A few months ago, I wrote about 5 of my favorite things in Nashville. While that was fun for me, and maybe for other resident Nashvillians, it isn't very helpful if you're a tourist here for a weekend.
The truth is, Nashville is one of the coolest landlocked cities around. I guess when you don't have a beach or the mountains, you have to make up for it. If you come to visit Nash, I recommend a healthy dose of classic tourist spots coupled with some native digs to make the best of your time. You can pretty much experience the whole city in a long weekend and feel like you didn't miss out ... that's not to say there's not much to do, but it isn't like LA or NY. That said, here's what my itinerary would look like in Nashville if I was a first time visitor and just happened to know all the spots to hit up:
Get off your plane, grab a Lyft or an Uber (the airport allows both services in the "rideshare" pick-up area) and go drop your bags off at your AirBNB (or hotel, if you're living in the stone-age). Swing by Pinewood Social for a beverage of your choice - coffee if you're tired or a cocktail if you're ready to party. Keep an eye open for celebrities - Jack White is a frequent imbiber and I've heard Reese Witherspoon likes to hang out there as well - but keep your cool. Approaching celebrities in public isn't the Nashville way - we just see them and then whisper about them. The food at Pinewood Social is fine but overpriced in my opinion, so a drink in hand is the best to experience the mixed-use space (in addition to the bar and dining area, there's bowling lanes, suave lounge areas, and an outdoor space with shuffleboard and even a pool).
After you've been overstimulated by the watering hole of hipsters, visitors and celebrities alike, ditch your tourist kin and head to the local's version of downtown - Germantown - a recently gentrified neighborhood with a number of fine dining options. My personal all-time favorite restaurant in town is Rolf and Daughters (which keeps a block of tables open for those who failed to make a reservation), but other great restaurants in the area include City House (whose head chef just received the James Beard Award), Silo and 5th and Taylor.
After dinner, try to catch a show in town. The Ryman is the most renowned and best sounding venue in town. Some refer to it as the Mother Church of Music as it used to be a Tabernacle before it started hosting the Grand Ole Opry. Other favorite venues are 3rd and Lindsley, The High Watt, Mercy Lounge, Exit/In and The Basement. During the summertime, there's a monthly event on the Friday following every full-moon called the Full Moon Pickin Party. That's way down south of town in Edwin Warner Park. Tickets are $20 - and you get four drink tickets with it. If you bring an approved bluegrass instrument, you can get in for $10. There are official bands playing, but the beauty of Pickin Parties is that everyone who brings instruments just starts circling up and playing together.
After a good nights rest, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee. I've personally counted over 24 local shops in town, so there's no need for you to visit Starbucks. Barista Parlor gets all the press, and for good reason. There are three locations - in East Nashville, the Gulch, and Germantown - each with aesthetically pleasing atmospheres to get the creative juices flowing. They take their coffee seriously - and you'll pay for it. $5 gets you a coffee and the biscuits aren't cheap either. Many like to hate on BP, calling them "pretentious", but really they just care about being excellent in their industry. Other favorite shops of mine include Crema (Downtown), Steadfast (Germantown), and 8th and Roast (near 12 South).
After coffee, check out some of the sights in Nashville. Centennial Park has a full-scale replica of The Parthenon - which is hilarious but also cool, I guess. In May, June and September there's a free concert series in the park called Musician's Corner. Catch a bit of a show and some great grub from a local food truck. My personal favorites are Hoss' Loaded Burgers, Smoke Et Al (Barbeque), Crepe a Diem (French fare), and Retro Sno (Shaved Ice). Everyone loves The Grilled Cheeserie - and I can't blame them - but lines are usually long and the food is just as good at the other shops. If Musician's Corner isn't on, you can still find food trucks out and around town - the best way to find them is on Twitter.
If it's rainy (or too hot), learn about some of Nashville's music history on a tour of RCA Studio B or at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Next to the Hall of Fame is a famous print shop that has been around since the 1800s - Hatch Show Print. If you don't have time to take a tour of the shop, be sure to grab a souvenir. Some of my favorite art hanging on my wall is from Hatch - they make a limited edition poster for every concert at the Ryman. If you like chocolate, take a tour at Olive & Sinclair in East Nashville. If you like booze, tour Greenbrier Distillery, complete with communion cup shots of whiskey at the end, or one of the many craft-breweries in town (Jackalope and Yazoo are my favorites).
In the afternoon, make your way to 12 South. You'll know you're there by the hoards of folks walking the street. Cure your food coma with a nap in Sevier Park and perhaps enjoy a frozen treat from the legendary Las Paletas across the street. Check out the shops on the street - if only to just window shop. White's Mercantile (expensive home goods), Imogene + Willie (even more expensive denim), and Draper James (even more expensive clothing for proper southern girls from Reese Witherspoon) are the most popular joints. Take a photo by the I Believe In Nashville sign because you can. You'll be able to tell from the long lines that the restaurants in 12 South aren't suffering from a lack a business. If you wind up eating a meal here at some point, my favorite establishments are Burger Up (try the Ramsey), Edley's (try the barbeque nachos), and Bartaco (try the margarita and split a tray of the chef's selection with the table).
