It happened seemingly overnight. ABC’s television drama, “Nashville”, premiered in 2012 to 8.93 million viewers followed shortly thereafter by a New York Times piece crowning Nashville as the new “it” city. Fast forward to 2019 and the city continues its rapid growth, averaging 90 people moving to Nashville a day. This record-setting population boom has brought its share of successes and challenges. For one, Nashville has an endless array of top chef worthy restaurants with new spots opening each week. But then some of the downsides include a downtown that caters to tourists and an infrastructure struggling to hold the increased volume of traffic.
However, regardless of the challenges we locals might experience, Nashville is an exciting city to visit with lots of great dining options, fun drinking spots, and plenty to see and do. Planning a trip to Nashville? Read on to see my recommendations for truly experiencing the real Nashville, the city that exists beyond the neon lights and honky tonks of Broadway.
As with most “hip” cities these days, Nashville is filled with colorful and interesting murals. Some of these murals are designed to attract tourists (who will willingly wait in line to take a photo in front of them!), while others are simply created to brighten up a local street or point customers to a business.
One of the first Nashville murals to gain instagram fame popped up in neighborhoods around the city with the words “I believe in Nashville” painted in brick lettering in a red, white and blue color scheme. While there are several tall tales as to who designed it and why, the real answer is that a graphic design artist coined the phase, and shortly after, a mural, to celebrate all there is to love about Nashville. You’ll find this gem in several neighborhoods today and if during your visit you begin feeling a sense of joy for all things Nashville, feel free to snap a quick pic to commemorate your time here. No judgement from me on this one.
Eat & Drink
Now, moving on to more important things…where should you EAT?! If you’re any bit like me, you believe that one of the best parts about traveling is enjoying the local cuisine. If I’m being honest, food is one of my main predictors in choosing a travel destination. If this is true for you as well, I’m here to help.
We’ll start with Downtown since it’s where you’re most likely to start. Downtown has become so overrun by tourists these days it’s rare to find a local cruising around the watering holes and restaurants along Broadway unless they have a visitor in town. However, Downtown is a neighborhood you have to experience at least once with all of its honky tonks, neon signage, live music, cowboy boot stores, and rooftop bars. Generally speaking, the bar scene is much stronger than the food scene but, should you find yourself looking for a good place to eat while Downtown, I’d recommend Acme Feed & Seed for solid bar food, Martin’s for tasty barbecue, and Etch for an upscale dining experience.
As you move outside of Downtown, the city really begins to open up. The map above (courtesy of Nashville Guru) presents a visual of all the major neighborhoods beyond Broadway. The two that I spend the most time in are Germantown and East Nashville and, in my opinion, are home to some of the best dining options in the city. My top picks overall for each neighborhood are as follows.
- City House – James Beard award winning chef, Tandy Wilson, helms this Italian gem with a Southern flair
- Henrietta Red – American restaurant with an oyster bar and several seafood dishes on the menu
- Butchertown Hall – Wood-fired Tex-Mex with brisket, tacos, and a killer happy hour
- Five Points Pizza – Hot Pizza. Cold Beer. Enough said.
- Rosemary – Technically this is a bar, but they do have a delicious food truck permanently parked in the backyard
- Two Ten Jack – Japanese small plates, ramen and sushi
Notables Outside of East Nashville & Germantown:
- Barcelona Wine Bar – Tapas and wine. You can’t go wrong!
- Chaatable – Indian street food from Executive Chef Maneet Chauhan
- DeSano – My favorite Napoletano-style pizza (see photo below)
See & Do
Stomach full and looking for something to do between meals? I feel you. As I said before, I’m here to help. Below is a curated list of my favorite Nashville activities to pass the time. *insert winking smiley face*
Cruise Along Broadway. This really is a must-do for every first time visitor. Broadway is the main drag downtown and changes dramatically between day and night. Hit up the famous row of honky tonks during both times to get the full experience. But, visitor beware: Broadway caters to tourists so prices will be higher, crowds will be thicker, Bachelorettes will be woo-hooing, and bands will be accepting the multiple requests a day to play Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”. This is not the local Nashville experience but it is a staple of the city and somewhere you have to visit at least once.
Get Outdoors. Nashville is home to several beautiful parks filled with outdoor spaces and multiple hiking and biking trails to keep you moving. Bicentennial Park (pictured above) is a downtown favorite of mine as it offers great views of the capitol and is located next to the Nashville Farmer’s Market. Other awesome nearby parks include Shelby Bottom in East Nashville (rent a bike and cruise the paths), Beaman Park just north of the city, and Percy Warner in Belle Meade.
In addition to all the great hiking and trail options, Nashville also has several rivers nearby for your kayaking and canoeing adventures. Make a reservation with Foggy Bottom and spend the day paddling/floating along the Harpeth River. You’ll need a car to access most of the nearby parks and trails but they’ll offer a great break from the city.
Catch Some Live Music. Nashville isn’t called “Music City” for nothing! The thing I love most about the live music scene in Nashville is that it isn’t limited to country, as one may initially think. Nashville musicians love to collaborate and the result is unique sounds and styles that can be found throughout the city. Of course, you can’t walk more than a few hundred feet without finding another super-talented musician on stage, but a venture outside of the downtown area can be even more rewarding. Check out the local venues including Exit/In, The Basement and Basement East, and 3rd and Lindsley, to name a few.
Brewery Hop. In addition to all the favorite activities already listed, I would be remiss to leave out our awesome breweries. Nashville’s breweries continue to grow in popularity both locally and nationally and the city currently boasts 19 craft breweries. Located in almost every neighborhood around the city, there’s a brew for every beer lover here. Several breweries are located within walking distance of each other and many are pet and kid friendly as well. A few of my favorites include East Nashville Beer Works, Yazoo Brewing Company, Smith & Lentz, Jackalope Brewing, and New Heights. Cheers!
Support the Local Sports Teams. Nashville is home to several professional sports teams ranging from hockey to minor league baseball, football, and, most recently, a soccer league. Whether a fan of the team or not, Nashville locals love spending time with friends and family at the sports parks. Here’s the teams we have to cheer about:
- The Tennessee Titans, football
- The Nashville Sounds, minor league baseball
- The Nashville Predators, hockey
- Nashville Soccer Club, soccer
Nashville offers something for everyone and though it may be the new “it” city for many, it’s where I call home. If you’re heading to Nashville for a visit, take the time to explore outside of downtown. You’ll have a chance to experience the true Nashville and I’m confident you’ll be glad you did. Enjoy, y’all!