Nashville Tennessee is called Music City for a reason. It’s the home and heart of country music. You could spend a whole three day Nashville itinerary doing nothing but listening to live music and visiting music attractions, but there are also many other cool things to do there. So get ready for some arts, eats, great outdoors and a big ole’ dose of music.
I’m on a quest to finish bagging all of the fifty states and so when my husband booked a music conference in Nashville, I packed my bag and tagged along. I was excited to visit not only because of the rich music culture, but I was also keen to sample the emerging street art scene, check out the skyline and eat some of Nashville’s most delicious and deadly foods. I loved it. Nashville is like a mashup of Las Vegas, Austin and Savannah. You get the party vibe of Vegas with the great music and food of Austin all delivered with a polite southern smile.
Read More: Speaking of Vegas…have a blast there with my kitschy guide to Downtown (spoiler alert, just like this itinerary, it also involves donuts, pizza and neon signs)
(This article contains some affiliate links, which means that if you chose to purchase, I make a small commission)
Planning your Three Days in Nashville
There is so much fun stuff to do in Nashville, You need to plan your time so that you can around during the day while keeping the reserve tank for going out and listening to music at night. In fact, there’s far more to do in Nashville than you can possibly cover in three days. Because of the conference, I was actually in there for longer than that, however, I’m giving you a three day itinerary because that’s what most people do when they visit.
This itinerary assumes that you spend three nights and three days in Nashville. I cover what I consider to be the “must see” music sites and then offer you a few options for other things to do, depending upon your interest.
Where to Stay in Nashville
Oof, hotels are expensive in Nashville. $200-300/night is a typical weekend rate for a downtown chain hotel. They don’t have specialty or boutique properties and the hostels aren’t in the city core. So, rather than recommending a specific hotel to you, I suggest that you search for hotels running competitive deals for your dates. Search on both Booking.com and Trip Advisor, in order to cast the widest net possible.
If you have your own car, or don’t mind taking Uber, then AirBnB is a great option in Nashville. You can get a whole place in East Nashville or near Vanderbilt for $75. That leaves you a lot of budget for Ubering and you can save money by eating in. Check Nashville AirBnB listings here. If you’ve never tried AirBnB, you can get $40 towards your first rental using my special code.
Getting Around Nashville
Many of the spots that I’m recommending in this itinerary are within walking distance of the downtown core. However, some are outside of it, which I will note below.
If You are Driving
Most of the downtown hotels have parking, but they will gouge you $35/night so be sure to factor it into the cost of your stay. I recommend that you avoid driving around at night if possible. There are some seriously wobbly pedestrians plunging into the intersections—best to avoid them.
If You are Flying
Taxis from the airport to downtown cost a flat rate of $25. You can walk the downtown core and take a cheap and plentiful Uber/Lyft to outer neighborhoods like Music Row, 12South, East Nashville or Germantown. For instance, an UberX is $9-10 from downtown to 12South and will take seventeen minutes.
The municipal bus system is okaaay, but not great. For example, it costs $1.70 one way and will take nearly thirty minutes to get from downtown to 12South. However, they do have a free Music City Circuit with two routes serving the downtown core. It goes as far north as the Bicentennial Mall and Farmer’s Market and as far west as The Gulch. They run every 15-20 minutes and you can find a map here.
Hop on Hop Off Bus
I have never been a fan of HoHo buses. Why pay a premium to run on a rigid route and schedule?? However, HoHos are great for people who can’t log a lot of urban miles without difficulty.
There are two HoHo providers, the Old Town Trolley Tour and the Greyline Music City Hop. They both go to the same spots: the downtown circuit, the Capital, Bicentennial Park, Farmer’s Market, Motor Works, Parthenon, Vanderbilt, Music Row and the Gulch. The Trolley tours are $38 and you can save time by purchasing a mobile friendly ticket ahead of time. The Music City Hop is $39 and you can purchase that mobile friendly ticket here.
That said, if you follow the three day Nashville schedule that I’m suggesting below, you can use the free Music City Circuit and a few $10 Uber rides for most of it, allowing you to reserve your money for donuts, beer and tater tots.
Alright, enough with the logistics. Let’s get this party started.
Nashville Itinerary: Evening of Arrival
None of the evening music ideas listed here are fixed. It’s less important to do them on the day that I’m suggesting and more important to pay attention to the music schedule. I strongly recommend that you download Nashville’s live music app. That way, you can organize your evenings around finding special events and cool acts. But I do recommend taking it a little easy the first night. If you do the full throated Honky Tonk party on the first night, you may not have the energy for tomorrow’s big agenda.
