A Weekend in Nashville: Music, Food and Fun for Everyone

Downtown Nashville. andreykr/Adobe Stock

Nashville is a city that’s known for its music, but that’s not all it has to offer. From its delicious food and vibrant museums to historic sites and honky-tonk-lined streets, Nashville has something for everyone. The biggest challenge spending a long weekend in Tennessee’s capitol is picking out which sites and activities to fill your time — there are so many to choose from.

Athens of the South

Nashville was founded in 1779 by James Robertson and his fellow settlers. The city was originally called Fort Nashborough, after the Cherokee chief, Nashoba. Nashville quickly became a major trading center, and by the early 19th century, it was the capital of the state of Tennessee.

Nashville’s historical association with higher education and cultural institutions dates back to the 1800s and led to the nickname, “Athens of the South.” This moniker was solidified in 1897 with the construction of a full-scale replica of the Parthenon from Athens, Greece.

Today, Nashville’s Parthenon, located in Centennial Park, is home to the largest art museum in Tennessee, featuring a collection of American art from the 1700s to present day — including the iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and “The Daughters of Edward Boit” by John Singer Sargent. From the top of the Parthenon, we enjoyed a stunning panoramic view of Nashville — and were reminded of how much more there was to tackle in this great city.

A visit to the Belle Meade Plantation pairs well with a trip to the Parthenon, given the plantation house’s Greek Revival style. The house and grounds date back to the 1840s and offer tours of the plantation and tastings from their popular winery.

We rounded out our day of art, history and culture with a visit to the Frist Art Museum, housed in a former art deco post office building. The Frist hosts a dozen or more exhibitions each year from prestigious collections around the world. Rather than purchasing their own permanent collection, the Frist focuses on traveling exhibits.

Current exhibits at the Frist include “The Power of Resilience,” “Ballads of East and West,” and “Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage.” But check before you go: There’s always something new at the Frist.

But What About the Music?

Of course, more than anything, Nashville is known as Music City. It’s the hometown of country music, the birthplace of bluegrass, and features a vibrant pop and rock scene. Just about anywhere you go, you won’t escape the musicality of Music City. But there are some places where the music hits differently.

Perhaps the most famous place to experience music in Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry House was founded as a one-hour radio barn dance back in 1925, making it the longest-running radio show in the United States.

Today, the Grand Ole Opry Theater is a state-of-the-art venue with pew-seating for more than 4,000 music fans. The Opry offers backstage tours and, of course, tickets to concerts where stars and fans align.

The Ryman Auditorium is a historic venue that predates the Opry and has hosted some of the biggest names in country music since the late 1800s. It is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music” and is a popular tourist destination. Still operating today, visitors can take tours of the Ryman Auditorium and see live performances.

A Bit of Country Music History

When the barn that housed the Grand Ole Opry burned down, it moved to the Ryman Theater, where it remained for more than 30 years. Then, in relocated to the current Grand Ole Opry Theater in the 1970s. Where there was once one, there are now two pinnacle country music venues.

And, of course, there is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which tells the story of country music through interactive exhibits, artifacts and films. It’s a must-see for any country music fan — and is even of interest for those who only dabble in occasional country music listening.

Founded in 1964 and opened to the public in 1967, the museum designed by I.M. Pei houses more than 2.5 million artifacts, including costumes and photographs. The exhibits tell the story of country music from its roots in folk music to its current state as one of the world’s most popular genres. The Hall of Fame Rotunda honors members of the Country Music Hall of Fame with busts and artifacts from such inductees as Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Taylor Swift and Johnny Cash.

Here’s Johnny!

There was no question that during our visit to Nashville, we had to “walk the line” to the Johnny Cash Museum, which is dedicated to the life and career of Johnny Cash.

The museum features a variety of exhibits on Cash’s life and career, including his early childhood in Arkansas, his rise to fame as a country music star and his struggles with addiction and personal loss. The museum also houses a collection of Cash’s personal belongings, including his stage costumes, guitars and handwritten lyrics.

One of the most popular exhibits in the museum is the “Folsom Prison Blues” exhibit, which recreates the stage at Folsom Prison where Cash recorded his famous live album in 1968. Visitors can stand on the stage and sing along to Cash’s classic songs.

Music’s in the Air

Music hangs in the air beyond these museums and large venues. Broadway is the heart of Nashville’s nightlife scene, with honky-tonks, bars and restaurants lining the street. It’s a great place to catch live music, people-watch and soak up the city’s atmosphere. There are ample doorways to smaller venues where you can listen to great music.

The Bluebird Cafe, nestled in the Green Hills neighborhood, is an intimate music venue that is known for its songwriter nights. It’s a great place to see both up-and-coming and established songwriters perform their original music. Bluebird Cafe receives more than 70,000 visitors a year.

From Gulches to Gardens

Need to take a break from the soundtrack of Nashville? Take a trip to the Gulch, a trendy neighborhood that features a number of shops, boutiques and restaurants. We found everything from unique local shops to high-end designer stores in the Gulch.

Marathon Village is an old car factory that produced vehicles from 1910 to 1914, then found rebirth in the 1990s as a redeveloped district of shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and car galleries. Paying tribute to its roots, the Marathon Motor Works Museum tells the story of the old factory and the cars produced there.

Check out Cheekwood Estates and Gardens for a step into a historic mansion and botanical garden. We were awed by the architecture, a beautiful example of Georgian Revival. Thirteen different gardens on the 55-acre estate feature all sorts of plants and flowers from the world over. We especially enjoyed the Japanese garden.

Music Is Life and Life Is Music

It’s been said that Nashville is a city where music is life and life is music. Hank Williams Jr. described Nashville as “a state of mind” and “a place where dreams come true.” Taylor Swift called Nashville “a city where everyone is here for the music.” Dolly Parton said, “If you can make it in Nashville, you can make it anywhere.”

From hot music to hot chicken, Nashville’s Parthenon in Centennial Park to the artwork of the Frist, from music at the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman to new acts in honky-tonks along Broadway, Nashville makes for a great long-weekend getaway.

We may not have gotten around to “making it” in Nashville, as Dolly Parton suggested, but we were glad to have “made it” to the Athens of the South.

Eric D. Goodman is author of seven books and more than 100 published short stories and travel stories. Learn more about Eric’s travels and his writing at www.EricDGoodman.com.


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