Nashville, capital of Tennessee, lies almost in the center of the state on the Cumberland River. Thanks to its importance as a place of learning — the city boasts many universities and colleges — along with its superb reproduction of the Parthenon, it's often called the "Athens of the South" and is a delight to explore on foot. Founded in 1779, Nashville is perhaps best known as the capital of country music, as evidenced by such attractions as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the city's famous Music Row district. The city also serves as an excellent jumping-off point to explore the rest of Tennessee, and Nashville's surroundings offer many historical and recreational tourist attractions, including old plantations and Civil War sites.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Nashville
1. Music Row
The area around Music Square is known as Music Row and is the heart and soul of the nation's music industry. Music Row is where you'll find such important landmarks as RCA Studio B, the recording facility credited as the birthplace of the unique "Nashville sound" that defined so many big hits of the 1960s. It's now a teaching facility, and tours can be arranged through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
For country fans, this is the place to come. In addition to numerous souvenir and memorabilia shops and museums devoted to music and musicians, there are many memorials and plaques dedicated to some of the sites associated with music.
2. The Nashville Parthenon
Nashville's most iconic landmark, the famous reproduction of Athens' Parthenon, is located in Centennial Park and is just a short walk west of the city center. Originally built of wood in 1897 to commemorate the state's centenary, it was later rebuilt in cement on the same site. Today, it stands as an impressively accurate full-scale replica of the original Greek temple.
Be sure to pop inside, too. Here, you'll find the city's impressive permanent art collection consisting of 63 works by 19th- and 20th-century American painters, along with a 42-foot-high replica of the statue of the goddess Athena Parthenos covered with gold leaf. Also worth seeing are the replicas of the famed 5th-century-BC Parthenon Marbles.
3. Andrew Jackson's Hermitage
The former home of America's seventh President, Andrew Jackson, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque spots in Nashville. Located just a few minutes' drive east of the city center, The Hermitage was originally constructed in 1819 and fully rebuilt 25 years later after a devastating fire.
Now fully-renovated to look just as it would have during Jackson's time — he lived here from 1837 to 1845 — this splendid old mansion now houses a fascinating museum with numerous exhibits and displays focusing on both his private and public lives.
4. The Grand Ole Opry
A number of attractions are associated with the famous "Opryland" name, the former music-industry-themed amusement park that once graced Nashville. Today, the name is associated with the Grand Ole Opry, the paddle-wheel showboat the General Jackson, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and the huge Opry Mills shopping mall.
Grand Ole Opry radio shows have been broadcast from here since 1925, and visitors can enjoy regular shows starring famous country stars in the Grand Ole Opry House itself, along with fun backstage tours.
5. The General Jackson Showboat
The General Jackson Showboat is another great way to get your country music fix. This modern four-deck paddle-wheel showboat was built to resemble a steamship from the 1800s and offers a variety of cruises on the Cumberland River. One of the most popular options is to book one of their dining and show packages.
If you're looking for fun things to do at night in Nashville, this pleasant outing offers a unique view of the cityscape from the water. A highlight is passing under the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, which you should also take the opportunity to cross at least once during your stay for its great views of the river and boat traffic.
6. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The museum features a multi-media display of historical performances, costumes, instruments, gold records, and memorabilia. Other highlights include a Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis, a massive 40-foot guitar, a tour bus, and a recording booth. Guided tours of the nearby historic RCA Studio B are also available.
Country music fans should also pay a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe, notable for its vast collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to one of the country's leading music legends.
7. The Tennessee State Capitol
The Tennessee State Capitol, built on the most prominent hill in downtown Nashville, was designed in a simple Neoclassical style and is capped with a temple-like cupola. Started in 1845 and made mostly of local Tennessee limestone, this impressive structure is the anchor of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park linking the legislature with the downtown core.
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is itself worth exploring. This 19-acre site commemorates the state's 200th anniversary and includes a huge granite map imbedded in the concrete plaza along with numerous fountains and statues of Tennessee-born Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson.
8. Ryman Auditorium
The Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, is again being used to host performances of the famous radio show. Originally opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman — often referred to as the "Carnegie Hall of the South" — has been restored and now also features regular classical concert series, bluegrass shows, musical theater, and television tapings.
The building also serves as a museum with a variety of exhibits relating to its rich past. Guided and self-guided tours are available, and be sure to try your hand at cutting a record of your own in the Ryman's Recording Studio. Fun backstage tours are available, but book ahead in order to avoid disappointment.
9. The Belle Meade Plantation
A short distance from the city center stands the impressive Belle Meade Plantation. Built in 1845, this handsome old Southern mansion was designed in the Greek-Revival style. During the two-day Civil War Battle of Nashville in 1864, Union and Confederate forces fought in the front yard of the mansion, and evidence of gunfire can still be seen in its tall stone columns.
The gardens and grounds of the mansion are also worth exploring and consist of a number of early 19th-century buildings, and are a popular background choice for weddings. If time allows, be sure to grab a bite to eat at the on-site Harding House Restaurant, a popular spot for lunch or dinner.