For a mellow vibe and great original music, head over to the Listening Room. It’s just south of the downtown core. They specialize in singer/songwriters, usually featuring three per show. If you are in town on a Monday, be sure to go to the Song Suffragette set. Sexism is real in Nashville (and everywhere else in the music industry….and everywhere else in our culture). These ladies have assembled their own cadre of accomplished songwriting chicks and they make a point of featuring new talent. If you can’t make their show, check out their Facebook page. It has music samplers and an impactful song teaser that addresses the #timesup movement. Tickets are $12 with a $15 food and drink minimum.
Have dinner at the City Tap House. They have a menu of salads, burgers, pizzas and plates with a large beer menu. The food is good but the top floor deck is what makes it great. You can sit up there on a hot summer night and soak up the looming Nashville skyline.
Nashville Itinerary: Day One
Today’s agenda is all music, all day long. We are going to cram in as many music museums and attractions as possible.
Find History at the Country Music Hall of Fame
You might as well start at the heart of Country Music. The Hall of Fame museum gives a very thorough look at the history of country music and the acts who hit it big. They have artist profiles, performance videos and costumes. I was impressed by an ongoing thread calling out how each generation of musicians influenced the next.
Tips for Visiting: Tickets are $25.95. But they also have package tickets that include a Hatch Show Print tour or the Studio B tour. The museum is large but popular so try to go when they open at 9am.
Geek Out at the Hatch Show Print and Gallery
Hatch has been doing letterpress printing since 1879. In the 1920’s, they were conveniently located right behind the Ryman auditorium and they became the default printer for the Opry and other concerts. They are now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame but they are still cranking out posters the old school way. You can visit the store for free and poke your head into the print shop. Letterpress shops have so many letters! As a book nerd, it was a delight for me to see so much printing potential. Even if you aren’t a book nerd, it’s cool to look at their collection of historical concert prints and to shop their store.
Tips for Visiting: They are located in the same building as the Hall of Fame and tour tickets are $18. Don’t forget to go across the lobby to the gallery. They feature exhibits by contemporary artists doing surprising things with printed materials.
Find Ghosts at the Ryman Auditorium
As you head over to the Ryman, be sure to stop off at the Music City Walk of Fame. It’s in the park across from the Hall of Fame. It features sidewalk plaques of famous artists like Peter Frampton, Elvis, Ronnie Milsap and eighty four other musicians. It’s fun to walk the line (as Johnny Cash would say) and find your favorites. My vote goes to Emmy Lou Harris, because her harmonies are celestial.
Now, on to the Ryman. The auditorium was born in 1892 from the fiery pulpit of a tent revival, roared into the 20th century with national acts and the Grand Old Opry and then was revived again in the 1990’s. There is a lot of history and musical ghosts in that tabernacle and it’s worth taking the tour to learn about it.
Tips for Visiting: Self-guided tours are $21.95.
Drink Moonshine and Eat Hot Chicken for Lunch
You took it easy last night, go ahead and get your party on by eating at The Stillery. Their menu features loads of options with Nashville’s famous hot chicken. I had the mac and cheese with the chicken and it was so…dang…good. The creamy pasta sauce managed to tame down the hot chicken spices just enough. They also have mason jar cocktails featuring moonshine.
Here’s where the southern hospitality comes in. The place was hoppin’ when we went there and this couple kindly offered to let us share their table. We had a nice time chatting with them in between chicken bites and moonshine sips. They left before we finished and when we went to pay our bill, we learned that they had covered it for us. How nice is that? I need to pay that forward.
See the Man in Black at the Johnny Cash Museum
Johnny Cash had a hard childhood, two wives, five kids and one hell of a roller coaster career. Dude had depth. The museum does a good job of telling the story of Cash’s life, his influences and who he influenced. It was a bit glossy regarding his hard times and addictions, but I forgave them because the exhibits were bursting with samples of his music. His final album was his best ever and his cover of Hurt makes me emotional every time I hear it.
Tips for Visiting: Tickets are $19.95
“How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.”
Sure, you just ate mac and cheese and drank moonshine for lunch, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in a late afternoon pick-me-up. Look, you are spending only three days in Nashville, then you have to go home. You can eat kale later.
Right across the street from Johnny Cash is the Goo Goo Cluster store. They lay claim to assembling the original chocolate/nut/caramel cluster and they are indeed good. If you like old-school candy, you should also check out the Rocket Fizz store on 2nd. They don’t have Goo Goo Clusters, but they carry all of the oldy timey brands of candy that I used to buy back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Go to both places and load up for a late night snack.
