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Visiting Nashville for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

From honky-tonks to history tours, here are our top recommendations for making the most of your first trip to Nashville.

neon signs on nashville's broadway advertising honky tonks
Hi, I'm Hayley!

Hayley Hutson is a freelance food and travel writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s also an avid reader, home cook, and former Disney cast member. Hayley has written for over 200 brands spanning 22 countries and has been featured in publications such as Travel + Leisure, Matador Network, and more.

Nashville is best known for its incredible music scene, hot chicken, and bachelorette parties galore—but there’s much more to it than that. The iconic Music City is teeming with eclectic neighborhoods, from the funky and artistic East Nashville to the always-buzzing Music Row. You can visit the venues where music legends got their start, indulge in delicious Southern food, and embrace the city’s vibrant cultural sights. Here are some epic ways to enjoy your first visit.

Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame

vintage car in a museum gallery
Even if you don't like country music, the Country Music Hall of Fame is worth a visit.Foto: Country Music Hall of Fame / Tripadvisor

Learn all about the stars that influenced country music.

Often referred to as the “Smithsonian of country music,” the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the world’s largest museums of its kind. And you don’t have to be a country music fan to appreciate the monumental impact of honorees like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley. Admire priceless artifacts including instruments, stage clothing, and films for a deeper insight into the legends who have shaped country music over the years. Visit on your own or as part of a larger guided tour of the top Nashville sights.

Catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry

grand ole opry stage with red curtain backdrop and microphone
Come to the Grand Ole Opry for a backstage tour, then finish your visit with a live show.Foto: Grand Ole Opry / Tripadvisor

Treat your senses to a legendary performance.

The Grand Ole Opry has played host to the biggest names in country music for nearly a century. Every year, millions of tourists travel to Nashville for the bucket-list experience of seeing the Grand Ole Opry showcase—the show that made country music famous. Start the day with a backstage tour to see where the magic happens and learn stories about your favorite country stars, then stick around to catch the world-famous show. Afterward, stop by the Opry Shop to commemorate your time here with collectibles.

Taste your way through the local Southern fare

red sign for hattie b's chicken
Hattie B's is the place to be—if you like fried chicken, that is!Foto: University of College / Shutterstock

Chow down on all the hot chicken you can eat.

As the birthplace of hot chicken, it’s no secret that Nashville is one of the best cities in the country to satisfy a craving for fried food. But in recent years, the rise of chef-driven restaurants and James Beard award winners have been instrumental in putting Nashville’s culinary scene on the map. Here, you can now find everything from classic Southern eats to Spanish tapas and traditional Japanese food. Eat your way through this foodie paradise on a walking food tour to get your fill of all that Nashville’s cuisine has to offer.

Check out the honky-tonks on Broadway

neon signs for honky tonks on Nashville's Broadway
The neon lights of Broadway beckon you to Nashville's famed honky-tonks.Foto: f11photo / Shutterstock

Honky-Tonk Highway is a Nashville rite of passage.

No first visit to Nashville would be complete without a trip to Honky-Tonk Highway, where neon lights are flashing and live music is pumping all day, every day. One of the coolest things about this Music City staple? It’s totally free of charge. You can jam out to world-class performances in the venues where the likes of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline got their start without ever paying a cover fee for the privilege. Make the most of your time here with a pub crawl that guides you through the most beloved honky-tonks.

Learn about civil rights history

martin luther king jr quote: I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said these words during a speech at Fisk University.Foto: MargJohnsonVA / Shutterstock

Discover Nashville’s remarkable impact on the Civil Rights Movement.

More than 60 years ago, Nashville’s citizens played a huge role in the courageous fight for racial equality, helping to set in motion a pivotal wave of protests around the nation. Today, you can journey back in time to learn about Nashville’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement by embarking on a guided walking tour of the significant local landmarks on the Civil Rights Trail. You’ll visit historic sites with powerful stories like the National Museum of African American Music, Fisk University, and Woolworth Theatre.

Spend an afternoon in Centennial Park

the nashville parthenon in centennial park
Nashville's Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the real deal in Greece.Foto: Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

The home of Nashville’s recognizable Parthenon replica.

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Music City by visiting the 132-acre (53-hectare) Centennial Park, a tranquil oasis of lush greenery, water features, and walking trails. Enjoy a waterfront picnic by Lake Watauga, watch one of the many free performances offered year-round, or check out the impressive wartime memorabilia displays found throughout. And don’t leave without making a beeline for one of Nashville’s most famous architectural features: a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, complete with a 42-foot-tall (13-meter-tall) statue of the Greek goddess Athena.

Insider tip: A trolley tour is the perfect way to both hit Centennial Park and explore the rest of the city.

Explore the sights on a scenic river cruise

vintage paddlewheeler on a river
Book a lunch or dinner show on the General Jackson Showboat.Foto: AevanStock / Shutterstock

Ditch the crowds and hit the water instead.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds for a bit, head to the water for a breezy cruise. You can admire the scenery aboard the General Jackson Showboat on a lunch or dinner cruise on the Cumberland River—complete with live entertainment in true Nashville fashion. Or, keep the party going with a pedal pontoon boat cruise for a private ride on Old Hickory Lake while you blast music and sip on BYOB drinks with your travel crew.

Tour the historic Belle Meade Mansion

Greek-Revival mansion with columns on front porch
The Greek-Revival Belle Meade Mansion is now a museum.Foto: Ryan_hoel / Shutterstock

Learn the centuries-long history of this famed estate.

The Belle Meade Historic Site dates back to the 1840s, during which time it was one of the most extravagant estates in Nashville. Today, Belle Meade is a beautifully preserved historical landmark dedicated to telling the stories of the families and enslaved people who lived here over the span of a century. Take a guided tour of the Greek Revival–style mansion, plus its on-site winery and thoroughbred horse farm, then end your visit with a wine or bourbon tasting.

Related: How To Choose an Ethical Plantation Tour in the US—and Why It Matters

Discover the colorful murals

mural of a garden door with a white rabbit peeking through
Looking for all of Nashville's murals is like a treasure hunt.Foto: Bill Chizek / Shutterstock

Nothing says Nashville quite like a giant mural of Dolly Parton.

Nashville is home to over 100 colorful murals created by local artists—and more are popping up every year. Not only are they great to admire, they make for spectacular photo backdrops. Go mural-hunting on your own by exploring neighborhoods like 12 South and East Nashville, where the bulk of the city’s most popular artworks can be found. Or make things easier on yourself by opting for a Nashville mural tour by golf cart instead.

Insider tip: Join a sightseeing tour that combines Instagrammable murals with other top sights for a well-rounded experience.

Take a day trip to Jack Daniel’s Distillery

grassy courtyard with rustic buildings
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery is located in nearby Lynchburg.Foto: Daniele Novati / Shutterstock

Explore 150 years of legendary whiskey history.

Just 90 southeast of Nashville sits the oldest distillery in the United States. If you’re a whiskey lover, you may already know that Jack Daniel’s is the world’s best-selling individual whiskey brand. However, a day trip to Lynchburg allows you to witness the magic in action at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, where you can walk through 150 years of history and sample some of Tennessee’s finest. Instead of going it alone, opt for a bus tour from Nashville and spend the day in Lynchburg learning all about the art of whiskey and the story behind this world-famous brand.

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