I was looking at my photos from Nashville recently and wanting to write about my trip there in April 2019. Then I realized that I couldn’t write enough about anyone single tourist site that I went to, for the most part, so I thought I’d do a round-up of all the top 13 things to do your first time in Nashville, once COVID is gone, and they’re sights that don’t take hours to see.
13 Things to Do Your First Time in Nashville
- I Believe in Nashville Mural: The first thing that I wanted to see was the I Believe in Nashville mural. It was just a couple of blocks from our AirBnB. It’s located on the side of the building that’s located at 2702 12th Ave South. I saw photos of this area after the tornado that passed through Nashville earlier this year and I saw that the building on which this mural is / was located had been half destroyed. The part where the mural is was still standing. This mural is part of a series of 2012 paintings by artist Adrien Saporiti. It includes the three stars from Tennessee’s flag and is said to represent the resilience of the people of Tennessee after the 2010 floods in the state.
- Honky Tonk Highway: Technically you could spend your entire visit on this one strip of road – especially if you like country music and drinking. A “honky tonk” is a bar that provides country music to its patrons. Located in the Broadway Historic District of downtown Nashville, this strip is filled with one honky tonk after another. This wasn’t really my scene because I don’t like either of the things that Honky Tonk’s are known for, but we spent a good amount of time here because Nick does. It’s an area of Nashville that you definitely have to experience for yourself though, even if you just walk down the street once or twice. You’re sure to see some shenanigans, especially if you go late enough.
- Parthenon: This is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and it was built for Tennessee’s Centennial celebrations in 1897 in Centennial Park. I had no idea it was that old when I visited because it’s kept up very well. It now serves as an art museum inside and according to Wikipedia, “the plaster replicas of the Parthenon Marbles found in the Treasury Room (the west room of the main hall) are direct casts of the original sculptures which adorned the pediments of the Athenian Parthenon, dating back to 438 BC.” For some reason, Nashville is often referred to as the “Athens of the South,” so that inspired architect William Crawford Smith to build the replica here for the state’s centennial. If you have any idea why Nashville is referred to as the Athens of the south, let me know! It’s huge and there are lots of paintings and old artifacts inside.
- Gulch Arts District: This trendy district on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, that’s popular with locals and college students, is where you can find a bunch of pricier stores like Urban Outfitters (worst store ever with the worst owners) and Patagonia and some adorable brunch spots like Biscuit Love and Burger Republic. This is the area I first explored when I arrived by myself in Nashville when I was waiting for Nick to arrive. The city of Nashville worked to revitalize the Gulch Arts District neighborhood in 2006 and in 2016, they built the Pedestrian Bridge which connected the Gulch to the South Broadway neighborhood. In 2009, the neighborhood was certified as a LEED Green Neighborhood – making it the first neighborhood in the south to be certified as such and one of the few in the US to date.
- Take a Photo with the Angel Wings: While I was waiting for Nick, I ate at Biscuit Love and then did the ultimate touristy thing: took a photo in front of the angel wings located a block away from Biscuit Love. Yup, there’s usually a small group of people around waiting their turn to patiently take photos. I apologize for nothing!
- Pedestrian Bridge: As I said above, this was built in 2016 and it’s a pretty cool structure. Basically all we did was walk over it and take some photos, but if you visit it at night, you can get some pretty cool photos of the skyline! The Pedestrian Bridge isn’t the most exciting, but it’s a nice place to walk over after you visit the Gulch Arts District!
- Music City Walk of Fame Park: I’m not a country music fan, per se, but this was pretty cool. It was first created in 2006 and I went primarily to see Ben Folds’ star but there are lots of other fun names to see too like Johnny Cash (obviously), Reba McIntyre, Dolly Parton, and Jack White. It’s right in downtown Nashville in the South Broadway district, two blocks south of Broadway.
- Site of the Nashville Sit-Ins: In February 1960, 124 students from Nashville’s historically black colleges and universities came to the lunch counters at Woolworth’s, Kress’, and McClellan’s, near North 5th and Church Streets, and demanded to be served to no avail. They also went to the Walgreen’s that’s in the photo below and were denied service there too. It’s pretty cool, despite depressing, historical marker to see.
- Walk Through Belmont University’s Campus: This might not be on the top of any “touristy things to do in Nashville” lists, but it was super fun to walk through the campus. The buildings are really gorgeous and the green areas within the campus are beautiful. Admittedly we did this by accident when I insisted that we walk from our Airbnb in the 12 South District to the Pantheon in Centennial Park, but I would do it again is the point.
- See the Tennessee State Capitol Building: Located in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is the beautiful Tennessee Capitol Building. It is massive and located on a hill with the park behind it. It is four blocks north of Broadway. It honestly reminds me of Colorado’s State Capitol Building in Denver that I’d visited about 6 months prior.
- Walk Down Music Row: After visiting Centennial Park, we walked south and down Music Row where we saw a ton of old, historic recording studios. I was most excited to see the RCA Victor Recording Studio that had once upon a time been owned by Ben Folds.
- Grab a Donut at Five Daughters Bakery: I found this little bakery in my Googling before I traveled to Tennessee and it just so happened that it was a quick 5 minute walk from my Airbnb! Nick and I walked down there on our last day and picked up a few donuts before we headed to the airport. I had the ‘Parent Trap’ donut which was a layered donut infused with peanut buttercream, peanut butter frosting, and Oreo crumbles on top. Nick ordered the classic glazed layered donut. They were both DELICIOUS, and cheap! Definitely check out this bakery before or after you go see the ‘I Believe in Nashville’ mosaic in the 12 South district!
- Peruse the Records at Third Man Records: Third Man Records is an independent record label (and store) that was founded by the White Stripes’ frontman Jack White. It’s located right in the Gulch Arts District and it’s a really cool little spot. There are lots of neat framed CDs and plaques on the wall too.
I think that’s a good starting point. I would also make an effort to really walk around the city. Nashville does not have any public transportation to speak of really so it’s hard to get around without an Uber, but we walked our second morning from our AirBnB in the 12 South District to Centennial Park and it was really fun to see some parts of the city that we probably would have not have had a chance to see otherwise.
When I get a chance to go back to Nashville, I will probably do a tour of Ryman Auditorium and spend more time walking around East Nashville since it’s the cool new ‘hip’ area of the city.
Have you been to Nashville? Or do you live in Nashville? Let me know what things you did on your first time in Nashville if it was different than mine! If I missed anything that you should do while you’re in Nashville, let me know below in the comments!
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