Amazing Things to See and Do in Downtown Nashville

From art and history to dining and shopping, downtown Nashville has a host of great things to see and do
From art and history to dining and shopping, downtown Nashville has a host of great things to see and do
Photo of Daisy Dobson
10 June 2020

Explore Downtown Nashville and delight in historic buildings, cool art galleries and museums – as well as intimate music venues and brilliant shopping experiences. Everyone is catered for in Nashville, and a good time guaranteed for all. Especially country music fans! We’ve asked our local insiders to come up with their recommendations of the places you really shouldn’t miss.

Listen to singer/songwriters at the Bluebird Cafe

Cafe, American, Vegetarian
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Dylan LeBlanc’s performance during AMERICANAFEST is just one of the events that took place at The Bluebird Cafe in 2019 | © Erika Goldring / Getty Images
A Nashville favorite as far as music venues go, the Bluebird Cafe offers an intimate and welcoming 90-seat setting to enjoy live local music as well as big-hitting names. It has an in-the-round layout, so singer/songwriters perform together in the middle, tell stories and accompany each other. A typical night consists of three or four taking turns to perform and accompany instrumentally and with vocal harmonies. Recommended by local insider Cristy Wicks

Tennessee State Museum

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Johnny Cash Museum
Johnny Cash Museum | © nadine3112/Flickr
Three floors of art exhibits make up the Tennessee State Museum: a veritable treasure trove of the state’s history. Some of the displays include Tennessee-made furniture, silver, weapons and quilts. There are also reproductions of an 18th-century print shop, a pioneer cabin and an antebellum parlor. One of the original paintings from 1817 can still be viewed today. The Military Museum, a special branch across the street in the War Memorial Building, showcases America’s overseas conflicts, including the Spanish-American War and World War II. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

View the Nashville skyline from the pedestrian bridge

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No trip to Nashville is complete without a walk over the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge. Completed in 1909, it boasts incredible views of the Tennessee capital’s skyline and the Cumberland River – perfect for getting that landscape shot for the gram. Easily reached from Downtown and stretching over to East Nashville, it makes for a delightful stroll any time of day. Recommended by local insider Chaney Curd

Live on the Green

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Nashville says farewell to the summer season in style with a free festival, usually in August, boasting big-name headliners and emerging local acts. Expect the usual fun festival fodder with food trucks, radio stations, local breweries and market stalls enticing you. Previous festivals have seen Sheryl Crow, Alabama Shakes and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals grace the stage of Public Square Park. Loud, enthusiastic and good fun, this is quintessential Nashville. The infamous Music City Mayhem battle of the bands is a must-see. Recommended by local insider Juliette Lefaivre

Country Music Hall of Fame

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Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville | ©Brent Moore/Flickr
With more than 2m exhibits from legends such as Johnny Cash, as well as displays honoring modern artists such as Carrie Underwood, the Country Music Hall of Fame is sure to have something for country music fans. While this spot is well known in Nashville, the museum hosts several rotating events suitable for all the family, including innovative programs and songwriting camps. The Taylor Swift Education Center has several educational programs available that allow children to experience the museum hands-on. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Hatch Show Print Block Party

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Hatch Show Print has been a working letterpress print shop since 1879, creating fabulous custom designs and posters for the music, film and advertising industry. Join experts on a print journey at a block party and learn how to use inks and blocks to create your own design. Your design becomes everlasting as you print it on a tote, tea towel or T-shirt to take home. All levels of artistry welcome, from the budding to the experienced. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Axe throwing at the REC Room

Bar, American, $$$
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Axe throwing first came about in prehistoric times, and now the activity comes with beers and friends as a side order. The REC Room, smack bang in the middle of Downtown, boasts a fully-fledged axe-throwing arena in the bar, where $20 gets you an hour of cathartic fun with a trained coach teaching you and your group the best way to wield the chopper. Adults only, understandably, and don’t drink your beers before you throw! Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

NashTrash Tours

Music Venue
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If you fancy your traditional city tour with a big dollop of adult humor, fun and a giant pink bus, then the NashTrash Tour is for you. Often booked months in advance, it offers a range of experiences, from the more risqué Jugg Sisters Original Tour, starring Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay Jugg dishing the dirt on your favorite country-music stars, to Pip’s Music Row Confidential, which is slightly more conservative but still very much a NashTrash production. Expect improv comedy and audience participation. This is not your typical tour. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Ryman Auditorium

Concert Hall, Music Venue
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Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee
© Dave Newman / Alamy Stock Photo
Hailed as the Mother Church of country music, the Ryman is a building steeped in history and music, making it top of the to-do list when in Nashville. Snag yourself a ticket to a show, take a tour backstage or record your own song in the Air Castle Studio. Pitch-perfect acoustics and without a bad seat in the house, the Ryman Auditorium is the kind of venue that makes the stars on stage cry. It’s truly special. Recommended by local insider Cristy Wicks

