Nashville, or Music City, is mainly known for its honky tonks and music sites. The Grand Ole Opry is grand! There are museums dedicated to many country music legends, recording studios to be toured, and what seems to be an endless row of honky-tonk bars where live music flows all night.
In fact, in 2019, CNN named Nashville the number one destination for bachelorette parties. Say no more! But there is another side to Nashville that can provide a respite and maybe a slower pace, but is still packed with fun and interest. These are Nashville’s less-known and hidden gems.
1. Biscuit Love In The Gulch
You’ll want to visit the Gulch because it is an old hippie neighborhood. It may not seem like that now with all the new condos and hotels, but the remnants are there in lots of off-beat bars and restaurants.
I visited Biscuit Love for a Sunday breakfast along with dozens of others who waited with me in line to soak up chicken and waffles, biscuits and jam, and lots of other traditional Southern breakfast cuisine. The restaurant started as an Airstream travel trailer food truck and eventually settled into this location. They keep their heritage alive with table numbers featuring the iconic trailer picture. The food is great and worth the effort to get in. They don’t take reservations, but the line is fun with all the street action and fellow diners as hungry as you are!
2. Centennial Park And Vanderbilt University
The most famous element of this park, just over a mile from downtown, is the replica of the Parthenon (yes, the one in Greece!). But Centennial Park itself is the hidden gem. Originally built in 1897, it was the site of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The city decided to make it a permanent park when the Expo closed and to keep the Parthenon as an attraction. I found the park to be a lovely place with ponds with ducks, plenty of food truck vendors, and picnic spots galore.
Vanderbilt University, built by patriarch Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1873, sits adjacent to the park. He is literally a looming figure with a statue of him prominently featured in Centennial Park. The campus has beautiful grounds you can stroll. Check out Kirkland Hall, a unique building that is the original site of the university. The Peabody College of Education buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Centennial Park is open every day from dawn to 11 p.m. Visit in the spring when magnolias and redbuds are in bloom.
3. Pedal Party Bars
Every city has a tour bus for sightseeing, but Nashville has pedal bikes for up to 16 people and each is a party in motion! It’s a BYOB venue and the “vehicle” is a pedal-assisted adventure with each guest pedaling along to the blaring music, drinking, singing, and enjoying the city sites.
A guide/bartender drives the party bike down Broadway or through the Gulch and ensures that everyone has a great time. When you are walking down the street, you hear the party coming and can’t help but enjoy the frivolity as they pedal their way down the street. Tickets are about $40 to $45 depending on the day of the week (tours run seven days a week) and which company you select. Have fun and keep pedaling!
4. Bluebird Cafe
You may have seen this venue on the television series Nashville. It is literally a hole in the wall at a strip mall not far from downtown (an easy Uber ride away). The Bluebird Cafe gives each patron an up-close-and-personal musical experience. Tickets are hard to get because of the size of the place and the day-of stand-by line is an even tougher ticket to get.
But if you get in, you will experience great music in an atmosphere so cozy it feels like your living room. A simple food menu and full bar are available to cover the $10 minimum purchase requirement. Mondays at 6 p.m. Bluebird hosts a new talent night where aspiring stars come to sing their hearts out, but you’ll have to stand in line all afternoon to get in. There’s a late show with the house band and no reservations are taken, which means you stand in the “I hope to get a ticket” line. Ticket prices vary by artist for reservation-eligible shows.
5. Frist Art Museum
This is a nice art museum that is housed in a most unexpected building. It is in the former, main U.S. Post Office — an art deco gem — located in downtown Nashville. The Frist Art Museum is a wonderful adaptive reuse of a historic building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, the main lobby of the post office has been retained in all its glory and is used as a common space for ticket purchases and events. The vibe takes you back in time to an era of jazz and glamor.
The art galleries can be accessed from this long rectangular space and feature local Nashville and Tennessee artists as well as national tours of international art. There’s a children’s art-making section as well. The building is well worth visiting even if you don’t pay to see the art. It’s open seven days a week. Admission for gallery viewing is $15 and $10 for seniors.
6. Looby Memorial And The Woolworth Building
Nashville played a role in the fight for civil rights. One of the early lunch counter desegregation efforts happened here in 1960, and it was filled with violence and heroes. John Lewis (civil rights icon and current Congressman from Georgia) was a student protester who willingly violated Jim Crow laws to sit at the white lunch counter at the downtown Woolworth store and experienced his first of many arrests during that protest.
An African-American attorney, Alexander Looby, helped the cause and his house was firebombed and destroyed while the sit-ins were happening. There is a historical marker where the house stood at 2010 Meharry Boulevard, across the street from Meharry Medical College (one of four Historic Black Colleges and Universities in Nashville). Head over to the 5th Avenue Historic District and you can tour that lunch counter in the fully restored Woolworth building and restaurant. The Woolworth on 5th also is a very nice restaurant serving lunch, dinner, and brunch by reservation. They also have live music. The now-restored building was built in 1901 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building and restaurant are open seven days a week.
7. Hermitage (The Andrew Jackson Home)
The seventh President of the U.S. had his home, called Hermitage, just outside of central Nashville. It is now a National Historic site of 120 beautiful acres with a restored plantation home and former slave quarters, gardens, and a cemetery including Jackson’s tomb, plus a duel re-enactment. Jackson preservationists call him the People’s President and Old Hickory. He was a formidable man in life and lives on with his face on the $20 bill. He made his share of decisions that history has not treated kindly, and he was a significant slaveholder.
His life and times are thoughtfully portrayed at this home. Jackson killed a man in a duel over honor. The “Southern gentleman” code is captured by historical actors for visitors in re-enactments hosted at Hermitage Thursdays through Sundays. Guided tour tickets are available at three levels ranging from $24 to $50 (with lower senior pricing). Be prepared to walk and stand for several hours (both indoors and out, rain or shine) as you tour the house and grounds.
8. J. Percy Priest Dam And Recreation Areas
The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the Priest Dam and hundreds of acres of recreational lands with trails, lakes, and campgrounds about 20 minutes outside of Nashville. You can go to the visitors center to learn about the dam and its significance in keeping the Cumberland Valley from flooding.
The Corps does a great job of ensuring an accessible and enjoyable outdoor space, so prepare to get your sunshine and exercise. You could even bring a boat and explore an island. You can go to any of the day-use areas, several of which have beaches for swimming at the reservoir lake, or hike numerous trails, all for a $5 daily entry fee. If you want a less strenuous visit, simply drive across the dam for a great view. You can go to the visitors center and overlook at the dam as well. This is a unique destination to work off any honkey tonk blues.
9. Sri Ganesha Temple
About 15 minutes outside of downtown, you can be transported to another world at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple. The architecture of these types of temples is very intriguing. This one replicates temples built in the 900 to 1100 A.D. era and was created by Indian craftsmen. The deity Ganesh is the symbol of the temple and resembles an elephant. Statuary depicting Ganesh adorns the grounds as well. You can explore the grounds, go inside, and enjoy the contemplative space.
Weekly services and events are held at the temple for practicing Hindus and guests. It’s a cultural experience you might not expect to have in Nashville. The temple is open in the mornings and evenings and tours are given once a month on Saturdays. Donations are accepted.
Nashville bound? Read up on Nashville hot chicken: what it is and why you should try it on your next visit, plus TravelAwaits’ Nashville Travel Guide: What To Eat, See, And Do.