There are certain places in every city that locals love to brag about. These are the spots that are most recommended to people who want to make the most of their visit to a new destination. In Nashville, these must-see attractions reflect the artistic, historic and classically Southern vibe the city emulates. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Nashvillian who didn’t have amazing things to say about each and every one of these places.
Grand Ole Opry
Concert Hall, Music Venue
The world-famous Opry started as a radio broadcast in 1925. Once housed at the Ryman Auditorium, it took up residence at the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. Some of the Opry’s first performers were Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb, who helped the venue earn the name of the “country’s most famous stage.” It currently hosts shows featuring country music legends as well as contemporary artists; they are all broadcast on Nashville’s 650 AM WSM, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and on opry.com.
With more than 15 flavor options for pancakes, this breakfast joint has been a Nashville staple since 1961. If pancakes aren’t your thing, try the French toast, hash browns or eggs. The full menu is served all day and even features a “create your own omelet” option. The restaurant is even popular among celebrities. When country singer Keith Urban visits, he orders the Caribbean Pancakes. Just be sure to check the restaurant’s online “pancake cam” before you go, as the line to get in is sometimes halfway down the block.
Formerly referred to as just RCA Studios, this is one of the oldest and most prestigious music studios in Nashville. Gaining wide popularity in the 1960s, RCA Studios recorded huge artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and several others. Although most of the artists functioned with the Nashville country sound, there are artists like Jerry Byrd who recorded rock & roll and alternative rock songs at the facility. It operates under the control of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and its preservation is made possible by the Mike Curb Family Foundation, but it remains one of the city’s gatekeepers to the Nashville sound.
Also known as the Bicentennial Mall, this landmark sits in downtown Nashville, northwest of the Tennessee state capitol building. Opened in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Tennessee’s statehood, the 19-acre park includes a 200-foot (61-meter) granite map of the state, a World War II Memorial, a walkway featuring the 95 counties of Tennessee and a 2,000-seat amphitheater. There are also 31 fountains representing the major rivers in Tennessee and a 95-bell carillon. Local rangers sometimes reenact characters in Tennessee’s history, like Davy Crockett or infamous war soldiers, at the park.
Not only is the Wildhorse one of the best places to hear live music in Nashville, it’s also a great place to sign up for free line-dancing lessons. With 66,000 square feet and three stories of seating and entertainment, you won’t be bored at The Wildhorse. The venue hosts events large and small, showcasing a range of local artists and national touring ones. Inside is a gift shop, as well as a bar and restaurant. For extra kicks, you can snap a photo with one of the many horse statues while you wait for the biggest names in music to hit the stage.
With more than 2.5 million artifacts, this museum is fittingly called the “Smithsonian of country music.” It holds hundreds of historical musical instruments like Earl Scruggs’ banjo, thousands of clothing items worn by country artists, including the dress Carrie Underwood wore when she won American Idol and more than 30,000 moving images on film, including Glen Campbell narrating the history of country music. The museum also hosts weekly instrument demonstrations and has a songwriting program for schools called Words & Music. In addition to the exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you’ll find the 776-seat CMA Theater, the 213-seat Ford Theater and the Taylor Swift Education Center. All of these are meant to foster the goal of the museum, which is to “collect, preserve and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music.”
In the city of Hermitage is the former home of President Andrew Jackson. The home, built between 1819 and 1821 by local carpenters, was originally a brick, Federal-style house. It had eight rooms, nine fireplaces, a basement summer kitchen and was decorated with French wallpaper. After the death of his wife Rachel, Jackson decided to bury her in the garden on the property since it was her favorite place. Today, both Andrew and Rachel are laid to rest on the grounds. Tours of the property are offered every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The true testament of Nashville’s community spirit can be found in the 12 South neighborhood. This masterpiece found on the building that houses 12 South Dental Studio is the work of DCXV artist Adrien Saporiti. But it’s not just locals who are proud of the mural. Visitors from all over the world have made this a popular spot for snapping photos. In 2017, the mural was vandalized with black tar. Not allowing a setback to put a dent in his hard work, Saporiti restored the mural to its original condition, and its glory can still be seen today.
Search for “hot chicken” online and you’ll find that this spicy dish is also referred to as “Nashville hot chicken.” In other words, it’s a local specialty, and many Nashville residents have iron-clad beliefs about where to find the best in town. While there are many foolproof options across the city, there is perhaps no better place to start than Nashville’s original hot chicken joint. This eatery was the first to sell the dish in Nashville and is still a favorite with locals today. Before you go, however, be warned: this chicken is hot. First-timers should start with the mild or medium.
What started as the Union Gospel Tabernacle under the direction of Nashville businessman Thomas G. Ryman is now the a live-music venue that was named to honor its founder. In 1943, the Grand Ole Opry found a home at the Ryman, where it took residence for nearly 31 years. The live radio and television show featured guests and performers like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. Now a national historic landmark, the Ryman is known as the “Mother Church” of country music and continues to host legendary musical performances by artists across several genres.