- I grew up in Nashville and there are some things I think people should know before visiting.
- There’s some great food to try and I think it’s worth hiring a car to explore the city more.
- Nashville is friendly, so definitely be a conscientious visitor.
I lived in Nashville, TN for 16 years and watched the city grow into the visitor hub it is today.
It’s the bachelorette party capital of the United States and has won several other accolades ranging from friendliest city to best place to visit for the creative or foodie.
While Music City’s southern charm always welcomes you with open arms and locals are happy to share their recommendations, here are some things you should know before you visit:
There’s so much more to eat than typical Southern food
Having great Southern cuisine in Nashville is a must – you don’t want to miss the award-winning James Beard Meat and Three (a plate usually filled with meat and three vegetables) at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
But Nashville is quite diverse and has restaurants offering expertly prepared cuisines from around the world.
Venture to a Charlotte Pike mall for bubbling bowls of soundbar jjigae and steaming bibimbap at Korea House. Head east to try the beef tibs simmered over spongy injera at Gojo Ethiopian, or the charred lamb shank at its Persian neighbor, House of Kabob.
You can’t miss the sweet and savory coconut cream at The Smiling Elephant, one of Nashville’s most beloved Thai spots, or the lengua tacos at La Juquilita.
Not only will these stops inspire your taste buds, but you’ll also get to see more of Nashville beyond the trendy boutiques and rowdy honky-tonks.
Renting a car is a good idea, and driving in this city isn’t as bad as you might think.
Venturing out of the main city area is great, but the logistics can be tricky.
Public transportation has been a hot topic in Nashville for the past decade. There have been great projects, great debates and great disappointments, especially in terms of financing.
The city’s bright purple WeGo bus system is limited, and while some neighborhoods are walkable, the city is too sprawling for bus or walking to be effective ways to get everywhere.
Although carpools work for short trips, I suggest giving yourself the freedom of a car so you can really explore.
While driving in a city doesn’t seem ideal, Nashville drivers are quite patient and careful (honking your horn is a no-no). Plus, parking is never too hard to find.
It’s worth getting out of Nashville to explore the beautiful countryside of Tennessee
Nashville is beautiful, but part of what sets it apart is the access to the bucolic beauty of the Tennessee countryside.
Just a 20-minute drive from Hillsboro Road, you’ll find rolling hills dotted with hay bales and horses.
Stop by Barbara’s Home Cookin where Mrs. Barbara Thomas cooks up Southern delicacies in a converted home with mismatched chairs and the menu scribbled on the chalkboard walls. Don’t miss the poppy seed chicken and the fluffy yeast rolls.
If aimless driving isn’t your thing, make Leiper’s Fork your final destination.
The historic village is home to a strip of antique shops and art galleries, but nothing beats sitting in a rocking chair outside Puckett Market with a glass of sweet tea and the smell of smoke from apple tree and pig that floats towards you.
Please be cool with celebrities
Leiper’s Fork and its surroundings have hosted famous musicians like Justin Timberlake, Chris Stapleton and Brad Paisley. Nashville, more broadly, is home to Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Kidman and countless other stars.
Part of Nashville’s appeal — or at least what we like to tell ourselves is part of the appeal — is that we don’t bother the city’s A-listers. It’s a pride for Nashvillians.
I ran into Taylor Swift at a cupcake shop and advised Steven Tyler on which brand of peanut butter he should buy at Whole Foods (Justin’s, of course).
So, during your visit, if you see Reese Witherspoon visiting her South 12th boutique or Blake Shelton checking out her bar on Broadway, do your best to be polite.
It’s worth indulging in food from Nashville’s celebrity chefs
While there are plenty of delicious places to get your money’s worth (many of which are named above), it’s worth spending a little extra to partake in Nashville’s star-studded dining scene.
Visit Food Network star Maneet Chauhan’s Chauhan Ale and Masala House for Indian classics like tandoori chicken poutine. Eat at Adele, run by one of the pioneers of Californian cuisine, Jonathan Waxman.
Try local dishes like Henrietta Red, which earned Chef Julia Sullivan the title of Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, or Etch, where Nashville legend Deb Paquette combines flavors in original and breathtaking ways.
Also don’t miss the Heritage Pork Stew or Lemon Confit Grass-Fed Chicken at Rolf & Daughters, nominated by James Beard, Philip Krajeck.
Plan ahead as reservations fill up quickly at most of these places.
Be sure to support local musicians and venues
There are many ways to enjoy the great music Nashville has to offer.
You should definitely plan a night out at the honky-tonks of South Broadway — SoBro, if you want to sound local — which is filled with rowdy bars with sticky floors and bands singing country-rock covers.
Maybe one of your favorite artists will be touring one of Nashville’s great outdoor venues like the Ascend Amphitheater or the FirstBank Amphitheater. Or maybe you want to see a show at a venue steeped in history like The Grand Ole Opry or The Ryman.
My favorite option is to visit a smaller, local place. The Bluebird Cafe is famous for the singer-songwriters who passed through it. Station Inn is an old-school mainstay in the middle of bustling Gulch. Basement East or The 5 Spot are East Nashville venues that are sure to show off local favorites, and Marathon Music Works and Exit/In are sure to deliver unique experiences and rock performances.
Wherever you go, be sure to tip well.
If you’re going to try the town’s famous hot chicken, do it right – and learn some of the history first
If there’s one thing that’s more synonymous with Nashville than music, it’s hot chicken.
Today, hot chicken appears on city menus in all sorts of variations, but the dish has a long history in Nashville’s black community. It also illustrates a much larger problem in Southern eating habits, with white chefs taking credit for and profiting from black ingenuity.
The dish is believed to have been created by the Prince family decades ago when local casanova Thorton Prince got into trouble with his partner for coming home too late. As punishment, she reportedly added a bunch of hot pepper to her fried chicken – but it ended up being delicious.
Due to segregation in the city both officially (until the mid-1960s) and unofficially since, hot chicken was a favorite in Nashville’s black community for many decades, but was largely unrecognized outside of that -this.
That’s changed in the past decade and Andre Prince Jeffries, hot chicken queen and current owner of the original Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, encouraged competition from other restaurants – but suggested visitors remember the creators of the dish.
And I definitely think it’s worth making the trip to Prince to get the original hot chicken.