Let’s get one thing out of the way first when it comes to Nashville: You don’t have to be a country music fan. It helps, of course, but there’s plenty to do outside of the music that this vibrant and exciting city is known for.
That said, country is often misunderstood and misrepresented, so there’s every chance that a dash of contemporary country during a Nashville visit will have you converted by the time you leave.
Nashville is unlikely to be your primary destination on a USA visit but given it’s just a two hour flight from New York, it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
Sure, it’s a bustling and vibrant city – a real party town – but it’s also a great representation of a quieter America, particularly if you stay in the suburbs slightly out of the city (which is not such a bad idea – Uber and Lyft are sensational in America and it’s a great way to get around cost effectively).
So, let’s get a few ‘must do’ things out of the way first.
Given this is ‘music city’, you cannot take a trip here without checking out a few of the things that helped Nashville earn its famous moniker.
A trip to the Grand Ole Opry is a must – book tickets in advance, and take note the famous venue is slightly out of the main city (it’s located at Opryland – which is an incredible resort and mall that is definitely worth seeing in its own right). During the winter months and Christmas holiday period, the Opry – a country music radio program that is performed live in front of an audience – moves to the Ryman, its original home.
A visit to the Bluebird Cafe should also be on your list – it’s where some of the biggest names in music, including Taylor Swift, were first noticed. Again, it’s a little out of the main city. You can book tickets in advance, but mostly you’ll be able to get in by lining up an hour or so before showtime.
The real party in Nashville is on Broadway – it reminds you of Las Vegas on a smaller and much less over-the-top scale. There’s almost as many bars as people, from the larger venues that carry the names of some of country’s biggest stars including Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, through to small ‘honky tonk’ bars that are full of live music everywhere you turn. Often, the same venue will have three live bands running at once across different levels, providing something for everyone.
On a quieter day – or perhaps when you’re nursing a hangover, which is pretty much guaranteed at least once in Nashville – head to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which provides an amazing historical look at the music that made Nashville famous. There’s no need for the guided or audio tours, everything is very well presented and a self-guided visit is recommended.
Food… well, there’s plenty of it – just remember you’ll probably have to loosen your belt. Give the Pancake Pantry a try, but be prepared to line up for at least half an hour. Martin’s BBQ Joint was a personal highlight – it may present like an ordinary dive bar but the food is nothing short of incredible.
One thing you’ll discover about Nashville is how nice the people are – particularly if you’ve visited Los Angeles and New York along the way and experienced the often brash American attitude. Nashville has a much nicer, slower feel about it – while still being a big city.
Nashville is a must-visit if you’re in America, even for a few days. If you like country music, you’ll be in heaven. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll be converted by the time you leave – cowboy hat and all.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.