but eventually gave way to nightclubs and entertainment. These clubs, such as the former Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club, played host to music legends such as Chet Atkins and Boots Randolph. One of the most famous names to come out of Printer’s Alley was none other than Jimi Hendrix, who was said to fuse together guitar cables, walk out into Printer’s Alley playing guitar solos, and lure passers-by in to check out his act!
There are currently two live band bars, two karaoke bars, and a soccer bar – Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, the Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar (where the group Rascal Flatts were discovered), Lonnie’s Western Room, Ms. Kellis, and Fleet Street Pub.
“Lower Broad” – On Broadway nearest to 2nd Avenue and the Cumberland River, you enter into an area colloquially called “Lower Broad”. Here is the densest collection of famous music clubs, all of which have a different flavor, genre, and atmosphere. While generally country in theme, these clubs feature music ranging from the classic, pre-1950s country music of the early Appalachian “Hillbilly” charts, to modern cover bands and even blues and jazz. The best of these include:
- The Second Fiddle
- Robert’s Western World
- Whiskey Bent Saloon
- Tequila Cowboy
As if it wasn’t obvious, the names give away what to expect in these establishments!
In general, day 1 shouldn’t include a schedule. There’s plenty to see and do downtown, and you must experience how lively Nashville’s riverfront can be virtually any night. It’s loud, vibrant, energetic, and wildly entertaining.
Theme – Historic Nashville
Morning – Nashville has great food, and it isn’t all about Southern classics. However, you’ll want to experience a true Southern brunch while in the city, and with the hangover you’re likely to have after your first night, there’s no better time to make it happen than the first morning!
If you’re looking for a classic Southern breakfast or brunch, check out Biscuit Love, located in the Gulch district near downtown. Biscuit Love is a hip place with a unique spin on Southern classics, but with an anchor in the historic south.
However, if you’re willing to be up early, you’ll want to find yourself at a Nashville legend – Pancake Pantry, located on 21st Avenue near Vanderbilt University. Get there very early, in fact, as waits for this impeccable establishment can run 90 minutes or longer, depending on the time of year and day of the week. If it’s the weekend? Get there by 7am (they open at 6am), or find yourself in line, waiting, for the majority of your morning. Is it worth it? YES.
After breakfast, you’re going moving on to check out the best that Nashville has to offer – from the historic to the classic Southern!
Late Morning – Move down West End Avenue to Centennial Park for the rest of the morning. After a delicious breakfast, you might want to grab a blanket and a spot of shade, and Nashville’s iconic park is the ideal location.
Created in 1903, the 132-acre park features a to-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and a beautiful landscape perfect for enjoying the sun, relaxing, or having a picnic. You’ll want to take a tour of the Parthenon, true to Nashville’s moniker as “Athens of the South”, as it’s been central to many events in Nashville for the past 100 years.
Lunch – There’s only one place for lunch after a morning spent at Centennial Park – Elliston Place, off West End. Just up the street from the park, Elliston Place is a short but historic secondary street in Nashville that has held host to some of the city’s most famous music clubs and restaurants over the last 50 years. You’ll want to eat at Rotier’s, a Nashville tradition since 1945 that is legendary for it’s cheeseburgers and hand-made milkshakes.
If you have room left after a great burger at Rotier’s, you might want to stop in at Elliston Place Soda Shop, for the same tasty malt or ice cream float they’ve been serving since 1939!
Afternoon – This is the perfect time to see what Music Row is all about, and the center cog that runs the Nashville music scene. The first spot to hit is the iconic RCA Studio B, located in the heart of the record label district.
Built by Dan Maddox in 1957, RCA Studio B first became known as one of the cradles of the “Nashville Sound” in the 1960s, featuring artists such as Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, among countless others. It now exists as a cultural attraction and a must-see in Nashville.
While here, you’ll want to stop in at The Tin Roof, a hot-spot for happy hours among Nashville music industry veterans and celebrities. Happy Hour specials run 2pm to 7pm, all days other than Sunday, and feature $2 domestics, $3 crafts, and $4 well drinks as well as selections from their delicious food menu.
The two main roads extending down Music Row are Music Square East and Music Square West. Walking down these roads is a walk through music history, as you’ll see record labels including Sony/BMG, Warner Brothers, and Universal, as well as the major music publishing rights companies – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. In addition, dozens of artist management companies, publishing companies, and well-known recording studios make their home on “the Row”.
Night – Consider staying downtown to begin your nighttime festivities, and enjoy one of the top-rated things to do on The Row – Nashville Pedal Tavern. The “Midtown” route on this pedaling bike and drinking expedition will take you throw all of Music Row and what’s knows as Midtown Nashville, and give you an opportunity to meet locals and tourists alike. It’s an absolute blast, and features three additional routes in the Southern Broadway district (SoBro), Broadway, and the Brewery district.
