For those looking to immerse themselves in a center of music, history and culture, there are few better places to visit than Nashville, Tennessee. Referred to as “Music City,” Nashville is well-known for its country stars, but the city also thrives with nightly performances of pop, bluegrass, rock, jazz and many other genres in its numerous vibrant music halls.
Music is not all Nashville is known for, though. The songwriting capital of the world is also a place of culinary creativity, where award-winning chefs serve up delicious meals featuring worldly inspirations and Tennessee favorites like barbecue and hot chicken.
When I departed on my four-day trip to Nashville, I was determined to see, hear and taste as much as it had to offer. I began by checking into my hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The spacious resort shares the same property as the famous Grand Ole Opry House that hosts hundreds of concerts each year. Given my close proximity to such a renowned place of musical significance, I felt immediately immersed in the Nashville experience.
After check-in, I began my plunge into Nashville’s intriguing cuisine scene with a progressive tasting dinner.
Chauhan Ale & Masala House
My first stop was the Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Co-owner and Chef Maneet Chauhan incorporates her Indian roots and her passion for global cuisine into her dishes, creating delectable and unique combinations of Indian and Southern foods. Chef Chauhan’s imaginative cuisine is expertly paired with a vast array of cocktails, wines, spirits and artisan beers.
Carter Vintage Guitars
With Chef Chauhan’s delicious creations settling in my stomach, I popped into Carter Vintage Guitars to browse years of music history. A beautiful collection of vintage, fretted instruments, some of which were owned by legendary musicians, lines the walls of the business’s 8,000 square foot showroom. This cool guitar store often has celebrity visitors, like Keith Urban, coming to browse their instruments.
Christie and Walter Carter founded the business in 2012. Both have over 25 years of experience in the world of vintage guitars, from which they pulled their appreciation and passion for the instruments and aimed to create a space where others could appreciate them.
While perusing the Carters’ extensive collection, we sampled local Nashville beers from Jackalope Brewing Company, a craft brewery right down the street from the guitar shop.Peg Leg Porker
My next stop on the tasting tour was Peg Leg Porker, a Nashville favorite for the type of good, old-fashioned barbecue that made Tennessee a barbecue destination. Pitmaster Carey Bringle and his team have thrived in Nashville since opening in 2013. He has enjoyed a 27-year, award-winning career as a competitor in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and has received plenty of acclaim for his restaurant, which has been featured in dozens of national TV shows, including the Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters, Bizarre Foods Americaand BBQ Crawlon the Travel Channel and Hungry Brotherson TLC. If you visit, I recommend starting off with some tasty Memphis Sushi (sausage cheese plate & saltines), then graduate to a hearty BBQ entrée and sides for the full Tennessee barbecue experience.
Fin & Pearl
After visiting Peg Leg Porker, I gave my taste buds a switch and sampled some fresh seafood at Fin & Pearl.
Between their full lunch and dinner menu and the Ocean Bar that features a delectable selection of raw seafood, Fin & Pearl is sure to provide an excellent dining experience complete with approachable Southern charm.Moto
After Fin & Pearl, I visited Moto restaurant for a taste of its rustic Italian cuisine. Moto’s elegant and accessible menu is “in motion,” providing patrons with an expansive wine selection to pair with a wide array of food choices, ranging from light dishes to savory entrées. During our visit, we enjoyed their agnolotti with mushroom, blueberry balsamic, sage; black spaghetti with lobster ragu, gulf shrimp, Calabrian chilis and meatballs with ricotta.Rudy’s Jazz Room
To complete my first night in Music City, I enjoyed a taste of Nashville’s rich jazz culture at Rudy’s Jazz Room. Located in the Gulch neighborhood, Rudy’s serves up fine New Orleans cuisine, prohibition-style cocktails, wine and live jazz seven nights a week. This place is perfect for those wishing to enjoy an intimate night away from the busyness of Honky Tonk Highway.
Feeling full of delicious food and cozy from the warm, jazzy atmosphere at Rudy’s, I retired for the night at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The next morning, I awoke bright and early to jumpstart a music-filled day touring Nashville. I started by visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, downtown. The museum has over 350,000 square feet of state-of-the-art galleries, archival storage, educational rooms and special event space. Its goal is to preserve and showcase the growing history of country music, including the rich history born right there in Nashville.
A few notable highlights include the 776-seat CMA Theater, the Taylor Swift Education Center and two interactive galleries that deeply immerse you in contemporary country music: the ACM Gallery and the Fred and Dinah Gretsch Family Gallery.
