his article originally appeared in the 2010, Country Music Chicago Concert Fair and Festival Guide.
For country music fans, visiting the Music City is a near rite of passage experience. Rich in country music history and the heartbeat of country music’s future, Nashville offers an experience of a lifetime for fans. Whether it’s your first, or your fiftieth, from the state-of-the-art Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to the legendary honky tonks, theirs is truly something for everyone.
While there is quite a list of things for visitors to explore while in Nashville her are some of Country Music Chicago’s “best bets”.
The Grand Ole Opry
2802 Opryland Drive, Nashville
In relation to country music, the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville are downright synonymous. Rooted deep in Nashville’s, and country music’s, history the Grand Ole Opry has evolved from a radio broadcast program, started in 1925, to the ultimate country music live-entertainment experience that pays tribute to both country music’s past and present. Still broadcasting today on WSM, the Grand Ole Opry is the longest running radio program in America.
The Opry has changed homes over the years and it is now located approximately nine miles northeast of downtown Nashville. Visitors will find the playhouse snuggled with the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, Opry Mills Mall, The General Jackson Showboat and some other area tourist and dining attractions in what is called the Opryland Area.
From Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley to George Jones and Loretta Lynn the Opry has a long list of members who regularly perform.
When in Nashville, be sure to catch a show. Times and program themes vary so check with the box office for ticket information or visit opry.com. Don’t forget to swing by the Opry Museum when you visit.
WSM-AM wsmonline.com – listen Online!
Where to Stay:
The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center
2800 Opryland Drive, Nashville
The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center is conveniently located next to the Grand Ole Opry. The Resort’s world-class amenities will be a highlight to anyone’s stay and guests can take advantage of their convenient, direct transportation to downtown Nashville and nearby attractions. The Resort’s indoor gardens – the Conservatory, the Cascades and the Delta – along with its restaurants and shops and 2,881 guest rooms make this first-class resort a year-round attraction by itself.
General Jackson Showboat
2812 Opryland Dr, Nashville
One of the last remaining remnants of the Opryland theme park is massive General Jackson Riverboat. Now tucked away behind the Opry Mills Mall, the Showboat is a 300 foot paddlewheel riverboat featuring live entertainment, fine dining and breathtaking views of the Nashville skyline via the Cumberland River.
Throughout the year, evening cruises offer a variety of first-rate entertainment in the onboard Victorian theatre. The evening journey features Country Music USA, a showcase of songs made popular by country legends like Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire and the biggest stars from today, such as Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood. With the help of the incredible, staff entertainers, the General Jackson is an excellent way to brush up on a bit of country music history while enjoying a three-course meal. Except during winter months, a mid-day cruise is also offered.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
222 Fifth Ave. S, Nashville
Located in downtown Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has become a 130,000-square-foot interactive tribute to all things country music. From the early beginnings to Elvis and Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks, the Museum offers visitors a state-of-the-art learning experience. The exhibit space covers three floors so visitors should allow for plenty of time to explore. Opt for the audio walking tour and be sure to visit the Museum’s gift shop located on the 1st floor.
A recent addition to the Museum’s ticket is the Historic RCA Studio B Tour. Located on Music Row and accessible by Museum bus, the guided tour covers the actual studio where many of country music’s finest recorded over the years, including Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. Tours depart daily from the Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s a great way to get a quick glimpse of Music Row.
The Ryman Auditorium
116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville
Just north of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum sits another piece of historic Nashville real estate. The Ryman Auditorium, often referred to as the Church of Country Music, has been the host of some of the biggest names in music over the years and was even the home the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974. Even today, with acts like Lady Antebellum and Bake Shelton, the Ryman still serves as a downtown concert and event venue. Self-guided tours of the facility are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
– Lodging –
Union Station Hotel
1001 Broadway, Nashville
The Wyndham Union Station Hotel located on upper Broadway, just a few blocks from the downtown entertainment district. As the name suggests, the building, once served as Nashville’s main train station. Today, it’s one of Nashville’s premier hotels and in the guest rooms; visitors would never guess the building was over 100 years old.
Like most downtown hotels, visitors should prepare for valet parking but guests typically do not need to leave much by car as many attractions are within walking distance.
Entertainment District & Broadway Ave.
Along Broadway Ave, visitors will find souvenir, leather goods, music shops and bars down “the strip”. By day, the streets are busy with tourists and shoppers and by night, the co-mingled honky tonks are playin’ it live and loud. While it would be easy to spend several hours walking along the strip, there are a few must-stop shops along the way.
Ernest Tubb Record Shop
417 Broadway, Nashville
As most record shops across the U.S. have gone to the wayside, Ernest Tubb’s is still alive and very vibrant. Located on Broadway Ave, this palace of hard-to-find traditional country and bluegrass is easily a downtown favorite. Hours very, check before you visit. They also have a second location in the Opryland area. Ask for a mail order catalog!
Dolly Parton’s Trinkets & Treasures
125 2nd Ave, Nashville
One of the newest downtown attractions, and quite possibly one of the most colorful, is Dolly Parton’s signature shop. Officially opened in March 2010, the Dolly inspired shop features a mix of Dolly-centric items for fans of all ages, including a music selection stocked with Parton’s records.
Farmer’s Market – 900 Rosa Parks Blvd, Nashville
Several tour companies operate downtown sightseeing tours but only one tour-ticket comes with a big pink bus and complimentary cheese-wiz hors d’oeuvres. With absolutely nothing off limits, the Jugg Sisters – Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay – take patrons on a 90-minute, comedy tour experience of the downtown region. This is the hottest tour ticket in town so reserve, and arrive, early.
The nightlife experience in downtown Nashville is second-to-none. While it can be a bit touristy it’s quite a vibrant live music scene. From the Wildhorse Saloon to Legends Bar, the spirits, dancing and country music flow freely. While the set list is much longer than this, here’s a few best bets.
120 2nd Ave. North, Nashville
One of the most recognized names downtown is the Whilehorse Saloon. With regularly scheduled live entertainment, full-service restaurant and bar the Saloon is located just off Broadway on 2nd Street. Don’t be shy, the Whilehorse boasts a very large dance floor (3,300-square-feet) with regularly scheduled dance lessons. (You could compare this to Chicago’s Joe’s Bar minus the dancing)
428 Broadway, Nashville
For most, Legends is the first bar they’ll see, or hear, as they approach the strip. Known for its live music, this corner bar is located next to the Ryman Auditorium at 5th and Broadway. Just as the name suggests, album covers of some of the biggest names in country music are splashed on the walls and just outside of the bar you’ll frequently find tourists taking pictures with the iconic oversized tribute guitar.
412 Broadway, Nashville
Just down the way you’ll find The Stage. (excuse the rhyme) As the name suggests, this bar boasts some great live music from some of today’s hottest up-and-coming and named acts. By the way, it’s not uncommon to rub shoulders with your favorite country music star here.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
422 Broadway, Nashville
Known for its pale Orchid (purple) exterior, Tootsie’s has been the watering hole for many country music greats, past and present. From one of Willie Nelson’s first gigs to Kenny Chesney recent drop in; the bar has quite an amazing history. The legendary bar gets its name from Tootsie Bess who purchased it in 1960 and has been the launching pad for many up-and-coming acts over the years.