Forty-Eight Hours in Downtown Nashville
Nashville is a vibrant town with a southern laid back swing, contrasted by the uptempo city beat that never stops moving. As the state capital of Tennessee, a top-ten tourist destination and center of a diverse merging of industry from auto (Nissan is headquartered in Nashville), printing/publishing (Ingram…), music, restaurant vendors and more – Nashville is always on the rise, life never stops, but is never hectic…
Forty-eight hours is sparse time in a city this diverse and rich in culture – but it can be done. I recommend with any travel adventure that you make a focused plan on ‘what YOU want to see’ and build a ‘theme’ around the trip. I like a Vagabond mix of sites – a little history, a little art and some good local food – others prefer to focus only on music or history or art or food…you know your travel palette – this journey is your canvas.
If this is your first time in Nashville – I recommend being a tourist. Tourists can get a bad rap – but in Nashville – tourism is part of the culture – hospitality and museums are a staple of life in Music City. The best place to be a tourist in Nashville is downtown in the rhythm and heartbeat of music, history, art and soul.
Downtown Nashville is a perfect weekend getaway for all ages – whether you need a girls night out, romantic getaway or family vacation – downtown Nashville has something for everyone.
Downtown is highly walkable – making it an ideal spot to keep your car parked and take to the streets. The core of downtown includes famous honkytonks, museums, restaurants, historic sites and the state capitol.
Downtown Nashville has a wide variety of lodging options depending on your budget and demands. The cost will be higher downtown – but the extra $50-$100 pays off with walkable access and convenience to the core of Music City – you are also only a stone’s throw from Vandy/West End and the Belmont/Green Hills area. Nashville is a big city, but as a city I find it more compact than my hometown of Raleigh because Nashville is built on a grid. Learn your way around Broadway-West End-Harding, 21st/Hillsboro Pike, Woodmont Blvd and you can figure out the lay of the land pretty quickly.
My favorite downtown hotel is The Hermitage – it is the epitome of class southern easy-going elegance – prim and proper without being uptight – this gracious hotel is impeccably maintained holding close to the traditions of the past while incorporating modern touches. The Hermitage is a Five Diamond AAA Star Hotel and it lives up to its clout – The Hermitage is an investment in price – but you won’t forget the quality of your stay. If you are a starving artist like myself and on a budget there are other great options in Nashville that are standard in price ($100-$150 range). Check out Hotwire, Priceline and other deal sites for last minute price savings on downtown hotels. West End Hotels near Vanderbilt are only a few miles down the road and in a great location in relation to downtown as well.
Regardless of whether or not you check-into The Hermitage – I strongly recommend you take time to walk inside the elegant lobby and breath in history (ask about the ghosts), have a drink at the bar or a succulent meal in The Capitol Grille. I used to enjoy a glass of wine in the Oak Bar after attending the Broadway series at The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC)
Downtown Nashville is easy to navigate you can download maps online.
I recommend starting your day off at Nashville’s art jewel – The FRIST Center for the Arts. I’m an art hound – I love art – I’m a visual person so art is an extension of life and creativity. I always make a point to go to art museums while in a new locale – The FRIST is unique because it has no permanent collection. The FRIST is located in the old Art Deco post office – it is just a stunning building with each stone and detail of craftsmanship a story of its own. The Art Deco building is the perfect setting for hosting the world’s finest traveling art collections. The FRIST always hosts only the best in art – from Medieval Masterpieces to American Masters, The Musee d’Orsay, and beyond. I have seen everything from ancient Egypt to pop art Andy Warhol at The FRIST.
I was a FRIST membership volunteer during college. I love the commitment the Center has to Nashville, the local arts scene and arts education for children – the museum is a non-profit and is self-supporting – yet keeps fees low so art is accessible.
The museum has a wonderful cafe known for the chicken salad and fruit tea – this is a great lunch stop – affordable and delicious.
Located a few blocks away is The Country Music Hall of Fame – a wonderful interactive museum for music lovers to learn about the history of Nashville’s music scene and country legends…we’ll delve into this gem in our Music City Roots of Music Tour.
If you love the symphony – Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center is a gem in architecture and acoustics. The Nashville Symphony is superb and worth a performance if you get the chance.
Depending on what pulls your ear – I recommend meandering down to Riverfront Park during the light of the day – exploring Fort Nashborough and the outdoor art sculptures – in the summer free concerts are held here – including Nashville’s Fourth of July bonanza celebrations – boasting some of the most powerful electrifying fireworks in the country!
If you are hungry for lunch grub – you have more than a handful of can’t miss choices downtown. Jack’s BBQ is an icon on Broadway, while Puckett’s Grocery’s downtown location is a fun option for tourists. Nashville should be called Food City South because it really is a renaissance of food from around the world. Downtown tends to have more stand by spots -but local eateries are found in the mix.
As nighttime falls, the sun collapses in the sky, Nashville shines the brightest as the sounds of music fill the air. Downtown is a hub of activity every night of the week with major shows held at the 17,000+ seat Bridgestone arena (home of the Nashville Predators Hockey team), and mainstays like honkytonk sweetheart bars including Tootsies and The Stage keep the music alive. I love Tootsies it backs up to the soul – mother church of music – The Ryman Auditorium…Tootsies lives up to its legend…on 2nd Avenue – The Wildhorse is a fun place to hear a cover band and learn to line dance. I’m partial to BB Kings – where it is okay to boogie down to great R&B. Printers Alley has a storied history from publishing to music jams. Let the Music City beat unwind as you explore the honkytonks of Nashville – it is okay to be a tourist and get down to that funk beat.
If you get the chance book a show (preferably an off-season Opry or Bluegrass event) at The Ryman Auditorium. We’ll revisit the Ryman in our Music Roots tour, but suffice it to say it is simply the best for music venues – the atmosphere and heart and soul of the place is alive with music.
The TPAC hosts a variety of top quality theatrical and music performances. I saw everything from The Lion King to Jerry Seinfeld while a TPAC member. The tickets are affordable and the acoustics superb.
For a nice meal – my favorite staple is Demo’s – it is not fancy or listed on the top of Nashville lists- but the food for the price is delicious, moist and mouthwatering. Demo’s is a Nashville staple and it has never failed me – the steak is delicious bar none (and this is coming from a Cattle Call Montana Gal) For special events I like to cap off my evening with dessert at Merchant’s another fine-dining establishment.
If you are looking for some Nashville haunts – look no further than a Ghost Tour…with its Civil War history and beyond Nashville is one of the most haunted cities in America (with nearby Franklin TN a close second) I highly recommend The Ghost Tour to learn about the history and lore of Music City.
On day two take time to go to The Jack Daniels Distillery and/or The Tennessee Museum of History…The State Capitol Building is gorgeous and worth enjoying for the view of the city below.
If you are a sports fan – Nashville is for you! The Tennessee Titans Stadium is easily accessible from downtown and The Nashville Preds play in The Bridgestone Arena.
The best part of being downtown is just taking in the ambiance, feeling the history – many of the buildings date to before The Civil War and many have so much energy ingrained into the brick, mortar and plywood – to the modern gotham of the Bat Building and Nashville skyline – imagine the stories the walls tell in the old buildings, create your own Nashville story…write your own heart song in a Tennessee beat.