Long weekend in Nashville: Music City tourism boom led by thriving nightlife
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The Music City hits all the high notes. And plenty of Americans — and foreign visitors too — find Nashville the ideal place to enjoy the sights, flavors and history of the heartland.
Nashville boasts a booming economy, surging population, fantastic food and world-famous nightlife.
The Music City offers more than 180 live entertainment venues, according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
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The art of sound is deeply embedded in the soul of middle Tennessee.
Wherever you turn your eyes and ears in Nashville, somebody is strumming a guitar or belting out a tune — whether a hotel lobby at check-in time or a sunrise on a Sunday morning.
“Nashville is the perfect hybrid between city living and southern roots,” political pundit Tomi Lahren told Fox News Digital.
She moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in 2020 amid the chaos and crisis of California lockdowns — and has never looked back.
“The people are nice, the winters are cool and the chicken is hot,” said Lahren, with a reference to the culinary sensation — Nashville hot chicken —that’s become a tourist attraction unto itself while spreading its spicy wings around America.
Nashville’s popularity is boosted by great weather and incredible convenience.
Nashville is enjoying a tourism boom. It’s on pace to welcome a record 14.2 million visitors in 2022 with a projected 14.9 million more in 2023, according to the convention bureau — with more tourists relative to the local population than New York City.
Nashville’s popularity is boosted by great weather and incredible convenience.
The average high in July is a manageable 90 degrees, while the temperature rarely goes below freezing in the winter.
About 75% of the U.S. population — nearly 250 million Americans — live within a two-hour flight of the Music City, boasts the tourism board.
Where to stay in Nashville
With so many tourists rushing the Music City stage, developers have unleashed a hotel boom.
About 2,600 new rooms were in the process of being built this summer alone, according to the Convention & Visitors Corp., while construction cranes jut up from the cityscape.
The coolest new place to stay in Nashville is The Graduate, a whimsical, retro Americana-themed hotel in midtown that opened in 2020, about a mile west of the main nightlife district of Lower Broadway.
The Graduate offers a Dolly Parton-themed rooftop lounge called White Limozeen, which features a 9-foot-tall bust of Her Majesty of Country Music made of chicken wire overlooking the city. The hotel also offers a cozy ground-floor karaoke bar called Crossed-Eyed Critters.
Developers built 2,600 new hotel rooms in Nashville this summer.
The Hutton Hotel, another boutique lodging option, is just steps from The Graduate.
It features a music-themed lobby and décor and its own theater, Analog, for intimate performances.
The Hutton boasts musicians performing in the lobby throughout much of the day.
The Hilton Nashville Downtown is the city’s most convenient hotel, on the catbird seat nestled between Broadway and Bridgestone Arena.
The Renaissance, Hyatt Place and Omni Nashville, among others, are each stumbling distance from the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway.
Where to eat in Nashville
The Music City food scene is surging, too.
The number of people dining out in Nashville skyrocketed nearly 20% in the summer of 2022 compared with the pre-pandemic summer of 2019. That’s according to data from restaurant-reservation service OpenTable and is one of the sharpest rises of any city in the nation.
The star attraction is Nashville hot chicken, which has grown so popular around the country it’s made the Music City a center for destination dining.
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The hot chicken tradition dates back to the Great Depression. Its creation is universally attributed to Prince’s Hot Chicken — still beloved by locals today.
The number of people dining out in Nashville is up 20% since 2019, according to OpenTable.
Prince’s boasts a flagship location on Nolensville Pike a few miles south of the center of the city, as well as a take-out stand in glitzy, modern Assembly Food Hall downtown.
Nashville hot chicken has legit local roots. But it’s surged in popularity in recent years, especially since the advent of the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in 2006.
Expect to wait in line at the city’s most popular palaces of poultry, such as Hattie B’s, Party Fowl and 400 Degrees.
Bachelorettes in cowboy hats were lined up outside Party Fowl in The Gulch at 9:50 a.m. on a recent Friday, awaiting the 10 o’clock opening of the “cold beer, hot chicken” watering hole.
For a no-frills, real-deal local experience, Bolton’s Famous Hot Chicken & Fish in East Nashville is a must-see spot.
Hot chicken is not the only dish in town.
Parlor Donuts offers one of the most amazing array of deep-fried morning deliciousness in America with creative flair, such as its colorful blue Cookie Monster Donuts.
