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Before I moved to Chicago and became a Deal Expert for Travelzoo, I lived in the Nashville area for 23 years. Last year, Nashville won Travel + Leisure's reader's poll for Destination of the Year, and it's currently listed as one of USA Today's Hot Destinations. People are constantly asking me for trip-planning advice on this trendy getaway, so I'm sharing my favorite Nashville spots with you. It really makes for the perfect long weekend destination.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
There's really not a bad time to visit. Summer is peak season and the weather is hot, so I lean toward spring and fall. Taking in a festival is a great way to meet locals and immerse yourself in a city's culture, so consider planning your trip to coincide with events like the CMA Music Festival, Music City July 4th or the Music City Hot Chicken Festival.
If you're flying, use Nashville International Airport (BNA), and rent a car. While some areas are walkable, public transportation is not great, and the city is spread out.
Where to Stay
Nashville has one of the fastest-growing hotel demands in the country, and rooms can be pricey. Search by travel date for our best hotel deals. I would recommend staying downtown, particularly in the Midtown area (look for hotels near Vanderbilt's campus). It's centrally located and home to some of the hottest bars and restaurants. My favorite Midtown hotels are the Hutton Hotel and Loews Vanderbilt Hotel.
And Now For the Fun Stuff
It's Thursday evening and you've just landed in Nashville. They don't call it Music City for nothin'. You could be greeted with live music as soon as you step off the plane - there's a honky tonk in the airport!
Assuming you're staying in the Midtown area, wander over to Hattie B's this evening. If there's one thing you should eat in Nashville, it's the famous hot chicken, and Hattie B's has some of the best in town.
Or, for true foodies and adventure-seekers, score one of the 22 available spots at The Catbird Seat, a highly acclaimed restaurant where menus don't exist and multi-course meals are full of surprise. Reservations are required -- book WAY in advance.
After dinner, stop at The Patterson House (a hip, speakeasy-style bar) for a specialty cocktail and great people-watching.
It's a weekday, so all touristy spots will be a little less crowded. Spend this day getting to the heart of Nashville - country music. First, have breakfast at Pinewood Social or Puckett's (downtown), or at Biscuit Love (nearby in the Gulch), then make your way to these attractions:
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum - consistently ranked one of the top attractions in the city
- Hatch Show Print - an iconic letterpress operation located inside the Hall of Fame and Museum *They offer guided tours
- Historic RCA Studio B - Nashville's oldest surviving recording studio, where Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings recorded some of their most famous songs. *While you're there, drive through Music Row, home to hundreds of businesses related to the music industry
- Johnny Cash Museum - a bit small and cramped during peak times, but still a wonderful tribute to the Man in Black, including handwritten lyric sheets and costumes
- Ryman Auditorium - known as "the mother church of country music," the acoustics are some of the best in the world *I highly recommend seeing a show here. At the very least, take a tour.
- Lower Broadway - For the ultimate Nashville experience, go honky tonkin' at the bars on Lower Broadway. They're chock full of talented musicians at all hours of the day, and you might just see the next rising star *Robert's Western World and Tootsie's are my favorite
- For an all-encompassing look at the city, consider booking a Grey Line bus or trolley tour.
- Non-music attractions worth a peek: Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, Tennessee State Museum, Frist Center for the Visual Arts and Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park (visit the nearby Farmer's Market, open seven days a week)
Hopefully you're seeing a live concert tonight. In addition to the Ryman and Honky Tonks on Broadway, I'd recommend catching a show at the famous Grand Ole Opry, or Bluebird Café. Bluebird Café is very popular and tickets are limited - see their website for ticketing info.
There's a lot more to Nashville than country music. You'll need two days to explore the city's coolest neighborhoods, full of vibrant food and arts culture. Here are my favorite spots:
East Nashville: Begin your day with a cup of coffee at ultra-trendy Barista Parlor, but don't eat anything, because there are tons of great restaurants nearby. Walk Eat Nashville conducts food tours with tastings on select Saturdays. If you can't get a ticket, no worries. Just make up your own route! I recommend stopping at some of these restaurants for a small bite: Edley's BBQ, Five Points Pizza, Lockland Table, Marche Artisan Foods, I Dream of Weenie, The Pied Piper Creamery, Fat Bottom Brewery (have a drink in the beer garden) and Mas Taco. The area is also home to some great shopping, including Hey Rooster General Store, The Hip Zipper and Old Made Good. For dinner, start with cocktails at The Holland House, then walk over to The Pharmacy for some of the best burgers in the city. Sit outside in the beer garden.
Hillsboro Village: This is a youthful neighborhood near Belmont and Vanderbilt universities. If you're staying in Midtown, you can walk through Vandy's picturesque campus to get here. Go for breakfast -- tourists will be lined up for the Pancake Pantry (a Nashville institution), but locals choose Jackson's or Fido. Then, do a little shopping at stores like Pangea and BookManBookWoman.
12 South: This area is home to some of my favorite stores - Savant Vintage, White's Mercantile, Imogene + Willie and Reese Witherspoon's Draper James. Stop for a gourmet popsicle at Las Paletas and a beer at 12 South Taproom.
Belle Meade: This upscale city is home to the Belle Meade Plantation and Cheekwood Botanical Garden. As a bonus, you can burn off all the BBQ and craft beer you've consumed by taking a walk at nearby Percy Warner Park or Radnor Lake.
Outside the city: You can also take a day trip to nearby attractions like downtown Franklin, Arrington Vineyards or the Jack Daniel's Distillery. If you visit Jack Daniel's, eat lunch at Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House. This is one of the best meals I've ever had, and I'm still dreaming about the chocolate pie. Meals consist of generous helpings of traditional southern food (some of it infused with Jack Daniel's) served with a side of local history -- a local resident will sit at your table to keep the conversation flowing. Reservations required - you can find info on Jack Daniel's website.
Head over to the Station Inn (in the Gulch, where there are tons of restaurants and shopping), a small venue famous for its Bluegrass music. On Sunday nights, the Bluegrass Jam is free, and a perfect way to end your time in Nashville.
That's it! I hope you're leaving with a full stomach, a catchy tune stuck in your head, a happy heart and a new appreciation for this beautiful city.
Bethany Voyt is a deal expert at Travelzoo and based in Chicago. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.