Whether you live in Nashville, or whether you’re visiting (or planning to visit), these 10 things to do should be at the top of your list. So, here they are, the Top 10 Nashville Things to Do!
1. The Grand Ole Opry
Don’t miss seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry House! Probably Nashville’s most popular tourist attraction, the Grand Ole Opry House is the first venue built specifically as a home to the Grand Ole Opry. It opened on March 16, 1974, with a ceremony attended by President Richard Nixon, who played piano and sang on the show that night.
While you’re there, be sure and notice the circle of oak on the stage. For over seven decades, country music legends have stood on a single piece of oak floor to perform in the Grand Ole Opry. The “Opry Circle” was just the center part of the stage at the Ryman Auditorium when the legendary show moved there in 1943. When the current Grand Ole Opry House was finished in 1974, a 6-foot circle was cut from the Ryman’s oak stage floor and installed center stage in the new auditorium.
And, there’s nothing like a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry House! You’ll be able to walk in the footsteps of country music’s superstars and get an exclusive look at what happens behind the scenes of the show that made country music famous. You’ll also hear stories about the Opry and country music greats, both past and present, see photos from the Opry’s biggest moments in history, and much more!
2. The Parthenon
This is Indie Insider’s personal favorite – The Parthenon! Located in Nashville’s Centennial Park, you’ll find the world’s only full-scale exact reproduction of the ancient Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Nashville’s nickname, the “Athens of the South” influenced the choice of the Parthenon as the centerpiece of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The original structure was built in 1897 and was not intended to be permanent. Starting in 1920, it was rebuilt on the same foundations.
The Parthenon houses an art gallery and museum, as well as a full scale replica of Athena Parthenos. Standing at almost 42 feet in height, Athena is the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world. This replica of the original Athena carries a shield on her left arm and a small 6-foot-high statue of Nike (Victory) in her right palm, and is gilded with more than 8 pounds of gold leaf. A colossal serpent rears its head between her and her shield.
While you’re there, you can relax and stroll around Centennial Park’s 132 acres, including a lake, antique train, airplane, band shell, walking trails, pavilion, children’s playground, and frequently live music events.
3. Ryman Auditorium
While you’re in Nashville, you must go to the Ryman – if not for a show, at least for a tour. In the 1880s, when prominent businessman and steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman found salvation in the words of fiery evangelist Reverend Sam Jones, he vowed to build a great tabernacle that would project Rev. Jones’s voice clearly and powerfully for all to hear. Built in the late Victorian Gothic Revival style popular at the time, Tom Ryman’s vision became a reality with the completion of the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892.
It soon became a popular place for community events, political rallies, and turn-of the-century entertainment including operas, symphonies, bands, ballets, and theatrical productions.
While the Ryman was gaining recognition as an entertainment site, a local radio show was becoming an international phenomenon – the Grand Ole Opry. In 1943, with crowds too big and too rowdy for other Nashville venues, the Opry found a home at the Ryman.
Dubbed “The Mother Church of Country Music” by Nashvillians, the Ryman is also known as the birthplace of Bluegrass. On December 8th, 1945, the definitive sound of Bluegrass was born when a twenty-one year old Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe on stage for the first time.
Today, the Ryman hosts world-class performers several nights each week, and was named Pollstar’s 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 Theatre of the Year, an award widely regarded as the most prestigious in the concert industry.
4. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
If you’re interested in Country Music, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see. It’s one of the world’s largest and most active popular music research centers and the world’s largest repository of country music artifacts.
In the museum’s core exhibition, Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, visitors are immersed in the history and sounds of country music, its origins and traditions, and the stories and voices of many of its architects. The story is revealed through artifacts, photographs, and text panels, recorded sound, vintage video, and interactive touchscreens.
Sing Me Back Home is enhanced by numerous, rotating limited-engagement exhibits, such as Alabama: Song Of The South; Blake Shelton: Based On A True Story; Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City; Homegrown: Zac Brown Band – all of which are showing now, and Charlie Daniels: Million Mile Reflections, which will be opening later this month.
In addition to the galleries, the museum has the 776-seat CMA Theater, the Taylor Swift Education Center, and multi-purpose event rental spaces.
5. Music Row
Music Row is the heart and soul of the nation’s music industry. It’s not just one row at all, but an area centered on 16th and 17th Avenues South (called Music Square East and Music Square West, respectively, within the Music Row area).
You can even visit historic RCA Studio B, the famous recording studio where Elvis recorded over 200 songs. Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold and many more also recorded classic hits here. Tours of RCA Studio B depart daily from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Music Row is home to hundreds of businesses related to the country music, gospel music, and Contemporary Christian music industries. It’s widely considered the heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry.
At the intersections of Demonbreun Street, Division Street, 16th Avenue South, and Music Square East is the “Music Row Roundabout,” a circular intersection. Adjacent to the intersection to the west is Owen Bradley Park, a very small park dedicated to notable songwriter, performer, and publisher Owen Bradley. In the park is a life-size statue of Bradley behind a piano. In the center of the roundabout is a large statue, “Musica”, depicting nude dancers.
The local sculptor, Alan LeQuire, said about it, “Dance is the physical expression of music and the piece is intended to convey that feeling to the viewer in a composition which is simple, exuberant and celebratory.”