Attaboy in East Nashville is celebrated as one of America’s best cocktail programs.
Layer Cake Social Kitchen, a pretty bachelorette-themed restaurant and cocktail venue, opened recently off Lower Broadway.
Boqueria Fifth + Broadway is a sleek new downtown tapas eatery.
And there’s E3 Chophouse, a favorite of country music star John Rich. It features farm-sourced ingredients, including grass-fed beef and locally harvested honeycomb.
Located in the south as it is, Nashville boasts a robust barbecue scene, too.
Local foodies rave about the rib sandwich at Mary’s Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Que, a longtime take-out landmark in Nashville’s Jefferson Street Music District.
Other meals that get raves: the jumbo Tennessee pork shoulder sandwich at Jack’s Bar-B-Que, with three locations around the city, including its flagship eatery on Broadway; and Peg Leg Porker, known for roasting whole hogs and, as its website proclaims, “real Tennessee BBQ.”
Where to party hard in Nashville
Every visit to Nashville begins, or sooner or later ends up, under the neon moon of Lower Broadway.
It’s a honky-tonk heaven of music clubs, cowboy boot shops and barrooms. The strip rises up from the Cumberland River, which cuts through the heart of the city.
Lower Broadway turns into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare, from Rep. John Lewis Way/Fifth Avenue to the riverfront, at nighttime to handle the crowds flocking to its live-music hotspots.
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There is no subway system in Nashville and only a limited commuter rail that serves outlying communities. But there are public buses, taxis, ride-share options and plenty of downtown parking options.
Don’t forget Nashville’s famous party buses. The city appears to have every available entertainment option on wheels.
Nashville appears to have every available entertainment option on wheels, from pedi-bus barrooms to comedy shows on buses.
Pedi-bus barrooms, bachelorette parties packed onto trailers and comedy shows on buses roll down Broadway and through surrounding neighborhoods such as The Gulch, a trendy and growing district just south of downtown, all day long.
Dingy old honky-tonks romanticized in country-music lore have been replaced in recent years by super-sized celebrity-owned booze-and-music temples with multiple floors and roof decks vying for dominance over Lower Broadway.
Kid Rock’s sprawling nightclub, to name just one, has enough room for up 2,000 people.
Jason Aldean, Luke Bryant, Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, John Rich, Blake Shelton, Justin Timberlake and Florida Georgia Line all have Lower Broadway venues, most of them clustered around the intersection of Third Avenue.
Not everyone loves the new Nashville.
“It was not uncommon in the early days of Lower Broadway, the 1970s, ’80s, at one of the beer joints, for somebody to pull into town in their station wagon with Oklahoma plates and their hunting dog in the front seat and jump out with their guitar and begin their ascent in the music industry,” lamented lifelong Nashville-area resident Jeff Jennings outside Ryman Auditorium.
“As a child growing up here,” he told Fox News Digital, “that was my idea of how you started in the music industry. Lower Broadway was a genuine feed into that, the place where you made a name for yourself.”
Where to hear headline acts in Nashville
The biggest acts in music still find their way to Lower Broadway.
Bridgestone Arena, also home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, is located right there in the heart of the Music City’s nightlife district.
Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Smashing Pumpkins and Pitbull all perform at Bridgestone Arena in October.
Visitors find plenty of ways to celebrate the Music City’s heritage, too.
Ryman Auditorium, the “mother church of country music,” is located steps from Lower Broadway.
The former Union Gospel Tabernacle gained national fame as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
The Ryman still hosts live performances but is best known today as a museum of country music.
Tourists get their photos taken on stage behind the famous WSM microphone; or, they can visit the June Carter and Johnny Cash dressing room.
Statues outside the Ryman pay homage to country music legends Loretta Lynn, Little Jimmie Dickens and bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.
Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit enjoy a residence at the Ryman in October.
Where to celebrate the roots of American music
Nashville artistic lore is celebrated in a long list of downtown attractions.
The Johnny Cash Museum, Patsy Cline Museum, Glen Campbell Museum, National Museum of African American Music and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — all of these are clustered around Lower Broadway.
A tour of each could make for a day of exploration into Nashville’s musical roots and influences.
No trip to Nashville is complete, of course, without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry in Opryland, about 10 miles east of downtown Nashville.
“Country Music’s Biggest Stage” features performances by rising-star acts, bluegrass traditionalists and the biggest names in the business.
