If you are like me, you love to wander on foot to explore a new city. There are lots of walkable neighborhoods in Nashville, some with well-known attractions every first time visitor needs to see. But once those are checked off the list, it’s time to truly explore.
My son and I did a little of both – hit the downtown highlights, but also explored some of the quirky walkable neighborhoods in Nashville. In our few days, we only scratched the surface. You’d need at least a week to really put a dent in this list (and if you have young children, read this post on Nashville with Kids).
Did we miss your favorites? Tell us, we’re keeping a running list for our next visit to Nashville, which we hope will be soon!
The Fairlane Hotel is a luxe 81-room boutique hotel bringing back the style and personality of the 1960’s and 70’s to downtown Nashville with modernist architecture, a timeless, midcentury design concept and a retro attitude. It offers travelers upscale accommodations featuring spacious guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling window views of downtown Nashville, and playfully suggestive ‘peekaboo’ showers.
The vibrant hotel is also complemented by classic food and beverage, including Ellington’s Mid Way Bar & Grill, the fourth-floor terrace restaurant serving nostalgic, mid-20th-century dishes elevated with modern panache.
Walkable Neighborhoods in Nashville (beyond Downtown)
12 South Nashville
Shopping in 12 South. This extremely walkable neighborhood Nashville is home to lots of great shops including Reese Witherspoons trendy Draper James or Imogene + Willie where you can get custom jeans. We opted for some bargain hunting at UAL, United Apparel Liquidators, where I bought the coat you see in the picture above.
Nashville Murals. No matter which Nashville neighborhood you visit, search for the many murals around town created by local and internationally known artists. If you aren’t up for a hunt, or don’t plan to be in Nashville anytime soon, you can take a virtual tour of music city murals. We found quite a few in 12 South.
Fat Mo's. There are several nice looking restaurants in the 12 South neighborhood, but we opted for a hidden local Nashville favorite, a run down, drive through fast food stand called Fat Mo's. I know we're talking walkable Nashville neighborhood haunts, but it was worth it! You know when you see a long line of only local cars, you've hit on something. And every Nashville resident we talked to nodded and said some version of "how did you learn about Fat Mo's? I love that place!"
This walkable neighborhood in Nashville has a hip free spirited vibe and actually includes a couple of walkable micro-neighborhoods. Plus for anyone who was a fan of the ABC show Nashville, you may remember this is where some of the young stars lived.
5 Points Neighborhood. A guitar is essential in Nashville and you can get any variety you like at Fanny’s House of Music. Grab a slice at 5 Points pizza, recommended extremely enthusiastically by several locals, or maybe a weenie from the very Instagramable I Dream of Weenie hot dog joint which is located inside a VW microbus.
Sadly the iconic 5 Spot music venue has closed due to COVID 19, but hopefully they will open soon now that a vaccine is available.
Fatherland District. A few streets over from 5 Points is Fatherland Street. We visited in December and the houses on the street were decked out with lights and the sidewalks on either side of the street had light tunnels. Very festive! If you aren’t here during the holidays, you can still shop the 20 plus locally owned businesses here – including the delicious Cake Project cheesecakes – yum.
Belle Meade – West End
This Nashville neighborhood west of downtown was once a thriving thoroughbred breeding farm on 5,300 acres. At the turn of the century, after three generations, debt forced the family to sell and the community of Belle Meade was born. Although not a walkable neighborhood in Nashville, it offers a nice break from the music scene, and there are plenty of places to stroll within the community. Take a leisurely drive around the early planned communities with the tree-lined streets and visit the local attractions.
Belle Meade Plantation. Three different tours tell the story of Belle Meade. You can learn about three generations of Hardings, the enslaved people who worked for them or learn about the natural beauty on a Segway tour. Our home tour ended in a wine tasting of Belle Meade wines. My favorite was Founder’s Red, a single varietal Merlot. All the fruit for the wines, except the reds, are from Tennessee. Looking for something stronger? They also have a bourbon tasting.
