Straight up from a break-up, my long weekend to Nashville with my best friend from college couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. On my Southwest flight, I had visions of tall, handsome cowboys sweeping me out of my funk. My friend and I rented a car at the airport. We chose to rent a car because we wanted to take a day trip outside of Nashville. Renting a car is helpful when touring Nashville, since the city is spread out into different neighborhoods. Although, you could get by with Uber or public transportation if you are staying a short time. Here’s a taste of what you can pack into a Thursday-Monday long weekend, if you add a little spontaneity and adventure into the plan.
Nashville is well known as the city of country music, where many of the greatest country stars graced the small stages in the bars and music clubs that line the brightly lit Honkey Tonk Highway, or the Bluebird Café. My image of Nashville included the vison of seeing hunky cowboys on every street corner, however that was just another image taken from Hollywood. We didn’t see a real cowboy until we took a drive two hours outside of Nashville and stopped at a random dive bar off the beaten path. Nashville has a vibrant food scene with many great restaurants and coffee shops. Instead, I found Nashville to be a hip city that stays true to its country music roots, whiskey, and muscadine wine.
We rented a studio Airbnb in a renovated motel that was a 5-minute drive from downtown Nashville, a great location for all the sites we wanted to tour. There was even a liquor store within walking distance and a small dining plaza that housed a diner we hit up for breakfast twice.
We arrived in the late morning on Thursday to have the whole day to explore. After checking-in and refreshing in our motel room, we had lunch at the Sutler Saloon and explored what is one of the hottest neighborhoods, 12South. This small stretch of the city located on 12th Ave South is perfect for shopping, dining and casual strolling. You can find high-end boutiques such as Draper James, and more eclectic high-end shops like White’s Mercantile, a renovated gas station turned general store, opened by Hank William’s granddaughter, Holly Williams. You can find anything from cute eclectic kitchen essentials to cashmere sweaters at White’s Mercantile. There are many cute dining options along the shopping path on 12th Ave. We couldn’t resist stopping at Sprinkles cupcakes ATM and the Frothy Monkey for a mocha latte with a shot of orange.
Honkey Tonk Highway
Downtown Nashville is where you’ll find the bright lights of Honkey Tonk Highway, a stretch of bars and music clubs on Broadway Ave. famous for live music and partygoers. Many people were celebrating their bachelor or bachelorette parties in Nashville. Any bar you walk into on this stretch will be fun, since the entertainment is always live music. We made a point to stop at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which we stepped in and out of quickly due to the large crowds of people packed into each floor and the smell of stale beer and sweat. We stayed longer to enjoy the live music at The Stage on Broadway This part of the city is also where you can find the handsome southern boys that can sweep a broken-hearted girl off her feet for awhile, minus the cowboy hat and boots.
We discovered Marathon Village when we wanted to go for a whiskey tasting at Corsair Artisan Distillery. Corsair Artisan Distillery produces different spirits but known for its small batch innovative blends of whiskey. I highly recommend a tasting, if you like whiskey that is.
Marathon Village is a large warehouse full of cute little shops and tasting rooms, like the Corsair Taproom and Grinders Switch Winery. I enjoyed the wine at Grinders Switch so much I bought a bottle to take home and a rosé slush to go.
Grand Ole Opry
One of my favorite moments in Nashville was watching new country music singers and famous country stars at the Grand Ole Opry. The opry is iconic Nashville and I highly recommend this experience. The feeling of sitting in the audience while the concert was being broadcast live on the radio, adds another level of old fashion country charm. You must purchase tickets in advance. We went to the ticket office at the Opry the day of performance and were very lucky to get seats. I recommend booking three days to a week before your trip to make sure you get seats. Our Opry performance ended with country star Josh Turner.
The Bluebird Café was another one of my favorite moments in Nashville. Unlike the Grand Ole Opry, you cannot buy seat tickets ahead of time. Bluebird’s seating is first come first serve, so to get a good seat, you must get there early to wait in line. However, the room is very small and intimate with only 20 tables, so all tables have good views! My friend and I went on a Sunday night, which is writer’s night and no reservations are accepted. This is also true for Monday night performances. Bluebird’s reservations for other performances can be tricky to get. The performances often sell out, but there are always pew and bar seats left up for grabs on a first-come basis. I recommend seeking out the calendar early to reserve online or getting their early to wait in line for the pew seats. And yes, it’s worth the 1 hour or 2, or 3 wait!
We took a day trip to Lynchburg to tour the Jack Daniels Distillery. The ride is about an hour and a half outside of Nashville. The tour is about the same length and ends with a tasting of different Jack Daniel’s whiskeys. Even if you aren’t a whiskey lover, I think it’s worth taking the day trip if you have the time.
The itty bitty town of Lynchburg is also a must see after the tour with only a couple of places to eat, general store style souvenir shops and Lynchburg winery, where we did a wine tasting. My friend and I both bought a bottle of wine here too. Who knew the wine in Tennessee would be so good?!
Travel Note: If you are the last tour on the distillery, you might not have enough time to visit the town, since everything closes early.
After leaving Lynchburg, we spontaneously stopped at a few random dive bars looking for a real cowboy (we found only one) and then stopped for dinner in the quaint town of Franklin.
Belle Meade Plantation & Belmont Mansion
My flight leaving Nashville was at 9:30 PM so I had plenty of time to visit some last minute places around Nashville. I wanted to tour a plantation since it would be my first. Belle Meade plantation is located in Belle Meade and founded by John Harding. I did not read much about the history of this plantation before I went, but was quite happy after taking the tour given I was brought up near one of the most popular horse racing institutions in upstate NY. Harding was best known for his passion for equine sports and his thoroughbreds from the plantation are still held in high regard today. On my tour, I was told that some of the horses that have won recent races like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, have the linage of the horses that were raised on the Belle Meade plantation.
Another historical site I toured was the Belmont Mansion housed on the Belmont University campus. It was the summer home of a Nashville socialite, Adelicia Acklen and her family. It was one of the largest homes in the south during the time that included extravagant luxuries such as a lavish garden, art gallery, bowling alley and zoo!
Food and Drink
There are many great restaurants in Nashville. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to eat at them. Some of the most popular require reservations ahead of time. We did eat at one that was able to fit us in at the last minute. Pinewood Social was an interesting restaurant and bar that included a bowling alley, pool tables, board games and swimming pool.
And I can’t forget the ice cream. Jeni’s ice cream would have competition to the beloved Toscanini’s if it was in my hometown of Cambridge, Mass.
Nashville, you surprised me with your hip food scene, culture and trendy night life. I almost thought I was back in Cambridge, Mass.
Top 5 Favorites
- The Grand Ole Opry
- Bluebird Café
- Belle Meade Plantation
- Day trip to Lynchburg Tennessee
- Marathon Village’s Consair Taproom and Grinders Switch
Happy Travels Y’all!