Jan 14 2020

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17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nashville

Nashville, capital of Tennessee, lies almost in the center of the state on the Cumberland River. Thanks to its importance as a place of learning – the city boasts many universities and colleges – along with its superb reproduction of the Parthenon, it’s often called the “Athens of the South” and is a delight to explore on foot. Founded in 1779, Nashville 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 also serves as an excellent jumping-off point to explore the rest of Tennessee, and Nashville’s surroundings offer many historical and recreational tourist attractions, including old plantations and Civil War sites.

If walking is your thing, be sure to take the historic John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge for its great views over the Cumberland River. Another popular thing to do is walking to (and around) the trendy Germantown area, known for its boutique shops and superb restaurants. There are also plenty of great music-themed walks to enjoy. One of the most popular is the Music City Walk of Fame located on Nashville’s “Music Mile.” Here, you can trace the city’s influence on music through a series of plaques dedicated to acts and artists who all have a connection to the city and its rich musical history. This, along with the city’s many pleasant parks and people-friendly streets, make it one of the top cities in the US to explore the old-fashioned way. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top attractions in Nashville.

1. Music Row: The Heart of Nashville

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.

Music Row is also where you’ll find such important landmarks as RCA Studio B, the recording facility credited as the birthplace of the unique “Nashville sound,” which defined so many big hits of the 1960s. (Now a teaching facility, tours can be arranged through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.) Also found 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

The Nashville Parthenon

In Centennial Park, just 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 Hermitage

The former home of America’s seventh President, Andrew Jackson, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque spots in Nashville. Located just a few minutes’ drive east of the city center, The Hermitage was originally constructed in 1819 and fully rebuilt 25 years later after a devastating fire. Now fully-renovated to look just as it would have during Jackson’s time – he lived here from 1837 to 1845 – this splendid old mansion now houses a fascinating museum with numerous exhibits and displays focusing on both his private and public lives. If you’re able, be sure to invest a little time to participate in a formal guided tour of the property (other fun activities include wagon rides and themed events such as ghost tours). The grounds are a delight to explore, too, and feature numerous attractive flowerbeds, as well as the burial site of Jackson and his wife. Also available to view is nearby Tulip Grove mansion, one time home of family members Emily and Andrew Jackson Donelson.

Address: 4580 Rachel’s Lane, Nashville, Tennessee

4. The Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry | Ron Cogswell / photo modified

A number of attractions are associated with the famous “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 Grand Ole Opry House itself, along with fun backstage tours. If you’re looking for things to do at night in Nashville, this is the place to come.

The General Jackson Showboat 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 things to do and explore 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

5. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum | Rain0975 / photo modified

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 nearby historic RCA Studio B are also available. Country music fans should also pay a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe, notable for its vast collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to one of the country’s leading music legends. Also, while not strictly country-music related, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is worth visiting for its displays and exhibits related to recorded music and its stars.

Address: 222 Fifth Ave South, Nashville

6. The Tennessee State Capitol

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 cupola. 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. Free guided tours are available (on the hour, 9am-11am, and 1pm-3pm) as are self-guided tours, and the Public Galleries are open to visitors on legislative days. 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

7. 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. Fun backstage tours are available, but book ahead in order to avoid disappointment.

Address: 116 Fifth Ave North, Nashville

8. The Belle Meade Plantation

The Belle Meade Plantation | Daniel Hartwig / photo modified

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 tall 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, and are a popular background choice for weddings. If time allows, be sure to grab a bite to eat at the on-site Harding House Restaurant, a popular spot for lunch or dinner.

Address: 110 Leake Ave, Nashville

9. Tennessee State Museum

Located in a brand-new facility that opened in 2018, the Tennessee State Museum is a great way to learn more about the rich history of this beautiful state and its diverse population. Now located adjacent to Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, this spacious state-of-the-art museum now covers an area of 137,000 square feet and is chock-a-block full of interactive displays and multi-media presentations, which bring the state’s past to life. Among the museum’s diverse collections are artifacts relating to Tennessee’s role in the Civil War, including period weapons and furniture, along with artworks and paintings, and displays related to music and musicians. Other notable features include a theater and an education and learning center.

10. Radnor Lake State Park

Radnor Lake State Park / Stephen Yeargin / photo modified

While there’s certainly no shortage of great walking routes in town, those seeking a pleasant country hike couldn’t do much better than to pay a visit to Radnor Lake State Park (Radnor Lake State Natural Area). This beautiful nature preserve covers an area of 1,402 acres on the city’s outskirts and includes six miles of easy hiking trails, which meander around the lake and through its large expanse of woodland (one trail is also available for biking and dog walking). Highlights of a visit include the chance to view native wildlife – otters, mink, beavers, bobcats, and deer are common sights – as well as visit an informative visitor’s center with educational displays relating to these creatures and the park’s native flora. It’s also a popular spot for birdwatchers thanks to its frequently-spotted population of herons and owls. With a little advance planning, you can also participate in fun guided activities, such as wildflower walks, stargazing and nature hikes, and canoe trips.

11. Downtown Presbyterian Church

Downtown Presbyterian Church | Rain0975 / photo modified

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

12. Fort Nashborough

Fort Nashborough | Maureen / photo modified

Located on the banks of the Cumberland River and reconstructed in recent years to provide visitors with an accurate depiction of life in pioneer days, Fort Nashborough was established in 1780 after James Robertson led settlers across the frozen Cumberland River. While the original fort only lasted until 1792, this modern-day reconstruction provides a fascinating insight into the life and times of early Nashvillians.

