How to Love Nashville Even if You Don’t Love Country Music

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I remember the first response I got from a friend of mine last year when I excitedly told her that I was *finally* going to visit Nashville, Tennessee.

“I thought you didn't like country music,” she said.

My husband, Elliot, got a similar response from a coworker this year when he asked to take time off work so we could go to Music City together for a long weekend.

Most people seem to (erroneously) assume that Nashville is a city exclusively for fans of country music. That there couldn't possibly be any reason to visit if you don't own a pair of cowboy boots and know the lyrics to more than that one Garth Brooks song.

This, of course, couldn't be further from the truth!

While my first visit to Music City did indeed revolve around Nashville's unique music history, I wanted my second visit with Elliot to revolve around… well, everything else.

Because yes, there are plenty of things to do in Nashville even if you don't love country music!

Things to do in Nashville that don't involve country music

I think you're going to be surprised to learn about all the non-music ways to enjoy Nashville! Here are some of my favorite things to do in Nashville that don't involve country music at all:

1. Eat everything

Nashville hot chicken

After music, Nashville is probably most well-known these days for its food. From biscuits to barbecue to over-the-top brunches, Nashville has such an interesting mix of Southern staples on offer.

On my first trip to Nashville, I went on a food tour with Walk Eat Nashville to try staples like hot chicken, warm biscuits, Martin's BBQ, and Goo Goo Clusters. I LOVE going on food tours as a way to get to know a new city, and these Nashville ones are an excellent way to sample a lot in one go.

On my second trip, Elliot and I did our own thing when it came to food, focusing an inordinate amount of time (and, okay, money) on brunch.

Some of my favorite spots to eat in Nashville after two trips there include:

Biscuit Love – What started out as a food truck now has three restaurants in the Nashville area! We went to the original location in The Gulch. The brunch lines on weekends are insane, but you can get basically the same menu any day of the week; go for lunch on a weekday if you want to avoid the lines! Try their signature “East Nasty” sandwich.

The East Nasty

The 404 Kitchen – Open for dinner and Sunday brunch, we opted for brunch here. They have a delicious menu filled with Southern specialties, along with some great boozy brunch drinks. You do need to reserve a table here in advance.

Butcher & Bee – I've been to this East Nashville spot twice now, and have not been disappointed with anything I've tried on their mezze-inspired menu (try the avocado crispy rice!). I'd recommend making reservations whether you want to go for brunch or dinner.

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint – Can you ever go wrong with whole-hog pit-fired BBQ? (The answer is no.) Elliot was skeptical about having to wait in a rather long line to eat at Martin's downtown location, but even he agreed it was worth it!

Martin's BBQ – their broccoli salad is also THE BEST

Some other places I've eaten at and enjoyed in Nashville include Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant (downtown), The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden (East Nashville), and Folk (a pizza spot in East Nashville). Elliot and I also enjoyed the 100-layer donuts at Five Daughters Bakery in 12 South.

Mmm, donuts

If you want a far more robust and well-rounded list of Nashville restaurants to try, check out this Nashville restaurant guide by my friend Kristin.

2. Take a trolley tour

Another great way to get an overview of Nashville is to spend a day hopping on and off the Old Town Trolley. The trolley runs through downtown Nashville, into The Gulch, around Centennial Park, and up and down Music Row.

Spending a day hopping on and off the trolley can be a great way to learn about Nashville's history, and can also help you see spots you might otherwise skip (like the Tennessee State Capitol Building and the Parthenon at Centennial Park).

The Old Town Trolley has 15 stops all around Nashville and has informative and entertaining live commentary onboard. Your ticket also allows you to hop on and off as many times as you want in a day. Buy your ticket in advance here!

3. Go mural-spotting

Nashville has a LOT of amazing street art that's well worth seeking out. You could easily spend an entire day hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood spotting all the best Nashville murals.

One of the more famous spots for mural selfies is the WhatLiftsYou Wings mural in The Gulch. I liked wandering around this neighborhood for a little while, as there are a few other murals nearby, too, as well as some cool shops and restaurants.

It was raining, so I turned it into a “Singin' in the Rain” moment.

Another great mural neighborhood is 12 South, where you can find a bunch of colorful walls all within just a few blocks.

And of course you can spot murals around downtown and East Nashville, too!

I love this one on the side of Five Points Pizza

You might not spend hours mural-hunting like Elliot and I did, but they're a unique feature of Nashville worth keeping an eye out for.

4. Tour a distillery

You've probably heard of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but did you know that Tennessee has its own Whiskey Trail? Well it does, and several of the stops are right in Nashville!

Tasting at Corsair Distillery

Some distilleries you can visit or even tour within Nashville include Corsair Distillery, Nashville Craft Distillery, Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, and Pennington Distilling Co.

On my most recent trip to Nashville, I went with several friends to do a quick distillery tour and tasting at Corsair Distillery. If you've never done a distillery tour before, this is a great place to get a glimpse of the distilling process.

100+ year old still at Corsair Distillery

5. Hang out at a brewery

Nashville also has a huge brewery scene (though, what major US city doesn't these days?), so if spirits aren't your thing, you can definitely do your own brewery crawl.

Some breweries to check out in Nashville include Jackalope Brewing Company, Yazoo Brewing Company, Fat Bottom Brewery, and Tennessee Brew Works.

6. Shop at Marathon Village

I'm a big history nerd, and I love it when cities take old, unused historic buildings and transform them into something new. And this is exactly what they've done at Marathon Village.

Marathon Motor Works was a Tennessee-based automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s, producing the Marathon car up until 1914. After the company went out of business, the factory buildings went unused for decades.

