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City Guide: What to Do in Nashville

Music City has way more than just great tunes.

by Lee Sill | October 15, 2020

Nashville is a city full of creative energy, situated within beautiful middle Tennessee and its bounty of rivers, lakes, mountains, and trails. Nashville can be whatever you want it to be.

You want to do the country music thing and visit all the honky-tonks on Broadway, you can fill all your time with that. If you want to hit up museums, galleries, and exhibits, we got you. If you want to coffee crawl your way through the city, you will be caffeinated for days. Are urban distilleries, breweries, and cocktail bars your thing? Check! Do you want to visit dozens of restaurants opened by James Beard Award-nominated chefs? You better plan for a long stay. And of course if you want to experience live music, you won’t be left without plenty of options every night of the week. Nashville is a city that is full of talented and creative people that offers something for everyone.

Dozen Bakery

516 Hagan Street #103

Nashville, Tennessee 37203

Walk-up window open Monday to Saturday 7:00 am; Sunday 9:00 am

On your first morning in town, you will probably be hungry after your travels. Dozen is a bakery and café and one of my favorite spots for breakfast in Nashville. Claire Meneely started Dozen as a pop-up cookie shop in the downtown Farmers’ Market, and I remember first trying her baked goods back in 2012 when she was doing all the baking and delivering herself as she was growing her wholesale program.

In 2015, she opened her brick and mortar bakery in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood just south of Downtown, supplying bread and pastries to some great Nashville restaurants like Bastion, Henrietta Red, and Josephine to name a few. I recommend trying the split baguette with avocado and scrambled eggs, or the vegan mushroom and farro soup, and maybe some cookies for the road!

@dozenbakerynashville

The Natchez Trace

After filling up at Dozen, let that food settle and take a little drive west of the city to the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway. The original Natchez Trace covers 444 miles, three states, four ecosystems, and upwards to 10,000 years of North American history. You can either take the drive for a while, especially this time of year, and enjoy the foliage, or bring your bike and a top 10 ranked best biking road on the Parkway.

One of the things I love most about Nashville is the abundance of amazing hikes and camping in the area. The Natchez Trace is no exception. For a trail closer to the Nashville side of the Parkway, the Highland Rim Trail covers 20 miles and is great for trail running, horseback riding, and family hiking, with plenty of changing terrain to keep you from getting bored.

@thenatcheztrace

King Market

1801 Antioch Pike

Antioch, Tennessee 37013

Open daily 9:00 am

After a few hours of hiking, you are sure to be feeling hungry again. South of Downtown, along the Nolensville Road corridor and over into Antioch exists some of the best restaurants in all of Nashville, and this community boasts a rich and diverse international population. Some of my family’s favorite restaurants exist in this part of town; taquerias and pupuserias, Ethiopian and Kurdish cafes, dim sum and noodle houses, and then my most frequented, King Market Cafe. King Market is a family-owned Lao-Thai grocery store and casual restaurant, and perhaps the most flavorful pho I’ve ever had, like, the broth is complex and perfect, no need to add extra sauces to it other than a little spice if you are into that.

The largest bowl of any soup is under $10 and could easily feed two people. I recommend either the pho, or for a more Laotian flavor profile, Sukiyaki. The chicken wings are insanely good, and the green curry fried rice is probably my favorite fried rice in town. Treat yourself to fresh coconut with a straw as well!

@nashvillemade

McKay’s Nashville

636 Old Hickory Boulevard

Nashville, Tennessee 37209

Open daily 10:00 am

After lunch, head west of town to one of my very favorite places to go to in all of Nashville. McKay’s specializes in used books, CDs, records, DVDs, video games, and electronics filling over 30,000 square feet. I can (and have) spent hours here.

There is bound to be something for everyone in your group, and if you live in Nashville, they have an awesome sell/trade program. I’ve been refilling my credit there for the last couple of years and it makes for a really affordable night out of shopping for fun new reads. Take the steps up to the balcony and thumb your way through a large selection of vinyl, or work your way through the well-stocked fiction or biography sections.

@mckaynashville

National Museum of African American Music

211 7th Avenue North #420

Nashville, Tennessee 37219

Open daily 9:00 am

Head downtown for your next few stops, and though this museum is not technically open yet, it’s so close and I am so excited for it, I had to list it here. Nashville has a rich history of African American music, where artists including Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Ray Charles all thrived during the early stages of their careers. But Nashville is also called “Music City” and located centrally within the geographical and historical context of the country, so it makes a lot of sense to have a museum celebrating the significant contributions and achievements African Americans have had on American music.

