We visited Nashville on our Summer road trip, after Savannah and before Dollywood. And while I love a bit of modern country, my 18-year-old was less thrilled at the thought of a week-long country-fest. Luckily there’s plenty to do in Music City that doesn’t require you to pick up a banjo.
In this post I wanted to share what we thought were the best things to do in Nashville as a family that didn’t just want to do ‘country music’.
We spent a week in Brentford, staying in an amazing home exchange. The lovely thing about staying in a local family’s home was that they were able to give us lots of local tips and advice on places to visit – we found some real gems!
6 Best Things to do in Nashville (if you don’t love country)
Shopping at 12 South, Nashville
There’s an up-and-coming little neighbourhood in Nashville called 12 South, which is basically 12th Avenue South.
Here you’ll find a whole neighbourhood of little coffee stands, cute cafes and stores. Our faves included Draper James, which is owned by Reece Witherspoon and stocks cute homeware, clothes and books.
But the neighbourhood also includes gorgeous bakeries, vintage clothing stores and White’s Mercantile, a modern-day general store with thoughtfully curated handcrafts, gifts, and food — most of it made in the South! Personally, one of the best things to do in Nashville is to park up on 12th St and just enjoy the ambience.
Music at The Listening Room
One of our very favourite nights in Nashville was spent at the Listening Room cafe.
The idea behind the Listening Room is to provide nightly opportunities for songwriters in Nashville to play their music – sometimes the artists are new, sometimes they’re more established. But they’re all amazing.
Each night you’ll see three songwriters playing their music and (even better) telling their stories about the songs, working in music, and Nashville. It’s spine-tinglingly good and the great thing about a live, acoustic set is that it miles away from the notion people have of ‘country’ music. It’s more ‘acoustic Americana’. My teen absolutely loved our night here.
Tickets to the listening room are only $10 and you’re expected to spend a minimum of $15 on food and drink. That makes it a really affordable night out and the food is decent – expect burgers, sandwiches, and standard cafe fair.
Checking out the street art
Nashville is famous for its street art and murals. Touring the famous street art makes a great way to explore the city, and many of the best murals are around 12 South, which means you can combine shopping, food and art!
The Bluebird Cafe
If you can get tickets (they often sell out in one minute or less) then The Bluebird Cafe is another great music-themed night and one of the best things to do in Nashville.
Artists such as Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift have had career defining moments at the club along with countless hit songwriters whose music is represented on a wide-range of charts.
The cafe runs regular live ‘in the round’ music events where songwriters play their songs and chat about music. The musicians here tend to be more established than at the Listening Room – you sometimes might get a famous musician but on the night we attended there were two grammy-winning songwriters. It’s a great experience and tickets are generally between $20 and $35, so very affordable.
Top tip – know which day you want to attend, think in advance about what table you want to go for, and be online on the DOT of 9am to claim your seats. There are only around 50 seats for each show, and so you need to be fast.
Full Moon Pickin’ Party
Our lovely home exchange hosts tipped us off to the existence of Full Moon Pickin’ Parties. These are community events held at a local country park, where neighbours and friends gather to listen to and play music. But there are also exhibitions, food trucks, amazing scenery.
People attending the party get a cheap ticket if they bring an instrument. Then, during the evening, groups of people will spontaneously start playing music together – around every corner, in barns, on pathways and courtyards, you find small impromptu bands and it’s honestly just joyful.
We sat on a picnic blanket with barbecue and beers (4 are included in the price of your ticket) and had a wonderful evening watching the sun set and listening to music. Tickets are $25 without an instrument.
Eating Barbecue at Martin’s
You cannot leave Nashville without eating a barbecue dinner at least once. And so the final item on our list of the best things to do in Nashville is to visit Martin’s which is known in our house as “the place that ruined all other chicken wings for us, forever”.
Martin’s opens each day with fresh barbecue that’s been cooked for 22-24 hours. Expect wings, ribs and Tennessee barbecue sandwiches. Oh, and ‘hoecakes’ which is flatbread/pancake that’s the traditional way to serve pulled pork in this part of the world. It was a recommendation from our hosts, as the place they go every year to celebrate birthdays. And I can see why.
Personally we felt the chicken wings here were so much better than any other chicken wing we’d ever eaten that I find it hard to order them in the UK, because I think I’ll just feel sad.
Prices are reasonable, you don’t need a reservation, and the food is a solid 15/10. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
So there you have it. Our very things that we did in Nashville, even though my teen low-key doesn’t like country music. It was an amazing city to explore and we’d go back in a heartbeat! If you’ve got recommendations for the best things to do in Nashville on an American South road trip, let me know!