Heralded as Music City, U.S.A., and the country-music capital of the world, Tennessee’s fast-growing capital city also shines as a leading center of higher education, appropriately known as the Athens of the South. Nashville has prospered from both labels, emerging as one of the South’s most vibrant cities in the process. The Gaylord Entertainment Center (formerly Nashville Arena), a 20,000-seat facility spanning three blocks at 5th and Broadway, opened in 1996. Connected to the city’s convention center by a tunnel, the Arena hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in 1997. A successful drive to land both a National Football League and a National Hockey League franchise, coupled with a population gain that has pushed Nashville ahead of Memphis, has put Nashville into the major leagues of American cities.
Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry radio program, which began as station WSM’s Barn Dance in 1925 and thrived throughout the Great Depression right into today’s MTV years, established the town as a music center. The Opry now performs in a sleek $15 million Opry House. An infusion of new talent is attracting another generation of fans. The Opry is still as gleeful and down-home informal as it was when ticket holders used to jam into the old Ryman Auditorium.
Bolstering Nashville’s reputation as a music town are dozens of clubs, performance stages (including the revitalized Ryman), and television tapings open to the public, as well as memorials to many country-music stars. The District, the downtown area along 2nd Avenue and historic Broadway, has emerged as a destination for tourists and locals alike, with restaurants, specialty shopping, and entertainment options. And, of course, legendary Music Row continues to beckon aspiring singers, musicians, and songwriters with stars in their eyes and lyrics tucked in their back pockets.
Much of Nashville’s role as a cultural leader, enhanced by the presence of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, is derived from the presence of 16 colleges and universities, two medical schools, two law schools, and six graduate business schools. Several, including Vanderbilt University, have national or international reputations, and many have private art galleries. As ancient Athens was the “School of Hellas,” so Nashville, where a full-size replica of the Parthenon graces Centennial Park, fills this role in the contemporary South. The historic sites throughout the city—such as the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, and Travellers’ Rest—add another dimension.
Downtown Nashville has much to offer in the way of history, music, entertainment, dining, and specialty shopping. The Cumberland River horizontally bisects Nashville’s central city. Numbered avenues, running north-south, are west of and parallel to the river; numbered streets are east of the river and parallel to it.
To get a more complete feeling for the city, you’ll want to explore the area beyond downtown, too. Among the offerings are historic plantations, a variety of museums covering everything from toys to science, and some great places for kids, including the Nashville Zoo—not to mention the Grand Ole Opry.
Nashville Restaurant Reviews
Nashville diners are often casually dressed and enjoy lingering over meals. The city’s mix of politics, country music, conventions, sports, and business means deal-making at every meal. Nashville’s restaurant scene has come a long way in 10 years, with an influx of ethnic groups as well as transplants from both coasts. Nowadays it is a healthy mix of contemporary, ethnic, and experimental eateries, as well as classic Southern favorites. Many restaurants have opened second locations just south of Nashville in Franklin.
Nashville Hotel Reviews
With more than 125 hotels and motels, Nashville has an impressive selection of accommodations in all price categories and levels of luxury. Although some establishments increase rates slightly during the peak summer travel season, especially CMA Music Festival week in mid-June, most maintain the same rates year-round. Some downtown luxury hotels offer lower rates on weekends, when the legislators have gone home. The latest trend here, as in many places, is the development of luxury and boutique hotels.
Nashville abounds in antique stores, boutiques for fashionable Western wear, and souvenir shops hawking C&W memorabilia. For shopping, downtown is a good place to start, but you’ll find plenty of interesting shops along the city’s edges too.