Editor’s note: This article originally appeared as a guest post called “How to Visit Nashville like a Local (On the Cheap)” at Art of Being Cheap.
It’s hard not to notice all the national attention Nashville has been receiving lately. In the past month alone, articles from The New York Times, Huffington Post, Forbes, Fodor’s, and Travel & Leisure have all named the city as a must-see. While these articles have succeeded in highlighting some of the unique qualities of our beloved Music City, none of them explain how to visit Nashville like a local, on the cheap.
Between the brand new Music City Center, several popular television shows, a bourgeoning food scene, and endless amounts of live entertainment, tourism has exploded in the past year. Here are some tips from a local on how to get the most out of your trip.
When To Go
With surprisingly frigid winters and oppressively hot summers, spring and fall are the optimal times to visit. Try to avoid a weekend with some of the larger citywide events such as the Country Music Marathon, Country Music Association (CMA) Festival, Bonnaroo, 4th of July, Southern Ground Music & Food Festival, Music City Eats, or New Year’s Eve.
Where To Stay
The sudden burst in tourism has caused a severe shortage on hotel rooms and skyrocketed rates. Instead of staying in a hotel, try Airbnb. You’ll save money and get a better feel of what it’s actually like to live here. The most popular and walkable neighborhoods include downtown, 12 South, Belmont/Vanderbilt/Hillsboro Village, Midtown, Germantown, and East Nashville. Check out this rad 60’s camper and backyard bathhouse in East Nashville on Airbnb.
While Nashville still hasn’t implemented great public transportation, we do have a bus system that can eventually get you to anywhere in town you’d want to go. I personally enjoy using our bike share program, Nashville b-cycle, despite the large amount of hills and lack of bike lanes. Renting a car is definitely the easiest way to get around, but it may not be necessary depending on how long you’re staying and where you’re planning to go.
What To Eat
Over the past several years, Nashville has steadily grown into a culinary destination. Our upscale restaurants such as The Catbird Seat, Etch, Margo Cafe, Husk, and Lockeland Table rival the best restaurants of cities twice our size. If you have extra money to spend, I highly recommend any of these, however, there are some incredibly tasty dining options for a fraction of the cost.
For an authentic (and affordable) Nashville food experience, look no further than the local staples: meat & three and hot chicken.
Meat & three – Arnold’s Country Kitchen – A daily choice of meat (roast beef, fried chicken, fried catfish, etc.) with three sides (green beans, turnip greens, mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, etc.) Don’t skip the sweet tea!
Hot chicken – Prince’s Hot Chicken, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish , or Pepperfire – Not for the faint of heart! This is nearly impossible to eat without an accompanying slice of white bread. Don’t forget cash and be prepared to wait.
Turnip Truck – A local specialty grocery store. The Gulch location features a daily hot bar. Grab a local beer from the cooler, sit on the porch, and watch the sunset.
Rotier’s – Another great meat & three spot, but they are best known for their burger on French bread.
Nashville Farmer’s Market – Worth exploring on a Saturday or Sunday morning for tasty samples of some locally made products.
Mas Tacos Por Favor – My favorite place to eat lunch in Nashville. Try a sweet potato and quinoa taco, a bowl of chicken tortilla soup, and a cold cup of horchata. Pay attention to their limited hours and don’t forget to bring cash.
Family Wash – This former laundromat turned bar is the ultimate East Nashville neighborhood hang with live music every night. Tuesdays feature a pint of beer and a pot pie for only $10!
Mitchel Deli – Nashville’s best deli. If you’re craving the perfect sandwich, this is the place.
What To Do
Station Inn – An internationally renowned place to see live bluegrass.
1st Saturday Art Crawl – Explore some of Nashville’s best art galleries and sample the free wine!
Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge – Take a stroll across the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge for a fantastic view of the city at night.
Ryman Auditorium – The mother church of country music and birthplace of bluegrass! Try to see a concert here if you can. Purchase tickets in person at the box office to avoid TicketMaster fees.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center – Home of the Nashville Symphony featuring Neo-Classical architecture and pristine acoustics. Most concerts offer tickets at a variety of price levels, making the Symphony performances affordable for everyone.
The Country Music Hall of Fame – An extensive museum dedicated to the evolving history of country music.
Hatch Show Print – One of the oldest working letterpress print shops in the United States. It’s free to visit and check out their unmistakeable designs.
Music Row – Two streets located in midtown Nashville with the highest concentration of businesses related to the country, gospel, and contemporary Christian music industries. Drive up 17th and then down 16th to check it out.
Belcourt Theatre – Nashville’s historic independent movie theater.
Centennial Park/Parthenon – Nashville’s premiere park with a life-size replica of the Parthenon.
Bicentennial Mall – Adjacent to downtown Nashville and the Nashville Farmer’s Market, the 19th acre park was designed to compliment the Tennessee Capitol Building.
Five Points – Located in the heart of East Nashville, Five Points is home to some of Nashville’s best art galleries, shops, bars, and restaurants. A visit to this eclectic and artsy neighborhood is a must!
Shelby Bottoms Greenway & Nature Park – Bordering the Cumberland River, Shelby Bottoms is a 960 acre park offering paths for biking, hiking, and seeing wildlife. It’s a peaceful oasis in the center of the city.
Nashville Flea Market – Widely regarded as one of the top flea markets in the country, this monthly event is free (parking is $5).
Outside Of Town
Cheekwood Botantical Gardens – A beautiful 55 acre historic landmark known for excellence in horticulture and beautiful art.
Civil War Battlefields – History buffs, rejoice! There are several Civil War battlefields throughout the middle Tennessee area that are worth visiting.
Planning a trip to Nashvegas? I’m always happy to answer questions or make further recommendations. Drop me a line at CashvilleSkyline at gmail dot com.