In 1986, a man by the name of Barry Walker came up with a new vision for the old Marathon Motor Works complex. He wanted to transform the buildings into a creative community – and over the next few decades, that's exactly what happened.

Today, Marathon Village is home to a variety of art studios and businesses, ranging from an olive oil shop to distillery tasting rooms to Antique Archaeology (the shop owned by the guys from American Pickers). This is where my friends and I did a tour and tasting at Corsair Distillery.

I love how they've refurbished these buildings, filling empty corners and hallways with old equipment from the original car factory. Across the street, you can also visit the small Marathon Motor Works Museum, where four original Marathon cars are on display.

Original Marathon cars

7. Walk across the river

Many people don't realize that Nashville is built along the banks of the Cumberland River. The river separates downtown Nashville from East Nashville, and is a unique feature worth exploring.

I highly recommend going for a walk through Riverfront Park, and then across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

This is a great bridge!

8. Visit a museum

If you run into a rainy day in Nashville, there's always the option to spend part of the day at a museum. Many of Nashville's top museums are music-related, but not all of them focus on country!

Nashville museums to check out OTHER than the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum include:

  • Frist Art Museum
  • Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
  • Lane Motor Museum
  • Tennessee State Museum
  • Adventure Science Center (the best place in Nashville for kids!)

You could also visit one of the stately homes or former plantations near Nashville like Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Belmont Mansion, The Hermitage (former home of Andrew Jackson), or Belle Meade Plantation.

And don't forget that Nashville, once nicknamed “the Athens of the South,” is also home to a replica of the Greek Parthenon in Centennial Park.

The Nashville Parthenon

9. Get competitive

My second visit to Nashville included a meet-up with a bunch of college friends, meaning we needed to find things to do that were suitable for a big group of adults – and no, none of us were interested in the pedal taverns or party tractors down on Broadway.

Nashville has a few cool spots for groups to enjoy without everything revolving around drinking. My top two picks are Pinewood Social (either just go to hang out, OR reserve a bowling lane or two in advance) and Topgolf, which is fun even if you've never played golf in your life.

There are also several of those escape game spots in Nashville (great for groups), and even a virtual reality arcade called The Rabbit Hole.

Honorable mention: People-watch on Broadway

Music has always been part of the fabric of Nashville, so I'd be remiss if I completely skipped over the heart of it. Yes, Broadway is lined with honky tonks and country music blasts out of every bar – BUT this part of Nashville has some seriously good live music (and even better people watching) at all hours of the day.

Even if you don't love country music, it's worth making your way up to one of the rooftop bars along Broadway for a drink or two.

Where to stay in Nashville

I won't sugarcoat it, guys: Nashville can be really pricey when it comes to hotels, especially if you're visiting over a weekend when there's a big event happening downtown (and, honestly, it seems like that's almost every weekend!).

BUT, luckily there are a lot of hotels in Nashville to choose from. Nashville hotels I recommend (that still go along with my non-music-themed list) include:

The BobbyI drooled over photos of this hotel before my last trip to Nashville. It's a trendy new downtown boutique hotel with a notable rooftop bar and lounge, as well as an on-site restaurant and cafe. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

AC Hotel by Marriott Nashville Downtown This hotel is brand new (it wasn't even completely finished when we stayed in late March 2019!), and is located in a central spot downtown. It has large rooms and a very nice rooftop bar/terrace, as well as a big pool area. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

Stay Alfred at 505 Located right at the corner of 5th and Church, this condo-style hotel is perfectly positioned downtown. It's also great for a longer stay since a room here includes a kitchenette and in-room laundry facilities. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

21c Museum Hotel NashvilleAnother unique hotel in downtown Nashville is the 21c Museum Hotel, which is basically a contemporary art museum inside a hotel. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)


READ NEXT: Getting a Taste of Music History in Nashville


Did you know there was so much to do in Nashville that has nothing to do with country music? What would be on your must-do list?

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Things to do in Nashville (that don't involve country music)

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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8 Comments on “How to Love Nashville Even if You Don’t Love Country Music

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  1. I love this! You definitely did Nashville justice. Next time, you’re here, add a chocolate-making class at Goo Goo to the agenda. I’ve done it a few times now, and it’s one of my favorite things to do with friends who are visiting. And yes, I tell people if you do Broadway, make it during the daytime to people-watch and see some live music and flee the area the second witching hour hits. I hate all the pedal taverns and party boats. There’s even a hot tub on wheels now, ugh. It really skanks up the area, unfortunately.

    I also get annoyed by folks who think Nashville is “just” country music, because we have so many other types of music with musicians like Jack White, Black Keys and Kings of Leon all having labels or businesses based out of here, not to mention the Americana/singer-songwriter scene that is everywhere. Growing up in Tennessee, I actually didn’t care for country music until I was older (now, I listen to a lot of classics like Conway and Cash, but I didn’t as a kid), so I’ve always appreciated the diversity of musical offerings.

      A hot tub on wheels?? Gross. Yeah, Broadway wasn’t Elliot’s favorite part of Nashville, but we did go up to one of the rooftops for drinks and a snack, and he liked that better. It’s just crazy that most people assume that Nashville is ONLY about the country music and bachelorette parties on Broadway – I’m glad I got to see more of Nashville’s other offerings on this trip!

      I didn’t know about the chocolate class at Goo Goo prior to going, but saw a sign for it when we went inside to pick up some candy. I’d definitely love to do that next time!

    Another wonderful Nashville blog. The picture of you in front of the floral mural looks like you found your camouflage spot. Perfect!

    Susan

    Nashville is a great town. Many different experiences to be had even for those that don’t enjoy country music. Great article.

      Thanks very much, Brian! And I definitely agree – Nashville is great!

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