Nashville had been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so when I had the opportunity to spend a few days there in the fall, I jumped. Once I mentioned my upcoming trip, Nashville natives and several friends who frequently visit immediately began sharing their recommendations. I’d heard so much about Nashville’s growth over the last few years and it quickly became clear to me that this town was far more than a music mecca. I’d venture to say it’s a foodie town with the vast number of restaurants people suggested and urged me to try. Expectations were high and I compiled a list of things to see, places to eat and areas to shop. It wasn’t possible to hit everything, but I got a taste of what modern Nashville is all about…and it’s good.
The pulse of Music City is downtown, specifically on Lower Broadway. Music flows out to the street from the seemingly endless venues. The amount of talent is impressive. I hopped around several spots and was never disappointed in the quality of the music. And, it varied from country to rock to jazz to bluegrass. Several spots had rooftop bars, which was a nice break from the hustle and loud music inside. The downtown area is very walkable so comfortable shoes are a must with numerous restaurants and sites within blocks of the action.
It’s essential to venture beyond the downtown area to take in several other neighborhoods, namely The Gulch, 12 South, East Nashville and Germantown, each having their own distinct personality. A design-minded vibe has impacted these areas with a new crop of shops and restaurants springing up at record speed. It’s impossible to not see the rapid growth Nashville is experiencing, especially in Germantown with luxe condos going up on virtually every corner.
Each of the neighborhoods I visited had their own unique little gems of places to eat and shop. I found 12 South to be the most concentrated and walking friendly with several boutiques worth a visit. Anchoring the southern end of 12th Avenue is White’s Mercantile, best described as a modern general store. You can’t miss Imogene + Willie, a carefully curated shop offering custom denim in a refurbished old service station, or Emerson Grace, a charming boutique stocked with top contemporary designers. Corner Music has been a mainstay to the Nashville music scene since 1976. Even if you’re not a musician, it’s worth a visit to take in the vibe of this iconic shop.
Germantown is more artsy with gallery-like spaces and indie coffee ships. Handmade leather goods from Peter Nappi are beautifully displayed in an industrial-like studio merchandised with cool, vintage finds. Wilder, feels like a carefully curated gallery of special pieces from an assortment of artists, at friendly price points.
The Gulch, very close to downtown, is compact enough to see in an afternoon, but don’t miss Two Old Hippies for gifts, mens and womens apparel, and music memorabilia. The back room, known as The Vault, houses a cool selection of guitars for viewing or playing.
Nashville is definitely a foodie town. I don’t think you can get a bad meal here, at least not at any of the places that were recommended to me. From local “Best BBQ” at Edleys, to the line-out-the-door at Biscuit Love, this is southern comfort food at its finest. Several taco spots were suggested. I hit Bajo Sexto for a quick lunch downtown and it was great. For more traditional restaurant-style options, I loved The Southern, Merchants, The Farmhouse and Urban Grub. Don’t miss after dinner drinks at L.A. Jackson, the rooftop bar at Thompson Hotel for a lively scene and fantastic views of the city.
You’d be making a mistake if you didn’t take in some of the historic cultural sites in and around Nashville. The Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print, and a tour of the Ryman Auditorium were highlights. If you can get tickets to a show at The Ryman, better yet. Selling records for close to 70 years, Ernest Tubb Record Shop is fun to pop in while on Broadway. If you want to venture out of town, Franklin is a charming destination in its own right. For history buffs, there’s Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, which can be easily toured in half a day.
THE COMPLETE GUIDE
White’s Mercantile A modern general store selling a little of everything from home goods and cook books to clothing, beauty and pet products.
Ceri Hoover Flagship shop with beautiful bags and shoes from designer Ceri Hoover.
Imogene + Willie Heritage style and custom denim with a cult-like following.
Emerson Grace A well edited selection of contemporary designers and local jewelry artists.
Two Old Hippies Apparel, gifts, books, and music with a rock and roll theme; The Vault “provides sanctuary for those that wish to jam in a quiet space”.
Edley’s Bar-B-Que Delicious smoky, BBQ pulled pork and brisket sandwiches and tacos.
Bajo Sexto Taco In the Country Music Hall of Fame, convenient to all downtown sites; handmade tortillas, chili-rubbed grilled beef, delicious molé.
Kayne Prime Exceptional steaks, great service and ambiance located in the historic Kayne switch yard; “the house-made bacon….looks more like a mini steak by itself”.
Moto Fresh Italian in a hip, industrial setting; “spectrum stretches from lighter, fresh fare to the savory and indulgent”.
Biscuit Love A biscuit based menu started on a food truck with a cult like following; prepare yourself for bonuts: doughnut holes made with biscuit dough.
The Southern Steak and oysters in the SoBro district; “offers an authentically southern adventure with a twist”.
The Farmhouse Southern classics using the best of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
Etch Award winning cuisine from Nashville chef Deb Paquette; “There’s something for every palate and diet, and always something new to try.”
Merchants Southern comfort food, cozy leather booths, and the perfect location on Broadway pre-honky tonk bar hopping; I ate at the bustling bar on the bistro-like first floor before catching a show at the Ryman Theater.
Adeles Southern comfort food with a lighter approach featuring seasonal ingredients, “clean American food served with a serious side of Southern comfort”
SEE & DO:
Country Music Hall of Fame Can’t miss the imposing location in the heart of downtown Nashville; a must for anyone interested in immersing themselves in the history and sound of country music. Downstairs, don’t miss the Hatch Show Print shop.
Hatch Show Print Since 1879, iconic concert promoters that hand-set orders and work on 60-year-old.
Farmers’ Market Open daily from 8-5; more than a straight forward farmers market, it’s “home to farmers, food artisans, restaurateurs, shop owners, crafters, flea merchants, special events, workshops, classes, chef demos, and more”.
Robert’s Western World Located center ice on Broadway, it’s “known as Nashville’s Home of Traditional Country Music”.
The Hermitage A short drive outside downtown, the home and grounds of Andrew Jackson.
Union Station Hotel Once Nashville’s main train station, this newly renovated Gothic historical building now serves as a hotel.
Thompson Boutique luxe hotel in The Gulch with floor to ceiling windows for a loft-like stay.
and lastly…WHAT TO PACK:
I visited Nashville in November and the weather was gorgeous and mild. As always, I pack layers that will take me day-to-night and several pair of comfortable shoes. If I wanted a break from my denim, an easy dress or leather pant worked just fine. I don’t mind a nod to western, when it’s done in small doses. I also like a modern interpretation of iconic western style such as an updated cowboy inspired boot and turquoise jewelry. Between a denim or suede/leather jacket, I was always covered in the evening if needed. A poncho served me well on the flight and when I took a detour out of downtown to visit Franklin on a windy day.
(this guide will be periodically updated and noted as such)