Tennessee's capital may be famous for country music and honkey-tonks, but there's much more to this southern city than what the stereotypes would have you believe. In addition to being called ‘Music City' Nashville is sometimes called the ‘Athens of the South' because of its many universities, and it's got a replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park to cement that reputation. In 1960, it was the first Southern city to desegregate public establishments after a series of sit-ins by Black college students.
While it still feels more like a small town than a big city, Nashville is growing and becoming hipper by the minute, thanks to an influx of world-class restaurant and hotel openings. In fact, some of the biggest Hollywood stars and most famous musicians – think Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, and Taylor Swift – call Nashville home. Whether you're stopping on an epic road trip through the American South or just popping in for a quick visit, here's how to spend a perfect day in Nashville.
Grab a quick cup of coffee at your hotel because you've got a busy day ahead. This morning, you'll head downtown to get cultured at the Frist Art Museum. Housed in a magnificent Art Deco building constructed in 1934, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions, such as a survey of Blackness in contemporary American collage and a solo show of paintings by London-based Indian artist Raqib Shaw. It also offers architecture tours and has a great gift shop. There's no permanent collection, so check the museum's website to see what's on before you go.
If you prefer to focus on the city's musical history, head over to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can see artefacts, instruments, stage wear, photographs and archival video, and listen to recorded sound. Museum exhibitions might focus on specific artists or survey movements like the Los Angeles country-rock of the 1960s to 1980s and its lasting impact on music. The museum also hosts programming like intimate live performances, one-on-one interviews, behind-the-scenes peeks, and an artist-in-residence series.
Admire the work of Raqib Shaw at the Frist Art Museum
Next, jump in a car for a 20-minute drive to the upscale suburb of Belle Meade, where Nashville's upper crust resides in sprawling mansions. Your first stop is the Roze Pony for lunch. Though it's in a bit of an odd location in a strip mall, this all-day café serves healthy salads and bowls, beautifully composed tartines (the smoked trout toast with radish, lemon and chive is particularly nice), and a great burger. The woman behind it is Julia Jaksic, who left the popular New York City café Jack's Wife Freda for Nashville, opening this spot and the East Side's Café Roze.
After lunch, head over to Cheekwood, a museum and sculpture garden on a sprawling estate built for Leslie Cheek Sr and his wife, Mabel Wood, between 1929 and 1932. Having made his fortune as a wholesale grocery distributor at CT Cheek & Sons and investor in the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company, creator of Maxwell House Coffee Blend, Cheek purchased approximately 100 acres of land and hired Bryant Fleming to build an estate modelled on British country houses. They filled it with architectural elements, furnishings, and decorative objects purchased on a trip to England in 1929.
Explore the historical estate and sculptural gardens of Cheekwood
You should spend some time admiring the historic home's interiors, but the real star of the show here is the sculpture trail along a 1.5-mile wooded path, which features a skyspace by James Turrell in addition to sculptures by Jenny Holzer, Doug Hollis, and Alicja Kwade, among others.
Head across town to hip East Nashville for dinner to get a taste of contemporary southern cuisine. At Noko, Asian and Southern flavours collide. Vietnamese Chef Dung ''Junior'' Vo puts a wood-fired spin on Asian dishes. Take the Waygu brisket served with pickles, togarashi, and BBQ sauce, for example: you wouldn't expect to see expensive Japanese cuts of beef at a typical southern BBQ spot, but at Noko, all bets are off. Bring your appetite, and whatever you do, don't skip the tuna crispy rice and lobster bao buns. Just make sure you book a table a few weeks in advance – this place is very popular among locals.
Afterwards, you might want to see a show at the Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music in Nashville, for nearly a century. Established in 1925, it has hosted musical heavyweights like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. Check the calendar online to see what shows are programmed during your trip.
Dine at Noko in East Nashville
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