Also known as Music City, USA, and the country music capital of the world, Tennessee’s vibrant capital city of Nashville has become a popular tourist destination full of restaurants, specialty shopping, museums, historic sites, and loads of entertainment options. My husband and I did an Empty Nester weekend trip there in the summer. True confessions: I am not a country music fan. But we both had a great time exploring the downtown “District” area along 2nd Avenue and historic Broadway, as well as some of the other popular sites.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel Nashville in the heart of downtown, and it was great. The room was comfy and the service was wonderful. It was an easy walk down to the honkytonks on bustling Second Avenue, and Broadway.
What to Do
Rudy’s Jazz Room
As I’ve already confessed, I’m not a big country music fan. So, the first thing I did was research places offering other types of music. And I stumbled upon this amazing little jazz club. With only 50 seats, this place offers an authentic jazz experience, embracing the history and spirit of traditional jazz clubs. The atmosphere is intimate, warm, and cozy, complete with comfy furnishings, Persian rugs, and colorful Moroccan lights. They also serve delicious New Orleans fare, local brews, and fun prohibition cocktails to enjoy while you listen to swingin’ tunes of talented local jazz musicians. They typically offer two shows a night, one at 6 PM and another at 9 PM. The venue is small, so it’s best if you book your tickets in advance.
If you’re looking for something different from the honkytonks in the District, you can check out Printers Alley. This short little alleyway is a hidden gem on Church Street between 3rd and 4th avenues in Nashville. It was once the hub of the city’s printing industry, but during prohibition, print shops were turned into speakeasies. And now the area offers a vibrant nightlife where you can catch a burlesque show at the famous Skull’s Rainbow Room, get your groove on to blues music at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, or sing-along at Lonnie’s Western Room a karaoke bar. And many people like to finish off their evenings with one of the famous hot dogs from Daddy’s Dogs. Just be aware the vibe of Printer’s Alley is a bit “adult,” and not a place for younger children, in my humble opinion.
General Jackson Showboat
This Showboat offers daytime and dinner cruises. Chris and I chose to do a daytime cruise, and it was fun! The Showboat’s talented musicians and singers took us on a musical journey, covering the energetic music of bluegrass and phenomenal fiddling skills, to traditional and contemporary country music. They covered the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton, Reba McIntyre, Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks, Elvis Presley, and so many more. The costumes were great and they really did an incredible job. The experience also includes a delicious Southern meal and a river cruise on Tennessee’s Cumberland River. The show is very family-friendly as well.
Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conservatory
This famous Opryland Hotel is really fun to walk through. And you can enjoy it all without even spending the night. Take a leisurely stroll through nine acres of lush indoor garden atriums, complete with sparkling waterfalls, dancing fountains, and indoor boat rides. The Conservatory boasts 50,000 tropical plants, towering palm and banana trees, rare international blooms, and romantic southern species. The horticultural displays are among the most exquisite in the world. Each of the gardens is housed beneath a soaring atrium, creating a series of magical horticultural wonderlands. You can also browse shops, and enjoy a meal or drinks at award-winning on-site restaurants and bars.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to talk about Nashville and not mention country music at all! There are endless choices when it comes to enjoying live music at honky-tonks in the city, so there’s no way to cover them all. I’ll just share a couple of our favorites. We spent a lot of time at Ole Red Nashville. We listened to the band, Whiskey Cash and Roses. They were awesome! They played a variety of country, Americana, alternative country, and rock. And they were open to requests from the audience. One thing Chris and I really liked about them is that they kept all the music super family-friendly. And they did it in such a graceful way. When people would request songs with certain “language” in the lyrics, the lead singer, Holland Gray, would just let the requester know they couldn’t sing that particular song and would suggest an alternative. They kept the whole place rockin’! We also appreciated the music and the beer prices at Redneck Riviera. In truth we got sticker shock when ordering beers at most of the honkytonks we visited. But Redneck Riviera – owned by country music great John Rich – was extremely reasonable. It’s a smaller venue, but offered a great time. A great place to get whiskey, too. John Rich has developed his own Redneck Riviera brand.
Johnny Cash Museum & Store
Nashville’s museum honoring “The Man in Black” is in a small venue that can get a bit crowded, but it’s worth the trip. It’s kid-friendly and houses the most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world, all officially sanctioned by the Cash family. The exhibit takes you through different key periods in his life, including his humble beginnings as a child on his families cotton farm, his stint in the Air Force, his efforts for prison reform, and his marriage to June Carter. The collection also includes Cash’s costumes, hand written songwriting notes, letters and other interesting personal mementos.
The collection includes his remarkable assortment of instruments as well as a tin cup from his famous performance at Folsom Prison. The old Martin guitar on display has a folded dollar bill woven between the strings. Cash used the bill to create percussion silence before he hired a drummer in the 1950s. Chris and I got a kick out of texting our Millennial children photos of the CDs on display, letting them know that stuff they used growing up is now old enough to be in a museum exhibit! Chris and I also enjoyed challenging ourselves with Johnny’s personally created Bible trivia questions. He clearly had great Biblical knowledge.
Side note: A separate Patsy Cline Museum is located on the second floor, but the two operations are completely separate.
Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum
The museum is a massive 350,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, archival storage, retail stores will and event space. It’s often referred to as the Smithsonian of country music. It’s three floors and took us quite a while to go through. But it was pretty cool. Plus, how can you go to the home of country music and not visit this site, right?
Chris and I both learned so much about the evolution of different country music traditions. I had no idea it was so nuanced and included so many fusion genres! (Almost made me a fan.) One thing that surprised us of both was how there were entire extensive exhibits dedicated to musicians that neither one of us had ever heard of.
Where to Dine
When you leave the Johnny Cash Museum, I highly recommend stopping next door for breakfast/brunch at the Sun Diner. We bellied up to their breakfast-style bar and enjoyed a hearty breakfast. Their specially designed menu complements the unique interior that celebrates Sun Records’ . I read in advance all about their “Let’s Do The Twist” Crème Brule French toast, so I had to try it. Thick-cut cinnamon bread in a RumChata crème brulee batter, served with fresh berries and loaded up with whipped cream. i’m talking LOADED. It absolutely did not disappoint. Sooooo good!