Nashville is a vibrant city that offers great music, excellent food choices, and many cultural and historical landmarks. As the birthplace of country music, Nashville lives up to its nickname, the music city. You can hear live music on every corner of downtown. Is Nashville on your bucket list? This guide to Nashville for history fans will introduce you to some must-see historical attractions. Learn about Nashville history by visiting one of many historical attractions while listening to some fine tunes and enjoying southern hospitality.
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A guide to top historical attractions in Nashville
There is more than just music history in Nashville. If you’ve been following me for a bit now, you know I like to learn about the history of a place anywhere I go. Nashville is no exception. It is an old, southern city, so there is plenty to learn about the city’s vibrant history, from slavery to notable figures who shaped Nashville’s history. Here is a guide to some of my favorite historical attractions in Nashville to get you started.
Tour the Belmont Mansion
The Belmont Mansion is situated on the Belmont University campus. It was built in the 1850s was a summer residence for Adelicia Acklen and her family. Adelicia Acklen was a wealthy and well-known businesswoman of her time. Throughout the hourly tour, you’ll get to learn about her life, her cotton plantation, her family, her travels and even her acquittance with the French Monarch Napoleon Bonaparte. You’ll also get to see her wealth that peaks throughout the whole residence in a variety of forms, including the Venetian glass or many bookcases. The residence itself is very pretty. Wonder around outdoor gardens and gazebos. Note that parking is limited.
Visit Belle Meade Plantation
Continuing the history path, consider exploring the Belle Meade Plantation. Through a 45-minute guided mansion tour, you learn about the Harding-Jackson family who occupied the mansion in the 1800s. Learn about the five generations of Harding-Jacksons, the staff who worked for them, the importance of dairy and horses to the family. You might also choose to learn about the African American families who worked at the plantation through the Journey to the Jubilee tour or taste bourbon through the Bourbon at the Belle Meade tour. While the mansion is available to visitors via a guided tour, the rest of the property can be toured on one’s own time. Note that no pictures are not allowed inside the mansion. The mansion tour also includes complimentary wine tasting and a stop at the ice cream and fudge store. Finally, there are also Segway tours available that cover the whole property.
Stop by Centennial Park to see the Parthenon
If you want to relax in nature for a bit, stop by Centennial Park. The Centennial Park features the Parthenon, which is a replica of the Greek Parthenon from Athens. Parthenon was originally built in the late 1890s for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today the building is an art museum open to visitors every day except for Mondays.
Walk on John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge for the best panoramic city views
If you want to get away from the busyness of Broadway Street, take Broadway towards Cumberland River and on your right, there will be John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge itself looks nice when lit at night and the Cumberland Park across the river is one of the best places to get a panoramic view of Nashville.
A guide to top country music attractions in Nashville
Whether you are a country music fan or not, you are visiting the capital of country music to learn what the fuss is all about. Here is a guide to some historical attractions in Nashville to get you started.
Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum
Start by visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a real treat to country music fans. You will find 2.5 million artifacts here, including musical instruments, stage wear, automobiles belonging to famous artists such as Elvis Presley or Webb Pierce and many more. The Country Hall of Fame and Music has an impressive collection of movies, prints, photographs, books, periodicals, newsletters, and others to document country music history from the 1800s to the present day. Stop by the famous Studio B, where many artists spent hours creating their hits. You’ll also find two stories of gold and platinum country music records.
Tour the Ryman Auditorium
Take a tour to learn about this legendary country venue. A day tour starts with a short video about the venue’s history and then continues with exploring other parts of the building. Within the package, you get a photo on stage and a chance to record a song in a recording booth. If you’re thirsty for more, take a backstage tour which is just an extension of a day tour, but you get to see dressing rooms featuring photos and memorabilia. You will also get to hear stories from knowledgeable guides. The tours are well-done and fun.
Listen to live music on the historical lower Broadway
There is no better place to enjoy some live music than Broadway, specifically the stretch between 5th and 3rd. It has a great selection of honky-tonk bars, country music bars, where you can listen to live music from early afternoon to the night. It is not only country music, though. As you walk by or visit different bars, you’ll hear a variety of tunes. One of the most well-known bars on Broadway is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Because of its popularity, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge can get crowded, but you might be listening to a new country music star being born. Get a bite to eat, grab a drink, join the crowd line dancing to country classics or just sit down and enjoy live music on Broadway.
Attend a show at the Grand Ole Opry
Take it a step further and attend a live show at the Grand Ole Opry. After all, it is the Grand Opry radio show that made this place so well known to country fans. You might also opt for a tour of Grand Ole Opry. During a backstage tour, you get to learn the stories of various artists who have performed at the Grand Opry.
Logistics for planning your trip to Nashville
Most of Nashville’s attractions are located downtown in one spot and you can easily walk everywhere. It makes perfect sense to book a hotel right in the city center and be close to everything. However, keep in mind that hotel prices for downtown hotels are high and parking is not included. I opted for Airbnb in one of the suburbs. I paid half the price for my Airbnb place as compared to overpriced downtown hotels, got a whole place for myself, free parking, and a fantastic host that was a great resource for local restaurants and things to do in the area.
If you drove to Nashville, beware that parking downtown can be expensive. Nashville offers buses that are a part of WeGo public transit. There are even dedicated free parking places to leave your car and transfer to a bus to commute in Nashville. Make sure you take advantage of the free WeGo Music City Circuit that travels to main city attractions. Otherwise, you pay for the fare once you onboard the bus by putting money in a farebox that requires exact change. There are different fare options, from single rides to all day and week passes. Your other alternatives to public transit include fare sharing apps such as Uber/Lyft or taxis. You might also opt for a bike or an electric scooter by using a phone app to rent one.
Once you’re in Nashville, you must try some southern cuisine: barbecue, hot fried chicken, brisket, pulled pork, or biscuits and gravy with a side of cornbread, mashed potato, green beans, mac and cheese or fried green tomatoes. I personally enjoyed eating downtown and listening to live music starting from early lunch hours. Take it a step further and explore one of many neighborhoods outside downtown. I recommend the nearby Gulch that offers many restaurants as well as cute boutiques selling country attire such as boots and hats if you want to blend with the crown, which is certainly an option but not a requirement.
Despite not being a country music fan, I very much enjoyed the city and its many attractions. Even though I did not participate in live shows featuring popular country music stars, I enjoyed learning about country music history and the most notable figures in Nashville’s history. Overall, getting to know Nashville’s history was fun. The food was delicious and paired with live music, it was a perfect way to relax. I would definitely visit again. I hope this guide to historical attractions in Nashville is useful to you.
If you’re wondering what else to see Tennessee, consider Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this article, I list 6 reasons why you should visit this park in autumn.
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