With weekly musical demonstrations, hands-on activities and thousands of square feet of galleries to peruse, there’s something for every country lover here.Historic RCA Studio B
From there, I toured another pinnacle of country music history, the Historic RCA Studio B. (one of my favorite tours of the trip) This is Nashville’s oldest recording studio, having celebrated its 60thanniversary in 2017.
Home to hits like Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and 250 hits by Elvis Presley, including “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” the property engulfed me in history and musical tradition.
Full on country music history, I decided it was time to fill up on some more Tennessean barbecue treats at Martin’s Bar-B-Que. The menu is extensive, and during my visit I ordered the pimento cheese club sandwich, fresh cut fries and mac & cheese. At Martin’s, all food is made from scratch and the meat is cooked low and slow, just the way true Southern barbecue should be.
Owner Pat Martin has over 25 years of experience smoking meats, and it shows. Martin’s love for BBQ quickly became a passion. On a serendipitous note, just a week prior, I attended a mouthwatering BBQ in Napa Valley at Long Meadow Ranch Winery and Farmstead, where Pat Martin was the featured Chef. It was a happy surprise to visit his restaurant in Nashville just a short time later.Schermerhorn Symphony Center
After my tasty lunch, I dove back to the local music scene to experience the grandeur of Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
The Center’s main venue is the Laura Turner Concert Hall, which seats over 1,800 people and is one of the city’s musical gems for the renowned musical performances it hosts and its impressive architecture. The neoclassical revivalist concert hall opened in 2006 and features windows that fill the hall with natural light, as well as convertible orchestra seating that transforms into a ballroom floor.Johnny Cash Museum
After marveling at the beauty of the Symphony Center, I made my way to the heart of Nashville to tour the Johnny Cash Museum. You can’t discuss country music without considering Johnny Cash, and this museum is chock-full of authentic and interactive exhibits to tell the story of Cash’s life from childhood through his entertainment career. Some of the displays included:
- Cash’s 1980/81 personal planner, containing important dates for appearances and travel, as well as his personal phone directory.
- Cash’s cherished Crucifix Ring, given to him on his 70th birthday
- Cash’s first-ever gold record for “I Walk the Line.” The award was presented to Cash by Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.
- Cash’s custom jumpsuit worn, during his San Quentin Prison rehearsal in 1969.
Patsy Cline Museum
Right upstairs from Johnny is another museum that pays tribute to a late country music icon: Patsy Cline. This new museum features exhibits showcasing Cline’s short but full life and career, creating music alongside the likes of Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran.
In the bustling heart of downtown Nashville, surrounded by the city’s culture and musical glory, these museums display two of country’s greatest and are well worth a visit.
Frist Art Museum
On my next stop, I browsed the Frist Art Museum, which features 24,000 square feet of visual art exhibitions and educational facilities in a former U.S. Post Office. One of the mainstays of Nashville’s arts community, the Frist graces the space with new art every six to eight weeks, providing visitors with consistent streams of new galleries.
A recent addition is its newly-renovated Martin ArtQuest Gallery—a space where children and parents can learn about art through engaging, hands-on activities.
Butcher and Bee
After visiting the Frist, it was time for dinner at Butcher and Bee in East Nashville, the second location of a successful restaurant originally from Charleston, South Carolina. Butcher and Bee supports local farmers who adopt sustainable practices and put these responsible food sources to good use by creating delicious meals meant for sharing. During my visit, we indulged in whipped feta, hummus, corn salad, bacon wrapped dates, Israeli salad, cherry tomato toast, avocado crispy rice, lamb meatballs, chicken fried cauliflower and snapper amandine.
With a full day of touring and tasting under my belt, I returned to the Gaylord Opryland Resort for a night’s rest.
To begin my third day in Nashville, I visited the famous and historic Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Regarded as the mother of country music, the Ryman is a National Historic Landmark renowned for its exceptional acoustics that create warm, clear sounds that elevate the talent of the brilliant musicians who perform there.
The Ryman has hosted a vast array of musicians, from Chris Isaak and James Brown to Patsy Cline and Bruce Springsteen, and continues to showcase rising stars of all musical genres. This legendary venue celebrated its 125thanniversary in 2017, solidifying its place in the history books and on thousands of tourists’ itineraries as a must-see venue.
Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room
Next, I continued down the path of history by visiting the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room. Occupying the west wing of the library, the Civil Rights Room holds a collection of books, photographs, pamphlets and newspaper clippings on the history of Nashville during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. The Arts Company, Tinney Contemporary and the Rymer Gallery
That afternoon, I took to the 5thAvenue of the Arts district to peruse some of Nashville’s finest galleries in an art crawl. The downtown arts district is organized around the mission of providing ongoing visual arts experiences, complete with a distinctively Nashvillean flavor.
