The 12 Coolest Things to Do in Nashville
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Even though I have been a city girl at heart since my first trip to New York City when I was 6, I grew up a country girl in Nashville, Tennessee.
And while I lived in Tennessee, I fucking hated it. I hated the people, I hated the close-mindedness of the South, and I could not wait to leave. Like I think I was the only one at my high school graduation who cried tears of happiness that I was finally free.
But honestly, it took me moving to New York to see through all that. I realized how, even for a small city, Nashville is dope. It has its downfalls, but every city does. So, I put together a list of my favorite spots in Nashville, because there’s more to Nashville than just country music.
1. Take a Tour of The Ryman Auditorium
Known as the birthplace of bluegrass, the Ryman has such a special place in my heart. Actually, in my apartment in Manhattan, I have a picture of the Ryman framed my bedroom. Originally opened as a church in the 1800s, it was converted into a space for performances after the Grand Ole Opry, which was a famous radio show at the time that had popular performers like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. The Ryman stage is actually where Johnny Cash met June Carter.
After the show moved, the Ryman sat basically vacant until the 80s when a huge renovation project revived the auditorium. Since, the Ryman has been praised as having some of the best acoustics of any theater in the world, and it’s honestly breathtaking.
2. Walk Down Lower Broadway
If you look at any stereotypical picture of Nashville, this is it. An extremely wide street with few cars and ten thousand neon signs all saying that their barbecue is the best. It’s really picturesque and captures the entirety of culture that is ideally Nashville. Aside from the tourists that go to Robert’s Western World and buy cowboy boots immediately upon arrival, a lot of locals go down Broadway just because the bars are open late. After seeing a game or something at the Bridgestone Arena it’s the perfect place to grab a beer.
3. Printer’s Alley
Originally an alley that was home to newspapers and publishing houses, Printer’s Alley is like this hidden gem in Nashville that you have to look to find. It’s between 3rd and 4th avenues in the heart of downtown Nashville, and there are several night clubs. Some have live jazz, others have open mic nights for traveling country singers. There are also a few “adult” entertainment spots if you know what I mean, and karaoke.
4. Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum
This is one of the things that I really think adds a lot to any trip to Nashville. The Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum is basically a place where you can go a learn about the history of Music City, the country music foundations and the rock and jazz that helped propel the city to legend status as far as music production goes.
They have really awesome and informative exhibits on Elton John, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Keith Richards. The portion of the museum that is dedicated to the Grammys is so cool too.
5. Play Dance Bar
My favorite gay bar! This is the best place to take your friends and just have a good ass time. At Play Dance Bar, they have drag shows literally every night and some southern hospitality manages to wriggle its way in. And honestly, what’s more fun than throwing dollar bills at a more glamorous and contoured version of Dolly Parton lip syncing to Britney Spears? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
6. Breakfast at the Pfunky Griddle
You know what’s so dope about this restaurant? You literally make your own pancakes. Every table at the Pfunky Griddle has a personal griddle installed in the table and the waiters bring you the batter and what ever other toppings you might want inside a pancake, like chocolate chips, bananas and a shit ton of other things. You spray the griddle, pour the batter and flip the pancakes.
It’s so much fun. One morning, a friend and I went and tried to make the biggest pancakes we could and then flip them successfully (which is much harder than you might imagine). Mine was so large I needed two spatulas, but I still flipped mine perfectly and he didn’t.
7. 12 South
Arguably one of the cutest (and my favorite) neighborhood in Nashville, 12 South is home to some of the most adorable little shops and restaurants all on one strip. One of those being “BarTaco” which has the best (literally like the best) margaritas EVER. There’s also a “Frothy Monkey” on the street which is like one of our best local coffee shop chains. And there’s a really cool guitar shop that I think is worth checking out called “Corner Music”.
Also, if you’re one of those tourists who has to have Tennessee barbecue, “Edley’s Bar-B-Que” always has a fucking line so I would assume that it’s pretty poppin’ (I’m vegan so I can’t vouch sorry).
No record shop in New York could ever top Grimey’s for me. Because there are so many record labels with offices in Nashville, a lot of the exclusive records and pre-releases get recycled into this shop which also has a space for artists to play. Like, one time I found the record company exclusive CD copy of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, like it had a sticker on it saying “Don’t reproduce or replicate as this music is unreleased.”
There’s also another Frothy Monkey inside the record shop, so sip coffee, peruse through some vintage Hendrix records and chill out. Grimey’s is for sure one of my favorite spots in Nashville.
9. 21st Street
This neighborhood is most famous for a Nashville breakfast staple “The Pancake Pantry” (seeing a theme with the Nashville pancake obsession?). Also famous for this dope dragon mural! There’s also a cute af Parisian café called “Provence Breads and Café” that’s super delicious. Also across the street from the café is another coffeehouse called “Fido” and it’s notorious for you to walk in and see any number of music execs. Take some business cards.
Down the street, there’s this awesome little store called “Pangaea” that sells the most perfect jewelry, and it’s decently affordable. Like if you want a little piece of Nashville to take with you, I suggest you go here and look at their knick-knacks and clothes.
10. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Here’s a lil change up from the stereotypical barbecue scene. Hattie B’s is a restaurant originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and down there they know how to cook chicken. You get several options for sides, and you can choose how hot and spicy you want your chicken. My sister and her friends absolutely love this place. She says it is “just poppin, and they have good portions.” And if my sister, who is a true chicken expert, says it, it has to be true.
11. The Parthenon
This is the last thing you would expect in Music City, but it’s really cool to see. The Parthenon in Centennial Park is the world’s only full scale reproduction of the real Parthenon in Athens. It even has a huge golden sculpture of Athena Parthenos inside that stands at 42 ft tall. It’s the largest indoor sculpture in the western world, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
12. The Gulch
While this might sound like more of an STD than a neighborhood, the Gulch is a really up-and-coming area in Nashville that’s close to downtown, but has it’s own complete and separate vibe. It’s where all the wannabe hipster kids from my town go when they want to be edgy because it has an Urban Outfitters. Another fun fact: Taylor Swift lives in one of the huge lofts in the Gulch above the Urban Outfitters. She’s also trying to be edgy.
There are several high-end restaurants (like Watermark, pictured) and Sambuca. It also has this super cute little grocery store called the Turnip Truck that also has a Whole Foods style hot bar. You can catch Rachel Ray or Hayden Panettiere in there on any given day.