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Nashville

If you are not yet moving to Nashville, you are probably planning a trip there. At least that’s how it seems. The town is booming. As an Uber driver told me many years ago, the official bird of Nashville is the construction crane. On the handful of times that I have visited since, that dozen or so cranes keep moving around town, sprouting high-rise condos, hotels, and office buildings along the way.

Nashville Travel Guide for Music Fans

If you are a music fan looking for things to do on your visit to Nashville, you have come to the right place. The first piece of advice, something Nashville-based singer-songwriter Hayes Carll offered me, “Stay away from Broadway. It’s a drunker trashier version of Bourbon Street. Unless, of course, you are into that kind of thing.”

Nashville night time photo of Broadway signs including Robert's Western World and The Stage.

On my first trip to Nashville, I wanted to just check out Broadway. I walked from my hotel on one side of Broadway to a restaurant on the other side of downtown. As I turned the corner onto Broadway at about 5:30 pm, a young reveler stumbled out of a bar and promptly puked into the street just in front of me. Great call, Hayes!

There are so many better places than Broadway to experience great live music in Nashville as we’ll get to later. Broadway is worth a stroll to check out the fantastic neon if you are in the area, just beware of pukers!

When to Go

For most destinations, the when to go discussion begins with seasons, months, or events. For Nashville, I recommend including Sunday-Tuesday nights in your trip plans. The reason will become evident as you read on.

Another consideration would be seeing a show at the Ryman Auditorium. This live music cathedral, hallowed ground in Nashville, is worth planning your travel around.

Nashville exterior photo of the Ryman Auditorium.

Lastly, beware of planning a trip during a major event, Nashville hotels are expensive but during premium weekends the prices skyrocket. The exception to this rule is Americana Fest. This low-key festival is still under the radar enough to be a great reason to visit Nashville.

Where to Stay in Nashville

Nashville has lots of great accommodation options. There are many excellent hotels, most of them built in the past decade, and scores of well-appointed vacation rentals. Before choosing a place to stay in Nashville, think about where you are going to be spending your time. Being close to home base is a luxury in any city.

Ride shares are generally great for getting around town and most everything is within proximity. If you plan on renting a car and are staying in a hotel, be aware of valet parking charges. Downtown hotels can charge $50 a night for parking.

Before booking a hotel, I suggest checking VRBO. To me, vacation rentals are the way to go, with many outstanding options around Nashville. You can find newly constructed 1-bedroom condos, renovated 2-bedroom cottages, or even large homes if you plan on traveling with friends or family.

Note: Trips ‘n’ Tunes receives a small commission on any bookings or items purchased through the links on this website at no additional cost to you. 100% of this compensation in 2023 will be donated to non-profits identified throughout this site. Support these worthwhile music organizations by booking your travel through my links to Expedia, Hotels.com, and VRBO.

Nashville Bucket List

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Nashville…well, it depends. Young folks get hammered at all hours of the day and night in the bars on Broadway. Bachelorettes, Nashville is the most popular destination in the U.S. for bachelorette parties, ride pedal-powered mobile bars around Broadway on the weekends. If you are like me, you let the music guide your travel to Nashville. Here are some things to do in Nashville for your bucket list.

Ryman Auditorium – 116 5th Ave N, Nashville

The original home of the Grand Ol’ Opry from 1943 to 1974, the Ryman Auditorium is to music what Wrigley Field is to baseball, more than just a place to watch a ballgame or listen to music. To call it the Carnegie Hall of the South, as some do, does not do it justice. Originally built as a place for religious worship complete with pew seating, the Ryman has developed an otherworldly vibe by having hosted the greatest artists of country, rock, jazz, folk, and blues over the past 80 years.

Country music fans may also want to travel to the current Grand Ol’ Opry. In addition to live shows, both the Ryman Auditorium and Opry offer tours, bookable through Expedia.

Bluebird Café – 4104 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville

The television series “Nashville” prominently features The Bluebird Café. Fans of the show will want the Bluebird on their Nashville bucket list. Songwriters, most of whose names we would not recognize, are the stars at the Bluebird, although singer-songwriters who are more well-known also perform on occasion. Back in the 1980s, Garth Brooks was one of those aspiring songwriters at the Bluebird Cafe. Brooks went on to become the biggest-selling country artist of all time. Taylor Swift, who one day may surpass Brooks in sales, first performed at the Bluebird at the age of 14 and immediately signed a record deal.

