Top 10 Must-See Attractions in Music City, USA
Author: Heather Vale
September 29, 2022
Every city has its own vibe and focus, based on its specific history and culture, which shapes the must-see landmarks and monuments. Nashville attractions are primarily about either the country music industry or historic estates and plantations.
There are plenty of things to entertain you in the city that’s key to this nation’s music history. So if you can only experience a few things during your visit, which ones do you choose? Based on popular vote, these are the Top 10 attractions you must check out when visiting Music City, USA.
That’s right, New York isn’t the only place to take in the lights of Broadway. There’s a neon-laden Broadway right in the heart of Downtown Nashville as well, and this is the place to see and be seen in Music City.
Some of the other attractions on this list are in Downtown Nashville as well. But the Broadway strip is a sight to see all on its own, from music venues to nightclubs to gift shops and other tourist attractions. . Not to mention the display of neon signs which rival the lights of Downtown Las Vegas.
You’ll also find Honky Tonk Row on lower Broadway—a group of clubs where up-and-coming music stars pay their dues and get some street cred. You can club hop from The Stage on Broadway to Nashville Crossroads to Legends Corner and The Second Fiddle.
Home to The Grand Ole Opry radio show since 1974, the Grand Ole Opry House is the world-famous concert venue that seats almost 4,400. It showcases country legends and up-and-coming artists each week alongside comedy, bluegrass, and other improvised entertainment.
The radio show itself started in 1925, making it the longest-running radio program in US history. It helped put Nashville on the map as the country music capital of the world, and has been broadcasting on the same WSM Radio station since the beginning. Now, however, it’s also a TV show.
More importantly, you can attend the show as a live audience member or take a backstage tour. In fact, tour participants even get to stand onstage. You can also check out special limited-time exhibits, one-time-only events, and more.
If you want to go a little further back in history, the Ryman Auditorium is a 2,300-seat concert hall that used to be a church and still has pews instead of chairs. It was the previous home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show for over 30 years, from 1943 to 1974. And it still hosts a special Opry concert run every winter.
So there’s a Parthenon in Athens, which is in ruins … but did you know there’s another Parthenon in Nashville, looking good as new? It’s the world’s only full-scale replica of the Greek original, and even comes with its own 42-foot statue of goddess Athena.
This isn’t some modern tourist attraction, like the half-scale Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas, which was built in 1997. The Nashville Parthenon in Centennial Park was actually constructed in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition. Yes, you read that right … 1897, not 1997. Crazy, right? It was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s 1796 entry into the union, and it reflects Nashville’s “Athens of the South” nickname (before it was dubbed “Music City”).
We should note that the Nashville Parthenon was rebuilt in 1920 because the first one was made out of plaster and meant to be temporary. But residents just couldn’t bear to see it torn down, so they kept it, repaired it, repaired it again, and finally rebuilt it. And at over a century old, it still looks great. The reconstructed version is a completely accurate replica, inside and out. Oh, and the current Athena took decades to finish and wasn’t unveiled until 1990, but she’s completely authentic as well.
Inside the building you’ll find plaster replica castings of the Parthenon Marbles, which were part of the Athenian Parthenon way back when it was first built in the 5th century BCE. And you’ll also discover a lot of other artworks, since the Parthenon now does double duty as Nashville’s art museum, with a permanent collection of over 60 paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists.
Right in the heart of downtown, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum obviously showcases the history of country music. But it’s more than that. Often referred to as the “Smithsonian of country music,” it features two sprawling floors of exhibits, including over 2.5 million artifacts.
You can check out Elvis Presley’s “Solid Gold” Cadillac limo, which used to be one of the most famous cars in the world. Spoiler alert: It’s not actually solid gold. But it’s finished in a gold color—with crushed diamonds in the paint—and it does have 24K gold trim and a 24K gold-plated TV (no kidding). It also has gold records on the underside of the roof.
You’ll see floor-to-ceiling gold and platinum records, as well as plaques dedicated to country music superstars who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, from Patsy Cline to Reba McEntire and Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks. But there’s also a surprise or two, like Ray Charles and the previously mentioned Elvis Presley.
The flagship permanent exhibit is the interactive Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, and there’s a big focus on educational programs and workshops. You can also grab tickets to tour through the Historic RCA Studio B, which is off-site on Music Row but less than two miles away from the main museum. Studio B is one of the most influential recording studios ever, and has produced more than 35,000 songs by musical legends like Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings.
Nashville Zoo is the 9th largest zoo in the country with 188 acres, although less than half of it has been developed so far. It first opened in 1991 as a small private operation before moving to the current city-owned land in 1997. The condition for being able to use such a large piece of land, formerly the Grassmere Wildlife Park, is that it’s primarily a nature study area. The non-profit zoo is involved in international wildlife research and conservation efforts, and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
This modern zoo is home to over 3,000 animals from more than 325 species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and arthropods. It has permanent exhibits mimicking natural habitats, interactive animal experiences, a carousel, a train, a historic farm and much more.
