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Nashville Travel Guide: Where to Stay, What to Eat, and More

A breathtaking view of Nashville in the afternoon.

Nashville is the biggest city in the state of Tennessee. The city is a live music town, which makes it susceptible to COVID-19 restrictions. Venues that were once thriving have been disrupted, but the Athens of the South is resilient, for there are still plenty of things to do, see, and eat in Nashville, especially if you’re a resident or a tourist. A Nashville-based summer getaway is a fun, safe way of vacationing if you’re already in town, and for many visitors, it offers a way to know the city in a manner that you may have been too busy for. It also helps beleaguered professionals working in the music, tourist, and restaurant industries make a living.

If you’re fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends waiting two weeks after your two-dose vaccine (or one-dose depending on vaccine type), wearing a face mask, and quarantining afterwards. So whip out your calendar, pick a weekend, and get to booking for travel in 2021. Our travel guide will move you around the city, sampling its best in a way that’s both responsible and revelatory.

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Where to Stay

At this point, you know every nook and cranny of your apartment or home. It’s time to shut the door behind you and discover a new space. Just before lockdown, Nashville’s hotel and short-term rental industry was humming along at a steady clip, and even longtime residents may be surprised by essentially new offerings that haven’t been overrun by bachelorette parties. Here are some of our favorites that span all budgets if you’re traveling to Nashville.

Best for Activities: The Dive Motel

A room in The Dive Motel.
The Dive Motel

East Nashville marches on with this former motel, which was rehabbed in 2019 by hotelier Lyon Porter. Each room comes standard with a disco ball, but from there, the themes differ. Its 23 rooms each have their own distinct look, with throwback (but completely clean) shag carpeting, wood paneling, and soaking tubs. During the warmer months, its Swim Club is open for business as beautiful locals and out-of-towners mix and mingle (albeit at a safe distance).

After a long day, have a cocktail or a quick bite to eat at the Dive Bar, or take a walk or Uber to other great independent restaurants and bars nearby. Kings, double queens, and a penthouse suite (in name only, as this is a motel) are all available, some of which offer open-door access to the pool, while a honeymoon suite is open for the asking when you and your partner want to blow it out.

  • Nearest Airport: Nashville International Airport
  • Time: 12 minutes by car
  • Distance: 7 miles

Best Splurge: The Bobby Hotel

A bed with a hat, lamp, and leather bag in The Bobby Hotel.
The Bobby

Planning to go big on your vacation? Blocks from the Lower Broadway honkytonks and their nonstop live music, The Bobby nevertheless feels small-scale in the best way. Its nine stories and 144 rooms capture the city’s aesthetic: The smell of well-worn leather, the patina of road-tired metals, and reclaimed wood planking all pay homage to the past. We love the detail of a bedside journal in every room for you to pen the next great American novel. The most eye-popping detail takes the longest to see: An entire vintage tour bus retrofitted as a bar on its roof allows you to get pickled with some of the best views in the city. Right now, street artist Risk has an installation comprised of 12 individual pieces currently on display, his first time in the city.

  • Nearest Airport: Nashville International Airport
  • Time: 20 minutes by car
  • Distance: 8 miles

Best Getaway: The Smith-Carter House

The interiors of The Smith-Carter House.
Carter

Ten minutes from downtown and yet seemingly a world away, the Smith-Carter House is Nashville royalty. Formerly owned by the Carter family and formerly lived in by Johnny Cash himself, it was the site where “Ring of Fire” was written and a host of country music legends have resided. You’ll have your run of its 13 acres of rolling private grounds, which include a pool, creek, trails, a rustic barn, and an exact replica of the par-three 12th hole at Augusta (golf clubs not included). The farmhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018 and it includes four bedrooms and four baths.

  • Nearest Airport: Nashville International Airport
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Distance: Not specified until booked

Best Location: Grand Hyatt Nashville

A bedroom in the Grand Hyatt Nashville with a view of Nashville.

Located in the heart of Nashville, the Grand Hyatt Hotel offers a top-notch experience for those who just want a quick getaway. This is the perfect spot for two travelers or families. They provide a room with a terrace, family rooms, private parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and an on-site restaurant and bar. There is also à la carte and American breakfast options available daily.

  • Nearest Airport: Memphis International Airport
  • Time: 10 minutes by car
  • Distance: 7 miles

What to Eat

The best part of traveling is the food. While once only able to boast of hot chicken, its signature fare that made celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain question whether it was edible or “an initiation ritual for Yankees,” Nashville can now boast of national-caliber restaurants across a variety of styles of cuisine.

Henrietta Red

A dish served at a wooden table.

When we’re feeling like the best of the New South, we head to Henrietta Red. Chef and owner Julia Sullivan is a tour de force, claiming a host of James Beard Foundation nominations for both her and the restaurant every year since its opening in 2017. The Germantown-based eatery features Mediterranean cuisine with the best nutrient-packed fish and savory vegetables, as well as a fully stocked raw bar, surprising cocktail recipes, and a sommelier-built natural wine list. While its food may be Old World categorically, its aesthetic of clean eggshell walls and blonde hardwoods is comfortable and decidedly Southern. Sullivan herself, besides being a badass restauranteur and Nashville native, is also a leader within the community, and during the pandemic, she formed the Tennessee Action for Hospitality, which works on behalf of industry workers currently out of work.

