One thing I’ll say right off the bat that I didn’t love about Nashville is how you really need to rent a car to make the most of the trip. There’s a Hop On Hop Off Music City Trolley that’s $28 (or $14 for children 4-11 years old), but even that doesn’t take you everywhere (not even the Grand Ole Opry!). There’s no subway system or thorough metro system; instead, everyone uses Uber and Lyft car service apps to get around.
As a budget traveler — and a budget liver in general — the only time I use a car service is if I’m too drunk to navigate public transportation alone. So, I made use of their Nashville B-cycle program. It was cheap at $5 per day; however, be prepared to sweat your butt off. Multiple waters are a must!
So, what did I do to enjoy my time in Nashville beyond country music? This:
Nashville Downtown Hostel. The downtown area is where you’ll find most of the major Nashville attractions: the Tennessee State Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, Musicians Hall of Fame, Tennessee State Capitol, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bicentennial Mall.
That being said, downtown is super touristy. To me, overly touristy. A Nashville-style Bourbon Street. While I enjoyed staying in this area to meet people, go out and see some of the sites, you’ll likely want to explore further, hence, a car or B-cycle.
The hostel itself is definitely a fun spot for solo travelers, as it’s very social and full of activities. Even when I would make breakfast in the morning — they have a communal kitchen — I always met new people. Some of the events they had going on when I was there included an open mic night, honky tonk crawl and a bike ride to a local baseball game.
The rooms themselves are clean with lots of power outlets, each named after a different musician (mine was Bob Dylan). In the lounge there’s a beer fridge where guests hangout until late, as there’s no quiet hours on the first floor, only the guest room floors. For security, a keycard is needed to use the elevator, access guest room wings, get into guest rooms and get into the hostel itself after 9pm.
Activities Beyond Country Music:
Let me start off by saying I did a number of country music attractions — the Grand Ole Opry, the General Jackson Showboat and an Elvis impersonator show — all of which were entertaining. That being said, you all know I love going beyond the guidebook, as well, which I did by:
1. Touring The Plantations
Okay, so this is probably in your guidebooks. Still, it’s a fun day trip to tour Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and Belle Meade Plantation, both of which have guides dressed in period specific clothing. At the Hermitage I loved learning about Andrew Jackson’s lasting impact on America as a place with limitless opportunities and touring the mansion and colorful gardens with their labeled plants, while Belle Meade’s history as a premier thoroughbred horse breaking is astounding. Every Kentucky Derby horse can trace their bloodline back to Belle Meade, and the mansion is full of original artifacts, horse portraits and racing silks. It’s also home to Nashville’s only winery, with proceeds going benefit the upkeep of the property.
Bonus tip: In between the two sites stop of the Hermitage House Smorgasbord for an $11 all-you-can-eat southern-style buffet with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn, salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, a dessert bar and other tasty eats.
2. Take A Coffee Class
CREMA is potentially the best cafe in Nashville. Not only do they serve great coffee crafted from small farm-sourced, house-roasted beans complete with latte art, but you can take classes like Milk Steaming, Secrets of Latte Art, Espresso Theory, Intro to Specialty Coffee and Taste and Evaluation, to name a few. Baristas are knowledgeable and friendly as they precisely pour your drink, and bites like Black Cherry Cornmeal Scones, Avocado Toast and Maple Praline Coffee Cake only add to the quality. The comfortable, hipster atmosphere adds positively to the counter culture.
3. Sip A Retro Soda At Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop
Nostalgic candy shops always pique my interest; however, Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop is especially unique as along with cute signs about man caves and morning coffee and containers full of single candies they have hundreds of sodas. This isn’t your average Coca-Cola store; instead, shelves are lined with carbonated creations you’ve likely never seen or dreamed of before. The bottle art is museum worthy, often referencing pop culture, from “Kourtney’s Baby Bubblies” featuring a pregnant Kourtney Kardashian to a photo of Osama Bin Latin that reads “Who’s there? America! The end.” You’ll definitely want to spend some time perusing.
4. Savor Homemade Ice Cream At Mike’s
Amongst the hustle and bustle of Broadway in downtown you’ll find one small business worth the hype: Mike’s Ice Cream. Both the cones and ice cream are homemade in this old-fashioned eatery, complete with small round tables, a cheerful palette of green and yellow, timeless sundaes, shakes and sodas, and a bar featuring a whimsical soda fountain mural. Along with flavors like Birthday Cake, Maple Blondie Walnut, Banana Chip, Nutter Butter and Peach Sweet Iced Tea they offer a large variety of hot and cold coffee drinks.