Afterwards, grab a picnic at Belle Meade Meat and Three to enjoy on the grounds just like presidents and other dignitaries did during Belle Meade’s hey day. Tip - get the smoked meatloaf, you won't be sorry.
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens. Botanical gardens are some of my favorite city attractions. Although we visited Cheekwood in December, when little was blooming, we enjoyed meandering the paths and the latest exhibit of large-scale blown glass by Dale Chihuly, a favorite artist in our family. (don’t miss his studio in St. Petersburg, FL). During our visit in December, the mansion was all decked out for the holidays and when the sun went down, more than a million twinkling lights illuminated the pathways.
Parthenon. This magnificent replica of the original Parthenon in Athens was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centenary Exposition and is located in beautiful Centennial Park. If you are a Rick Riordon fan, you might recall the Nashville Parthenon was a main stop for Percy Jackson in the book The Lightening Thief. Inside is a museum that includes a full-scale replica of the statue of Athena.
Nashville Neighborhoods Every First Timer Needs to Visit
Broadway is the main drag in Nashville. It’s the center of NashVegas with the neon lights of the Honky Tonks ablaze 24/7. But if you go just north or south of Broadway, you’ll find Nashville’s main tourist attractions. There is a reason these destinations are a ‘must do’ for anyone who is making their first visit here. With more hotel rooms than homes, this is still a very walkable neighborhood in Nashville and no matter where you stay, you’ll be able to easily get to the other areas on foot if you like.
North of Broadway
The Ryman Auditorium. Go ahead and spring for the behind the scenes tour of the historic Ryman Auditorium, where you go backstage and see the dressing rooms. My favorite discovery about the Ryman, it was all managed by a woman, who booked all the legendary acts, and the Grand Ole Opry (which is now elsewhere). That may not seem too unorthodox now, but she was able to accomplish this tremendous feat in a southern town before women even had the right to vote! If you don’t want to do the backstage tour, there is still plenty to see and you’ll have a chance to get your picture taken on stage at the Mother Church of Country Music.
The Ryman Alley. One thing you’ll notice at the Ryman is backstage is pretty small, and truth be told, that space was added at a later date, so for a period, backstage was the alley next to the Ryman. Acts would hang out outside the stage door, often passing time at Tootsies, the honky tonk across the way. Of course there is fantastic live music all over downtown Nashville, but Tootsie’s has a special reputation.
The Grand Ole Opry. So this is NOT in downtown Nashville. In fact, the Grand Ole Opry House is actually 30 minutes outside of downtown Nashville, but I’m including it here because most people think the Grand Ole Opry is at the Ryman Auditorium. The Grand Ole Opry SHOW was at the Ryman until it moved to its current location in 1974.
This location is a bit out of the way, but well worth the drive. You are the audience for a radio show, just like in the old days with several musical acts. The highlight of our visit was Chris Jansen, a very energetic member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Unlike the Country Music Hall of Fame, you probably won’t recognize many of the names at this museum. These are the stories of the session musicians engineers and producers behind the big stars. And it’s not just limited to country music.
Printer’s Alley. The bars in Printer’s Alley are a little less honky tonk, and a little more speakeasy.
Boutique Hotels. For a little more upscale evening, try the bars at some of the boutique hotels along 4th Ave. North like Noelle, Dream Nashville, Bobby Hotel (they have a double decker bus!), Fairlane Hotel (a sister hotel to Atlanta’s Clermont Hotel) and Hotel Indigo Printer’s Alley.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant. Enjoy Southern favorites like slow roasted pork with homemade mac and cheese (delicious) and a side of live music at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant.
South of Broadway or SOBRO
Country Music Hall of Fame. On the surface, there is everything you want in a museum - guitars played by a member of your favorite band, original lyrics on yellowed line paper penned by the songwriter himself.
