Planning a stop in Nashville? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see and do.
The Music City is without a doubt the coolest stop in Tennessee. Legends of country music like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and DeFord Bailey are just a few of the many famous residents whose art reverberated in the Grand Ole Opry and the city as a whole.
Nashville still has that cachet today: The inimitable Dolly Parton lives here, as do more contemporary singers like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. It’s a place where many of your bartenders and servers are aspiring musicians who came here to make it big—or even just a little. And as it turns out, the restaurants and bars they work in are pretty darn good too.
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Food lovers will find plenty to their liking in Nashville. Here’s a guide to the must-hit spots.
Where (and What) to Eat and Drink
Nashville Hot Chicken
If you’re about to leave Nashville and haven’t had its famous hot chicken yet, please reschedule your flight and turn back around immediately. Nashville hot chicken is in a league of its own: the chicken is fried in a batter that contains hot sauce, and I mean hot. Know your limits and be on the conservative side when you order.
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish is where I ended up a mere hour after I arrived in Nashville, gently tearing up and sniffing over the least spicy level. Bolton’s was featured in the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” as well as David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious.” The latter also took a trip to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, which has several locations and gave its spiciest option the self-explanatory name “Shut the Cluck Up.”
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the O.G., having been around for more than 70 years. Its first location is now closed, but the tradition lives on on the southern edge of town. And while you’re here for the hot chicken, do not skimp on the sides! Mac and cheese, beans of all kinds, slaw, and all that good stuff.
There is no such thing as Tennessee barbecue, simply because there are distinct regional styles of barbecue within the state. That being said, pork reigns supreme here. Generally speaking, Eastern Tennessee barbecue focuses on whole hog and pork shoulder served with a vinegar-based sauce, influenced by nearby North Carolina. Then there’s Memphis barbecue, which typically means dry rub ribs, although there are “wet” dishes too with a sauce that leans more toward tomato.
Nashville doesn’t have as much of a barbecue tradition, but plenty of noteworthy pitmasters have settled here, serving a variety of styles. Peg Leg Porker has become famous for its Memphis-style dry rub ribs, but also serves pulled pork and other meats and cuts.
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Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint celebrates the whole hog and now has six locations in and around Nashville, and more outside the state. The Downtown Nashville location has a great patio for outdoor eating and chilling.
Edley’s Bar-B-Que, which has three Nashville locations, dabbles in a mix of Southern food traditions. They’re known for their Tuck Special sandwich: brisket, homemade pimento cheese, an over-easy egg, pickles, and red and white sauce.
Not skimping on sides applies here also, FYI.
Music City Walking Food Tour, $62 on Airbnb
Try a food tour through the Gulch District.
Meat and Three
And speaking of sides…The Southern tradition of the “meat and three” restaurant is alive and well in Nashville. This is typically a cafeteria-style restaurant where you grab a tray and pick your choice of meat and three sides (also called fixins). Many of these joints have been around for decades. Try Swett’s (open since 1954!), Dandgure’s Classic Southern Cooking, and Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
Henrietta Red has been a sensation since it opened in 2017. Chef-owner Julia Sullivan serves seasonal, contemporary American cuisine in a beautiful space that has an interior-design-goals vibe. Henrietta Red’s menu is mostly made up of small plates to share, plus a raw bar with extensive oyster options. The $5 bread plate is worth it for the anchovy butter alone.
Husk began as the iconic Charleston restaurant from chef Sean Brock, who then opened offshoots in Nashville and a couple other Southern cities. Brock very recently left the restaurant group he founded to focus on other projects, and Husk Nashville is now under the purview of chef Katie Coss. She is continuing that signature emphasis on Southern ingredients, but with vegetable-forward fare.
What’s that unwieldy line of people spilling out on the streets of the Gulch neighborhood, you ask? That’s the line to get into Biscuit Love, which became famous for their biscuits topped with all sorts of carb-loaded goodness. The “easy nasty” is a sandwich with fried boneless chicken thigh, aged cheddar, and sausage gravy on a buttermilk biscuit. They now have two other locations.