I meandered through galleries, such as the Arts Company, Tinney Contemporary and the Rymer Gallery, taking in the artistic spectacle and enjoying some quiet time away from the bustling music scene.
If you plan to visit Nashville and are interested in art, many galleries in the 5thAvenue of the Arts district come together to host a monthly art crawl, complete with live outdoor music and free refreshments. This is the perfect opportunity to tour these fine spaces and enjoy a quiet night out.Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum
Heading back to the world of music, I explored the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum. Established in 2006, the museum features well-known—and not so well-known—musicians who played on many of the greatest recordings of all time.
In 2016, the museum added its permanent GRAMMY Museum Gallery, and three new exhibits were unveiled in January 2018: a Jimi Hendrix exhibit, telling the story of his early years in Nashville; Mike Curb’s Johnny Cash collection, featuring hundreds of personal items and awards; and Brian Ahern’s Enactron Mobile Studio.Skull’s Rainbow Room
Before heading back to the Gaylord for a brief rest, I stopped to grab a cocktail at the famous Skull’s Rainbow Room. Skull’s offers visitors a blend of exquisite cocktails, a delicious menu of American classics created by executive chef Gannon M. Leary, nightly jazz music and burlesque performances at this legacy building on historic Printers Alley.
The venue has entertained a variety of musical genre performances since its opening in 1948, including legends like Etta James, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Paul McCartney. Skull’s closed in 1998 and was reopened in 2015, now paying tribute to former owner David “Skull” Schulman with simple, elegant touches around the space.
Back at the Opryland Resort, I was treated to a property tour of the resort’s upcoming addition scheduled for December, SoundWaves. SoundWaves will be a four-acre, three-level indoor/outdoor water park creating a modern oasis with attractions for all ages.
Table 3 Restaurant and Market
After the SoundWaves tour and a light rest, I headed to Table 3 Restaurant and Market for a classy and comfortable meal of French comfort food. With its fresh ingredients, authentic brasserie/bistro dining experience and contemporary atmosphere, Table 3 presents an accessible and delicious meal that perfectly topped off my day.
I had one last stop for the night before retiring to the hotel, and that was the Bluebird Café. The legendary café is the perfect place to sip a refreshment and catch a live performance from remarkable songwriters in an intimate “in the round” setting. Patrons gather every night to listen to performers take turns playing their original songs and accompanying each other, a one-of-a-kind experience I will not soon forget.
On my fourth and final day in Nashville, I headed off to lunch at Merchants downtown. Merchants is situated in a three-story building that dates back to 1892 and was the site of the former Merchants Hotel, which hosted a variety of country music legends in its time.
Today, Merchants is a lively, three-floor restaurant that offers a different dining experience on each level. A hearty bistro graces the first floor, making it the ideal lunch destination, while the second floor offers more refined and upscale lunch and dinner options. The third floor is reserved for private dining and events. Lunch items include: raw oysters, lobster bisque, gazpacho, Italian iceberg salad, grilled chicken Caesar, sliced filet medallions, steak frites, grilled swordfish, oyster po boy and chocolate panna cotta. Grand Ole Opry House
After meandering around town for a while and eating dinner at one of the many unique dining options at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, it was time for the grand finale of the trip: a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
I walked from dinner to the Grand Ole Opry House to watch Garth Brooks perform—a modern-day country legend on a stage that has hosted so many greats. I absolutely recommend the Grand Ole Opry to anyone visiting Nashville. The venue is currently home to Nashville’s most famous radio show, started in 1925 and is truly a live music phenomenon, dedicated to honoring the biggest and the best of country music history. Thousands of people watch live performances each night, while millions more tune in on the radio.
A few of the upcoming country music stars coming to the Grand Ole Opry House this include Kelsea Ballerini, Little Big Town, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and Alabama.
Bidding Nashville farewell
After four full days of exploring Nashville’s rich musical history, deeply-rooted culture and eclectic cuisine, it was tough to say goodbye. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there, from touring museums like the Johnny Cash and the Country Music Hall of Fame, to eating unique meals at restaurants like Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Martin’s Bar-B-Que and Merchants, to seeing spectacular live music in small venues like the Bluebird Cafe and magnificent ones like the Grand Ole Opry House.
Although I did, saw and ate a lot in Nashville, I have a strong desire to return soon because I only scratched the surface of all the amazing experiences Nashville has to offer.