‘Music City’, the ‘Athens of the South’, the ‘Country Music Capital’; however you describe her, Nashville is the undisputed pride of Tennessee. Attracting hopeful newcomers and bonafide legends alike, this is the city where the soundtracks of generations were written and recorded. Historic deals were made over glasses of Tennessee whiskey, scribbled on napkins in extravagant venues that still stand today. In honour of International Country Music Day, we’ll take you through the best attractions and activities you can experience in 48 hours in Nashville, the centre of all things country music.
Tennessee State Museum
There’s no better way to begin your 48 hours in Nashville than immersing yourself in all things Tennessee at the State Museum. Located right at the foot of Capitol Hill, the museum spans three storeys with 60,000 square feet dedicated to the exhibitions alone. Take a stroll through the “Tennessee Time Tunnel” where you can experience and interact with the permanent exhibits, a state-of-the-art digital learning centre, and the hands-on children’s gallery. Peruse artefacts of state history from the First Peoples, and immerse yourself in Tennessee’s political past from the Civil War to the Jackson era. With no admission charge to visitors, the Tennessee State Museum is the ideal destination to encounter the captivating displays of art, textiles, furniture and photographs that makeup the Volunteer State.
Country Music Hall of Fame
Now that you’re familiar with the rich history of the city, take a deep dive into the essence of Nashville’s thriving culture at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Sprawling across a staggering 350,000 square feet, it has been referred to as “the Smithsonian of country music”, boasting world-class galleries, 776 seat CMA theatre, education classrooms, extensive archival storage and retail spaces. Their core exhibit, ‘Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music’, is an historical timeline featuring photographs, artefacts, text panels, audio recordings, vintage video and interactive touch screens. In addition to the vast displays, the institution hosts live songwriter sessions, instrument demonstrations, artist residencies, film and documentary screenings, youth programs and many more opportunities for visitors to participate. There may be countless things to see in Nashville, but the Country Music Hall of Fame is a destination not to be missed.
RCA STUDIO B
Built in 1957, the illustrious RCA Studio B is recognised as one of the “cradles of Nashville Sound”. This recording space was favoured by country music icons including Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, and far too many more to list. Studio B alone is responsible for the production of over 35,000 legendary songs. Since its acquisition by the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002, it has been preserved as a cultural attraction and transformed into a classroom for aspiring audio technicians. Take your curiosity a step further with the Johnny Cash experience, and gain insights into the life and music of Johnny Cash during a private performance of original Cash tunes with one of Johnny’s family members.
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After your comprehensive introduction to the foundations of the country music capital, you’ll likely be hankering to taste-test some succulent, Southern-fried soul food. Some of the city’s specialties include mouth-watering hot chicken, deliciously tender Tennessee barbecue, and homestyle buttermilk biscuits and gravy. The Row Kitchen and Pub has been serving local singers and songwriters for over 30 years, with all the essential menu items available and live music to boot. Or if you’re in the mood for a little farm-to-fork, The Farm House serves southern-style entrees and comfort cuisines using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Don’t be afraid to ask around for recommendations – a hearty meal is the cornerstone of Southern hospitality!
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Old Town Trolley Tour
One of the best ways to experience the best of Nashville at your own pace is to take a trip on one of the Old Town Trolley Tours. You can purchase a pass on a roaming fleet of trolley buses that will take you to the best destinations around the city. Your pass allows you to hop-on and hop-off all day long at over 100 points of interest, which will be pointed out by highly-trained and knowledgeable local guides during their live narration. If a stop catches your curious eye, you can disembark and explore to your heart’s content – when you’re ready to move on, another trolley will be by to collect you in no time at all!
As the afternoon slips into early evening, you’ll hear dozens of venues coming alive with the sultry sounds of country, bluegrass, and folk music on the renowned lower Broadway. Since Jimmie Rodgers began singing in honky-tonks back in the 1930s, the downtown strip has attracted aspiring singer/songwriters to hone their craft and entertain crowds in the many bars and restaurants. Pay a visit to Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop (trading since 1947), or swing by Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – you won’t miss its eye-catching purple exterior. This is the beating heart of the country music scene and getting in amongst the thriving nightlife is one of the most memorable things to do in Nashville.
