I recently visited Nashville for the first time, and while I love a good honky-tonk, there's really so much more to the city than country music. I was able to cram a lot into the Chevrolet-sponsored trip, exploring both the hot spots within the city and a few hidden gems on the outskirts. I also had some locals in tow to give me tips along the way. From where to stay and what to eat to the neighborhoods for the best window shopping, here's what to do in Nashville — no cowboy boots required.
WHERE TO STAY
The Thompson, located in the Gulch area of downtown Nashville, is the hottest hotel in town — and for good reason. Everywhere you turn is a midcentury-design-lover's dream, the rooms are spacious, the service is impeccable, and the hotel's rooftop bar and restaurant, L.A. Jackson, is the place to be on any given night (keep your eyes peeled for famous faces, and if you stay at the hotel, you can avoid the long lines for entry!).
Grab a cold brew or pour-over coffee and a yummy pastry from the hotel's coffee shop, Killebrew, on your way out. Pro tip: don't forget to take an Instagram pic in the lobby — there are so many cute nooks to snap.
WHERE TO EAT
As soon as you can before your trip, make dinner reservations at Husk, a standout Nashville restaurant that features modern takes on classic Southern dishes using fresh, local ingredients. The meal kicked off with aged country ham and soft rolls, pimento cheese (a Southern classic), and seriously addictive ember-grilled chicken wings. Be sure to get at least one order of wings . . . but don't be surprised if you have to go for round two. I went for the grilled catfish with a salad of broccoli and rye berries and chimichurri sauce, which was delicious and not too heavy. Other entrees included pork with green garlic and butter beans, chicken with wild mushrooms and a biscuit, and grilled beef with roasted cauliflower. Dessert was corn grit pudding with pear butter. There were no complaints.
For breakfast, you have to go to Pancake Pantry — it's an institution. Not to mention they provide coffee for people waiting in line, something I always appreciate. The blueberry pancakes are my personal favorite, but really, you can't go wrong here. For brunch, my pick would be 5th & Taylor, a modern restaurant with a beautiful outdoor seating area, incredible biscuits, and unlimited grits. What more could you want? And for BBQ, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint is the real deal. Come hungry, and don't wear white.
For something sweet, get a melt-in-your-mouth doughnut from local favorite Fox's Donut Den. They even have adorable star-shaped doughnuts! Or cool off with ice cream from Jeni's. My favorite flavors were wildberry lavender, brambleberry crisp, and the special-edition flavor, mocha black cherry (coffee-steeped cream with cocoa nibs and a ribbon of cherry sauce, inspired by Stone Brewing's mocha IPA). Can't decide on a flavor? Go with the flight of minis, which includes three half scoops. On your way out of town, be sure to snag some Goo Goo Clusters for a sweet souvenir. Found in shops around the city (and at the airport), these mounds of milk chocolate, caramel, peanuts, and marshmallow nougat are seriously addictive. They also come in supreme (pecans instead of peanuts) and peanut butter, but I'd recommend the original.
WHAT TO DO
Head over to the Parthenon in Centennial Park, a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece. You'll have to pay to see the museum inside, but it's free to enjoy the beautiful grounds of the park. I'd recommend packing a picnic! If you're a bookworm, you'll love Parnassus Books, an adorable independent bookstore co-owned by author Ann Patchett. Be sure to block out some time to spend there. They also carry some great Nashville souvenirs. Stop by Fox's Donut Den on your way out — it's next door! And you can't leave the city without taking a photo with the "I Believe in Nashville" mural in the 12South neighborhood. That said, explore that neighborhood to find a few hidden murals, like the floral one pictured here. In addition to 12South, Hillsboro Village is another great spot to do some shopping. Here are some of the spots you can't miss in both neighborhoods.
After stuffing yourself with pancakes at Pancake Pantry, squeeze into some clothing from the cute shops in Hillsboro. At Posh, you'll find both high-end and midrange-priced clothing and accessories (my friend bought a delicate Nashville necklace for under $100). If you're looking for a more affordable boutique, my pick would be The Impeccable Pig. UAL is a designer outlet, so if you're willing to dig through the racks, you may score a great deal on something fancy!
- Pancake Pantry
- Revelator Coffee
- Posh Boutique
- The Impeccable Pig
Reese Witherspoon's boutique, Draper James, is worth a peek, and you may even be offered some sweet tea while you browse! White's Mercantile is a perfect shop for finding a noncheesy souvenir, and if you need a caffeine boost, be sure to grab a coffee from The Frothy Monkey Coffeehouse. If you're looking for quality denim and a friendly staff, you'll have to check out Imogene + Willie. For funky antiques and vintage clothing, step inside Savant Vintage. Just watch your step — this tiny spot is filled to the brim with treasures!
- Savant Vintage
- Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
- The Frothy Monkey
- White's Mercantile
- Imogene + Willie
- Draper James
JUST OUTSIDE THE CITY
Since one of the purposes of my trip was to test out the new Chevrolet Equinox, I was able to explore the outskirts of Nashville a little — and I'm so glad I did! If you have access to a car and would like to take a short road trip outside the city (about 45 minutes from downtown), drive over to the quaint town of Leiper's Fork. You'll be greeted by replicas of The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazard and Barney Fife's police car from The Andy Griffith Show. I happened to be in town during The Hunt, the annual antiques fair in Leiper's Fork, but there are other antique stores in the area if you're looking for a hidden treasure any other time of year. Get some yummy, no-frills grub at Country Boy — and come hungry! To start, we shared the fried green tomatoes and fried pickles. Both were perfectly battered and deep-friend with a juicy, crunchy texture. I asked the locals what to get off the menu, and they said the deep-fried bologna sandwich with shredded cheese. I don't regret a thing.
Travel and expenses for the author were provided by Chevrolet for the purpose of writing this story.