Brunch and bowling at Pinewood Social

Bar, Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-free, Beer, Wine, Fast Food, $$$
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Brunch and bowling? Dreams really can come true at Pinewood Social in Nashville. Grab a booth and dive into tater tots with shaved parmesan and paprika aioli before strapping on your shoes and heading to the vintage bowling alley. With modern, eccentric decor and attentive staff, it’s quite the combination to start a fun-filled day. As you can imagine, this is a popular one so it’s best to book in advance. Recommended by local inside Chaney Curd

Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

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Inside Bridgestone Arena is where you’ll find this dedication to Tennessee’s sporting heroes. Featuring sportspeople from football, basketball, baseball, golf and more, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame celebrates not just athletes, but coaches, writers and administrators that have made an impact. Kids will love dressing up as a football or hockey player in the dress-up area. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Nashville Symphony

Concert Hall
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The Nashville Symphony is home to the United States’ most prolific orchestra, with 83 talented musicians performing contemporary American orchestral music. The building is considered to be one of the world’s finest acoustical venues, and is beautiful to boot. Bring the whole family along to be inspired and moved by the majestic performances held here. The classical, pop and jazz performances are an experience like no other. A date-night package is available including drinks and dinner for two. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Backstage Nashville

Music Venue
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Storytelling meets song at this unique show. It’s a chance to meet the songwriters of your favorite hits, hear them performed and delight in the stories around them. Intimate and homely, with comfy leather sofas, this is where you can get up close and personal with the stars of the show. Two performances a week are hosted by both celebrated and up-and-coming local songwriters performing country music songs for you. You’re in safe hands at Backstage Nashville and good times are guaranteed. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Nashville Public Library

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As Einstein once said “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library,” and now you do. Nashville Public Library is a magnificent homage to the books it houses, with painted ceilings, dramatic chandeliers and spectacular views of Church Square Park. Alongside its trove of books, you’ll find exhibits and murals depicting Nashville history. On the second floor, discover the courtyard, which is a peaceful oasis in which to read and relax. The children’s section delights with art exhibitions and puppet shows. Recommended by local insider Erica Commisso

Behind the Bar at Goo Goo Cluster

Dessert Shop, Dessert, American
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Milk chocolate, marshmallow nougat, caramel and peanuts? If this sounds familiar you already know about Nashville’s most famous candy bar. The Goo Goo Cluster was created in 1912 and has held the hearts of Music City ever since. The walls of the Nashville shop are decorated with the history of this famous sweet and how it was developed to be the much-loved treat it is today. Learn how to make the treats yourself in this family-friendly class. Sweet tooths rejoice – you’ll also decorate brownies and sample milkshakes and sundaes. And if you hit a sugar crash there’s a coffee shop onsite. Recommended by local insider Leena Kollar

Tennessee State Capitol

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With guided tours and exquisite architecture designed by William Strickland, The Tennessee State Capitol is not to be missed when you’re exploring Downtown Nashville. On sight, you’ll find statues honoring Sam Davis, Sgt. Alvin York, and Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson. On the capitol grounds, you’ll also be able to visit the tombstones of President James K Polk and his wife.

The Listening Room Cafe

Music Venue
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The Listening Room Cafe is the local Downtown venue to hear Nashville artists perform. It serves tasty food such as Lemon Rosemary Fried Catfish with a garnish of apple and Waldorf slaw, and the Blues burger with blue cheese crumbles, bacon and veggies; and the signature sweet + spicy pickles on a brioche bun. They also serve fancy cocktails such as So Hot Right Now with Maker’s 46 Kentucky bourbon, raw sugar bitters and citrus peels served hot; and the Seedling with Corsair gin, cucumber, lime, jalapeno, cilantro and black pepper. Events at this venue include the Song Suffragettes every Monday night, where female artists and bands get to perform, as well as the Movement every Tuesday, which draws the best musicians and singers around Nashville to their stage.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Art Gallery
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With fantastic exhibits including Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Masterpiece Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti, Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in Art and Shinique Smith: Wonder and Rainbows, there’s always something to catch the eye and imagination at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. As a non-profit art-exhibition center, this 2,000sqm (24,000sqft) gallery space presents the finest visual local, state and regional art, as well as national and international art exhibitions.

Carl Van Vechten Gallery

Art Gallery
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Located in a 19th-century Victorian building on the campus of Fisk University, the gallery was established in 1949 when American painter Georgia O’Keeffe donated the collection of works that now makes up Alfred Stieglitz Collection, a permanent exhibit of the gallery. Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Elizabeth Catlett are just a few artists represented in the permanent collection of the Carl Van Vechten Gallery. Current exhibitions include American Art, 1940-2000.

Nashville Farmers’ Market

Farmers' Market, Market, Pub, Farm Shop, American, Street Food
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Nashville Market
Nashville Market | Courtesy of Nashville Farmers Market
Nashville Farmers’ Market attracts a variety of vendors including producers and artisans and it takes place year round. You’ll find in the Farm Sheds local products such as Galena Garlic Company seasonings, Lost River Creamery cheeses and Foggy Hallow Farm Eggs. The market also attracts plenty of artisans and vendors selling specialty items including Josie’s Teas, oils and soaps from Jasmine Fashion and unique household goods from One Man, One Garage.

This article is a rewrite of an original feature by Sarah Lantz

These recommendations were updated on June 10, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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