After you've sufficiently explored for the day and you've had a chance to freshen up, go downtown and live the tourist lifestyle. Everyone needs to do it. There's no other way to experience downtown than to walk the strip on a Saturday night. One of my favorite things to do is guess how many bachelorette parties you'll see in the five block radius and see how close you can get to the actual number (hint: there are a lot). You'll see shops for cowboy boots that say "Buy One Pair, Get Two Free" and Elvis statues in the street. The only two joints I visit downtown anymore are Acme and Robert's Western World. Acme is huge - with four different floors, including a rooftop bar - and feels the least slimy and most "local" of all the bars downtown. Robert's is the only legitimate "honky tonk" downtown - meaning the music there is actually fantastic. But go ahead and enjoy Tootsies and Legends while you're at it, because why not?
After your wild Saturday night, you'll probably need a slow morning. If you're up for it, try going to church. You're smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, so your hard-pressed to find something that isn't good when it comes to music and teaching (I go to the church in 12 South called Midtown Fellowship and love it). If that's not your scene, take a walk/hike at Radnor Lake or Percy Warner Park. The lake loop at Radnor takes less than an hour and so does the Warner Woods loop at Percy Warner (you just have to climb a bunch of stairs to get there). Once you've paid your dues (or not), it's time for a Nashville staple: hot chicken. The OG hot chicken is at Prince's, which is way north of town. Prince's is awesome, as is Pepperfire and Bolton's, but I frequent Hattie B's the most. Mostly because on Sunday you can get chicken and waffles. For those who struggle with deciding between sweet vs. savory at brunch like me, this is the ultimate solution. Hot chicken isn't for the faint of heart, though. I usually order "medium" heat and many of my friends get "mild" or "southern" (no heat at all). Hattie B's has two locations - one on the West side of town and one in Midtown.
Use the afternoon to explore East Nashville and spend the rest of your money. East Nashville is the new hot part in town that everyone is moving to and is full of great "pockets" of neighborhoods - 5 Points, Lockeland Springs, and Riverside Village to name a few. 5 Points has great shops like Hello Boys and Goodbuy Girls and one of my favorite pizza places, Five Points Pizza. (If you happen to be in Nashville on a Monday, be sure to check out The 5 Spot for some swing dancing - no skill required.) Lockeland Springs is mostly made up of restaurants like Rosepepper Cantina (Mexican, known for their Margaritas) and Two Ten Jack (Ramen), but if you feel like being active you can check out Climb Nashville. Personally, I'd rather eat Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (best combo: Dark Chocolate + Brambleberry Crisp). Riverside Village is mostly restaurants too - Mitchell Deli has the best sandwiches in town - but is also home to a small record store called Fond Object. A couple of other fun stores to check out around East Nashville are Hey Rooster (General store with artisan goods), Lucaya (Bohemian-chic women's clothing), DCXV ("I Believe in Nashville" T-shirts), and O.M.G. (Vintage store).
It's likely you won't be hungry after all the food you've consumed over the course of the weekend, so go finish off your day by putting your name on the waitlist at The Pharmacy. It's usually about an hour or two wait before you can sit down at this Beer and Burger Parlor anyway. They've got great outdoor seating and food to boot. If you want to kill some time before dinner, there's always cocktails at Holland House next door. If you aren't willing to wait, I would say grab some grub from Mas Tacos Por Favor across the street - but they aren't open on Sundays (and they're cash only if you try to visit them at another time - so go prepared).
After dinner, chill out by catching a movie - back across the river in Hillsboro Village at the Belcourt Theatre (which is currently under renovation but set to reopen in the summer) or, if your timing is right, under the stars at the Grassy Knoll Movie Night in East Nashville (on the 3rd Sunday of every month April through October).
That should be enough to keep you busy for the weekend, but if you want to get out of Nashville, there are some great spots right outside of town. Franklin is a family-friendly town 30 minutes south of the city with great food and shops, not to mention Civil War history. If you keep going south, you'll hit Lieper's Fork. There's not much to do there but enjoy the Tennessee scenery and eat at Puckett's, but that's why people like it (Justin Timberlake just bought some land out there so it must be cool). That said, my favorite day trip in the summertime is to Cummins Falls. It's about a 90-minute drive and a short hike to a waterfall and swimming hole. It does gets crowded quickly though and the hike may be difficult with little ones.
Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy your time in good ole Rocky Top Tennessee.