Even flashy displays of wealth like the 1961 Pontiac Bonneville convertible customized by Nudie Cohen, the person responsible for many of the country stars glittery outfits on display. The car is wonderfully garish and over the top with silver dollars, six shooters, a fancy horse saddle, and lots of steer horns.
But if you read the displays or listen to the videos, you’ll also learn about the gritty lives of the Country Music elite.
Hatch Show Print. A trip to Nashville is not complete without a visit to Hatch. Don’t know them? Well, do you see all the 11x14 show signs around town? Those are all printed at Hatch, a letterpress print shop that has been in business since 1879 and has created posters for pretty much everyone and everything in Nashville and beyond! Want to learn more? Take the tour.
Frist Art Museum. If you need a break from music, head to the Frist Art Museum. This cool art deco building, which was once the U. S. Post Office reminded by my son and I of the The Empire State Building in New York.
This museum does not have a permanent collection rather they host traveling exhibits. My son was drawn to the Albrecht Durer exhibit after learning about him during a semester in Europe.
The Listening Room. We loved this place so much, we stayed for the second show! Nashville has plenty of live music, but what I love most is hearing the songwriters tell the stories behind their songs. The Listening Room has three songwriters who take turns playing. This format is similar to that of the famous Bluebird Café, but The Listening Room is within walking distance of Downtown.
The Omni Nashville. You can’t find a more convenient location than the Omni Nashville, which is attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print. It’s also within walking distance of the Honky Tonks, North Broadway, and the Gulch.
Martin’s BBQ. The smell of smoked meat wafts onto the street drawing you into Martins, who according to the concierge at our hotel is ‘the best bbq in Nashville.’ You can wile away the day here with shuffleboard, ping pong, darts and of course, live music.
RCA Tour Studio B. Not exactly SOBRO, but you get the bus to this iconic stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame. See the studio where stars like Elvis Pressley, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and more have recorded by taking a tour of RCA’s Studio B. This unassuming cinderblock building may smell a bit musty, but it’s the ‘home of 1000 hits.’ Stand on the X where Elvis recorded “Are You Lonely Tonight.”
Spence Manor. On the way to Studio B, you’ll pass Spence Manor, where Elvis stayed when in Nashville. You can stay there too, through Airbnb, and swim in the guitar shaped pool.
Hattie B's Nashville Hot Chicken. You can't go to Nashville without trying the famous Nashville Hot Chicken, and why not try the dish at the original Hattie B's in Midtown. We did not try the hottest version, made with ghost peppers, but we did sample both the fried and grilled version (I actually liked the grilled).
Other Nashville Neighborhoods on Our Bucket List
This is tops for my next visit to Nashville. On my bucket list - stroll through the Nashville Farmer’s Market and grab a picnic to take to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park across the street. Get a bratwurst and a big stein of beer at Von Elrods followed by a cupcake from Cupcake Collection.
We didn’t make it to any of the Tennessee distilleries this time around. Next visit, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. The proprietors, brothers Andy and Charlie, resurrected the family business that was shut down during prohibition. And you can visit the American Picker's shop - Antique Archeology too.
The Gulch Nashville
Just south of SOBRO, within walking distance of Broadway is The Gulch, a trendy section of Nashville with plenty of boutiques, restaurants and hotels. A friend of ours heads to the rooftop bar at the Thompson Hotel every time he is in Nashville. In addition to tasty cocktails, it has a fantastic view of the city.
Opening Soon Downtown
The National Museum of African American Music. We did not get to visit this museum located on Broadway because it officially opens on Martin Luther King Jr. day, Monday, Jan.18. It is definitely on my list for next time. This is the only museum in the world with a dedicated focus on all dimensions of the contributions African Americans have made to American music. The museum will house five interactive galleries dedicated to 50 genres of African American tunes, including blues, jazz, hip-hop, and rap. I hope they cover Motown too. I love Motown.