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38 Things to Do in Nashville for First Timers (with hidden gems)

38 Things to Do in Nashville for First Timers (with hidden gems)

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Although Nashville is the bachelorette capital of the USA and known for the birth country music, after spending a week here, I learned that it’s SO much more than that. 

History, hospitality, food, all genres of music…the energy here is unmatched.

Here are the top things to do in Nashville, Tennessee, especially if you’re a first time visitor.

This list includes the main attractions as well as a few hidden gems, and nothing that’s not worth seeing.

Because I don’t want to waste your time by listing absolutely everything possible you can do in Nashville (hint, there’s too much).

These are only the places, sights, experiences and activities that are worth your valuable time in Nashville.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click through and make a purchase I may make a small commission. I only share information about things I know, love and trust!

Lower Broadway Honky Tonks

Nicknamed the honky tonk highway, in downtown Nashville you’ll find Lower Broadway, home of the honky tonks and the best place for nightlife.

This street full of live music is probably the number one attraction in Nashville.

Along 6 blocks you’ll find over 40 bars, and they all have live music every day!

It’s not just nightlife here, the music runs from 10am to 3am everyday.

Some of these bars are even 2 or 3 stories high with a different band or musician on each floor.

The live music is free, but tips are encouraged and appreciated.

And don’t miss checking out the side streets.

For example, the Wildhorse Saloon has the largest dance floor downtown and offers free line dancing.

Doc Holiday’s Bar

Pay a visit to Doc Holiday’s Bar and add your name to a dollar bill and put it up anywhere in the bar. The entire place is covered in money.

It’s also the only bar left in downtown Nashville where you can smoke.

Printer’s Alley 

Printer’s Alley is a hidden gem that a lot of tourists miss. You’ll find it on church street between 3rd and 4th ave.

The narrow alley and all the lights and neon signs make this a magical spot.

It’s a little more lowkey than Broadway where you’ll find a little less country music and little more blues and jazz music. 

But beyond that, there’s so much history here.

During prohibition, the various print shops here turned into speakeasies which blossomed into an underground bar scene and the reason why you’ll find quaint bars and pubs still there today. 

Rascal Flatts and Gretchen Wilson were discovered at venues in Printers Alley. 

Fun fact: Toby Keith recorded “I love this bar” at Lonnie’s in Printers Alley.

The Arcade

The Arcade is a historic shopping area in Nashville with Diagon Alley vibes!

It’s a hidden gem that everyone misses because it’s tucked away 2 blocks behind Broadway between 4th and 5th Avenues.

It was Nashville’s first enclosed shopping district, opened in 1902.

Ryman Auditorium

The Ryman Auditorium is known as the mother church of country music and the birthplace of bluegrass and where the Grand Ole Opry was born.

Legends that have performed here include Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.

It’s also where June Carter first met Johnny Cash.

While the grand ole opry has since moved locations, you can still buy tickets for live concerts as well as take a tour of this historic building.

View tour info here.

Ryman Alley

And while you’re there, walk down Ryman Alley, where you can literally walk in the footsteps of country music legends.

Performers would use the back door of the Ryman Auditorium to sneak through the back alley to tootsie’s orchid lounge for a drink after their shows.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is arguably the most famous honky tonk on Broadway, and you can’t miss the bright purple colored building.

It’s where Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after performing here.

The most famous patrons who frequented here were Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and since I’m Canadian, a plug for Terri Clark who got her start here.

Grand Ole Opry

You definitely need to enjoy a night at the Grand Ole Opry, which is not only a concert, but a live radio show that’s been running since 1925.

It’s the longest running radio broadcast in US history.

It’s known as the show that made country music famous.

Each Opry show features live performances by 8 or more artists that range from country music legends, up and coming artists and legendary songwriters.

On this night we saw Terri Clark and Jon Pardi perform among others!

You can also tour the building, learn about the history and go backstage if you didn’t manage to get concert tickets. 

Note that the Grand Ole Opry is located about 20 minutes outside of downtown, so you definitely can’t walk there. 
View the Grand Ole Opry backstage tour here.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conservatory

You can even take a boat ride on the water that runs through the hotel

The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is the largest non-casino resort in the United States.

Not only is the hotel impressive, inside you’ll find a massive indoor garden and conservatory complete with a boat ride and waterfalls.

They also have stores and restaurants inside to complete your visit if you’re not an overnight guest.

Johnny Cash Museum

If you’re a fan of the man in black, the Johnny Cash Museum is a must see in Nashville.

It’s small, but packed with history and all kinds of items from his personal and professional life. 

Combine it with a meal at Sun Diner

For an exceptional breakfast or lunch before or after your visit, try out Sun Diner next door.

