Dubbed "Music City," Nashville certainly lives up to its billing. The music the nickname refers to is definitely country music, and you can find it around every corner if you venture out in downtown Nashville.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I took my first trip to Nashville. I had never been much of a country fan. It's not that I didn't like it, I just never listened to it. So I knew going in that the trip would be a learning experience, especially with itinerary items like visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, going to the Grand Ole Opry and stopping in at as many honky tonks as possible to listen to live music.
I quickly found out that I should have given country music more of a chance, and it's what makes Nashville a great place to visit.
Three things you'll need
Your cowboy hat: Or at least your country music spirit. The city is the epicenter for country music. From the live music, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, you either need to be a fan or at least get on board with the music to really enjoy the city.
Map of downtown: Stop in at the visitor's center in Bridgestone Arena (where the NHL's Nashville Predators play) and get yourself oriented. Downtown is not difficult to navigate and a walking tour is easy enough to handle if you know where you are going. While you are at the arena, stop in at the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, where you can try on Tennessee Titans football gear and see plenty of Peyton Manning memorabilia.
Sunglasses, hat, etc.: Anything you need to keep the sun at bay. It was hot and sunny with no sign of clouds for the entire trip.
Three travel tips
Stay downtown: The difference between staying downtown and right outside of downtown is definitely noticeable. I made the mistake of staying at a hotel that was located just outside of all the main attractions, and the cab rides ate into my sightseeing time. Spend the extra money on a room in the heart of the city.
Venture off: I took time to walk across the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, which crosses the Cumberland River. The views of the city from the bridge offer a nice photo opportunity, and Cumberland Park offers a nice break from the bustle of the riverfront bars and restaurants.
Stay cool: It wasn't even summer yet when I visited, but the temperatures still reached the upper 90s. I can only imagine how hot it will get in August. There's plenty of fun to be had outside in the city, but just remember to prepare for the weather.
Three things to do or see
Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Auditorium: These are the two spots to get your fix of country music history. I have been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the exhibits in Nashville were on par with the ones in Cleveland. A series of exhibits on each floor of the museum that let you listen to original recordings of classic songs were some of my favorites. I also got to see Zac Brown's hat. The plaques of the inductees in the Hall of Fame are a must-see. The Ryman Auditorium was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. Take the tour of the converted church where plenty of country legends got their start. You can also get your picture taken on the stage. There's a package deal where you can take a bus from the Hall of Fame to the Ryman, but I would recommend walking between the two if you can.
Broadway to the riverfront: Starting near 5th Avenue, walk down Broadway and take in all the honky tonks. There's live music blaring out of the bars and from street performers almost around the clock. Most of the bars have stages for live bands, and the city is teeming with talented musicians. Even the people singing karaoke sounded like professionals. Also try as much of the barbecue as you can. The locals have their favorites, but I tried a few places, and everything was great.
Grand Ole Opry: I didn't know what to expect going to my first country concert, but the show at the Grand Ole Opry was fantastic. The headliner was Rascal Flatts, but the concert was more like a variety show. There was a long list of acts that played a song or two each, along with some stand up comedy and even commercials. It also had a unique atmosphere with top notch acoustics and church pew style seating. The show was sold out, so before you visit, check out the schedule, and buy tickets in advance.
One thing to skip
Opryland: The show at the Grand Ole Opry was great, but the surrounding stores and restaurants in "Opryland" felt like tourist traps. You can skip all of this and spend your time in other parts of the city.