Whether you are a newly arrived resident or just visiting Nashville, people often ask this question:
What is there to do in Nashville?
Nashville has long been known as Music City USA and the Country Music Capitol of the World. There’s even a Music Row, but it’s for music business, not concerts so don’t bring your lawn chair.
But, believe it or not, despite the presence of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman “Mother Church of Country Music” Auditorium, and the annual Country Music Awards, there is more to Nashville than Hank, Loretta, Johnny, and June.
The newly opened National Museum of African American Music, for instance, reminds visitors of the great streams of music too long unrecognized.
In addition to a vibrant “not country music” scene, Nashville has a thriving foodie culture with incredible restaurants, a great selection of coffee shops, museums, and popular sports teams. Here are a few things to do in Nashville that will delight you and your crew.
The Best Food in Nashville
“What food is Nashville known for?” can be answered a lot of ways, but usually it’s answered “Nashville hot chicken,” like Prince’s or Hattie B’s. But Nashville restaurants cover a lot of culinary territory. For instance:
Despite stiff competition, many Nashvillians rate The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden as the best burger joint in town. With nine different named burgers—including two vegetarian burgers and a salmon burger—plus the opportunity to “choose your cure”—there is an option for almost everyone.
This local pizza joint started on the northside before expanding to four Nashville locations. Slim and Husky’s is Nashville’s “original Pizza Beeria.” Slim and Husky’s has strong ties to the community, continuing the founders’ goal of empowering communities using pizza as their vehicle to engage.
Locally-owned Baja Burrito will remind many visitors of chains like Chipotle or Blue Coast Burrito, but Baja Burrito is proud to be “part of Berry Hill, a community of artists, merchants, musicians, and other free-spirited people.” Arrive early for the closest parking and be sure to grab some free chewing gum before you leave. This is truly a community restaurant.
With its spectacularly authentic and eclectic décor, McDougal’s exterior hints at the great food inside. Baskets of fingers or wings, chicken finger sandwiches, or a grilled cheese are accompanied by sides like fries, a salad, mandarin oranges, or grilled Tennessee Toast. (Pretty sure they are just messin’ with Texas on that one.)
An American cuisine restaurant in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood, Josephine’s Chef Andy Little combines Southern hospitality with his Pennsylvania Dutch roots for an award-winning menu. Josephine is the priciest option on this list so bring your bank account, or somebody’s. A meal for two can very easily top $100-200.
Note: Reservations are recommended (required for groups of 5 or more) and only taken by telephone.
Big Al’s Deli and Catering is one of those spots so well-hidden most of the locals know nothing about it. Big Al’s is in the dictionary beside “looks can be deceiving.” Located in a house in an otherwise residential area, Alphonso “Big Al” Anderson puts the soul in soul food and the heap in heaping-helping.
A consistently awesome weekday lunch menu featuring entrees like jalapeño orange marmalade chicken, banana fried pork loin, or shrimp and grits, with enough sides to fill a plate as big as a hub cap.
Nashville has a burgeoning BBQ scene with the likes of Edley’s, Martin’s, Peg Leg Porker, Shotgun Willie’s (you seriously have to check their homepage), and Papa Turney’s (a little further out in Hermitage, but worth the drive). Nashville might not yet be mentioned in the same bar-b-que’d breath as Kansas City or Memphis, but you are not likely to be disappointed, either.
What about Food Trucks?
Nashville has one of the best food truck scenes in the country, with more than 150 vendors. From downtown to the suburbs, you can find them at parks, subdivisions, churches, and Street Eats lining closed-off Deaderick Street every Thursday. Here’s a short list of food trucks that call Nashville home.
A Nashville original, you can find the truck schedule here. While some restaurants also have a food truck for parties and catering, The Grilled Cheeserie began as a food truck and added three brick and mortar locations.
So good Nashvillians have been known to track down a Retro-Sno Original Shaved Ice truck for dessert after lunch or dinner, and why not? With multiple fruit flavors—some available with cream and all with pure cane sugar—as well as amazing options like Tres Leches, Germantown Chocolate, and Dreamsicle—Retro-Sno will be an immediate family fave.
With names like The Old Timer, the Hoss, the Professor, and the Blackbird, Hoss ain’t messing around. These burgers need at least two hands for holding and you still might have to bring help.
Locally sourced from Porter Road Butcher, Hoss’s beef burgers are from humanely-raised cattle, while veggie patties are also available. Check their Twitter feed for truck locations.