No two shows are the same, the venue claims.
Superstar singer Blake Shelton headlines the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday.
Visitors can tour the Opry seven days a week, or purchase a backstage visit after a show.
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Opryland once boasted an amusement park, but it closed in 1997. The neighborhood has been reshaped as a shopping and dining destination surrounding the Opry.
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen serves the celebrity chef’s southern favorites, such as chicken-fried pork chops or “ooey gooey” butter cake just outside the entrance to the theater. Bavarian Bierhaus offers German suds and fare in the mall just across the street from Paula Deen.
Where modern Nashville meets ‘Urban Cowboy’
The area around Opryland offers some more rustic touches of southern culture.
Cooter’s Place is a “Dukes of Hazzard” strip-mall museum and retail shop operated by Ben Jones, who starred in the CBS TV series (1979-’85) as mechanic Cooter and went on to become a U.S. congressman from Georgia.
The Willie Nelson and Friends Museum next door to Cooter’s is dedicated to its namesake artist and other country-music icons, including Waylon Jennings and Porter Wagoner.
Behind the strip mall is a sprawling oasis of Americana on Music Valley Drive straight out of the movie “Urban Cowboy.”
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Hundreds of pick-up trucks and motorcycles are parked at night outside Scoreboard Bar & Grill.
It’s an indoor-outdoor sports-themed venue with multiple bars, live music, football on dozens of televisions, and “an amazing Super Bowl party” each winter, one bartender proudly noted.
A short distance across the Music Valley Drive parking lot, country music fans pack into The Music City Bar.
It’s a more intimate live-music venue with couples dancing to country-music standards and portraits of icons of the genre lining the walls.
Where to shop like a rock star or country star
All those musicians who call Nashville home need to shop for the tools of the trade.
Gruhn Guitars, a sprawling vintage music shop, opened in 1970 and has become a tourist destination in and of itself.
“They are considered the no. 1 vintage instrument store in the USA,” country star John Rich told Fox News Digital.
“It’s a time capsule.”
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Visitors are informed they’re welcome to play anything hanging on the wall.
Some of the instruments are rare signature one-off models from the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll, including Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy.
“Everyone from The Rolling Stones to Ricky Skaggs have bought guitars at Gruhn Guitars.” — John Rich
The shop recently sold an early example of the very first electric guitar, a 1934 Rickenbacker Frying Pan, to Indiana collector Nicholas Toth. It’s now on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The truly coveted pieces, some topping $300,000 in value, are secreted away in Gruhn’s giant guitar gallery awaiting the most serious musicians and collectors.
“Everyone from The Rolling Stones to Ricky Skaggs has bought guitars there,” Rich said.
Where to experience Nashville history
Nashville sits amid dramatic undulations of the Cumberland River and was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians 14,000 years ago.
Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware and Chickasaw natives used the area as “an inter-tribal hunting ground” at the time of European arrival, according to the Fort Nashborough History Center.
The Nashborough site recreates an early local settlement of rough-timber homes on the Cumberland River right at the end of Lower Broadway’s raucous nightlife district.
European trading posts in what’s now Nashville date back to 1689, while a short-lived settlement was made in 1714.
A permanent settlement was made in 1779 and dubbed Nashborough, in honor of North Carolina Revolutionary War hero and politician Francis Nash.
Renamed Nashville in 1784, the city was incorporated in 1806 and made the capital of Tennessee in 1843.
Nashville’s most famous citizen was Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812 and seventh president of the United States.
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Tours of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, just a 15-minute drive from Opryland east of downtown Nashville, offer fascinating insight into the life of “The People’s President,” who served in the White House from 1829 to 1837.
Jackson’s mansion sits on land he purchased in 1804, where “he operated a general store, a tavern and tracks for racing thoroughbred horses,” according to The Hermitage website.
The Federal-style home was built from 1819 to 1821 and served as the center of his plantation.
Nashville’s most curious historic site is The Parthenon in Centennial Park, located next to Vanderbilt University about two miles west of Lower Broadway.
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It’s a full-sized replica of the original Parthenon in Athens — the only one of its kind in the world.
It was built in 1897 as Tennessee celebrated 100 years of statehood.
It’s an art museum and center for other cultural events today, and “a beloved symbol of civic pride to Nashvillians,” says the city’s tourism board.