Like an increasing number of people these days, Nashville is my adopted city. My roots here and in Tennessee do give me a head start on understanding the place, but the seemingly endless growth in recent years is still enough to keep my head spinning. I’ve been back for a little while now and saying “yes” to as much as possible, trying to get my bearings again in the Music City’s constant flurry of activity.
Nashville is one of the hottest destinations in the country right now, and it knows it. It’s the bachelorette party capital of America, one of the biggest hockey cities around, and the dream trip for out-of-town football fans of the NFL’s Titans or the NCAA’s Vanderbilt Commodores. All that, on top of being a center for all types of music, there’s a truckload going on in Nashvegas. Here’s where to start.
Nashville is not a huge city geographically, but it is laid out very strangely and the transportation options for visitors are not great. Choosing where to stay won’t necessarily make or break a whole trip, but it’s important to base your accommodations on what you want to do during your stay. The good news is that if you’re fairly central, ride sharing options and electric scooters (bane of the Nashvillian’s existence, but very convenient) are great options for short commutes.
Like most major cities, the main hotels are located in and around the downtown area. In Nashville, they’ll be along West End Avenue and around Broadway/SoBro (south of Broadway). These are the two biggest thoroughfares in Nashville proper, and they are where you’ll find Vanderbilt University and Bridgestone Arena (home of the Predators hockey team and most of our large concerts). It’s also where the most popular bars, music joints and nightclubs are located. Whether or not you’re looking for a party while in town, the numerous neon signs lighting up Broad is a sight to behold every night.
If you are looking for a party, Broad is the place to mingle with crowds of all ages and areas— locals aren’t a rarity, but this is the place for tourist revelers. The legendary Robert’s Western World, Wildhorse Saloon, and Nudie’s Honky Tonk can all be found here. Clubs like these are more crowded than anywhere else in the city, but they and other spots like The Valentine, Crazy Town, FGL House have three to four stories and a rooftop bar each. In the very same building, and often without a cover charge, you can listen to a live band and a DJ playing pop hits, trap, or house music.
The party continues as you head out of the downtown area, but diverges into different scenes and gives way for calmer vibes, too. Slightly south, The Gulch is hip and ritzy, with juice bars, gourmet bites, and craft beer. Slightly north you’ll hit Church St, which boasts a nice mix of Nashville icons and dives: Printers Alley is home to Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, Skull’s Rainbow Room, and Fleet Street Pub, while Puckett’s Grocery serves up legendary down-home Southern food, and Play sets the standard for other gay clubs in town. Keep going and you’ll hit Centennial Park, where there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon of Athens (really). The surrounding area of Midtown has several sports for live bands in no-frills digs like The Local and Springwater, as well as raucous touring acts at EXIT/IN. At the end of the night, you’ll want some of the food made to order at Cafe Coco, open all hours of the day and night.
Cross back over West End Boulevard and the city begins giving way to the bungalow houses, recording studios, and songwriter bars. You’ll find the neighborhoods of Hillsboro Village, Edgehill, and 12 South — all hip, low-key, and very versatile areas. The Village has Pancake Pantry, Fido, and The Grilled Cheeserie, all funky places for lunch or coffee before or after browsing the nearby boutique shops. The buzz in Edgehill centers around Taco Mamacita and their huge patio, located on the corner of a breezy indoor shopping center. This building is also home to tapas spot Barcelona and the chilled-out, basement cocktail hang Old Glory. All of these work just as well for a date as for drinks with friends.
12 South has Nashville coffee staple Frothy Monkey, awesome truffle fries and more at Burger Up, and some must-have popsicles at Las Paletas. Go a few blocks over towards 8 South and Melrose for awesome vintage shopping at 8th Ave Antique Mall and similarly old-school, middle-America-type bars with pool tables and jukeboxes like the Sutler Saloon.
Making a circle to round out our tour of Nashville on this side of the river, we’ll first hit Green Hills by going a little further south. It’s home to a huge mall, country-wide health food sensation True Food Kitchen, and the legendary music venue Bluebird Cafe. Heading northwest and back across West End, Sylvan Park is a West Nashville enclave for locals with the popular sports bar Neighbors, great comfort food at Edley’s Barbecue, and the unmatched mediterannean home cooking of Coco’s Italian Market. When you take Charlotte Pike back towards downtown, swing up and around the capitol state mall to hit Germantown. A nice balance of ritzy and trendy, Germantown has some of the best upscale restaurants in town (like Italian/Southern fusion at City House), boozy brunch spots like Germantown Cafe, and a massive Munich-style beer garden at Von Elrod’s.
Off the grid
Last but not least, cross the bridges over the Cumberland River to reach East Nashville, a one-time hipster mecca with current mainstream appeal, but still plenty of originality. If you’re into vintage shopping, craft beer, or artisanal espresso, look no farther. Hip Zipper, Fanny’s, and Relik Vintage have your retro needs covered, and the latter has the added plus of being immediately next door to Mas Tacos Por Favor, the best tacos in town and a killer deal at $3 USD a pop. Right across the street you’ll also find The Pharmacy, a popular spot for deliciously Instagrammable burgers and a beer garden. Speaking of, Southern Grist Brewing is a new kid on the block for craft drafts, while the best coffee on this side of the river can be found at Portland Brew, Dose, and the Barista Parlor.
Wherever you decide to stay in Nashville, it’s fun to hop around these neighborhoods and discover what side of the city you like best. Those interested in exploring the country music heritage of the city should stop by the Ryman Auditorium, Bluebird, and catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry. The Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum are worth the admission price, too. For shows in other genres, check the schedule at Basement East, Cannery Ballroom, or Mercy Lounge. Finally, consider a day trip to see some more of what Middle Tennessee has to offer: Cheekwood Botanical Garden is a relaxing family day out, as is the picture-perfect small town of Franklin. Percy Priest Lake offers boat rentals and the Jack Daniels Distillery offers unique insight into an American icon in nearby Lynchburg.
Music lovers, foodies, and sporty types will all find something to love in the Nashville area, and these spots are just some of the highlights. With so many people moving here, the growth is unprecedented and electric — there’s never been a better time to pay us a visit.
Have a favorite spot in Nashville that we missed here? Let us know about it!
Header photo by Joshua Ness.