Nashville Farmers Market
When you embark on day two of your 48 hours in Nashville, you’ll be craving a satisfying breakfast (especially if you danced away the hours at the Honky-tonk Highway the night before)! Nashville Farmers Market has been a staple of the city since its establishment in the early 1800s and is where farmers, artisans, small businesses and nonprofits can deal directly with their patrons. The marketplace consists of two covered open-air sheds, a greenhouse, 24,000 sq. ft garden centre, and an international food court with more than two dozen shops and eateries. Go for an early wander around the diverse selection of stalls to build up your appetite before you make your choice!
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The historic Ryman Auditorium is often referred to by its nickname, “Mother Church of Country Music”; for those who have worshipped here, it is a well-deserved moniker. This is the original site of the widely acclaimed Grand Ole Opry, but its conception goes back to the turn of the 20th century, when it began as an evangelical tent revival. During the period it hosted the Ole Opry (1946-1974), it was known as “Carnegie of the South” – likely due to its status as the premier performance space for country music legends and the best of Nashville talent.
Discover the site where bluegrass was born; where Johnny Cash met June Carter; where immortal names made their mark (the likes of Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams). Take a tour behind the scenes, and come to know why the Ryman is revered to this day as one of the best performance halls in the world.
Centennial Park (The Parthenon)
Take a step away from the flashy grandeur of the city to take respite in a natural setting – and to experience grandeur of another kind that you may not expect to encounter amongst the things to see in Nashville.
Centennial Park stretches over 132 acres of green serenity surrounding Lake Watauga. While the park is decorated with a sunken meditation garden, wartime memorabilia and outdoor performance spaces, it is the great tribute to ancient Greece that draws the eye. The full-scale replica of the Parthenon was completed in the 1930s as a tribute to the many education institutions based in the city, which had earned Nashville the title of “Athens of the South”. It exhibits both permanent and loaned works of art, centred around 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century artists, as well as a colossal 42ft statue of the Greek goddess Athena (the tallest indoor statue in the Western hemisphere).
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Nearest Green Distillery
A worthy bucket list of things to do in Nashville would not be complete without a visit to a premier Tennessee whiskey distillery. Make the most of your 48 hours in Nashville with a visit the the Nearest Green Distillery.
When the truly discerning whiskey connoisseur arrives at Nearest Green Distillery, they will uncover the little known history of African-American master distiller Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green; a man so expert in his craft, he personally taught Jack Daniels how to distil whiskey. While Nearest didn’t achieve worldwide recognition in his lifetime, his story and unique process are carried on in this local, minority-led business to produce some of the finest award-winning whiskey in the world. Tours, retail and a restaurant/bar operate on the weekends, so be sure to take a sample while you have the chance.
Grand Ole Opry
As your 48 hours in Nashville draws to a close, make pilgrimage to the city’s number one attraction, the mouthpiece of country music heard around the world: the current site of the Grand Ole Opry.
The broadcast performance started 95 years ago as a 1 hour radio barn dance, and has since grown to be the world’s longest running broadcast of its kind – in addition to its standing slot on WSM Radio, it’s viewed on Circle TV across the globe. When the show was moved from Ryman’s Auditorium to its current 4,372 seat purpose-built venue in 1974, a 6ft circle of hardwood was taken from the original site and placed centre-stage at the new Opry House to preserve its heritage. The venue continues to showcase a mix of country legends and chart toppers, and is revered as a milestone for every country artist. A tour of the Opry House will reveal exclusive photos of Opry history, 18 uniquely-themed dressing rooms, a glimpse of the artist entrance, and perhaps even the opportunity to stand on the magnificent stage. If you are lucky enough to attend a show at the Grand Ole Opry, you will be witnessing history in the making.
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Did we miss any essential stops in Music City? Let us know in the comments! If our guide on how to spend 48 hours in Nashville has you reaching for your barn-dance boots, scoot over to our website to experience real southern hospitality with Trafalgar.