My pick: a homemade chocolate chip cookie dough cone with a giant scoop of refreshing mint chocolate chip ice cream.
5. Try The Biscuit Bar At Kitchen Notes
Located inside the Omni Nashville Hotel, Kitchen Notes serves elevated southern country fare in a sleek and clean space. While cocktails are enhanced with garden herbs and produce like basil and pineapple, the food menu features eats like chicken pot pie with a crumbled biscuit crust, a rich meatloaf gowned in homemade raisin ketchup and buttermilk fried chicken.
What I especially loved was the homemade biscuit bar, a variety of biscuits from chocolate chip to cheddar and ham beautifully served with jams and honey-drizzled butter.
While it’s a bit of a splurge for budget travelers, it’s worth it if you want a romantic atmosphere without going overboard. Tip: Save room for the banana pudding, layered and served in a Mason jar with triple-smoked caramel, sea salt and marshmallow meringue.
For something more budget friendly, don’t miss the Hot Chicken — fried chicken coated in spices — at Hattie B’s, especially paired with their homemade slaw. I swear I had dreams about this meal for days afterward.
6. Nashville B-cycle
As stated above, Nashville lacks when it comes to public transportation; however, their B-cycle program rocks at just $5 per day, with tons of pickup/dropoff points. I biked all over; however, one particularly ambient spot is Centennial Park.
Featuring 132-acre (0.53 km2), you’ll find a one-mile (1.6-kilometer) walking trail, the peaceful Lake Watauga, the Centennial Art Center (you can take art classes here!), a beautiful sunken garden, historic monuments, al fresco art, a band and events stage (so check their event calendar), sand volleyball courts and a dog park. The centerpiece of the park is undoubtedly the giant replica Parthenon, shown above, used primarily as an art gallery.
7. Chill Out At Pinewood Social
Pinewood Social is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to — ever, in NYC included. Featuring a golf club-like outdoor space with pool, bocce ball, AstroTurf covered in leather and garden chairs and tables, and a shaded area with chairs, umbrella-shaded tables and palm trees, it’s truly a social experience. Their indoor space has a hipster vibe via an old warehouse made modern, with exposed beams and light fixtures, reclaimed furniture, and a giant bowling alley in the back.
While they serve an interesting menu of southern-style easy-breazy poolside eats like mahi mahi tacos with agave citrus coleslaw, smoked trout dip with lavash crackers and fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dill yogurt, I personally went to unwind with a cocktail after 10+ miles of biking in the hot sun. My local friends all raved about the coffee cocktails, particularly the “Southern Limerick” featuring seasonal coffee, 1776 Rye, Meletti and heavy cream; however, I went with (and loved!) a refreshing “Bear Witness.” The drink is made with Lunazul Blanco Tequila, Aperol, pineapple, lemon, orgeat and an IPA finish to give a slightly fizzy consistency.
Pinewood Social is an amazing spot to go with friends or by yourself and chill with a book.
8. Free Praline Samples At Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
Budget travelers with an appetite should stop at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for their free praline samples. It’s also almost impossible to go inside with buying something, as you’re instantly immersed in southern sweets culture through pecan pie, saltwater taffy, gooey turtles, praline cakes and banana candies.
9. Dine With Strangers At Monell’s
As a solo traveler one of the most fun experiences I had was dining family style at Monell’s in Germantown. I ended up having dinner with eight hot guys, sharing stories over watermelon, homegrown tomatoes, biscuits with gravy and homemade plum preserves, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green beans, meatloaf, fried chicken, beef slices and banana pudding — all for just $16! It’s a social event — no cell phones allowed at the table, either — with a changing menu of soul food and a homey feel. It was hands down my favorite dining experience of the entire trip.
10. Have The Perfect Afternoon In East Nashville
East Nashville is a more gritty area of Nashville with lots of cool restaurants, cafés and boutiques littered throughout. Start at 11am at the Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden — after that you’ll wait in line — which has an enormous indoor outdoor patio, beers for every palate and huge delicious burgers, as well as all-natural sodas, soda desserts and malts. Afterward, walk over to Local Honey and The Fuselage on Gallatin Avenue for local shopping, vintage finds, natural body products and antiques. Continue on further to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, where a small ($5) gets you two half scoops of made from scratch ice cream. I recommend the Bourbon Salted Pecan and Peanut Brittle Maple Walnut.
Burn off the day’s calories with by walking around Shelby Park (Shelby Ave at S. 20th).