Thousands of volunteers built the 66,000-square-foot Jungle Gym, which is the largest community-built playground in the United States, complete with a giant snake tunnel and multiple treehouses. There’s even an all-inclusive Promise Park area that allows kids of all abilities and disabilities to play together.
The beautiful pillared Tennessee State Museum is located downtown, next to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. This 137,000-square-foot museum preserves and exhibits art and artifacts that tell thousands of stories about Tennesse, known as The Volunteer State because so many soldiers volunteered to help out during the War of 1812.
Permanent exhibits showcase Tennessee’s history and culture, including Forging a Nation, The Civil War, Natural History and First Peoples, while temporary exhibits rotate through to keep things fresh. There are plenty of activities and events for kids, Tennessee author talks, educational opportunities, and much more. Museum admission is free, and so is parking, so it doesn’t get much better than that.
While you’re there, don’t miss the chance to stroll through the 19-acre Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, which has a World War II Memorial, a 1,400-foot Pathway of History, a 50-tower carillon with 95 bells to represent the state’s 95 counties, and a 200-foot granite map of Tennessee.
Part art museum and part ornamental gardens, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens is a peaceful and spectacular retreat southwest of Downtown Nashville. Built in 1929 as the family home of socialites Leslie and Mabel Cheek, this Country Place Era estate was converted into a museum and sprawling 55-acre botanical garden in 1960.
Cheekwood has showcased world-class art exhibitions over the years, and welcomes over 400,000 visitors a year to its historic estate and picturesque greenhouses, gardens and arboretum. There’s year-round programming and activities for all ages, festivals to celebrate the four seasons, music festivals, dog-friendly events, and more.
You can purchase Gardens Only tickets, or Gardens & Mansion Access, which includes entrance to the Historic Mansion & Museum, including the Museum Gift Shop, Period Rooms, and Art Galleries.
Belle Meade is a Greek revival-style mansion built in 1853, which sits on a 30-acre plantation and features tour guides dressed in period costumes. Also southwest of Downtown Nashville, this historic site gives you a peek into how Tennesse natives lived in the 1800s … and includes bullet holes from the Civil War scattered across the home’s walls. In fact, this attraction is dedicated to telling you the whole truth about its history—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
You can wander the grounds yourself, taking in what was one of the country’s first and largest breeding farms for thoroughbred horses. Guided tours include the Mansion Tour to check out how the well-off lived, and the Journey to Jubilee Tour which explores the stories of slaves, how they lived and labored, and what happened after Emancipation. There’s even a guided Segway tour of the grounds and arboretum.
Then head to the onsite winery for a complimentary wine tasting, or to the ice house for bourbon tasting. The plantation also hosts special events throughout the year, like Mother’s Day Tea and Halloween trick-or-treating.
Yet another historic estate you can visit in Nashville is The Hermitage, former home of “the People’s President” Andrew Jackson. And it was even featured on a stamp! This one’s located in the northeast end, and offers Mansion Tours of the 7th President’s home, Grounds Passes to explore the garden and trails, and wine tastings at the onsite Natchez Hills Winery. The family-owned boutique winery also serves up bottles and slushes alongside education on Jackson’s ties to the wine world.
This attraction is another that’s not shy about telling the truth and giving you a glimpse of real history. You can upgrade to various educational experiences including VIP Tours, the Digging In arboretum tour, the Hermitage Enslaved horse-drawn wagon tour through the cotton plantation, or the more in-depth In Their Footsteps tour through the former slave quarters. There’s even a virtual book club, Homeschool Days, and seasonal options like Ghost Tours throughout October.
It might not be as historic as some of the other attractions in Nashville, but it feels historic… and it’s really pretty cool. Imagine an old-timey town under glass and you’ve got the Gaylord Opryland Resort Gardens, a convention center and hotel featuring nine acres of airy, indoor garden atriums, a 4-acre aquatic park with surf pool and six-story waterslide, plus top-rated dining, family-friendly activities, entertainment venues and more. With much of it under a greenhouse-style glass ceiling.
The conservatory gardens were first built in the 1980s, and had to be recreated after the massive 2010 Nashville flood wiped the whole thing out. Both times the focus has been on unique tropical plants and trees, and many were negotiated and purchased directly from Florida homeowners for the first go-around.
There are always lots of seasonal special events and attractions for families, and there’s plenty for the adults to do as well in this little self-contained village.
If you travel to Nashville, don’t forget to take along a credit card that earns you points on travel. For example, Credit One Bank’s new Wander® Card offers 10X rewards points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked using their travel partner, 5X rewards points on other eligible travel, dining, and gas buys, and 1X rewards points on all other purchases.
About the author:Heather Vale
For over a quarter of a century, Heather has been working as a journalist in all media: TV, radio, print, and online. After establishing her career in Toronto, she has been living, working, and playing in Las Vegas for the past decade. She loves pulling apart complicated topics to make them simple, fun, and easy to understand, especially in the business and financial niches. But she also enjoys writing about the personal side of life, including success, relationships, families, and pets. She approaches everything from a yin-yang perspective, so her passion for wordplay and entertaining metaphors is always balanced with an intense (and some would say annoying) focus on facts and accuracy.
This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.
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