Do you like the odd, the unusual and the offbeat? Me too, and I found plenty of cool things to do in Nashville that scratched that itch. Mix some of these ten things into your own Nashville visit and see the stranger side of the city.
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10 Offbeat, Unusual & Cool Things to Do in Nashville
They say that Austin is weird…and it is. Austin and Nashville both share a great music and food culture. Like Austin, Nashville also has the right amount of weird to make it an interesting city.
Most people visit as a weekend getaway, which is just long enough to do the honky tonks (and the Opry and the hot chicken) with time leftover for some of these more unusual things to do in Nashville.
1. Street Art: Find Murals Outside of the Gulch
In the past four years, Nashville’s street art scene exploded from a modest graffiti culture into a fully formed movement and it’s one of my favorite street art cities. The most popular (and highly Instragrammable) spots are in the The Gulch, which is where you’ll find Kelsey Montague’s iconic “wings” mural.
I took the wings selfie too, but trust me when I tell you that it’s worth exploring beyond The Gulch for some truly eye-popping, world class murals. The mural above is by Guido van Helten and it’s located in the Nations neighborhood. This rough working class area is far from anyone’s list of top 10 things to in Nashville. But I saw the mural on a street art tour and was so moved by it that I started crying. Then the following year, I went on a quest into the middle-of-nowhere Australia to find more of his silo murals.
Street art will do that to you. So, if you want to cry, or just see lots of cool murals, check out my street art guide to four different neighborhoods in Nashville.
2. Music Beyond the Honky Tonks: Finding Singer/Songwriters
Seeing live music in a Nashville honky tonk is some good ole, down home, beer soaked fun. However, most of the bands in the evenings just play covers. If you want to sample original music from local or visiting artists, you need to get off Broadway.
For instance, I saw a great set of feminist female singer/songwriters at the Listening Room. You can also find original music at the Bluebird Cafe, The Station Inn, and the Exit Inn. Some of the honky tonks like Acme Feed & Seed or Tootsies do have singer/songwriter spotlights, but it won’t be during busy weekend evenings.
If you are visiting in the summer, check out the free concert series in Public Square Park and use Nashville’s live music app to find more acts.
3. The Frist: Modern Art in an Art Deco Setting
The Frist Art Museum is an unexpected art surprise for such a musical town. It’s been open since 2001 and they feature rotating exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Exhibits could range from a Dorothea Lange retrospective to Mexican Modernism. The building itself is an attraction in a lovingly restored Art Deco former post office.
Going to bars and visiting the men’s room (especially if you aren’t a dude), is kind of an adult pastime. So, if you want something for the small ones, check out these things to do in Nashville with kids.
4. Hermitage Hotel Bathroom: See Awarding Winning Historic Toilets
Speaking of Art Deco, how about some award-winning Art Deco toilets? Would they prove to you that Nashville is offbeat enough? The men’s room at the Hermitage Hotel is an Art Deco masterpiece with mirrored green striped glass, lime green sinks and a shoe shine station.
The lovely beau arts hotel building was completed in 1910. This ten story building was a “skyscraper” in its heyday and the bathroom has hosted famous dudes like Charles Chaplin, Babe Rush and Johnny Cash.
5. Hatch Show Print: Relive Nashville’s Glory Days
Hatch Show Print was founded in 1879 and is one of the oldest letterpress shops in the US. They developed a signature style of wood block prints which have advertised circuses, sporting events, operas and speaking engagements. They hit their heyday with the golden age of country music, becoming the go-to printer for the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry.
The print shop is still at it, and you can visit their store, take a short tour of the print shop and also visit their gallery across the hall for cool print exhibits.
6. The Parthenon: Visit Ancient Greece Without a Passport
Visiting America’s Parthenon is one of the most unusual things to do in Nashville, both on the outside and within.
Nashville faithfully replicated the Parthenon for their world’s fair in 1897. The structure was meant to be temporary and was made of flimsy materials. The building became so popular that they decided to reconstruct 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. There is also surprisingly good small art gallery, which has nothing to do with Greek art, but just go with it.
7. Belle Mead Slave Tour: Walk in the Footsteps of a Slave
There are way too many plantations in the south that present a white washed view of their dark history by only focusing on the pretty architecture and furniture. Fortunately, Belle Meade plantation is an exception.
The plantation’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 historical site offers the usual “pretty white people and their furniture” tour, complete with wine tasting.
But they’ve also invested a great deal of effort into a more authentic tour that looks at slave life. Take that tour instead and you’ll get a sobering lesson on living a life without power or self-agency.
8. Distillery Tasting Rooms: Lots of Shots in One Short Block
Visit the old Nashville Marathon Motorworks plant and you’ll sample some high proof wares from three different distilleries, all in one short block.
Prior to prohibition, The Greenbriar distillery was distributing two million bottles a year. They are now more of a craft distiller, offering a classic sour mash whiskey. They distill on site and offer tastings and tours.
The Corsair distillery opened up in 2010, becoming Nashville’s first boutique distillery since prohibition. They make a full range of liquor including; whiskey, rye, barrel aged gin and spiced rum.
Tennessee Legend specializes in whisky and cream liquors and modern moonshine that they say will “strike your tongue with a bolt of potent flavor.”
After being stricken with your bolt, take a Uber back downtown– it will cost you $8 and save you a DUI.
9. Nashville Farmer’s Market: Find Quirky Crafts
In addition to the usual piles of whatever fruit and veg are in season, Nashville’s farmer’s market also has a slew of other vendors.
Their crafty offerings include: paintings, an antique dealer, crocheted Bob Marley wear, hemp oil products, beaded jewelry, candles, colorful clothes, pottery and on and on.
10. Hang with a Local: Have Offbeat Experiences
Stay off the hop on hop off bus, and avoid those drunk bicycle tours, you’ll have time to experience offbeat Nashville with the locals.
- Caitlin, a professional musician who has toured with the likes of Ringo Starr and Keith Urban, will help you write and record your own song.
- Valerie will take you on an insider’s shopping tour of her favorite vintage shops.
- Jennifer’s family has been farming for generations and her backroads farm tour will introduce you to Tennessee farming culture.
Where to Stay in Nashville
If you want to stay somewhere quirky while in Nashville, I suggest that you check out the following:
- Hermitage Hotel: Why not stay in the hotel with all of the lovely aforementioned toilets? It’s a luxury pick, smack in the middle of downtown. See some glam pics, get reviews and book here.
- Union Station Hotel: Because of course you should sleep in a building that used to be a train station! See some glam pics, get reviews and book here.
- The Russell Hotel: This boutique hotel in East Nashville is housed in a former Presbyterian church and a chunk of what you pay for your stay goes to support the local homeless shelter. See some glam pics, get reviews and book here.
Explore more of offbeat America by visiting hidden Key West.
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