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Maybe you’re about to visit Nashville for the very first time, or you’re a regular hoping to hit all of the major Nashville landmarks in one fell swoop. No matter your level of familiarity with Music City, read below for a guide to how to spend one day in Nashville, and experience both the city’s quintessential attractions and some of its hidden gems in the process.
Loveless Cafe has been a Nashville staple since Lon and Annie Loveless opened the doors of their home to serve fried chicken and biscuits to hungry travelers in 1951. Today, visitors and locals alike brave hour-plus wait times to snag a table at this beloved southern eatery and to snap photographs of the retro neon ‘Loveless’ sign out front. Going early, however, will reduce the risk that you’ll face a long wait, and you’ll certainly need all of the sustenance that Loveless’ famous flaky biscuits can offer for the long day of Nashville sightseeing ahead of you.
Once you’ve had your fill of southern breakfast fare, make your way back downtown for a morning of immersion into Nashville’s rich music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame. While this may be a slightly more touristy attraction, first-time visitors to Nashville will be especially bowled over by the wide range of in-depth exhibits highlighting everything from the early roots of country music to the careers of contemporary country stars such as Blake Shelton and the Zac Brown Band. (And if you’re interested in extending your visit to the museum, enjoy a guided tour of historic recording studio RCA Studio B or stop by the one-of-a-kind Hatch Show Print, the letterpress shop located in the lobby of the museum.)
From the Country Music Hall of Fame, walk less than half a mile to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (colloquially known in Nashville as simply the ‘Pedestrian Bridge’). This bridge spans the Cumberland River and is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the entire country. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better view of the Nashville skyline anywhere.
If this is your first visit to Nashville, you may not be familiar with ‘hot chicken,’ a staple Nashville dish consisting of chicken that has been marinated, fried, and coated with spicy sauce. While the basic recipe is fairly consistent across town, locals have strong opinions about this speciality and and fierce loyalties to specific joints. Whether you’ve never heard of hot chicken or you already have a go-to for your hot chicken fix, a visit to Prince’s is a must for your day in Nashville, as this is the very joint that is credited with inventing the dish in the first place. Before you go, you should know a few things: firstly, Prince’s is cash-only, so be sure to stop by an ATM. Secondly, this chicken is hot, so if you’ve never had hot chicken before, consider choosing mild or medium. And lastly, prepare to wait in line, as this tiny no-frills joint is consistently busy.
Situated just a few miles southwest of downtown Nashville is one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Nashville (and perhaps Tennessee writ large): a full-scale replica of the ancient Greek Parthenon, which sits atop the grassy lawn of Nashville’s Centennial Park. The only such replica to exist in the entire world, this Parthenon is built to reflect every detail of the original, down to the 42-foot Athena statue inside. You have to purchase a ticket to the museum located inside the Parthenon to see Athena (and the numerous other exhibits detailing Tennessee’s rich history), but entry for adults costs just six dollars per person. Even if you don’t end up visiting the museum, however, by merely spending an hour or two strolling Centennial Park, you’ll nonetheless garner an appreciation for the Parthenon’s breath-taking accuracy.
After a busy day of sightseeing, you’re bound to be feeling heavy-limbed and caffeine deprived, so head over to J & J’s Market, a hidden gem of a coffee shop located in Nashville’s bustling Midtown neighborhood. Don’t let the sign outside, or the grocery shop exterior, fool you: located inside this unassuming white brick building is one of the most unpretentious and comforting coffee shops in a city saturated with high-end coffee and tea offerings. Sip a cup of loose leaf tea (easily the best selection in Nashville), sample one of the shop’s cleverly-named espresso drinks (‘Studying Nietzsche,’ for example), or try one of the local craft beers on tap while you sink back into a mismatched arm chair and allow yourself a moment of necessary rest before you head back out for the rest of your jam-packed Nashville day.
Maybe you’ve become enamored with the (fictional) representation of the legendary Bluebird Café by watching the (recently saved) soap-opera-slash-drama Nashville, or maybe you’ve never seen a live singer/songwriter performance before. Either way, get the most of your day in Music City by experiencing firsthand the venue that launched many successful artists (such as Garth Brooks, to name just one of many examples). This tiny joint is dedicated to providing an intimate listening experience, and tickets sell out fast, so be sure to plan in advance by reserving your seat when tickets go on sale at 8AM one week before showtime.
If you’re not yet too exhausted by your day, take advantage of Nashville’s plethora of diverse nightlife options before your day draws to an official close. If you’re searching for a relaxed but upscale place to grab a speciality craft cocktail, stop by the popular speakeasy-style Patterson House; if you’re searching for something a bit more dive-y and off the beaten path, grab a beer at East Nashville’s Mickey’s Tavern or test your dart skills at The Villager Tavern. And if you really want to get the full Nashville tourist experience, head down to Broadway and stop by a honky tonk or two for a one-of-a-kind night. (For those whose ideal night doesn’t involve drinking, check out the Belcourt, Nashville’s premier independent cinema, which often hosts midnight screenings of classic and contemporary films).