It pays homage to Sun Records’ legendary artists, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

I may have ordered the crème Brule French toast more than once which is cinnamon bread dunked in a Rumchata batter.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop

Opened in 1947, this is the ultimate record shop where you’ll find almost every piece of country and bluegrass music. 

Country Music Hall of Fame

The country music hall of fame takes you through the origin of country music and bluegrass music all the way to current country rock stars.

This museum is massive and provides an in depth look at the most celebrated genre of music here in Nashville.

After exploring the exhibits, you can also take the Historic RCA Studio B tour.

Historic RCA Studio B

RCA Studio B is the famous recording studio which gave birth to the Nashville sound.

Many famous artists record here including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and many other legends.

Tip: save money and buy the combined Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B Tour ticket combo

Hatch Show Print

Hatch Show Print is the original letter press and poster print shop in Nashville, operating since the 1800s (and still going today).

On a tour here you’ll see the printmaking process in action, view iconic posters they’ve made for country music legends, as well as a chance to design and make your own print.

National Museum of African American Music

According to their website, the National Museum of African American Music is: “the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans.”

This is a brand new museum in Nashville and a must visit for any music fan.

Old Town Trolley Tour

One thing I really enjoyed was taking the Old Town Trolley tour of some of Nashville’s biggest attractions.

It’s a hop on hop off style sightseeing tour full of all kinds of fun facts and history from your driver who narrates the whole way.

I recommend this for first time visitors and early on in your trip to get the lay of the land.

There’s 13 stops so you can see many different parts of the city and you can ride as many times all day.

Many of the Nashville attractions listed within this post are accessible from stops on the Trolley Tour. 

View trolley tour prices & info here.

Bluebird Café

The Bluebird Café is one of the most iconic spots for live music in Nashville – you might recognize it from the famous show of the same name.

Established in the early 1980s, this small venue features up-and-coming as well as hit songwriters in an intimate setting.

The vibe here is a listening room where the songs and the stories are the stars of the show.

It was here that I really came to appreciate how respected the songwriting community in Nashville is.

You might recognize some country stars that were discovered here, including Keith urban, Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift.

General Jackson Showboat Dinner Cruise

Cruise the historic Cumberland River on one of the country’s largest paddle-wheel boats, the General Jackson.

Enjoy the Nashville scenery from a different angle and catch the sunset if you do the dinner cruise and indulge in a home cooked southern meal on board.

After dinner, sip drinks and listen to live music from the boat decks.

This is another highly rated experience in Nashville. 

View tour prices and info here.

Tour the Homes of the Stars

Did you know there are tons of famous country stars and musicians that call Nashville their home?

On this comfortable bus sightseeing tour you’ll pass by some of the most beautiful neighborhoods and homes of past and present Nashvillians, including Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon, Garth Brooks and many more. 

Even if you’re not a fan of the rich and famous, this tour provides an in depth tour of some of Nashville’s most varied neighborhoods that most tourists miss. 

View tour prices and info here.

Cowboy Boot Shopping

Now, a lot of locals will tell you that the way they can spot tourists is those who wear cowboy boots and hats.

Because of this I was almost not going to bring my boots, but I’m so glad I did.

I ended up wearing them every single day – because I was tourist and so was everyone else who were rocking their boots.

And there’s no shame in that.

One of my favorite things to do was to go boot shopping and check out all the different and outrageous designs (and price tags) among the fresh leather smell.

Line Dancing Class

If you’re in Nashville, there’s no way you’re leaving this town without hitting a dance floor and joining in on a line dance!

If you need a little help or want to brush up on your moves, you can take part in a one hour line dancing crash course.

This is a really fun activity if you’re in town with some friends for a bachelorette or a birthday party.

Check out line dancing lessons here

Tip – you can also learn to line dance for free at the Whiskey Saloon, just off Broadway where they offer line dancing lessons almost every night of the week on downtown’s largest dancefloor.

AA Foot Spa

After a couple days of walking around town in your cowboy boots, this place is much needed.

This one is a major hidden gem in Nashville, it’s called AA Foot Spa, and it came recommended to us from a friend who regularly works the country music awards.

It was $40 for the most heavenly foot massage I’ve ever had. It’s a good 20 minutes south of downtown but well worth the drive or Uber ride.

You can find it at 224 Thompson Ln #B.

East Nashville

East Nashville is across the Cumberland River and offers a really different vibe from the honky tonk country music atmosphere in downtown Nashville.

One of my favorite ways to tour this neighborhood was by going on the Brew Hop Brewery Trolley Tour.

It’s a hop on hop off trolley bus that takes you to 7 different breweries. 

View prices & info for the Brewery Tour here.

Go Mural Exploring

Nashville’s art scene was one of the biggest surprises about visiting this city.

