Downtown Nashville | Attractions and Things to Do
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In the past few years Nashville, TN has exploded and no doubt everyone wants in on the fun. Music City, as it is called, is brimming with country music venues, boisterous bars, excellent restaurants, and of course the famous musicians who call this laid-back city their home. The creative energy of Nashville beckons you everywhere you go, and you can’t help but feel the cool in the air. We loved walking around this city, and being tourists, Downtown Nashville was a great place to start.
Downtown Nashville is where you will find Broadway and its bright lights, with bar after bar, club after club, full of aspiring musicians playing their songs all day and all night. The famed Ryman Auditorium is in Downtown Nashville, as is the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Bridgestone Arena, The Johnny Cash Museum, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Frist Art Museum, and the Musicians Hall of Fame. The Downtown Nashville attractions are an interesting mix of the arts, culture, and rowdy late-night venues!
Sure, Downtown Nashville is filled with tourists and not many locals, but you have to visit this neighborhood to take in the vibe and the history of the city. The attractions may be touristy, but for a reason. This is where Johnny Cash and June Carter first met, where famous musicians today got found and plucked off of Broadway, where ambitious souls play their tunes in hopes of getting discovered.
In walking around Nashville Downtown, you will come across western boots stores, souvenir stores, trendy restaurants, all mixed in with the many bars and clubs and music blasting in the distance. You will see bachelorette parties taking to the streets, party bikes cruising around, groups of party-goers ready to take on Broadway. Nashville, especially Nashville Downtown, is one big party. There’s a reason people call it Nash-Vegas! So if that’s not your scene, you’ve been forewarned. But I’m telling you – you’ll probably love it. The energy is amazing, and the people are a blast. There may not be a city with nicer people than in Nashville.
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Downtown Nashville – Fun 1 Day Itinerary
Below I’m going to outline the walking itinerary my family and I did for a day because I think it’s a great way to see Nashville Downtown. I’ll then supplement it with other popular attractions at the end, so that we have you covered!
We stayed at the Nashville Renaissance, which is pretty much in the heart of Downtown Nashville. From our hotel we walked to Broadway, the main street full of Honky Tonk venues. If you’re looking for Nashville’s Honly Tonk scene, Broadway is the place. Let’s just say we were there in the morning (of course followed later by some late nights), and the music and commotion was going as if it hadn’t stopped all night long.
There are so many places lining Broadway, full of musicians hoping to get their break, it’s hard to know which ones to go to, so here are some of the faves: The Stage, Robert’s Western World, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Legend’s Corner, Tequila Cowboy, and Layla’s. There are so many more beyond this, it’s impossible to keep track! Just walk down Broadway and take your pick – day or night – and enjoy some live music and drinks. The flashy neon signs are enough to lure you in, and once inside I will say we heard some very good music. What can I say – Broadway is kind of like the Times Square of Nashville, but it’s a blast!
Also on Broadway you will find all sorts of Western boots and western wear stores. We liked the Boot Barn, but there are several. Make sure to make a stop at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, especially if you have kids, to try their homemade chocolates and candies. They have everything under the sun, and my girls could have spent hours there. Once we fueled them up on some sugar we headed to The Johnny Cash Museum, nearby in the heart of downtown.
The Johnny Cash Museum
The Johnny Cash Museum was a real highlight of our trip. It may be small, but it’s rich in its collection of the Man in Black’s artifacts and memorabilia. In fact, it’s the largest collection of Johnny Cash artifacts in the world. I’ve always loved his music, so a visit to the museum was a top priority, and it did not disappoint. It’s very well-done, displaying things like instruments, costumes, handwritten lyrics, personal letters, artwork, even household items such as his china set.
There are interactive movies and sound clips, making it a fun experience for all ages. Listening back on some of the songs was such a treat, and I loved introducing his music to my girls. The museum was founded by Bill Miller, a long-time friend and admirer of Cash’s. He had been collecting all things related to Johnny Cash ever since he heard him first play when he was 9 years old. His dream was to build a place to pay tribute to the country singer, a place where one could view everything – down to the last detail – that made up his life. And that he did. It’s a fascinating trip down Johnny Cash lane, so if you like his music, this is an absolute-must see in Nashville.
