WHAT TO DO
Nashville has exploded in recent years and for good reason. From its world famous music scene, to its one of a kind Southern cuisine and laid back hospitality, Music City is a destination that must be added to your travel plans. There is a great vibe in town which makes it almost impossible to not have a good time. Many of the places you will visit are within walking distance in and around the downtown area.
Might I suggest you start by heading down to Honky Tonk Highway, which is the row of legendary music clubs located on Lower Broadway. They are open almost all day, everyday and there is no cover charge, but be sure to fill that tip jar! It's certainly hard to beat fantastic live music for free, cheap beer and those awesome neon signs when the sun goes down. Wander in and out of the different venues, but be sure to visit the famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, The Stage and my personal favorite, Robert's Western World. At this undisputed home of traditional country music you can buy a pair of boots, dance to the music or even better, order some tasty grub from the diner style grill. While the burgers are quite popular and delicious, I recommend the $4 special - a fried bologna sandwich that comes with a bag of chips and an ice cold PBR. That's heaven y'all.
Once you get your fill down on Broadway I would visit some of the fascinating country music landmarks around town. Why not start at the "Mother Church of Country Music," the awesome Ryman Auditorium. This National Historic Landmark hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974 (today the Opry returns to the Ryman during winter) and has welcomed several legends to its stage such as Elvis, Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. Its amazing acoustics, beautiful stained glass windows and pew seating makes the Ryman a premier concert venue. Daily backstage tours are offered and you can record your own song in the Ryman recording studio. From there it's a short walk to the Johnny Cash Museum on 3rd Avenue. It is a must visit for any fan of "The Man in Black" or cool dudes in general. It features the largest collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world. The exhibits chronicle his life and provide a personal glimpse into his world. Some of the highlights include Johnny's stage costumes, guitars, photographs and handwritten lyrics to his classic hits I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues. Next head over to the massive Country Music Hall of Fame on 5th Avenue. Whether you're a country music fan or not, it is a well documented look into the world and popularity of country music. On display are some of Elvis Presley's impressive Cadillacs and Hank Williams' classic suits. The world's largest popular music museum includes tons of exhibits from timelines that trace its musical roots to computer touch screens that access recordings and photos from the enormous archives. It is well worth adding the self guided audio tour and more importantly, the historic RCA Studio B tour on Music Row which is a short bus ride away. This famous recording studio is where Elvis recorded over 200 songs. Some other notable hitmakers to come through its doors include Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and the Everly Brothers. RCA Studio B is known for developing "The Nashville Sound."
After you've finished the country music landmarks tour make your way back down to 3rd Avenue (across from the Johnny Cash Museum) for a tasty treat called the Goo Goo Cluster at the Goo Goo Shop. The disk shaped candy bar created in 1912 in Nashville contains marshmallow nougat, caramel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate. Other variations include pecans and peanut butter. Once you have satisfied your sweet tooth, head over to Third Man Records on 7th Avenue. This is musician Jack White's boutique record shop and novelty lounge. There is an impressive vinyl selection and you can even record yourself on vinyl ($15) which is pretty cool. If you're in the mood for some rock and roll music check out the legendary Exit/In on Elliston Place. It was where Jimmy Buffet got his start and everyone from Johnny Cash to Talking Heads have graced the stage. Finally, you might enjoy a stroll through the campus of Nashville's Vanderbilt University in the West End area or better yet, check out the Parthenon in Centennial Park (does not require a 15 hour flight). This is a full scale replica of the original monument in Athens. Built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, its centerpiece is a huge statue of the goddess Athena.
WHERE TO EAT
Nashville has long been known for its famed music scene and now it's also being recognized for its culinary scene. From casual Southern fare to elegant cuisine, Nashville has it all. A fun place to start would be at Arnold's Country Kitchen on 8th Avenue South. Open Monday - Friday from 1030am to 245pm, this home cooking cafeteria style institution has been serving up goodness for more than 30 years. Famous for its "Meat & 3" menu where you choose a meat and three sides, a sweet tea to drink all for around $10, there's no wonder why Arnold's draws a serious crowd. Grab a tray, get in line and drool over the chicken and dumplings, ham, roast beef, fried green tomatoes and cornbread. Be sure to save room for the homemade pies - the pecan and chocolate meringue are ridiculous. Down the street on Gleaves Street is Peg Leg Porker, which serves old school Memphis style barbecue. It has tasty smoked pork ribs and pulled pork, with a full bar and a handful of local beers on tap. Grab a bunch of wet wipes and dive in. Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint on 4th Avenue South is also excellent.
Staying local with what is probably Nashville's most famous specialty, you cannot leave Music City without a taste of hot chicken. It's fried chicken breaded and coated with spices, typically heavy on the cayenne. Served with some white bread, pickles and choice of sides, it is the perfect lunchtime meal. Several places in town do hot chicken, but the 2 best in my opinion are Prince's on Ewing Drive (outside of town) and Hattie B's on 19th Street South. If you decide to make the trip out to Prince's do yourself a favor and avoid the "XXXHot" level, it will burn a hole in your belly. As far as Hattie B's, the "Shut the Cluck Up!" is to be avoided. You have been warned.
For finer dining and what might be the 2 best restaurants in town, I highly recommend Husk on Rutledge Street as well as Rolf and Daughters on Taylor Street. Set in a Victorian house overlooking downtown, Husk provides an authentic Southern food experience. Chef Sean Brock showcases regional foods with traditional preparations and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Try the charcuterie plate with cheddar biscuits or the shrimp and grits. They have an extensive whiskey list and the hand crafted cocktails pair well, try the Robotic Reaction. Located in the Germantown neighborhood is the outstanding Rolf and Daughters. Run by chef Philip Krajeck, this foodie joint serves up delicious seasonal European inspired fare. Pretty much everything on the menu is excellent and exciting - for example the beef chuck steak and sausage, lettuce pesto, snap beans and horseradish. Reservations are recommended, but there are communal tables for walk ins and a bar that does inventive cocktails. Other restaurants that are worth a visit include Etch on Demonbreun Street, Bastion on Houston Street and Adele's on McGavock Street.
I saved the best for last. To conclude your Nashville culinary experience, do yourself a favor and take the 20 minute uber ride out to Highway 100 and the Loveless Cafe. Officially declared a Nashville restaurant institution, this 1950's roadhouse is famous for its hot biscuits with homemade preserves, country ham and Southern fried chicken. It is open 7 days a week and offers an all day breakfast menu. After you do some serious damage at the Cafe, wander around the grounds and visit the quaint retail shops that occupy the former motel rooms - the Hams & Jams Country Market and the Lil' Biscuits Gift Shop.
WHERE TO STAY
Nashville has 2 superb hotels that I highly recommend. They both offer a traditional Southern experience. The first is The Hermitage, a historic hotel right downtown on 6th Avenue. Opened in 1910, you feel like you're in a palace when entering the beautiful beaux arts lobby. Gents be sure to pop in to the original art deco men's room, dating back to the 1930's. There is an excellent on site cocktail lounge called Oak Bar that has some fantastic bourbon. As one of Nashville's leading hotels, it offers many amenities such as upscale rooms with plush beds and a superb spa.
A second option is Union Station Hotel, a former 19th century train station that's within walking distance of the honky tonks on Broadway. This soaring Romanesque gray stone castle has a majestic lobby with marble floors and a stained glass ceiling. Enjoy signature cocktails and award winning cuisine at Prime 108 Lounge and Restaurant. The accommodations offer unique layouts in every room and upscale amenities from LCD flat screen televisions to deep soaking bathtubs. Total comfort and Southern hospitality in the great city of Nashville.