You may want to return to downtown, but we recommend seeing how Elliston Place comes alive at night! Featuring established music venues like the Exit/In, this is your opportunity to see more of the contemporary side of the Nashville music scene and enjoy what the city offers in the realm of rock, metal, alternative, or even punk music.
Another thing to consider, especially if you’re a love of Classical music or the theater, like us, is the Nashville Symphony at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Acoustically incredible and esthetically beautiful, the Schermerhorn is one of the best attractions in Nashville, located in downtown near the Country Music Hall of Fame. Don’t think it’s all Bach and Baroque, however, as the Schermerhorn consistently has great acts performing with the symphony that are more familiar from the world of popular music. Some of these have included Darius Rucker, Trey Anastasio, and Jose Feliciano.
Theme – Nashville neighborhoods and districts
Morning – Wake up at a reasonable hour and head to the Edgefield District, also known colloquially as Nashville’s East End. This is the area responsible for helping put Nashville back on the map, as the once-dilapidated neighborhood has been brought back to life by chefs and restauranteurs from around the country in the past decade. Now, East End is the home to Nashville’s “hipster” class, and foodies from around the world.
You’re going to be hungry, but where to go? Our favorite is the Sky Blue Cafe, located on Fatherland St. in the Edgefield District. Opening at 7am, Sky Blue is a go-to Nashville breakfast spot that serves breakfast burritos, omelettes, and refreshing takes on Southern traditions all day. You can also work off your hangover from the night before with a Sky Blue Bloody Mary!
The East End separates itself somewhat from the country musicianship on which the city was built, and features more contemporary art and music such as the Art & Invention Gallery. Located of Woodland Street in a refurbished garage (trust us, it’s cool), the gallery features a curated and rotating collection of paintings, ceramics, jewelry, and other art.
While you’re end East Nashville, and if you’re an adventurous, outdoorsy sort, take some time to visit Shelby Bottoms Park. This is a free attraction with biking paths, walking trails, and tranquil nature that give you an idea of the beautiful setting in which Nashville lies. It’s especially beautiful in the morning, when crowds are low and it’s quite, natural, and serene.
Lunch – Our recommendation is to eat and have a few drinks in a treehouse – literally. Treehouse Nashville is exactly what it sounds like – an awesome bar and restaurant built in the trees of East Nashville. Not only is the setting incredibly cool and unique, but the food is delicious and the hand-crafted cocktails are some of the best in East Nashville.
While there are dozens of great restaurants and bars in the district, what cooler or more notable experience could you have on your last day than this?
Afternoon – Start the afternoon near the campus of Vanderbilt University, and work your way down 21st Avenue to some of the best things to do in the Nashville area. If you haven’t yet experienced the flavor of Nashville’s Hot Chicken, Hattie B’s is the place on 21st. It’s a hip, casual joint that served up the hottest fried chicken in the city, made with Nashville’s secret recipe.
Visit the Gallery of Iconic Guitars, a permanent display hosted by Belmont University, which features prized instruments from music recording lore. These include the earliest Les Paul Gibson’s and an 1887 Martin Acoustic 0-28, still with the original antique stamp denoting the firm Martin location in New York. There are dozens of similar treasures, and a must-see for any music lover heading to the Music City. While in this area, you can perhaps check out Bosco’s, a relaxed restaurant and bar which features loungy, cool jazz music unlike that which is available anywhere else in the city.
After getting lost in the 21st avenue district while having drinks, perhaps seeing a few museums or a jazz band, you’ll want to make your way back toward downtown on your final night in Nashville. There are still a few gems left to see.
Night – Do everything you can, in advance, to get tickets for a show at the Ryman Auditorium. Opening in 1892, the Ryman was the home for the Grand Ole Opry for more than 30 years, and still hosts some of the biggest acts of all genres that come through the city. It’s a beautiful music venue, conveniently downtown, and a must-visit if you want to have a truly Nashvillian experience.
Consider spending a nightcap in one of the locations in Midtown Nashville, namely Flying Saucer and Whiskey Kitchen. These are two of the hottest locations in upper Midtown, with Flying Saucer being the most established and our personal favorite in the area. Stroll in front of the more than 100 year-old Union Station, a true element of Nashville’s past, and one of the most scenic photographic opportunities at night.
From all you’ve experienced and known, pick your favorite area and party deep into the night, the way Nashville is meant to be experienced.
Make sure to work out your transportation to the airport from the hotel the day before, be either scheduling a cab or finding out the times of the shuttles. If you have an early flight, the shuttles may not be operating and cabs in Nashville can take considerable time to arrive when called last-minute.
By this time, you’ve seen the best of Nashville and all it has to offer – from the historic and treasured to the casual and raucous atmosphere the city can offer at night.