6. Fontanel Mansion
Can you imagine a 33,000 square foot log cabin? You’ll get to see it for yourself when you visit Fontanel Mansion, the former home of Country Music legend and Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell.
Open for daily tours, this is the only “home of the star” tour in Nashville that you can actually go inside! Fontanel has over 20 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 5 fireplaces, 2 kitchens, an indoor pool, and even an indoor shooting range.
It’s been filled to the brim with photos, memorabilia, and personal items from the period when the Mandrell family lived there. Additionally, the personal collections of current owners Dale Morris and Marc Oswald are featured, including one-of-a-kind items, personal photos, and keepsakes of the artists they currently manage – Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, and many others!
7. Gaylord Opryland Resort Gardens
Don’t miss this favorite of families visiting Nashville – it’s absolutely beautiful! Gaylord Opryland Resort Hotel has three massive indoor gardens filled with acres of tropical plants and walking trails. The Cascades garden features a 12,500 square-foot indoor lake with a narrated boat ride, and The Delta garden has a fountain that shoots water 85 feet into the air. And you can see it all absolutely free!
It’s right next door to the Grand Ole Opry, and has lots of shops and restaurants. If you’ve already shopped till you dropped at Opryland Mall, it’s a great place to wander and relax in nature. Try the boat ride through the atrium at night, amazingly beautiful with all the lights.
8. Johnny Cash Museum
Located in the heart of downtown Nashville at 119 Third Avenue South, The Johnny Cash Museum is dedicated to the life and music career of the late “Man in Black”. Exhibits featuring the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia chronicle Cash’s legacy through stunning graphics, artifacts, and interactive technology.
Items include stage costumes, instruments, personal letters, artwork and handwritten lyrics as well as contributions from family members and notable friends. Nashville Parent magazine recognized the museum for its appeal to all ages as the entire attraction is child-friendly. Take a three dimensional journey through the life and livelihood of this international icon and remember your experience with the wide variety of Cash souvenirs, apparel, and rare collectibles available in The Museum Store. In addition, there is a coffee shop, café, and onsite Event Center, which is the perfect location for your social, business or entertainment function.
9. Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Named in honor of the late Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, who led the GRAMMY Award-winning Nashville Symphony for 22 years, Schermerhorn Symphony Center is home to the Nashville Symphony. Located in downtown Nashville’s SoBro neighborhood, across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the building hosts a wide range of musical events, including classical, pops, jazz, and world music.
The building’s design was inspired by some of the world’s great concert halls, many of which were built in Europe in the late 19th century. The building’s main venue, the 1,844-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall, is one of the few halls nationwide to feature natural interior light through 30 special soundproof windows. Seats are distributed over three levels, including a special choral loft behind the stage. The design of Laura Turner Concert Hall provides vivid acoustical clarity, warmth, and reverberation specifically catering to the sound of natural instruments. An automated system of movable banners and panels located around the hall can adjust the acoustics to accommodate a variety of musical genres.
While you’re there, notice the custom-built concert organ, comprised of 47 voices, 64 ranks, and 3,568 pipes with three 32-foot stops that create a lyrical sound with expressive range.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center even has a convertible seating system – the orchestra level seating of Laura Turner Concert Hall is unique, in that it can be transformed from rows of theater-style seating to a 5,700-square-foot hardwood ballroom floor, typically used for cabaret-style events such as pops and jazz concerts. A unique motorized system lowers rows of seats into a special storage space below the surface of the ballroom floor.
This cultural center in downtown Nashville has attracted global attention for its acoustical excellence and distinctive neo-Classical architecture, and the orchestra’s recordings have received a total of eight GRAMMY® Awards out of 17 nominations.
10. “The District” – Lower Broadway, 2nd Avenue, Printers Alley
The DISTRICT is located in the heart of downtown Nashville along the Cumberland River. It’s comprised of three historic and important city districts: Broadway, 2nd Avenue/Riverfront, and Printer’s Alley. Each of these districts represents key elements in the history and character of Nashville. Here’s a map to help you get there. The District is in yellow.
The three areas are adjacent to each other, making it easy to stroll around, enjoying the atmosphere, day or night. Two historic Nashville streets, Lower Broadway and Second Avenue North, merge to form a vibrant focal point within the heart of the city, and feature an array of honky tonk clubs and bars, such as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Legends Corner, Second Fiddle, The Stage, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, and Wildhorse Saloon.
You’ll love the ambience of the historic buildings on 2nd Avenue, the first district in Nashville to receive National Register status. It’s notable for its beautiful architecture, along with shops, nightlife, and restaurants unique to Nashville.
Printers Alley takes its name from its early connection with Nashville’s printing and publishing industry, then located in the immediate area. The alley also became the center of the city’s nightlife and serviced the hotels, restaurants, and saloons fronting on Fourth Avenue, which was known as the Men’s Quarter in the late nineteenth century. Printers Alley historic district’s architecture includes elegant late Victorian styles, Nashville’s first automobile parking garage, and the city’s first “skyscraper.”
The District encompasses an area of renovated warehouses and old bars. Here, you’ll find more than two dozen clubs showcasing bands on any given weekend night. The District is alive with live music, good restaurants, and a vibrant club scene. Around the clock, the District is bustling with activity.
As you can see, there’s something for everyone in Nashville! Enjoy!