- I grew up in Nashville and there are a few things I think people should know before they visit.
- There’s great food to try and I think it’s worth renting a car to explore more of the city.
- Nashville is friendly, so definitely be a conscientious visitor.
I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for 16 years and watched it become the hub for visitors it is today.
Although Music City’s Southern charm will always welcome you with open arms, and locals are happy to share their recommendations, here are some things you should know before you visit:
There is so much more to eat than typical Southern food
Having great Southern food in Nashville is a must — you don’t want to miss the James Beard Award-winning meat and three (a plate typically filled with meat and three vegetables) at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.
Venture out to a Charlotte Pike strip mall for bubbling bowls of soundbar jjigae and steaming bibimbap at Korea House. Head east to try the stewed beef tibs on spongy injera at Gojo Ethiopian, or charred lamb shank at its Persian neighbor, House of Kabob.
Not only will these stops inspire your taste buds, but also you’ll get to see more of Nashville beyond the trendy boutiques and rowdy honky-tonks.
Renting a car is a good idea, and driving in this city isn’t as bad as you might think
Venturing out of the main city area is great, but the logistics can be tricky.
The city’s bright-purple WeGo bus system is limited and although certain neighborhoods are walkable, the city is too spread out for bussing or walking to be effective ways to get everywhere.
Though ride shares work for short trips, I suggest you give yourself the freedom of a car so you can really explore.
Although driving in a city doesn’t sound ideal, Nashville’s drivers are pretty patient and cautious (honking is a no-no). Plus parking is never too hard to find.
It’s worth stepping outside of Nashville to explore Tennessee’s beautiful countryside
Nashville is wonderful, but part of what makes it stand out is the access to the bucolic beauty of Tennessee’s countryside.
Just 20 minutes drive down Hillsboro Road will take you to rolling hills studded with hay bales and horses.
Stop at Barbara’s Home Cookin where Ms. Barbara Thomas makes Southern delights in a converted house with mismatched chairs and the menu scrawled on the chalkboard walls. Don’t miss the poppyseed chicken and fluffy yeast rolls.
If aimlessly driving isn’t your thing, make Leiper’s Fork your final destination.
The historic village hosts a strip of antique stores and art galleries, but nothing beats sitting on a rocking chair outside of Puckett’s market with a glass of sweet tea and the smell of applewood smoke and pork wafting toward you.
Please be chill about celebrities
Leiper’s Fork and the surrounding area has been home to famous musicians like Justin Timberlake, Chris Stapleton, and Brad Paisley. Nashville, more broadly, hosts Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Kidman, and countless other stars.
Part of the appeal of Nashville — or at least what we like to tell ourselves is part of the appeal — is that we don’t disturb the city’s A-listers. It’s a point of pride for Nashvillians.
I’ve bumped into Taylor Swift at a cupcake shop and advised Steven Tyler on what brand of peanut butter he should get at Whole Foods (Justin’s, of course).
So while you visit, if you see Reese Witherspoon visiting her 12th South boutique or Blake Shelton checking on his Broadway bar, do your best to be polite.
It’s worth treating yourself to food from Nashville’s celebrity chefs
Although there are plenty of delicious spots that boast a bang for your buck (many of which are named above), it’s worth spending a little extra to partake in Nashville’s star-studded food scene.
Visit Food Network star Maneet Chauhan’s Chauhan Ale and Masala House for takes on Indian classics like tandoori chicken poutine. Eat at Adele’s, helmed by one of the pioneers of California cuisine, Jonathan Waxman.
Try homegrown favorites like Henrietta Red, which landed chef Julia Sullivan the title of best new chef from Food & Wine, or Etch, where Nashville legend Deb Paquette combines flavors in original and mind-blowing ways.
Don’t miss the heritage pork ragu or pastured chicken with preserved lemon at James Beard-nominee Philip Krajeck’s Rolf & Daughters, either.
Plan ahead because reservations fill up quickly at most of these places.
Be sure to support local musicians and venues
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the great music Nashville has to offer.
You should certainly plan an evening hopping the honky-tonks of South Broadway — SoBro, if you want to sound local — which is filled with rowdy bars with sticky floors and bands belting out country-rock covers.
Maybe one of your favorite artists will be on tour at one of Nashville’s great outdoor venues like Ascend Amphitheater or FirstBank Amphitheater. Or maybe you want to see a show at a venue steeped in history like The Grand Ole Opry or The Ryman.
My personal favorite option is to visit a smaller, local spot. The Bluebird Cafe is famous for the singer-songwriters who have come through it. Station Inn is an old-school stalwart in the midst of the busy Gulch neighborhood. Basement East or The 5 Spot are East Nashville venues that are sure to show off local favorites, and Marathon Music Works and Exit/In are sure to offer unique experiences and rocking performances.
Wherever you go, be sure to tip well.
If you’re going to try the city’s famous hot chicken, do it right — and learn some of the history first
If there’s one thing that’s more synonymous with Nashville than music, it’s hot chicken.
Today, hot chicken pops up on menus across the city with all sorts of variations, but the dish has a long history in the Black community of Nashville. It also exemplifies a much greater issue in Southern foodways with white chefs taking credit for and profiting off of Black ingenuity.
It’s believed that the dish was created by the Prince family decades ago when local casanova Thorton Prince got in trouble with his partner for coming home too late. As a punishment, she supposedly added a bunch of hot pepper to his fried chicken — but it ended up being delicious.
Because of segregation in the city both officially (until the mid-1960s) and unofficially since, hot chicken was a favorite in Nashville’s Black community for many decades but was widely unrecognized outside of it.
This has changed in the past decade or so and André Prince Jeffries, queen of hot chicken and current owner of the original Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, has encouraged the competition from other restaurants — but has suggested visitors remember the creators of the dish.
And I definitely think it’s worth making the trip to Prince’s to get the original hot chicken.