Nashville exterior photo of The Bluebird Cafe during the daytime.

Since the mid-1980s, the Bluebird Cafe has featured two show formats – In the Row and In the Round. For In the Round shows, four songwriters sit in the center of the room facing each other, the audience arranged in a circle around them. For In the Row performances, the musicians are on a small stage facing the audience.

Writer’s Night is on Sundays. Up-and-coming songwriters (selected by audition that morning) perform a couple of songs followed by the featured performer, an accomplished veteran tunesmith. The Bluebird releases its schedule a month or so in advance. Tickets go on sale on Monday morning, the week of the show. Call immediately when tickets become available, as they sell out very fast.

Station Inn – 402 12th Ave S, Nashville

The Station Inn may be the most famous bluegrass venue in the world although other country and Americana acts also perform there. On Monday nights, Val Storey, Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and their band New Monday play classic country music. Storey is a terrific singer. Jackson is a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, producer, and guitarist. He toured with Glen Campbell for 12 years, and his songs have been performed by Campbell, Ricky Scaggs, and Garth Brooks, among others. Cordle is also an accomplished songwriter who has written for artists including George Strait, Loretta Lynn, and Trisha Yearwood. Their band of top-notch session musicians is outstanding.

There are a few intimate clubs in Nashville where they take their live music very seriously, meaning that talking during performances is frowned upon. These places are not typical bars or nightclubs though they do serve alcohol. They are referred to as “listening rooms.” The Bluebird Café and The Station Inn, to me, are the two best.

The Time Jumpers @ 3rd & Lindsley – 818 3rd Ave S, Nashville

The Time Jumpers are a band, really an all-star team of session musicians, that used to play a regular gig at the Station Inn until country superstar Vince Gill joined the band in 2010, making them a Nashville bucket list staple. The show became such a hot ticket that they moved to the much larger 3rd and Lindsley. Unfortunately, Gill left the band during Covid and has not returned. The TJs still play western swing music at 3rd & Lindsley every Monday night. Even without Gill’s star power, the TJs are still a good option for Monday nights. They have also been known to be joined on stage occasionally by special guests such as Cheryl Crow, James Taylor, Robert Plant, and Elvis Costello. You may want to come early for dinner to get a good seat for the show.

Honky Tonk Tuesday at American Legion Post 82 – 3204 Gallatin Pike, Nashville

Located just on the outskirts of East Nashville, a 10-minute drive but a world away from Broadway, is American Legion Post No. 82. Consider it a rite of passage, a time warp to a hip today, with people of all kinds, locals and cool tourists of all ages, in everything from country regalia to hipster attire. Emmylou Harris was even spotted there recently, but you don’t come to the Honky Tonk for celebrity spotting.

Exterior photo of American Legion Post 82 in Nashville.

And while the people-watching is amazing, there is no need to be a wallflower. Come early for the dance lesson. At 7 pm, instructor Laura Mae Socks, a talented singer-songwriter in her own right, makes learning the two-step a blast. Bring cash to tip Laura Mae and the bands. The live honky tonk music keeps Nashville dancing well into the night. Honky Tonk Tuesday deserves a prominent spot on any Nashville bucket list.

Other Music Venues

Of course, Nashville has a plethora of stellar live music venues to catch touring acts. Brooklyn Bowl is an outstanding newer place to catch live music and the Basement East is another longtime Nashville favorite. Also, check out the landmark Exit/In which has hosted an impressive roster of performers. Sting even wears an Exit/In t-shirt in a photo on the back cover of the Police album Zenyatta Mondatta.

The Blue Room at Third Man Records Nashville is also a special place. Owner Jack White recently played some surprise gigs at this intimate space in preparation for his upcoming tour. Another intimate space is the stageless Basement, located below what was the original location of Grimey’s Records. Hard to imagine that Metallica played a secret gig at this tiny spot in 2008.

