Nashville really surprised me. I had high expectations when it came to food (which I wrote all about here) but as for sightseeing, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve never watched the television show Nashville and have pretty much zero knowledge of country music. But did that stop me from enjoying all that Nashville has to offer? Absolutely not!
Like most places I visit, I’m interested in learning about their history and culture, regardless of how much prior knowledge I have. Nashville might be known as Music City, but you don’t have to be a country music aficionado to have a great time. If you’re visiting Nashville for the first time, here are my recommendations on where to visit! There’s something for everyone.
#1 THE RYMAN AUDITORIUM
Everyone and their mother told me I should visit the Ryman Auditorium, and I’m so glad I listened. It’s best known as the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, The Johnny Cash Show, and, recently, as a filming location for the TV show Nashville. Clearly, this is the place to visit if you’re a country music fan. However, the Ryman Auditorium wasn’t always the home of country music.
We opted for the Guided Backstage Tour and had a wonderful guide named Joe who explained to us the history of the Ryman. We learned that it opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 which explains why there are pews instead of seats. The pews you see today are original, dating back to 1895! To this day, they’ve kept the tradition of no assigned seating which I find really cool.
Before the Grand Ole Oprey brought country music to the stage in 1943, the Ryman hosted performers like Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, and Harry Houdini. It was even used as a lecture hall for U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The first event to sell out at the Ryman was a lecture by Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan in 1913.
I loved learning about the Ryman’s dynamic history, as well as touring backstage to see the dressing rooms where countless stars have used throughout the years. Joe shared so many stories with us, I could’ve listened to him all day. Touring the Ryman Auditorium was a highlight for me, especially when we got to step onto the famous stage! Luckily, they weren’t setting up for anything that day which is rare since they host about 250 shows a year!
#2 THE JOHNNY CASH MUSEUM
“Johnny Cash was the champion of the voiceless, the underdogs and the downtrodden. He was also something of a holy terror, like Abraham Lincoln with a wild side. He represented the best of America.” -Kris Kristofferson
After learning about Johnny Cash’s history with the Ryman Auditorium, we were curious enough to visit The Johnny Cash Museum just down the street. It’s a small museum that you can easily walk through within an hour, but I’d encourage you to take your time to read, listen, and see everything it has to offer, as it’s very interactive.
They have so much memorabilia from his early days as a young boy, right up until his last record and Grammy Award! Along the way, you can stop and watch several of his performances on different tablets throughout the museum. This was a feature I really enjoyed because it gave me more of an appreciation for what I was learning.
Country music fan or not, his writing was incredible and I was blown away by how much he achieved in his lifetime. Johnny Cash is one of the few entertainers to have sold more than 100 million records! He is also the only artist to have songs on the Billboard Charts for six decades. I think after visiting the museum, many will agree that “The Man in Black” was one of a kind.
#3 BELLE MEADE PLANTATION
I debated whether or not to put Belle Meade Plantation on this list. Why? I felt as if my tour guide didn’t provide enough history or even give an honest representation of what daily plantation life was like during the time of slavery. Whether this was done intentionally, I really don’t know, but I left wanting to know more about every day life on the plantation and not just the history of the family. The history we learned was interesting and I don’t regret visiting, but the guide mainly talked about life at Belle Meade after the Civil War, even though the plantation dates back to 1807.
That being said, I am really glad I visited! Whether I agree or disagree with the way the tour was conducted, I think it’s important to visit historic properties like these in order to gain a better understanding of what the world was like back then. It’s one thing to read about these places in history books, but actually visiting them helps bring the history to life.
The preservation of the main house, which was altered and enlarged into a Greek-Revival style mansion in 1853, was very impressive both inside and out. Photography wasn’t allowed inside, but you get to tour both floors which includes the main entrance hall with a grand wooden staircase, as well as the sitting room, dining room, office, main bedrooms, and bathrooms.
After the guided tour inside the house, you can take your time and explore the stables, carriage houses, mausoleum, gardens, and reconstructed log cabins. In 2009, Belle Meade Plantation opened its own winery so your visit will conclude with a wine tasting which was fun, especially at 11 in the morning!
Belle Meade is located about 15 minutes by car from the center of Nashville, and it only cost us about $10 to take a Lyft there. If you’re interested in visiting, be sure to check Groupon before your visit, as they often have deals for Belle Meade Plantation.
#4 HATCH SHOW PRINT TOUR
You’ll find Hatch Show Print’s iconic letterpress poster shop inside The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. After my visit to the Ryman Auditorium, I immediately recognized the prints inside Hatch. From 1925-1992, the shop was actually located right behind the Ryman Auditorium and has been one of their best customers!
Anyone can visit the shop, but the tour provides visitors with a look into their large workspace where you can see how these legendary posters are made. Our tour guide explained that preservation through production is a motto that Hatch Show Print lives by. Everything is handmade, with absolutely no help from computers, almost exactly how it was done over 100 years ago. These presses are so cool to see, especially in use, and the newest one they have is from the 1960’s. There’s even one from the late 1800’s that still works!
As if that wasn’t interesting enough, we got to go to a room in the back, known as the Hatch Show Print Space for Design. It’s a classroom and workshop space that allows visitors an opportunity to learn more through demonstrations. We even got to help make a print which we then got to take home with us! Score!
#5 THE PARTHENON
No, I didn’t spontaneously fly from Nashville to Athens! There just happens to be a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Nasvhille’s Centennial Park. How incredibly weird and awesome is that?!
This impressive structure was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Nowadays, it functions as an art museum and is definitely worth a visit inside. Alan LeQuire, a sculptor from Nashville, decided to make a re-creation of the Athena Parthenos statue in 1990. In ancient Greece, this statue was the focus of the Parthenon, so it makes sense for it to be the same in Nashville’s Parthenon!
For me, the Parthenon represents how strange, interesting, and unexpectedly cool Nashville is. I enjoyed my time there immensely and would love to visit again.
Have you been to Nashville before or have plans to soon? Let me know in the comments below!