Now go back to your hotel and rest, because you have a big night ahead of you.
Go Honky Tonking
A weekend in Nashville wouldn’t be complete without some Honky Tonk, and Broadway street is the hot spot. It’s party central and touristy, but it’s worth doing because there are four million live bands and most of the bars don’t charge a cover.
Lay down a food base at Acme Feed & Seed. It was recommended by my street art tour guide. Each level features its own mix of food, bar and music. The first floor has southern comfort foods. The second floor offers what they call “bar bites” which are large enough to feed a giant. I had the pulled pork nachos because I have no self control. They have live music downstairs and a great rooftop deck with a DJ and views over the river. Time it for sunset and you won’t regret it.
We also went to Tootsies Orchid Lounge (which had a rockin’ rooftop band) and Alley Taps (great blues).
Nashville Itinerary: Day Two
Because there is so much to do in Nashville (and you can’t do it all because you stayed up too late last night), today’s itinerary is flexible. There’s one option for those who like art and urban edge and another oriented around fresh air. Mix and match as you wish but be realistic because you can’t do more than four or five things in any given day.
Option 1: See Art & Urban Edge
Go Street Art Spotting
I’m all about the alternative itineraries and while parts of this Nashville itinerary are pretty conventional, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t tell you to seek out the street art. Nashville’s street art has simply exploded all over the walls in the past few years and there are a bunch of Instagram-worthy spots worth exploring.
To get the full scoop, please check out my guide to Nashville murals. It will take you to four neighborhoods, show you all of the Instagrammable spots, give you the pros/cons of doing a guided tour vs DIY and give you a ton of eye candy.
I took a tour with Nashville Mural Tours. The tour takes about two and a half hours and is very thorough. Mary makes a point of following local artists on Instagram and she hunts out new pieces immediately. Her tour also goes to some secret spots that you will never find on your own.
She also goes to the 12South neighborhood, which not only has murals, but it has some cute shops, coffee shops and the Five Daughters donut shop. They go way beyond the cronut there and my hundred layer donut was so large that it spoiled me for lunch.
Tips for Touring: Just do it. It’s the best $30 you’ll spend in Nashville all weekend.
See Contemporary Art
The Frist Art Museum is an unexpected art surprise in a music town. They feature rotating exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. When I was there, they had an exhibit on “chaos and awe” that was a riot of color, texture and emotion. The building itself is also worth visiting because it’s a lovingly restored art deco post office.
Tips for Visiting: Tickets are $12.
Motor Over to the Marathon Motor Works
Marathon Motors was manufacturing cars at this facility in 1906. The brick warehouse facility has been retooled as an artsy shopping village. There is a free museum on site where you can see the Marathon cars. There are also cute boutiques and if you are thirsty, you can go tasting in one of the four distilleries and wine tasting rooms. I tasted some aged gin and I bought an adorable cuff bracelet that says “dare”. Because it’s a good reminder to me that exploring new places takes a daring spirit.
Tips for Visiting: You’ll need to drive or Uber as it’s not walkable from downtown.
Option 2: Self-Guided Walking Tour
If you’d like to stretch your legs and get some air, you can take a self-guided walking tour of the northern part of Nashville which includes the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum, the Tennessee Capital building, Bicentennial Park and the Farmer’s Market, looping back to downtown along the Cumberland River Greenway. If you start in the downtown core, this self-guided walking tour covers roughly 3.5 miles of walking.
The Musician’s Hall of Fame is not one of the more popular museums in Nashville but it’s worth visiting if you are a musician or are really into the making of music. While the Country Music Hall of Fame is about the stars, the Musician’s Hall of Fame is about backing musicians and studio engineers who make the magic happen.
The Tennessee Capital offers public tours on weekdays and even if you are there on a weekend, it’s worth climbing to the top of the hill. You’ll get vast views of both downtown Nashville and Bicentennial Mall Capital State Park.
The Bicentennial Park has a fountain designed to show the Tennessee’s river topography and there’s a pathway with exhibits describing the state’s history with various memorials.
Right next to the park is the Farmer’s Market. It’s open every day but Wednesday and Thursday. In addition to traditional produce, there are craft artisans, makers and a food court.
I ate at the Belle Nashville Pizzeria, which not only served up a well-charred wood oven pie, but I was treated to a wry monologue by the pizza slinger. He had firm opinions about how the bars near Vanderbilt had better music than Broadway and then he carefully explained why he was adding vodka to his coke (because it was the only way to survive his hangover.)
