In the past few years, quite a few friends from former towns and workplaces have begun to visit Nashville. I couldn’t be more delighted, of course — I want to show off my adopted hometown — but invariably, the preparatory emails involve some sort of “what should I plan to do?”-type of question. Eventually, I wrote up a somewhat lengthy answer, and have since re-used it multiple times, and am now sharing it here, with you.
[Edited April 2017: Although I moved from Nashville to New York City a year and a half ago, I keep updating this post because it’s been a handy overview to share. However, I fully admit that my recommendations may be slightly dated now that I’m not there on a regular basis to keep up with what’s new and trendy. Still, it should orient you well if you’re visiting for the first time.]
As far as where to stay, that situation is changing fast. Hotels are rising in cost, and Airbnb options are all over town. As with any city, stay near downtown if you want the most walkable options, or a little further out if paying for parking annoys you.
You HAVE to schedule at least one late night to do a circuit of the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway (which means Broadway between the river and 5th or 6th Avenue), because as cheesy and OMG-touristy as they are, they are uniquely Nashville. Don’t miss Robert’s Western World, where you can hear some really quality Western swing music (because the music in Nashville is generally, even if you don’t like it, at least played incredibly well) in a good old-fashioned dive that serves PBR unironically alongside deep-fried pickles, and shelves cowboy boots along the wall. I shit you not.
But then you have to get away from the tourist façade, too, and check out places like Five Points, the hipster-ish neighborhood in East Nashville, where you can do brunch at Marché and possibly spot Jack White or Ben Folds, or Hillsboro Village, where you can have locally-roasted coffee at Fido and probably see hit songwriters meeting up before or during co-writing sessions, not that you’ll recognize them (but with training you can recognize the type), or the more suburban neighborhood of Green Hills, with its slightly upscale mall and shopping center anchored by Whole Foods, where you might spot Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman.
And you’ll definitely want to spend some time in my old neighborhood — Historic Germantown — and see some of the beautifully restored antebellum homes and eat at some of my favorite restaurants in town: Rolf and Daughters, 5th and Taylor, City House, Silo, and Germantown Café. Buy a coffee at Red Bicycle… or one of the other 500 coffee shops in a three-block radius.
- Las Paletas popsicles, in the 12 South neighborhood, where you could also check out Burger Up, a deceptively named gourmet burger joint, Mafiaoza’s for pizza, 12 South Taproom for a solid beer selection, or Rumours wine bar for, well, wine.
- Mas Tacos Por Favor made the leap in the early 2010s from a food truck to a legit hole-in-the-wall taco shop in East Nashville, and they did it exactly right. Their recipes are crowd-tested favorites, and they regularly serve only until they run out of ingredients. Stand in the long line and eavesdrop on the conversations around you; that’s part of the fun.
- Our local craft brew favorite, Yazoo, has a taproom that’s a local favorite, with Jackalope brewery nearby. They’re both very near the neighborhood known as “The Gulch” and there are some fun places to explore there as well.
- Speaking of Yazoo, after they moved into their new location, the space they used to occupy was snapped up by the new Corsair Artisan distillery. They’re located in the old Marathon Motor Works building, and it’s got a great decaying brick factory feel about the place.
- Oh, and if you find yourself walking around downtown, you should wander into the Hatch Show Print store. The Hatch style is immediately recognizable as the classic American letterpress poster, and you can browse older prints to buy here.
Locals: what did I miss that you love?
Visitors: what did you discover that was really cool that isn’t in this list?