I knew it had a few famous murals, but I didn’t realize you can find them on almost every corner it seems.

If you’re looking for a fun and free activity in Nashville, plan a day or an afternoon with your camera and go mural hopping.

If you don’t have a car, there are some fun guided mural tours you can join, like this one that brings you around in a golf cart.

Try Hot Chicken 

While some Nashville locals will tell you to visit Prince’s Hot Chicken, others will tell you to visit Hattie B’s.

Either way, you must try Nashville’s most famous food while you’re here – hot chicken.

We tried Hattie B’s where they’ve got different heat levels ranging from mild to shut the cluck up.

I went for the classic bone-in which is the most traditional way to get hot chicken and went for medium which had a bit of kick but not over the top.

Goo Goo Chocolate Co.

Goo Goo Chocolate Co. was the first company to make a combination chocolate bar in the USA.

If you love chocolate and want a taste of history, stop in for a goo goo cluster.

White Limozeen (Dolly Parton’s Bar)

A unique place to have some drinks and small bites (especially if you’re on a girls trip) is White Limozeen, which is Dolly Parton’s bar.

Everything is pretty in pink. In the summer there’s also the rooftop patio with a pool.

You can find it at the top of the Graduate Hotel in midtown which is about 10 minutes west of downtown.

Hermitage Hotel

The Hermitage is an upscale, swanky hotel that’s been in downtown Nashville since 1910.

But the most interesting thing about them are the fancy bathrooms, decorated in art deco style. Stop in and ask to see them.

Belle Meade Plantation and Historic Site

The Belle Meade Plantation dates back to the 1840s but was no ordinary plantation.

Here, they bred thoroughbred race horses, where famous bloodlines originated from including Seabiscuit.

There are a few different tours onsite – we chose to tour the mansion, which doesn’t allow photos or video inside, but I can assure you it was fascinating.

But the best part is that there’s a winery onsite, and you can tour the grounds with a glass of wine. 
View tour info and prices here.

The Parthenon

Nashville has a full scale replica of the Parthenon, which has earned this city the nickname, Athens of the South.

Inside, you’ll find beautiful art galleries.

Tip – this is included as a stop on the Old Town Trolley tour.

12 South Neighborhood

The 12 South neighborhood was one of my favorite areas to visit, home to locally owned shops and restaurants, vintage stores and of course more murals.  

The Gulch 

Closer to downtown is the Gulch – a higher end neighborhood with boutique shops, famous murals and great eateries.

You’ll find Biscuit Love which is very famous, and also Milk & Honey which was our go-to breakfast spot more than once.

But it’s very popular – sometimes there was a 2 hour wait!

We got lucky and got first come first serve bar seating both times. 

Tip: book a golf cart neighborhood shopping tour and hit all the hot spots without having to walk. 

Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum is home to some of the most prestigious art exhibits in the country and the rotating exhibits are exceptional.

But not only that, the building itself is historically significant. Built in 1934, his building was originally Nashville’s main post office.

Marathon Motor Works

Marathon Motor Works is a former automobile plant that’s been resurrected into a district full of shops, restaurants, distilleries, wineries,  recording studios and more.

The old brick building is unique and is one of the most popular stops on the Old Town Trolley tour.

Belmont Mansion 

The Belmont Mansion is an ornate Italian-style villa that almost reminds one of a mini-Versailles.

It’s been beautifully preserved and it’s not far from downtown.

If you don’t have much time to get out of the city to see other mansions from the 1800s, this one is a great choice.

Jack Daniels Distillery

Lynchburg, TN, USA – September 23, 2019: Sign by entrance to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery which offers tours of the famous distillery which was established in 1866.

It doesn’t get more Nashville than this – take a tour of Tennessee Whiskey at the Jack Daniel’s distillery.

It’s about 1.5 hours from Nashville (in Lynchburg), so the easiest way to enjoy the tour and tasting is to join this day trip bus tour.

Visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is one of the best and highest rated day trips from Nashville, and I definitely recommend making time to do this one.

View tour prices & info here.

Arrington Vineyards

If you’re in need of some stunning scenery and a glass of wine, Arrington Vineyards will take your breath away.

With picnic areas and live music throughout the summer months, this place is more than just your typical wine tasting experience. 

Wille Nelson and Friends Museum 

This place is a quirky little museum combined with a massive gift and souvenir shop.

Buy your admission tickets online to save a little money.

Catio Cat Lounge

The Catio Cat Lounge is a rescue agency that houses cats until they get adopted.

Until then, visitors are able to book a one hour session (for $12) to play and snuggle with the cats and kittens in their cat café. Check out their website for more info.


Touring more of Tennessee?

Read my list of 11 Unique Places to Stay in Tennessee (that you can actually afford)!


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