14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Nashville
Nashville, capital of Tennessee, lies almost in the center of the state on the Cumberland River. With its many universities and colleges, along with its superb reproduction of the Parthenon, it's often called the "Athens of the South." Founded in 1779, Nashville, although an important financial center, is perhaps best known as the capital of country music, as evidenced by such attractions as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the city's famous Music Row district. The city serves as an excellent jumping-off point to explore the rest of Tennessee, and Nashville's surroundings offer many historical and recreational attractions, including old plantations and Civil War sites.
See also: Where to Stay in Nashville
1 Music Row: The Heart of Nashville
The area surrounding famous Music Square in downtown Nashville, Music Row is the heart and soul of the nation's music industry. In addition to numerous souvenir and memorabilia shops and museums devoted to music and musicians, there are many memorials and plaques dedicated to some of the sites associated with music. For country fans, it's all about places like the Country Music Hall of Fame, which commemorates the greats with its displays of artifacts and instruments. Also here, in the hub of Nashville, are names connected to other musical genres, such as gospel and Christian music, including recording studios, record labels, and radio and TV stations. It's a great area to get your music fix, whether you're sightseeing, shopping, or dining.
2 The Nashville Parthenon
In Centennial Park, a short walk west of the city center, is the famous reproduction of Athens' Parthenon. Originally built of wood in 1897 to commemorate the state's centenary and later rebuilt in cement on the same site, it's an impressively accurate full-scale replica of the original Greek temple. Inside is a permanent art collection of 63 works by 19th- and 20th-century American painters, along with a 42-foot-high replica of the statue of the goddess Athena Parthenos covered with gold leaf. Also worth seeing are the replicas of the famed 5th century BC Parthenon Marbles.
Address: 2500 West End Ave, Nashville
3 The Grand Ole Opry
A number of attractions are associated with the Opryland name, the former music-industry-themed amusement park that once graced Nashville. Today, the name is associated with the Grand Ole Opry, the paddle-wheel showboat the General Jackson, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and the huge Opry Mills shopping mall. Grand Ole Opry radio shows have been broadcast from here since 1925, and visitors can enjoy regular shows starring famous country stars in the Ole Opry House itself, along with fun backstage tours. The General Jackson is another great way to get your country music fix. This modern four-deck paddle-wheel showboat was built to resemble a steamship from the 1800s and offers a variety of cruises on the Cumberland River, including dining and show packages. Other music-themed attractions to visit are the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store, the Texas Troubadour Theatre with its eclectic mix of musical productions, and - for fans of classical music - the Nashville Opera.
Address: 2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville
4 Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is set in a stunning building in the heart of downtown Nashville, its tall windows resembling the keys of a piano. The museum features a multi-media display of historical performances, costumes, instruments, gold records, and memorabilia. Other highlights include a Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis, a massive 40 foot guitar, a tour bus, and a recording booth. Guided tours of the historic RCA Studio B are also available.
Address: 222 Fifth Ave South, Nashville
5 The Tennessee State Capitol
The Tennessee State Capitol, built on the most prominent hill in downtown Nashville, was designed in a simple Neoclassical style and is capped with a temple-like lantern. Started in 1845 and made mostly of local Tennessee limestone, this impressive structure is the anchor of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park linking the legislature with the downtown core. Guided tours are available at no charge (on the hour, 9am-3pm) as are self-guided tours, and the Public Galleries are open to visitors on legislative days. The building also houses the Tennessee State Museum with exhibits spanning the prehistoric to Civil War periods, along with displays of furniture, weapons, and paintings. Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is itself worth exploring. This 19-acre site commemorates the state's 200th anniversary and includes a huge granite map imbedded in the concrete plaza along with numerous fountains and statues of Tennessee-born Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson.
Address: 600 Charlotte Ave, Nashville
6 Ryman Auditorium
The Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, is again being used to host performances of the famous radio show. Originally opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman - often referred to as the "Carnegie Hall of the South" - has been restored and now also features regular classical concert series, bluegrass shows, musical theater, and television tapings. The building also serves as a museum with a variety of exhibits relating to its rich past. Guided and self-guided tours are available, and be sure to try your hand at cutting a record of your own in the Ryman's Recording Studio.
Address: 116 Fifth Ave North, Nashville
7 The Belle Meade Plantation
A short distance from the city center, the Belle Meade Plantation, built in 1845, is a handsome old Southern mansion in Greek-Revival style. During the two-day Civil War Battle of Nashville in 1864, Union and Confederate forces fought in the front yard of the mansion, and evidence of gunfire can still be seen in its massive stone columns. Guided tours are available, along with culinary experiences and other fun seasonal programs. The gardens and grounds of the mansion are also worth exploring and consist of a number of early 19th-century buildings.
Address: 110 Leake Ave, Nashville
8 Downtown Presbyterian Church
The Downtown Presbyterian Church - one of more than 600 churches in Nashville - is a splendid example of Egyptian Revival architecture. The Egyptian decorative theme is continued inside in the wall paintings, woodwork, and stained glass windows. Used as a hospital during the Union occupation of the city during the Civil War, it was designated Hospital No. 8 and housed 206 beds. Self-guided tours are available, and guests are welcome to attend events and services.
