A record-breaking 15.2 million people visited Nashville in 2018, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation. A 5% increase from the year before, there’s a reason that number continues to grow. Our city is filled with attractions, activities, food and fun. Everyone wants a taste of Nashville … and we can’t blame them. While there are plenty of “tourist traps” in town that we avoid at all costs, there are a lot of places pegged as “touristy” that locals love and always recommend to visitors. Whether you have lived here for your entire life, just moved to town or are in the process of planning a trip, these are the tourist activities we really recommend.
9 Nashville Tourist Activities That Even Locals Love
Nashville’s Mother Church is deeply loved by locals and frequently visited by tourists. The attraction remains one of the unique music venues in the city, and its storied past adds further to its appeal. If it’s an authentic experience you’re after, check their schedule for a show. Sit in the church pews and take in the incredible acoustics. If it’s the history that piques your interest, set up a private tour or take a self-guided one throughout the beautiful space. Stand on the stage and assume the perspective of some of country music’s very best — from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. The venue never gets old whether it’s your first or 50th visit, so check their calendar and grab tickets to a show to experience the unparalleled magic of The Ryman.
What better way to get a glimpse of Nashville than from above? Helistar Aviation offers fantastic helicopter tours of Nashville, and the breathtaking experience is one that everyone should try. We hesitantly went for a ride recently, and as soon as the four-person helicopter lifted into the air, we forgot why we were nervous. The pilot’s easygoing nature and his extensive knowledge of the city and its sites relaxes your nerves and captures your attention. Fly over Broadway and Nissan Stadium, and look down over the tallest buildings in downtown. Then, glide over some of Belle Meade’s most beautiful homes … and realize that seemingly every home in Nashville does, in fact, have a pool in its backyard. The company offers sunset tours and champagne tours, and just recently began taxiing between Nashville and Arrington Vineyards.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Take a ride on the hop-on, hop-off downtown trolley for a quick (or not-so-quick!) tour around town. Old Town Trolley Tours has been around since 1980, and it takes visitors or curious locals on live, interactive tours of Nashville. The map boasts 15 different stops, from Broadway to the Frist Center to Music Row, and it even includes a hot chicken stop. Each spot on the map is surrounded by Nashville attractions, so it’s truly one of the best ways to get a taste of all our city has to offer. The guides offer unique insight into Music City and tell stories (and some hit-or-miss jokes) surrounding the stops, so you’ll likely walk away with interesting tidbits to share with your friends.
Oh, Broadway. It may have a reputation in town for rowdy tourists and herds of bachelorettes, but the truth is … locals really do love it, too. You just have to know where to go! Head to Robert’s Western World for a fried bologna sandwich, Moonpie, chips and a PBR for just six bucks, or wander into purple Tootsie’s for a spin on the dance floor. The Acme rooftop boasts some of the best (and most entertaining) views in town, and you can never go wrong with Rippy’s after a Predators’ win across the street. The neon light-lit streets are always alive, and more often than not, filled with not just tourists, but locals too.
Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame sits in the heart of downtown, and it holds some of Music City’s most treasured history and collections. Their rotating exhibits highlight country music greats as well as modern favorites. Currently, you can view exhibits about Kacey Musgraves, Brooks & Dunn and “American Currents,” which highlights the hottest artists of right now. Sing Me Back Home is the permanent exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which tells the story of country music — starting with its roots in the 19th century. The interactive, self-guided tour is filled with country music artifacts — costumes, instruments, photos — and written accounts and anecdotes. Visitors will walk away with a newfound appreciation or a reignited love for the music that fuels our city. SB TIP: With the Community Counts Pass, residents of Davidson County can get free admission for two, in partnership with the museum and the Nashville Public Library. Passes can be checked out from certain libraries for 10 days and there is no limit to how many times you can borrow a pass.
Hot Chicken and Biscuits
Nashville has delicious Southern food around every turn, but it seems two things have put us on the map: hot chicken and buttery biscuits. The fiery, breaded chicken makes appearances on countless menus around town, but it’s the original spots that really do it right. Head to Prince’s Hot Chicken for a taste of the spicy Nashville dish they’ve been making for more than 70 years. Biscuits, much like hot chicken, can be found at many of Nashville’s restaurants, specifically the meat and threes. But the oft-labeled tourist spot, where we think they’re really worth the hype, is Loveless Cafe. At breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week, a big stack of buttery biscuits arrives at the table alongside the cafe’s famous preserves — strawberry, peach and blackberry — enticing diners to try more than just one.
The Parthenon Replica in Centennial Park
Impossible to miss, and likely to surprise first-timers, the full-scale replica of the Parthenon sits in the center of Centennial Park. The structure was built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition as a testament to and celebration of classic architecture. Inside, a golden statue of Athena stands 42 feet tall. It’s the largest indoor statue in the United States and a spectacle worth seeing at least once. Additionally, on the lower level, guests can browse the Parthenon’s permanent Cowan Collection as well as rotating temporary exhibits. Centennial Park, home to the Parthenon, is a local favorite flooded with runners, walkers and plenty of activities in its expansive green space.
Gaylord Opryland’s sheer magnitude allows for plenty of activity and things to see. And while it’s often touted as a tourist-only destination, we’d beg to differ. Perhaps the biggest attraction on the property is the Grand Ole Opry. The iconic Nashville institution hosts near-daily shows and events so that there’s always an opportunity to experience the venue “that made country music famous.” Explore inside Gaylord Opryland and, for a moment, be transported out of Nashville as you wander the lush gardens and admire the flowing waterfalls inside the property. New to the long list of Opryland attractions is SoundWaves waterpark — where music and water blend. The indoor/outdoor waterpark has a lazy river, energetic rides, restaurants and more. Finally, Opryland’s Christmas decorations and activities shouldn’t be missed. More than 3 million lights illuminate the resort, and kids and kids-at-heart will delight in the magnificent display.
The Bluebird Cafe
An unassuming cafe, tucked inside a strip of shops in Green Hills, is one of the most renowned, well-known listening rooms in the country. The Bluebird Cafe, a 90-person venue, hosts two shows nightly. There, singer-songwriters perform for a room of engaged, eager listeners. Whether you reserve tickets early or choose the first-come, first-served seating options, the intimate experience you’ll have with the performers is unmatched and always worthwhile. Find more information about the schedule, ticketing process and more on their website.
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