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John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
After the museum we took an outdoor walk along the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, just south of Broadway. The truss bridge crosses the Cumberland River and connects downtown Nashville to East Nashville, a residential suburb. The reason for our walk across the bridge was to catch views of the Nashville skyline, plus it’s a nice place to stretch the legs. You can get all those must-have pics with the skyline in the background. It’s not too long of a walk and doesn’t take too much time, so if you have the time I think it’s worth it just to see the city from that vantage point.
ACME Feed & Seed
After all the walking and museum visit, we had worked up an appetite and it was time to grab lunch. At the end of Broadway, close to where the pedestrian bridge is, is ACME Feed & Seed, a popular 4-story restaurant and event venue. We chose to eat on the 2nd floor, which is the lounge floor with sushi bar. Great for group seating (we were a group of 11), there are tables with sofas and banquettes, and it’s super comfortable – just what we needed after a long morning on our feet. And the sushi? Amazing. We ordered the sushi boat, pictured above, and it was fabulous.
The 1st floor is a modern take on the honkytonk and has communal tables, 28 beers on tap, and live music. The 3rd floor, known as The Hatchery, is Acme’s event and music space, and the 4th floor is the rooftop, which I can imagine during the warmer months is a blast. Overall, ACME Feed & Seed has a great vibe, good food and is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for a happening, trendy spot, head here.
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Downtown Nashville is home to one of the great music venues in the country, the Ryman Auditorium. You can see it either two ways – by touring it during the day (which is what we did post-lunch), or you can see a nighttime show. We decided to see it during the day, and took a self-guided tour. I wasn’t prepared for how moved I’d be. The “Soul of Nashville” as it is referred to, indeed has so much history and soul. When you take a tour of the auditorium, you begin with a video on the history of the venue. The video, I have to say, is incredibly moving and taught me so much about how and why the Ryman became the most famous place in the world for live country music, and how it changed so many peoples’ lives.
Originally founded as the Union Gospel Tabernacle by prominent steam captain and businessman Thomas G. Ryman, it was a place for worship and social gathering. When Ryman died, the name was changed to his name as a tribute to his life and work. It was in the 1920’s that show promoter Lula C. Naff leased the building and soon the Ryman became a cultural mecca, and was referred to as the Carnegie of the South. But it was in the 1940’s when the Grand Ole Opry, the live radio and tv show, made the Ryman its home and brought it a whole new level of fame. Singers such as Elvis, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash all came to play. In fact, it was at the Ryman where Johnny Cash met June Carter.
Country music rose to fame at the Ryman, bluegrass was born, and countless musicians became stars overnight. Everyone wanted to play at the Ryman, and it became a symbol of hope, creativity and promise. When the Grand Ole Opry moved venues in the 1970’s, it sat empty and faced near demolition – until the 1990’s when the people of Nashville fought to get it back in business, and until this day it’s been thriving. One of the premier venues in the States due to its amazing sound system (it was built, after all, for the evangelical voices to be heard), artists from all genres come to play here, not just country musicians. But it is, always has been and always will be the home of country music and its fans.
And that concluded our day. The next day we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, a huge space dedicated to the history of country music. If you’re a country music buff, you’ll love it, but if you’re like me and don’t know too much about the music genre, you might not find it all that engaging. I could have done without the visit, though having said that, it’s an impressive building with very well-done exhibitions and people seem to rave about it.
There are many other cultural institutions in Downtown Nashville, including the Bridgestone Arena, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Frist Art Museum and Music City Center. We were mainly interested in the places we visited, but clearly there is a lot to see in this fairly small city!
There’s a reason Nashville is on fire these days – it’s fun, it has history, and most of all, it is America’s Music City.
Want to read more about Nashville and Tennessee? Check out these guides!
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