Local’s Bars

There are many Nashville watering holes with live music featuring primarily local artists. Some performances may be highlighted in the Nashville Scene (check their live music listings and Critic’s Picks for ideas) although it is best to check the show calendars online for places like Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, The Underdog, The 5 Spot, and Bobby’s Idle Hour. Brown’s Diner in Hillsboro is more a beloved Nashville dive restaurant than a bar, but they also maintain a full calendar of live music. If you are just looking for a cool bar and are not particular about who’s playing, Dee’s is the place.

Exterior night time photo of Dee's Country Cocktail Lounge in Nashville.
Santa’s Pub

Santa’s Pub isn’t a traditional Nashville live music venue. It’s a karaoke bar, in a trailer. But this is Music City folks, so like Hollywood with its aspiring actors, Nashville is filled with musicians. Santa’s is a great place to let loose. Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kristina Murray recommended Santa’s to me.

But a few things to point out: 1) Santa’s allows smoking. Why? Because Santa is a smoker. 2) Santa only accepts cash (but the beers are 1980’s cheap, so you won’t tap out the ATM) and 3) No cursing is allowed in Santa’s because Santa prefers to keep it clean. And yes, Santa is real. You can find him here year ‘round unless of course, he’s making his holiday rounds.

Exterior daytime photo of Santa's Pub in Nashville with Santa and raindeer fence paintings.

Daytime Activities

Music Museums

There are many music-oriented museums to visit when you travel to Nashville. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is the crown jewel and can be combined with a tour of historic RCA Studio B on Music Row. There are also small museums dedicated to Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and a new Glen Campbell Museum. There’s also an African American Music Museum and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hatch Show Print

As you research accommodations in Nashville, you will probably come across Printer’s Alley, as there are a lot of new hotels there. In the late 1800s Printer’s Alley was home to 2 newspapers, 10 print shops, and 13 publishers. Hatch Show Print was established on Printer’s Alley in 1879, since the beginning of the 20th century, Hatch has created posters for American entertainment events including circuses, traveling vaudeville shows, and concerts.

Interior photo of Hatch Show Print in Nashville.

Located today on the ground level of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you can see how these posters are painstakingly made, view a gallery of their historic posters, and even make one as a souvenir with a tour. If you bypass the tour, you can still stop in to peruse the gallery and gift shop if you are in the area.

Tip: Book admission in advance as the Hatch tour sells out. You can purchase your ticket through Expedia and combine it with admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and/or the RCA Studio B tour.

Nashville Vintage Apparel Shops

Vintage is a staple of Nashville fashion. Not to be confused with thrift stores, Nashville vintage shops offer highly curated collections of high-quality garments and accessories. East Nashville has the largest concentration of shops, spread out along Gallatin Pike.

Black Shag Vintage – 1220 Gallatin Pike, Nasvhille

Don’t miss Black Shag Vintage. Opened in 2016 by Tommy Daley, a long-time collector, Black Shag Vintage is among the Nashville shops with a little of everything. There are even a few bins of used LPs to flip through.

Anaconda Vintage – 1062 E Trinity Lane, Nashville

Another shop to highlight is Anaconda Vintage. Country singer Margo Price shops Anaconda Vintage on the Nashville episode of the Southwest Airlines video series Sites & Sounds. My favorite thing about Anaconda just might be that it is located behind Grimey’s record shop and right next to Living Waters Brewing, a very fine brewery and coffee bar.

High Class Hillbilly – 4604 Gallatin Pike, Nashville

Singer-songwriter Nikki Lane is also the proprietor of High Class Hillbilly, one of the better high-end vintage shops in Nashville. Check out the video spot with Nikki (linked above) filmed by a local television station at her shop. You may find HCH a little out of the way, but next door is another larger store, Backslide Vintage, making it worth the trip.

Instrument Stores in Nashville
Carter’s Vintage Guitars – 625 8th Avenue S, Nashville

Carter’s Vintage Guitars carries an amazing selection of high-end guitars and amps. Even if you are not in the market for a guitar, the sights and sounds in the shop are amazing.

Interior photo of Carter's Vintage Guitars in Nashville.
The Gibson Garage – 209 10th Avenue S, Nashville

Just around the corner from Carter’s is the new flagship store of the iconic guitar maker.