Start your exploration of this free attraction at the on-site interpretive center, which in addition to addressing the conditions for the pioneers – as well as offering great views over the Cumberland River – also features displays relating to local Native American history, including an interesting sculpture made from feathers. A number of historically accurate replica buildings are also located on the property, including fortifications, log cabins, and block houses.

13. Nashville Zoo and the Adventure Science Center

A great place to spend a few hours with the kids, Nashville Zoo provides a chance to explore the plains of Africa, delve into the rainforests of South America, and discover the many animals of Asia. All told, some 2,700 animals from 365 species can be viewed, including rare clouded leopards, Baird tapirs, toucans, and Bengal tigers, housed 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. Other must-dos include enjoying the zoo’s thrilling zipline experience.

The Adventure Science Center is another great attraction the kids will love. In addition to its many fun, hands-on, interactive displays and educational exhibits related to science and technology, the facility features a planetarium and a fun 75-foot-tall “adventure tour,” where kids can blow off some steam and play. Kids camps and sleep-overs (the latter suitable for adults, too) are also held frequently.

Address: 3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville

14. Belmont Mansion

Belmont Mansion | Jamie / photo modified

Built in the 1850s, Belmont Mansion – the largest surviving antebellum house in Tennessee – is considered one of the finest mansions of its kind in the US, largely due to the fact its many rooms have been preserved with much of their original décor and furnishings. Designed in the style of an Italian villa and set in elaborate gardens with many outbuildings, Belmont has numerous permanent exhibits to enjoy, including its collection of furniture, paintings, and original statues by American artists. All visits are included as part of a guided tour (if available, look into one of the fun evening ghost tours).

Address: 1700 Acklen Ave, Nashville

15. Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art

Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art | Rain0975 / photo modified

Cheekwood is well known for its lovely gardens and park-like setting and is a splendid place to spend a few hours. Highlights of this beautiful 55-acre estate-like property include the Woodland Sculpture Trail with its four greenhouses with camellias and orchids, as well as a learning center with contemporary art galleries. The city’s Museum of Art is also housed within the 1920s Georgian-style mansion, displaying a fine collection of American art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Nearby is the Tennessee Agricultural Museum with its collection of historic farm artifacts, as well as collections of rural Tennessee prints and folk art sculptures. The Frist Art Museum is another gallery worthy of a visit. Located downtown in the city’s attractive old post office building, it’s notable for its many visiting art exhibits from around the world.

Address: 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville

16. Travellers Rest Plantation

Travellers Rest Plantation | Daniel Hartwig / photo modified

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 wartime role. A variety of specialty tours are available, including lunch options.

Address: 636 Farrell Pkwy, Nashville

17. 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. A pleasant garden is also available to enjoy.

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 The 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 Nashville Downtown offers large rooms, and may be a good option for families. Fully integrated with the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Omni Nashville 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 Nashville/Vanderbilt 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 the area near the airport. It’s a straight shot down Interstate 40, seven miles from the attractions downtown. The fully-renovated Red Roof PLUS+ Nashville Airport offers decent rooms and a shuttle to/from the airport. A few miles farther out, and featuring an outdoor pool, is the Sleep Inn. Just across the street is La Quinta Inn & Suites Nashville Airport, 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 prefer to do things at your own pace, opt for a Nashville Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour. This handy option allows you to stop wherever you choose, and spend as long as you like exploring favorite attractions 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.

For TV Buffs and Fans: Those unable to get enough of the TV show Nashville will want to book a place on the “Nashville” TV Show Film Locations Tour. This nearly four-hour-long adventure provides fans with plenty of news and gossip around the hit series, as well as visits to the homes of its stars. Highlights include a presentation related to the show at the Bluebird Café (Thursdays only), as well as tours of the famous Ryman Auditorium (Sundays only). This fun, popular tour includes pickup and drop-off at most downtown hotels.

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Popular Nashville Day Trips: When you’re done exploring the many great points of interest in Nashville, be sure to spend at least a little time exploring the surrounding area. Top-rated day trips within an easy drive include a visit to the Carter House and Carnton Plantation, as well as the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation, both of which became famous as battlegrounds during the Civil War. The historic city of Chattanooga is also a great day trip destination, as famous for its fictional trains (the Chattanooga Choo-choo) as it is for the real thing: the superb Tennessee Valley Railroad, which hosts a variety of fun excursions aboard vintage rail cars. Another great destination with a rich musical history, Memphis is perhaps most famous as the home of Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Memphis is also famous for its fun Beale Street Entertainment District, as well as the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.

The Great Outdoors: For a fun back-to-nature experience, head to the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, home to the country’s most visited national park. Popular outdoor activities include hiking, biking, camping. and white water rafting. And if fishing’s your thing, Tennessee is famous for its superlative fly fishing, boasting an impressive 22,000 miles of streams and some 29 reservoirs in which to cast a line.

Southern USA Vacation Ideas: Louisville, Kentucky is another great Southern destination worth considering for a fun-filled US vacation. Highlights include the famous Kentucky Derby, held each year in May, and the Louisville Slugger Museum, dedicated to the nation’s favorite sport, baseball. Also popular in Kentucky is the pretty city of Lexington, known for its university and the Kentucky Horse Park. A little farther south, and you’ll find yourself in Atlanta, the capital of Georgia and in many respects the cultural and historical center of the American South. In addition to exploring fun family attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola, a museum dedicated to the nation’s most popular beverage, there are plenty of important historical attractions, too, many of them focusing on issues of civil rights and one of the city’s most famous sons, Martin Luther King.


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