Semper Sliders is located on the east side of Nashville across from Opryland. Less a food truck and more a food trailer, Semper Sliders is veteran-owned and operated by Zac Jenkins, a trained chef who served as a combat engineer with the Marine Corp in Afghanistan.
The menu includes everyday and special sliders, as well as loaded tater tots and incredibly tasty White Cheddar Mac.
The Best Coffee Shops in Nashville
Everyone knows Big Giant Coffee Constellation, but if you want to know the coffee scene of a city, go to the local shops. Here are a few that call Nashville home.
Crema (aka CremaCrema) was my introduction to Nashville coffee shops. In addition to roasting, they serve excellent coffee and drinks at two downtown locations. The Cuban, a personal fave, is one of the best drinks from any shop in the city.
With fantastic, locally-sourced ingredients for their food menue, excellent coffee and drink options, and multiple locations, Frothy Monkey is a growing Nashville presence. Frothy’s East Nashville location hosts BAKERY by Frothy Monkey as well.
Counting six locations in and around Nashville, Red Bicycle is known for both its coffee and its delicious crepes, both sweet and savory, tacos, and sandwiches. The Sunrise breakfast crepe will keep you filled until lunch and the Funky Monkey will please your sweet-tooth.
A long-time fixture in Hillsboro Village, Fido grew from a pure coffee roaster to an all-day restaurant in 2000. Now part of the Bongo Java coffee family, Fido still features a full barista menu along with its award-winning meals.
With two locations, one on Broadway and one on Humphrey’s Street (talk about the obvious), this is a great little shop with a mission of “raising up leaders within our neighborhood by creating jobs, providing mentorship opportunities, and teaching job skills…” Humphrey’s Street Coffee is a place for great coffee that you can feel great about supporting.
The Best Small Concert Venues in Nashville
You’ll find the biggest tours at either Ascend Amphitheater or Bridgestone Arena, but to experience Nashville’s indie vibe, try the acts at one of these small venues: 3rd and Lindsley, The Basement (and the Basement East), Exit/In, or Marathon Music Works.
Nashville Sports Teams
If sports is your thing, Nashville has you covered. With the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, the NHL’s Nashville Predators, Major League Soccer’s Nashville SC, the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team, and the NCAA’s Vanderbilt Commodores, there is something for almost every fan. Heck, Nashville even has Indycar Racing with the Music City Grand Prix. Zoom zoom.
Other Things to Do in Nashville
The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is home to a number of concerts, plays, operas, and ballets throughout the year. In 2022, the lineup featured To Kill a Mockingbird, Pretty Woman: The Musical, Stomp, and Hadestown. Check this page for upcoming performance times and ticket information.
Reminding us we are One Nation Under a Groove, this museum located on Broadway is “the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans.” With multiple galleries and regular events, a visit to this museum will touch your heart and soul. It’s located in Fifth + Broadway (as is Slim and Husky’s).
This popular museum, located on upper Broadway and known locally as “The Frist,” hosts all manner of exhibits from paintings, to classic automobiles, to suits of armor, to sculptures and immersive installations. The Frist also boasts a nice café which is often used by employees, area office workers, as well as guests of the museum. Check here for membership information.
Along with national chain theaters, Nashville has a great historical theater called The Belcourt. First opening to play silent movies in 1924, The Belcourt has undergone a couple of renovations, but still boasts the original vibe of an old theater along with new amenities. Even with two new 4K cinema cameras, the screening of 35mm films continues. The Belcourt shows a variety of genres including new releases, documentaries, classics, and art house films.
But if Country Music is your thing, there is no place like Nashville. At the top of the music heap is the Country Music Hall of Fame, “The House that Holds the Music.” The self-guided tour can take as long as you like. The Objects Collection alone includes nearly 500 musical instruments and thousands of stage items, personal clothing, microphones, automobiles, and other items. Tickets can be purchased online.
The Parthenon in Nashville is located in Centennial Park. It’s a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and houses a full-scale reproduction of the 42-foot Athena statue. Why? We have no idea, but people find it interesting. There are opportunities for education and music, so check it out! Admission charges apply.
Nashville is home to an extensive Greenway system for biking, walking, and running to keep you, your family, and your pet in shape. There is no cost for using the dozen-plus Nashville greenways located all over the city.
Whatever your pleasure, whether you are visiting for a few days or staying for a few years, Nashville has everything you need to have an enjoyable time with the entire family.