Fanny’s House of Music – 1101 Holly Street, Nashville

Fanny’s in East Nashville is also a unique store worth visiting. Besides new, used, and vintage instruments, they also have a room dedicated to clothing and gifts from one of the top vintage shops in Nashville, Starland Vintage and Unusual also known as Pink Star Vintage. Fanny’s offers a welcoming environment where they encourage you to pick up and try an instrument even if you don’t play.

Exteroir photo of Fanny's House of Music in Nashville.
Nashville Record Stores
Grimey’s New and Preloved Music – 1060 E Trinity Lane, Nashville

As you might expect, Music City is home to many record shops. Grimey’s, the most well-known record store, carries two floors of inventory in a large store in East Nashville. Their impressive stage offers a great spot for in-store performances.

The Groove – 1103 Calvin Avenue, Nashville

Not far from Grimey’s, you can also check out The Groove, a cozy neighborhood record shop in a cottage. They also carry new and used vinyl. On Wednesdays, all used vinyl is 15% off. The Groove at times will have “in-store” performances in their backyard.

Vinyl Tap – 2038 Greenwood Avenue, Nashville

And while you are in the neighborhood you may want to also stop at Vinyl Tap on Greenwood Avenue. This East Nashville establishment stocks a much more limited selection of vinyl but more than makes it worth the travel with craft beer, cocktails, a food truck, and a stage for live music or DJ sets.

Photo of jazz band playing at Vinyl Tap in Nashville.

Check record store websites for occasional in-store performances. I included a link to each store in their description above to make it easy.

Third Man Records623 7th Avenue S, Nashville

The headquarters of Jack White’s Third Man Records Nashville opened in 2012. Besides housing the label’s offices, distribution center, and master recordings vault, the building also houses a photo studio and darkroom, plus a novelties lounge inside a record/music equipment store/gift shop. The Blue Room bar and live music venue at Third Man Records has quickly become a Nashville favorite.

If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. Every corner of this small store is packed with unusual and enticing treasures. You can try before you buy effects pedals; sample the music in a vintage listening booth; and even record a direct-to-vinyl, 6-inch record on a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine. Behind-the-scene tours are offered on Fridays at 2 and 3 pm.

Marathon Village – 1305 Clinton Street, Nashville

I have been in San Francisco for over 30 years and never had the urge to shop at Pier 39. Marathon Village is a similar shopping destination for Nashville visitors, except it’s much cooler. The Village is located on the site of the Marathon Motor Works factory, the first auto manufacturer in the South, which operated here from 1910 to 1914. The current proprietor refurbished the Village beginning in 1986. The small motor museum on-site houses 6 of the 9 Marathon cars known to be in existence.

Yes, just about every shop sells gear with Nashville printed on it although there are plenty of tasteful designs. If you are looking for souvenirs, this is the place. The Village is also home to a couple of distilleries with tours/tastings, a tap room, a winery, a music venue (of course), a comedy club, and retail shops including Antique Archeology (the shop owned by American Pickers travel show host Mike Wolfe). There’s a little something for everybody at Marathon Village, but one shop that is not to be missed is H Bar C Clothing.

H Bar C Clothing – 1305 Clinton Street Suite 120, Nashville

H Bar C Clothing is a high-end western apparel company that once outfitted movie stars like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and John Wayne. Along the way, they brought in designer Nudie Cohn whose embroidery and applique designs have been worn by a whose who of the recording industry from Hank Williams to John Lennon and Elton John. Graham Parson’s iconic Nudie suit is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Photo of staff of H Bar C Clothing in Nashville.

The crew at H Bar C’s flagship store (R-L Gian Gibson, Steph Simon, and Erik McIntyre) are some of the coolest folks you will meet in Nashville. Stop in and check out the store. Maybe you will find your new look!

Looking to Travel Beyond Nashville?

I have felt a strong connection to Nashville since childhood. These days I tie a stop in Nashville together with other nearby destinations like Memphis, Tennessee, just 3 hours from Nashville on I-40, the Music Highway. While Nashville may refer to itself as Music City, Memphis’ contributions to the music world are at least as significant. Check out my Memphis Travel Guide if you are planning a trip.