Digest your pizza by exiting east out of the middle section of the park and pick up a spur of the Cumberland River Greenway. Head east five blocks until you hit the river and then walk south toward downtown.
Finish up at the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. Go out the the middle of the bridge and then look back for view that will burn Nashville into your retinas. The views during the day are nice and at night they are epic.
Day Two Evening
For dinner, head over to East Nashville. It’s an up and coming neighborhood with a locals’ vibe. Eat at Pharmacy Burger where you can have local Tennessee beef, ground fresh.
For music tonight, check and see if there are any free concerts happening. Nashville schedules a regular series of free summer and holiday concerts in Nashville Public Square Park. Otherwise, refer back to the app that I mentioned above and find something interesting.
Nashville Itinerary: Day Three
Let’s get out of Dodge. While you could spend your whole three days in Nashville doing just the downtown circuit, it’s worth visiting plantations and presidential sights outside of the city core. We chose to focus on Belle Meade Plantation and the Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. There are two ways to do it if you don’t have your own car.
The first is to book an all day tour that includes transportation and admission to those two places plus lunch and wine tasting. It costs $79 per person and you can book it here.
However, we needed to head back to the airport at the end of the day, so I chose an alternative. We picked up a Budget rental car in the city, did our excursions and then dropped the car at the airport. The car will cost ~$50 for the day but it will save you the $25 taxi fare back to the airport from the city.
Score a deal on your rental car by using this link to compare pricing.
Here are the three things I suggest that you do on your excursion:
Find Ancient Greece at the Parthenon
Nashville faithfully replicated the Parthenon for the world’s fair in 1897. The structure was meant to be temporary but it was so popular that they rebuilt it with permanent materials in 1920. The building is photogenic enough on the outside, but be sure to go inside as well. There is a monstrously large gold leaf statue of Athena and a surprisingly good small art gallery.
Tips for Visiting: The outside is free but inside tickets cost $6.50
Learn about Slave Culture at Belle Meade Plantation
Belle Meade’s primary crop was thoroughbred horses, but don’t let that fool you. Just because they didn’t grow cotton or tobacco doesn’t mean that they didn’t have slaves. The plantation offers two tours, the “pretty white people and their furniture” tour and the slave tour. Take the latter. The tour takes an unvarnished look at slave life on the property. The docent who developed it went to great trouble to find out as much as he could about the Belle Meade slaves and the lives they led.
The Catholic California missions could learn a lesson here, because they also held slaves and they stubbornly ignore it in their museum displays like so much whitewashed adobe. It was very refreshing to get Belle Meade’s honest point of view.
Tips for Visiting: Either tour is $24. The plantation is an easy twenty minute drive outside of town.
Tour Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
My ninth grade presidential history class was a long time ago and Ken and I needed a refresher. In fact, we were so clueless, that we had a nonsensical conversation on the way over to the Hermitage that went something like this:
“Why is this such a thing in Tennessee, wasn’t Andrew Johnson our worst president in history?“
“We are going to Andrew Jackson’s home, not Andrew Johnson”
“Oh, what did Jackson do?”
“I don’t know, we’ll find out when we get to the Hermitage“
Turns out, he did a lot of stuff, like modernize the concept of the Presidency. He was also a budget hawk, founded the Democratic Party and fought corruption in the financial system. He was also responsible for the “trail of tears” and the forcible removal of First Peoples from their native lands. Visiting his Hermitage was a good refresher course in early American history.
Tips for Visiting: Tickets are $20. Leave yourself plenty of time to stroll the lovely grounds.
Get the Total Access Attractions Pass?
Nashville’s tourism bureau sells a Total Access pass for $75 which covers four attractions, free admission to the Parthenon, and tour discounts. Normally, I’m skeptical of these passes because they seldom include the good stuff. (I don’t recommend buying one in London, but I do recommend buying one in Paris).
Fortunately, the Nashville pass includes all of the good stuff. Most attractions on this three day Nashville itinerary are over $20, so using the pass will save you $5-15 and also time waiting in line to buy tickets. You can pick up the pass at the Music City visitors center.
(Full disclosure: they very kindly gave me two passes for my trip but if I didn’t think it was a good deal, I wouldn’t recommend it).
This itinerary is action packed, but it’s the perfect three days in Nashville. You can see all the major attractions and still have plenty of time for music. Have fun in Nashville and in the words of Garth Books “true country music is honesty, sincerity and real life to the hilt”. So take Garth’s advice and enjoy Nashville to the hilt.
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