printers alley Nashville

Comparing Nashville, Past and Present

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I've seen Nashville go from country town to mega tourist destination during my 30 year love affair with the city. Have you fallen for it yet?

Grab your cowboy boots and hat, and let’s go boot, scoot, and boogie in the country music capital of the good ole’ US of A. Because my husband’s relatives are from Clarksville, Tennessee, I have been digging Nashville, past and present, for almost 25 years now and have watched it go from good to great and then some in record time. To me, Nashville is the ultra-cool 12th & Porter, the dancing waters at Opryland hotel’s fountains, Dangerous Threads (where country music stars find their riveting clothing), and the impressive Nashville Predators NHL team. To newbies, Nashville is foodie-worthy dining spots, live music, big country acts, and honky-tonks.

I first fell in love with Nashville because I was a fan of classic country music, and the city was somewhat cutting edge for its time. There is a robust historical backbone to Nashville, plus it is the only city that offered the caliber of entertainment for its time. Flash forward, Nashville has become a major metropolitan city, one of the most visited in the United States, and its list of attractions grows every day. Allow me to share with you a look into Nashville’s past to appreciate Nashville’s present truly.

brothers Osborne country music row happy hour

Remembering Nashville’s Past

Nashville has many historical offerings, including West End’s 132 acre Centennial Park, circa 1897, that features a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens. Its crowning glory is the enormous reproduction of Athena Parthenos. My husband and I took our daughters there to feed the ducks at Lake Watauga, a tradition he had with his grandparents. There are also walking trails, a dog park, Art Center, gardens, and historical monuments.

centennial park Nashville Tennessee feeding ducks

Printers Alley, cobblestone streets running between Third and Fourth Avenue, from Union to Commerce, is the home of those who did their time rising to stardom, playing honky-tonks night after night, starting back in the 1940s. You never knew who you might see there, and the music was always primo.

My favorite place to hear live music was Fiddles and Steel Guitar Bar. In recent years, Printer’s Alley is more like a circus and very sketchy with the packs of those looking for more than a good time than what I have beautiful memories of. Printers Alley is on the National Register of Historic Places.

printers alley Nashville

Where to Stay

Purchased for the Marriott Autograph collection, the Union Station Hotel was once a luxury train station converted to a historic hotel. It has a chic lobby and gorgeous stone fireplaces. Many of the 125 boutique rooms have 10-foot tall ceilings and enormous windows. When my children were young, they had met and got pictures at the fireplace with Santa from the Chicago Christmas parade. Union Station is the perfect location for all of Nashville’s desired tourist areas.

The 21C Museum Hotel is another gem in Nashville. Within walking distance to most of the tourist attractions and live music venues, the 21C has exceptional rooms, some with terraces overlooking Music City. A two-story art gallery is free for anyone to visit, whether you are staying there or not. This is one of my favorite hotel chains and I am thrilled to see one open in Nashville.

terrace view overlooking nissan stadium nashville

Things to Enjoy in Nashville

Nashville is a hotbed for activities, and you can find loads at the Nissan Stadium (home of the Tennessee Titans), Music Row, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. I only toured the Hall of Fame once but was blown away by its beauty and the creativity put forth at this museum. It is enormous, more like a convention center than a museum, and it has a welcoming atmosphere and helpful staff. I loved the Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” exhibit, as well as Alan Jacksons.

Tennessee titans football game at Nissan stadium

History buffs will love traveling back in time at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s old home-place. Another great place to visit is Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, known for the Maxwell House coffee fortune. The limestone mansion is a pleasure to tour and gander at the art and professionally designed gardens in the process.

The Ryman (Auditorium), home of the original Grand Ole Opry Stage, still goes strong featuring concerts most nights of the week and daily tours.

ryman auditorium Nashville

Nowadays, the magnanimous Grand Ole Opry, a weekly music stage concert, is outside of the city near the enormous Opry Mills mall. This is where you will see your favorite country artists in a classic setting with terrific seats throughout the entire venue.

My favorites shows have been Carrie Underwood and Hall & Oates, keeping in mind that the Opry does offer non-country styles of music from time to time. A unique option is the VIP backstage tour, which we did during a business convention. They catered a delicious barbecue meal that was highlighted by the creamy blue cheese potato salad.

A Foodie’s Haven

Nashville, Music City, lives and breaths country music. It has moved away from the past, and the present brings lively bars, swanky restaurants, and talented singers & songwriters performing everywhere you turn. The Gulch is a hipster hangout and urban neighborhood fashioned from an industrial part of town located in the old railroad terminal between Music Row and downtown. Biscuit Love and Milk & Honey Nashville are two of its most famous occupants.

New neighborhoods are springing up all of the time, so the trends change obviously. Of course, Nashville is filled to the brim with cool food trucks, so pay them special attention as they have some of the best eats in the whole city.

Still hungry? Faison’s and the Sunset Grill, the trailblazer dining spots of foodie town Nashville, will always top my list for Nashville eats. It was so sad when they closed their doors after 24 years in business. Other favorites include Merchant’s Restaurant, which always gets a visit from the Pittman household, and classic steaks from the timeless Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse.

Another Nashville jewel kind of falls into both categories, but for argument’s sake, we will add to currently “hot.” The Loveless Cafe, located about 20 minutes outside of downtown, is maybe the most sought after tourist destination for dining. Biscuits, a trio of jellies, country ham, and a huge gift shop to browse in while you are waiting win guests over. Another tasty joint is Pancake Pantry in Hillsboro Village, which is always on a wait, but the food is great. I prefer the savory pancakes to the sweet, and the ambiance is enjoyable.  

loveless cafe plate of biscuits
loveless cafe yummy restaurants in Nashville tn

The Nashville ‘Hoods

In the West End neighborhood, fun shops and restaurants make it worth the visit. Just strolling the streets and window shopping is terrific. I love to shop Bookman Bookwoman Bookstore, see the vibrant murals, and Sump Coffee for a perfect cup.

Other great neighborhoods for exploring are the Midtown/Vanderbilt, 12 South, and Green Hills. Downtown Second Avenue is probably the tourists’ favorite for shopping cheesy shops, eating outrageous places, shooting pool, listening to music (Tin Roof Broadway and Rippy’s), and taking a brewery tour. The pedestrian-only streets are filled with like-minded country music fans.

visiting Nashville tn

Attending CMA Fest

The icing on the cake for my family is the four-day CMA country music festival in June of each year. My daughters and I attended for eight years. Originally known as Fan Fair when it began in 1972, this event now has over 400 performing artists and over 65K fans at the stadium for nightly concerts. I would guess that near 600,000 people attend the Thursday through Sunday events. Proceeds from CMA Fest are shared between charities and the “advancement of country music.”

Jason aldean concert

I thoroughly love our time in Nashville, but sometimes the pangs remembering Tower Records and the funky Ace of Clubs nightclub pop up and make me miss the good ole days. Regardless, Nashville is a thriving city full of life and pleasures, and one is sure to have a good time without putting forth any effort. Do you have plans to visit Nashville in the future?

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