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I’ll always remember Marché Artisan Foods as the place I feebly ingested a grilled cheese and a virgin bloody mary after I made the great decision of drinking too much the night before I was scheduled to get a tattoo across the street. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful place for brunch; the menu changes daily and includes a variety of pastries. And I’m sure that bloody tastes just as great with vodka.
The hottest place in Nashville is Pinewood Social. This place has everything: a bar, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a workspace, a patio, a pool, a bowling alley where a hungover Anthony Bourdain and his friends chucked a few balls in a 2016 episode of “Parts Unknown.” Whatever vibe you’re looking for, Pinewood has it. The cocktails are particularly good here too.
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Other spots with great creative cocktails include Black Rabbit and The Patterson House. If you’re into beer, head to the Tennessee Brew Works taproom to sample some local pours, from IPAs to wheat beers to stouts. The brewery uses local ingredients whenever they can.
What to See and Do
You’re going to need some things to do in between meals. Luckily, Nashville is still the hotbed of live music it used to be, even though Lower Broadway—the historic strip where all the bars and honky tonks are—is a little different today. One thing that hasn’t changed? Robert’s Western World. That being said, it’s had its fair share of incarnations, as a guitar company from the ’50s to the ’80s, then as a boot and Western apparel shop, and finally as a bar with live music since the early ’90s. When I dropped by on my visit, a kid who couldn’t have been older than 16 was playing guitar like nobody’s business.
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Much of the rest of Broadway can feel quite commercialized and sometimes frat-like, with more bands playing covers of Blink-182 than rocking out some real country tunes. It’s worth exploring for the novelty, but you’ll find hidden gems if you venture out onto the side streets. Skull’s Rainbow Room has been around since 1948; it mostly hosts live jazz music, but don’t miss out on the excellent burlesque shows Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 11 p.m. For bluegrass, head to The Station Inn.
And of course, there’s the famous Grand Ole Opry concert, which has been going since 1925 and is the longest-running radio broadcast in the U.S. It bounced about before finding a permanent home at the Ryman Auditorium, from 1943 to 1974, and then moved to its current digs in East Nashville. The Ryman was vacant for more than 20 years, but since 1999 the Opry returns to it for a three-month stint every winter.
If you can’t see them live, learn about the legendary artists’ history at the Country Music Hall of Fame. It exhibits all kinds of artifacts from guitars to stage costumes, and streams old video and audio footage. As well as its permanent collection, the museum also puts on a variety of special exhibitions.
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, so a trip to the Capitol is a must. Take a peek inside the stately building and stroll through its adjoining Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. From there, drop by the Tennessee State Museum for some history, or the Farmers Market, which is open every day.
Where to Stay
It seems like Nashville hotels either were something else in their past or are currently trying to be something else. This is all, of course, a great thing that makes lodgings in Music City quite unique.
The Union Station Hotel was Nashville’s train station and is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The Russell used to be a church—the stained glass windows remain—and the Fairlane Hotel used to be a bank. The 21c Museum Hotel has public (and free) art galleries, and each of the eight rooms in the fun Vandyke Bed & Beverage is booze-themed, such as Champagne and whiskey.
Of course, Nashville also has your run-of-the-mill, cozy but luxurious boutique hotel, like the Germantown Inn, located in a restored 1865-built home. The Hermitage Hotel, unveiled in 1910, is the grandmother of them all. This year, the hotel will be celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, which granted women’s suffrage. Tennessee state legislators gathered at the Hermitage for weeks in 1920 leading up to the 36th, and deciding, vote.
Or, you can grab three friends and stay in Patsy Cline’s home in the southern suburb of Goodlettsville, which you can book for $250 a night on Airbnb.
Nashville Lodging, various prices on Airbnb
Or explore your other Airbnb options in town.
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Raymond Boyd