If you’re from the South, chances are you’re aware of Nashville’s musical heritage. Nicknamed “Music City,” this popular destination just four hours north is where country music took root and sprouted some of the genre’s most well-known acts, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and pop starlet Taylor Swift.
By Nicole Price // Photography by Nicole Price and Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
But there’s more to Nashville than country music. Today, it’s multi-genre, home to rock bands Kings of Leon, The Black Keys and singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, as well as hip neighborhoods, and fantastic food and culture, all worth a well-planned getaway or last-minute jaunt.
Here’s how to explore the city like an insider.
Start your visit with a visual bang at The Parthenon, the world’s only full-sized replica of the Greek original. Located in Centennial Park, Nashville’s urban oasis, The Parthenon was built as a temporary structure for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition and eventually reconstructed for permanent use. It houses a massive 42-foot Athena, as did its predecessor, and four art galleries, one of which highlights American artwork. Fun fact: Parts of the 2010 film “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” were filmed here.
Alan LeQuire Gallery
After taking in The Parthenon, head to the Alan LeQuire Gallery to check out the work of — you guessed it — artist Alan LeQuire, who sculpted the aforementioned Athena and just unveiled one of his newest works, the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, a sculpture honoring the suffragists who worked to ensure the state’s support of the 19th amendment, in Centennial Park. Bring your supplies and join LeQuire on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. from September through November or February through June for an open session.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Celebrating 15 years this year, the 24,000-square-foot Frist Center for the Visual Arts (formerly an art deco-style U.S. Post Office) features numerous exhibitions and offers films, family activities, and workshops galore. If you can leave for Nashville this Friday, you’ll catch “Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945-1975,” ending Oct. 9. The exhibit showcases sleek and sexy cars and motorcycles from the post-World War II era, a sure bet for car enthusiasts. “Women, Art and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise,” through Nov. 6, celebrates the women and work of Tulane University’s former women’s college and features 180 objects, many in the popular Gulf South style. Upcoming exhibitions include “Samurai: The Way of the Warrior” and “Harmony Korrine: Shadows and Loops.”
For more viewing pleasure: Wrap up your artistic sojourn with a self-guided mini gallery crawl on Nashville’s Fifth Avenue of the Arts downtown, home to The Arts Company, The Rymer Gallery and Tinney Contemporary.
This local favorite has two locations, one of which just opened downtown and features a fabulous backyard beer garden that’ll make you feel like you’re, well, in your backyard. You’ll find all of the barbecue essentials here — pulled pork sandwiches, chicken and ribs — and food that’s fresh as can be and never frozen because there’s no need. Owner Pat Martin says, “If you’re not running out [of food] every day, you’re not doing something right.”
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
You can’t visit Nashville without indulging in hot chicken, the city’s signature dish. Plates start at $8.50 at this Music City staple and include bread and pickles, two sides and a drink. Don’t be a chicken and order the not-hot-at-all “Southern” heat level — go nuclear with “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” Their creamy banana pudding, with just the right balance of bananas and wafers, will quickly soothe your fiery taste buds.
The Southern Steak & Oyster
This trendy and busy eatery is the perfect place to see and be seen, and grab a creative cocktail while you’re at it. Try the Zydeco, with mango rum, lime juice and a jolt of fresh jalapeno that hits you at first sip, or the Blackberry Mountain Tea, a moonshine and sweet tea concoction that’ll have you blessing everyone’s heart if you’re not careful. Try the Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream during brunch hours for a milky delight.
Extra edibles: Coffee addicts will delight in Barista Parlor Golden Sound’s (co-owned by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach) menu. Nice meets Nashville at Le Sel, a casual French spot. Unleash your inner kid at Las Paletas, which serves the frozen treat — similar to popsicles but much more gratifying — in several mouth-watering varieties.
The Musician’s Hall of Fame
Most music junkies aren’t satisfied with just knowing who sings a song; they need to know the men and women behind the music. The Musician’s Hall of Fame meets that need, introducing visitors to some of the guitarists, drummers, pianists, and other session musicians who helped craft some of the greatest recordings of all time. Cool factor: The museum is organized by the cities that played a significant role in America’s musical history — Detroit, Memphis and, of course, Nashville, to name a few.
Third Man Records
Launched by The White Stripes’ lead singer and guitarist Jack White in Detroit in 2001, the Nashville outpost opened in 2009 and houses label offices, a record booth and a storefront that feels like you’re trapped inside of a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. Black and yellow reign supreme here — the walls, décor and almost everything else, including employee attire, is bumblebee-esque. It’s easy to blow all of your “spending money” here on vinyls, tchotchkes and other merchandise, but be sure to allot $20 for the Record Booth, a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine where you can make a two-minute recording and leave with a six-inch phonograph disc of your Billboard-bound ditty.
Nashville Jazz Workshop
Housed in a former meatpacking facility, this hidden gem represents the B side of Nashville, bolstering its growing reputation as a multi-genre “Music City.” Jazz education and performance are the cornerstones of the Nashville Jazz Workshop, with live music — in the aptly named Jazz Cave — a weekly occurrence and students as young as 10 and as seasoned as 94 enrolled.
More music to your ears: Download the Nashville Live Music Guide app to pinpoint who’s playing where. Enjoy a classical, pop, jazz and/or world music concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home to the Nashville Symphony. In the mood for another museum? Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame.
WORTH THE EXTRA GAS
If you have time, literally drive someone to drink on a trip to the famed Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, 1.5 hours southeast of Nashville. Yes, you can buy Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey almost anywhere (more on that later), but you can only see how it’s made here, where 88 barrel houses with at least 1 million gallons of whiskey each serve as the backdrop to a behind-the-scenes tour detailing the entire process. But there’ll be no purchases, unless it’s a special commemorative bottle or whiskey-infused fare from Lynchburg Square — surprisingly, the beverage giant is headquartered in a dry county. www.jackdaniels.com
An alternative is a 1.5-hour trek southwest to Lynnville, a city boasting 59 properties on the National Register of Historic Places — an antique road trip indeed. Board a locomotive, caboose, passenger or flat car at the Lynnville Railroad Museum, then stop by the Whitehorse Trading Company to peruse vintage wares and enjoy a simple but satisfying lunch, followed by a literal hot chocolate cookie that gets its spice from cayenne pepper and cinnamon wrapped in Ghirardelli chocolate (or settle for a decidedly tamer molasses-tinged ginger cookie). Wrap up your visit across the street at Colonel Littleton’s, “Purveyor of Fine Leather Goods & Accouterments,” where you can purchase Tennessee-made briefcases, luggage, purses and other accessories. If you’re lucky, you may even meet Littleton himself, who’s quite the charmer!
www.lynnville.org, www.whitehorsetradingcompanytn.com and www.colonellittleton.com