In central Tennessee, there sits a full-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon. Beyond the nod to the Ancients, there are a lot of things people don’t know about the state’s capital. Nashville is home to rich history from the 19th century, music of the 20th, and restaurants of the 21st. The city is somehow both vibrant and running at the slow-rolling pace we tend to associate with the South. If you’re visiting for a weekend, there are certain things everyone sees, and some of those are worth your while, but often more memorable are the smaller experiences — the hidden gems — and Nashville offers plenty of them.
|Where to Stay
Located in the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood on the southwest fringe of downtown is The 404. It’s walking distance from a slew of shops and eateries (of which it has its own in the 404 Kitchen) as well as great live music. The hotel has just five rooms, all decorated with a mix of work by local artists and vintage as well as custom furniture. It all comes together for a modern, underground-luxury experience that they promise will be unique. If you want something a little more traditional, look into the Hermitage Hotel. The downtown home of southern hospitality opened its doors in 1910 and provides comfortable, five-star accommodation in a classic, beaux-art edifice. If you can’t get a room at either of those, the classic Union Station Hotel and the modern and popular Hutton Hotel are good options.
|Where to Eat
Start your day with a coffee from Crema. The fast-growing coffeehouse roasts its own beans and serves up the best brew in town, which is why most of the restaurants in this guide serve it. For a meal in true southern style try Prince’s Hot Chicken. The local favorite serves up flaming-hot (as well as still pretty hot, mild) fried chicken sandwiched between slices of wonder bread, until four in the morning, or when they run out. To cool your tongue, the 12 South Taproom is the best beer bar in town. With 28 taps and a whole bunch of bottles, you can have your craft favorite or a local gem like a Yazoo or Jackalope. Lockeland Table serves up delicious American food with a southern twist as well as wood-fired pizzas. The restored storefront gives it a rustic look to match its community vibe. Italy collides with the American south at Rolf and Daughters, which has a trendy, family-style atmosphere and a unique cocktail menu. Then there’s The Catbird Seat which situates its kitchen in the center of a three-sided square bar; it’s expensive, but worth a try if you can get a reservation. You should get the alcohol and food pairing that they offer at the restaurant, but start with a drink from their neighbors, The Patterson House, who serve up the best cocktails in the city.
|What to Do
Want Sunday brunch? A cocktail? An hour on the lanes? Head over to Pinewood Social for all three. The see-and-be-seen-style club has great coffee (read: Crema) and six pinewood bowling lanes in addition to their dining room, outdoor Airstream bar, pool and karaoke room. To get your bearings and a bit of entertainment on wheels, try the NashTrash Tour; Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay will give you a raunchy, rowdy, risqué introduction to the different neighborhoods of Nashville as you drive around in their bright pink bus. Keep an eye out for Legends, the most fun of the honky-tonks, and not as crowded as some of the classics, as well as The Station Inn (right next door to the 404 Hotel and Kitchen) which has undoubtedly the best bluegrass in the city, if not the country and world. For a bit of a grungier feel, The Basement has three acts every night and, while you might have to know someone to get a drink at the bar, you’ll definitely catch some exciting performances. Finally, two of the best venues in town are the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the Bluebird Cafe. The two couldn’t be more different though, as one is a 2,300-seat brick building that fills a city block and the other is a tiny cafe which is almost impossible to get tickets for, but both host some of the best concerts in the country. Oh, and don’t miss the flagship Imogen + Willie shop; they built it by renovating a body shop, and it’s worth a visit.
In terms of natural beauty, the real stunners are farther east in Tennessee, but Radnor Lake is a pristine lake just 10 miles south of the city. There are trails all around the surrounding park, including one that follows the perimeter of the lake. If you have time, though, take on the roughly three-hour drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (stopping at Burgess Falls on the way). Some of the best sights once you get there are the Alum Cave trail, Mingo Falls and the Road to Nowhere (which actually goes to several worthwhile trailheads). Nashville is also steeped in history, so if Civil War relics are your thing, head 30 minutes or so south down to Franklin where you can see the Carnton Plantation. The mansion was used as a hospital during the war and tour guides will show you the floors still stained with blood from amputations. The nearby Carter House was right in the middle of the Battle of Franklin and has fascinating stories within. Closer to downtown is The Hermitage which was the estate of President Andrew Jackson and includes his mansion, as well as his tomb, on its sprawling grounds.