  • Best for Lunch and Dinner
  • $$

Browse the Menu at Henrietta Red

King Solomon’s Gyros

A closeup of a falafel with condiments.

When we’re feeling like comfort food, we head to King Solomon’s Gyros in East Nashville. While there are a host of fancy eateries and bars nearby, this neighborhood mainstay and Kurdish-owned business does a hell of a gyro, arguably the best in the city. Go for the meal, adding seasoned fries and a soft drink, but save a little room for homemade baklava from the kitchen of the owner’s mother. It’s a gem.

  • Best for Breakfast and Lunch
  • $$

Browse the Menu at Grubhub

Grams

A tray of delicious pastries and bags of chips.

When your energy starts to slack, head to Grams in the Madison neighborhood for a caffeinated pick-me-up. Its Number 17 drip coffee is worth the trip, pairing well with its vegan cinnamon rolls or its other pastries. Owner Eddie Gray Jr. rolls deep with teas, and his menu includes more than 25 varieties, with new options coming in by the week.

  • Best for Breakfast and Brunch
  • $

Browse the Menu at Grams Coffee

Never Never

The dining area of Never Never with a sign that says "Hines Welding and Repair Shop- Port. Service- Phone 6498475."

When early evening strikes, head to Never Never in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. This cocktail bar has floor-to-ceiling sliding windows to both keep you safe and offer a pleasant breeze. In addition to a full list of the best beers and light snacks, its mixed drinks are something not to be missed. Our favorite: La Bandida, a special mix of tequila, mezcal, raspberry, lemon, and agave that fits the city’s mild climate and coming spring winds.

  • Best for Dinner and Late-night Dining
  • $$

Browse the Menu at Never Never

What to Do

During your travel, there are plenty of indoor or outdoor activities. Nashville offers various places for you to explore during your stay. From auditoriums to parks, here are some of them you can check out. Don’t forget to buy souvenirs while you’re there.

Indoors

The audience anticipating a live performance at the Ryman Auditorium.

Any resident could point you to one of a dozen music venues that would cater to everything from classic country to hip-hop and underground indie. Right now, venues have enforced their own COVID policies for everyone’s health and safety. Feel free to visit these establishments for your music fix, but if you’re looking for more options, we suggest taking a self-guided tour of The Ryman, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry and the most legendary venue in the city. Its storied history is illustrated by relics from the decades, and even the most grizzled veterans will be wowed.

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Outdoors

Groups of people standing at The Caverns.
Michael Weintrob

The city also has a host of great city parks from East to West Nashville, including Shelby Bottoms, Centennial, and Percy Warner parks, all of which have paths, trails, and sites aplenty while offering plenty of room to socially distance.

If you’ve got a wild hair to get out of town, try The Caverns, an underground music venue in better times but a natural wonder always. Located about an hour from the city, its cave system boasts of 8,000 feet of interconnected passageways that stay a uniform 59 degrees year-round. It’s chillier than it sounds, so make sure you bring a light jacket and hiking-type shoes.

Near the end of your trip, if you want a souvenir to remember your quasi-voyage, consider shopping in some of the city’s artisans, which have national renown and gorgeous Nashville showrooms. High-quality, ethically made leather shoes by Nisolo, a handmade messenger bag by Tucker & Bloom, or selvedge denim jeans by Imogene + Willie are only a few of the many, many options from local businesses, all of which would appreciate your patronage.

How to Save Money on Your Trip to Nashville

Experiences

Whether you’re a long-time Nashville resident or first-timer, you should never miss out on live music. The best part is, most venues offer free live music of different genres. It’s a great way to save money, but please don’t forget to tip the band or musician. Given Nashville’s rich music scene, it only makes sense to download the Nashville Live Music Guide app, which features the latest news in Music City, as well as dates and genres of music shows. Some establishments may require proof of vaccination for entry, so make it a habit to review the venue’s COVID restrictions/policies before your trip. Aside from live shows, Music City boasts plenty of Instagram-worthy street art, museums, and parks you can check out for free.

Hotels

Music City provides every kind of traveler a place to relax, from pet-friendly suites to boutique hotels. Accommodations can be pricey, especially in downtown Nashville. Thankfully, there are budget-friendly hotels a short distance away from the heart of Music City— many of which allow you to access and explore many of its local attractions. Kayak.com is a great site for finding the right accommodation for your budget and itinerary.

Vehicle Rentals

Navigating the roads of Nashville via public transport sounds cool, but do you know what’s cooler and more money-saving? A car. Having a car is the easiest way to visit many of Nashville’s quintessential and underrated attractions without burning out from the rigors of commuting. Kayak.com offers a plethora of hot vehicle rental deals for your budget, so be sure to take advantage of them as you go through your itinerary.

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