From the website, “Once completed, NMAAM will be the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans. The museum’s expertly curated collections will share the story of the American soundtrack by integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.” NMAAM will be located downtown, fittingly just a few steps from the historic Ryman.

@thenmaam

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack South

5814 Nolensville Pike #110

Nashville, Tennessee 37211

Open Monday to Saturday 11:00 am

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack SoBro (Food Truck)

423 6th Avenue South

Nashville, Tennessee 37203

Open Monday to Saturday 11:00 am

You will be looking for some supper before either of your next two activities. I was tempted to not even mention Nashville hot chicken here, but it felt disingenuous to not do so. I have seen hot chicken spots opening all over the country over the last several years, from Portland, to Chicago, and even KFC has offered it on rotation at various locations. Hot chicken was made famous in Nashville, and while there are now at least a dozen places to choose from, not to mention the addition of it to menus in restaurants all over Nashville, the original is still the one you have to try first.

The folklore surrounding the origin of hot chicken involves owner André Prince Jeffries’ great uncle, James Thornton Prince, his womanizing, a vengeful girlfriend, and an accidental hit. A restaurant resulted in 1945, and while locations have changed through the years, the soul has remained. For the full menu and sit-down location, you’ll have to travel a few miles south of the city, but if you want to keep close to downtown, you can hit up the new food truck location. I recommend the leg quarter, because dark meat is superior of course, medium heat (don’t try to be a hero, go even lighter if you are unsure, this is the hottest in town), seasoned fries, and a side of pickles. You’ll be in pure bliss, but I will warn you, you may find yourself with a new addiction.

@rinceshotchicken_nashville

Ryman Auditorium

116 5th Avenue North

Nashville, Tennessee 37219

Open Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 am; check calendar for shows

“The Mother Church of Country Music,” this former downtown Union Gospel Tabernacle opened in 1892 by saloon and riverboat fleet owner Thomas Ryman, built its fame as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, but like Nashville, it is now known as a destination for music from broad and diverse genres.

This is easily one of the best venues for live music I’ve experienced. It is common for bands to come to town and forego bigger venues to play three, four, and even six night runs at the Ryman because the experience is so special and intimate in this 2,362 capacity room. You can feel the history and significance that this space has contributed upon the story of American music. Among some artists I’ve seen here are Sufjan Stevens, Carly Rae Jepsen, Andrew Bird, and Beck. If you get a chance to catch one of your favorite bands here, do it. Pro tip: try to grab one of the front rows of the balcony — my favorite seat in the house!

@theryman

Third Coast Comedy Club

1310 Clinton Street #121

Nashville, Tennessee 37203

Hours and showtimes vary

After I saw an improv show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, I fell in love with improvisational comedy. Situated in the historic Marathon Village, Third Coast Comedy Club is Nashville’s premier improv, sketch, and stand-up theater and training center, and won "Best Cheap Date" in the Nashville Scene Awards.

You’ll laugh all night, with cheap eats and beers from the concession bar to keep you going late into the night — an amazing and unique entertainment experience for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn. Right now shows are temporarily suspended due to Covid-19, but definitely check the calendar as hopefully shows will resume in the near future.

@thirdcoastcomedyclub

Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge

102 East Palestine Avenue

Madison, Tennessee 37115

Open Monday to Thursday 3:00 pm; Friday to Saturday 3:00 pm; Sunday 12:00 pm

So you’ve seen a great show, and now you’re wanting to partake in more of that Nashville experience. I get it, everyone has to see the lights of Broadway, because it’s the thing you do — like seeing Times Square in NYC. But if you want the quintessential honky-tonk bar experience that captures the vibe of what country bars were like back in their heyday, head northeast of town about 10 minutes and Dee’s is your place.

Located in Madison, a once bustling 1960s suburb where many country and bluegrass legends made their home, Dee’s was an old bar bought and reimagined as a 1970’s-inspired “mom-and-pop type honky-tonk” by partner Amy Dee Richardson. You can play pool and darts, eat some cheap tacos and drink cheap cocktails, all while listening to some of the best country and Americana music Nashville has to offer. It may technically be a newer bar, but Dee’s feels like it’s been here for decades. And in the best way possible, it’s the perfect place to end a great day!

@deeslounge615