Address: 154 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville
9 Fort Nashborough
On the banks of the Cumberland River is a reconstruction of Fort Nashborough, established by pioneers in 1780 after James Robertson led them across the frozen Cumberland River. The original fort lasted until 1792, and the modern day reconstruction on the site of the original provides a fascinating insight into the life and times of these early settlers.
Address: 170 1st Ave North, Nashville
10 Nashville Zoo
Explore the plains of Africa, delve into the rainforests of South America, and discover the many animals of Asia at Nashville Zoo. Animals on display include rare clouded leopards, Baird tapirs, toucans, and Bengal tigers in habitats that represent their natural environments. Lorikeet Landing allows you to enter an aviary and be surrounded by more than 50 Australian parrots, while kids will love the Wild Animal Carousel, Wilderness Express Train, and the large Jungle Gym where they can slide, swing, climb, crawl, and explore.
Address: 3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville
11 Belmont Mansion
Built in the 1850s, Belmont Mansion is considered one of the finest houses of its kind in the US, its 13 rooms preserving much of their original décor and furnishings. Belmont was designed in the style of an Italian villa and set in elaborate gardens with many outbuildings. It has numerous exhibits including furniture, paintings, and original statues by American artists. All visits are included as part of a guided tour.
Address: 1700 Acklen Ave, Nashville
12 Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art
Cheekwood is well known for its lovely gardens and park-like setting. The Woodland Sculpture Trail has four greenhouses with camellias and orchids as well as a learning center with contemporary art galleries, and the city's Museum of Art is housed within the 1920s Georgian-style mansion, displaying a fine collection of American art from the 19th and 20th century. Nearby is the Tennessee Agricultural Museum with its collection of farm artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as rural Tennessee prints and folk art sculptures.
Address: 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville
13 Travellers Rest Plantation
Established in 1799 by John Overton, a law partner and presidential advisor to Andrew Jackson, Travellers Rest Plantation is an excellent example of the region's early architecture. The site of the Battle of Peach Orchard Hill during the Civil War, the plantation building now serves as a museum highlighting life in the early 19th century, as well as the region's history over the past 1,000 years, from its origins as a Native American settlement to its role in the Civil War. A variety of specialty tours are available, including lunch options.
Address: 636 Farrell Pkwy, Nashville
14 The Upper Room Chapel and Christian Art Museum
The Upper Room Chapel is well known for its woodcarving of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, sculpted by Ernest Pellegrini and created by more than 50 woodworkers under his guidance over a period of 14 months. Other highlights include the huge 20 foot stained-glass window featuring Pentecost themes, and religious paintings from the 14th century to the present day.
Address: 1908 Grand Ave, Nashville
Where to Stay in Nashville for Sightseeing
Downtown Nashville beats with a country heart, and this is where first-time visitors will want to stay. This area is home to music venues, the historic 2nd Ave, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, the world famous Ryman Auditorium, and Printer's Alley. At the southern end of downtown, sports fans will find Bridgestone Arena. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Nashville's iconic Hermitage hotel, housed in a Beaux Arts building dating from 1908, is right by the State Capitol and offers an experience in grandeur from the turn of the century. Next door to the Bridgestone Arena and steps to Ryman Auditorium, the recently renovated all-suite Hilton offers large rooms, and may be a good option for families. Fully integrated with the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Omni Hotel is well located just a short stroll from hip and lively Broadway Avenue.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Mid-range hotels tend to be clustered near Vanderbilt University, an easy drive two miles southwest of downtown on Broadway Avenue. This is a nice area with lots of parks and The Parthenon historical site, a full replica of the original Greek Athenian Temple. Great for families, the Homewood Suites Nashville Vanderbilt offers full kitchens. Another all-suite option is the Home2 Suites by Hilton, located in the same area and offering similar amenities. The Hilton Garden Inn has standard rooms and provides a free shuttle to the attractions downtown. All of these hotels have indoor pools.
- Budget Hotels: A convenient base for the budget minded is near the airport. It's a straight shot down Interstate 40, seven miles from the attractions downtown. The Red Roof Inn has recently been renovated and offers decent rooms and a shuttle to/from the airport. A few miles further out, and featuring an outdoor pool, is the Sleep Inn. Just across the street is La Quinta Inn & Suites, with basic rooms at a fair price. Surrounding both hotels is a good selection of chain restaurants.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Nashville
- City Sightseeing: Depending on your schedule, you can choose between a morning or afternoon departure for the half-day Discover Nashville tour, which packs in all the city's top attractions in a 3.5-hour tour. Music Row, Riverfront Park, and the Tennessee State Capitol are included on the itinerary, and the cost includes admission to Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. If you're short on time, sign up for the Nashville Trolley Tour. This guided one-hour tour visits more than 100 prime sites, including Music Row, the Parthenon at Centennial Park, and Vanderbilt University, all accompanied by a guide's informative commentary.
- Plantations and Presidents: If you have a full day to spare, the Historic Tennessee - Southern Plantations and Presidents tour provides a fascinating historical perspective of life back in Andrew Jackson's days, when he was the seventh President of the United States. The tour begins with a visit to the Hermitage, where Jackson once lived, and its museum. After lunch, you can admire the Greek Revival-style architecture of the Belle Meade Plantation, a famous 19th-century thoroughbred horse farm and nursery.