Maybe the parents are coming into town and they (and you) want to play “tourist.” Okay. Well, the one thing to remember about being a tourist in Nashville is that everyone who lives here will like you a lot better if you don’t act like a tourist. Don’t gawk at celebrities. Don’t act like you’re a college student on Spring Break, even if you are. For God’s sakes, don’t rent a pedal tavern, and if you’re celebrating a bachelorette party, this goes double for you.
Most of the places we endorse are favorites of residents and locals—but only on occasion, and during the “offseason,” as it were. Many (many, many) folk begin their Nashville trip with breakfast at one of three places, old standbys The Pancake Pantry (in Hillsboro Village) and The Loveless Cafe (out on Highway 100) or newbie Biscuit Love, which has gone from food truck to brick and mortar. Owing to their reputation, you will stand in line at any of these. Most folks will tell you it’s worth it. All are on the affordable side, as long as you can afford to set aside a couple hours. When people think of Nashville, or anyone comes to town to film, the first thing they inevitably show is Lower Broadway, with its honky-tonks and neon lights and boot stores and bars. You owe it to yourself to pop into Robert’s Western World and/or Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, both of which are still completely authentic despite being choked with tourists on the weekend. Both are known for beer and booze, of course, but even teetotalers can enjoy a super-affordable evening out and some cheap eats besides.
There’s also the legendary Ryman Auditorium, of course, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Not so authentic, but in its own way no less impressive, is the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center/Grand Ole Opry/Opry Mills Mall complex, located off of Briley Parkway, which now hosts the Opry show. If you’re interested in rising and established stars, the Opry is your place. During any given week (or night, really), you can catch both white-hot chart-toppers and Country Music Hall of Famers alike. The Resort also houses one of the largest hotels in the world and a humongous greenhouse atrium containing tens of thousands of plants from all over the world.
Many of the same stars gracing the Opry stage got their start at The Bluebird Cafe, located in the tony Green Hills neighborhood. Be forewarned, however—the venue is tiny, and the demand for seats is fierce. But big names (think first-name-only stars like Vince, Alan, Reba, and Garth) are known to randomly drop in from time to time, making a Bluebird visit the most pleasant kind of lottery ticket. Want to see where the stars recorded their hits? You’ll want to check out RCA Studio B in the Music Row neighborhood. Famous in the 1960s for being the epicenter of what was referred to at the time as “The Nashville Sound,” RCA Studio B was instrumental in reviving and expanding the popularity of country music and establishing Nashville as a recording center. It was listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 (which, it should be said, didn’t stop a brain-dead developer from wanting to turn it into condos a few years back).
If you’re tired of singer-songwriters and prefer the dulcet tones of mother nature, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art might be more your style. Opened as a museum in 1960, the grounds used to be the home of the Cheek family, who made their bones as the inventors of what would later be known as Maxwell House coffee (the Cheeks originally sold and marketed their coffee through the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville). Whether you prefer acres of manicured gardens (the Japanese garden is a must-visit oasis of calm), or painted representations of same, Cheekwood has you covered. Now, if you prefer your landscaped grounds walled-in with bleacher seating and replete with hot dogs and cold beer, check out the Nashville Sounds at First Tennessee Park, located adjacent to the Germantown neighborhood. Featuring a wonderful view of downtown, the park’s amenities and general aesthetics are such that it’s a great place to catch some rays even if AAA-level minor league baseball’s not your thing.