When my husband and I decided to take a Tennessee road trip, Nashville, known to millions as “Music City,” was our first stop. Although I grew up 150 miles north of Nashville in Evansville, Indiana, I had never taken in some of its major attractions.
In just two days, we covered five of Nashville’s must-sees. It wasn’t all encompassing — we could have spent a week here and not seen it all — but considering our timeframe, we packed in a lot into our weekend in Music City! (And it wasn’t all music-related!)
Day 1: Andrew Jackson’s Historic Hermitage
I’d visited Nashville many times over the years but had never visited the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, our seventh U.S. President. It is one of the country’s largest presidential homes, covering over 1,100 acres and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It’s also one of the most visited, welcoming over 225,000 annual visitors.
We first spent time in the museum where we got a dose of history covering Jackson’s life and legacy before sitting in on a 30-minute special visitor experience called “The Duel – Art of the Southern Gentleman.” We learned about why people (including Jackson) participated in duels and saw an actual demonstration of a duel — not to the death, however!
Touring the mansion itself was a highlight. Since opening to the public in 1889, more than 16 million visitors have walked through its rooms, meticulously preserved using original furniture, wallpaper and family possessions.
Don’t miss walking through the adjacent gardens, which were in full bloom while we were there, leading to the domed tomb covering the final resting place of Andrew Jackson and his beloved wife, Rachel. A small family cemetery is next to it.
Grand Ole Opry
Nashville is known as “Music City” and all genres of music can be found there, but the roots of country music run deep. It’s the location of the Grand Ole Opry, which has the distinction of being the world’s longest-running broadcast, beginning in 1925, and is still going strong more than 90 years later.
That evening we attended a performance, held at the Grand Old Opry House on the grounds of Opryland from February through October. If you visit during the months of November through January, you will see the stars take the stage at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Performances at either venue are held Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Show times are at 7 p.m. Check the opry site for information and tickets.
Performers on the evening we were there — Saturday, July 15, 2017 — included old-timers like Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, Lorrie Morgan and Dottie Smith. After we’d bought our tickets, I found out one of my favorites, Charles “Chip” Esten from the Nashville TV show had been added to the lineup! I couldn’t have asked for more!
We didn’t have time to take a backstage tour during our weekend in Nashville, but I’d love to go back to do one. They can be arranged during the day or post-show. Tours of the Ryman Auditorium are also available year-round.
Day 2: Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum
When I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame a couple of decades ago, it looked quite different. Thanks to a recent $100 million expansion, it has doubled in size to 350,000 square feet. It definitely has earned its reputation as the “Smithsonian of Country Music!”
While many of the exhibits featuring country music legends are permanent ones, like Elvis’s solid gold Cadillac that I remember seeing on my first visit, many others are added and changed out for a period of time. When we were there, the featured star was Shania Twain, but another of today’s hottest stars or classic performers like the Judds or Willie Nelson may be in the spotlight when you visit. The museum houses more than 2.5 million artifacts, recordings, photos, stage costumes and musical instruments.
We bought tickets online in advance that included admission to the museum and the Historic RCA Studio B Tour, which leaves by bus outside the building several times a day to travel a short distance to the Studio. Advance reservations are recommended if you want to include a visit RCA Studio since the number of visitors that can be accommodated at any one time is limited.
Historic RCA Studio B
As a lifelong Elvis Presley fan, I couldn’t miss visiting the famous recording studio where Elvis recorded more than 200 songs. It is Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio and definitely leaves visitors with a feeling of walking on hallowed ground. Besides Elvis, many more giants in the world of country and rock music recorded classic hits at Studio B, including Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins and Eddy Arnold.
Being in the room with the piano Elvis played and seeing the “X” marked on the floor where he stood, hearing anecdotes and stories by the tour guide, as some of his music played in the background, was special indeed.
Nashville’s Iconic Parthenon
Another of Nashville’s iconic attractions has nothing to do with music, but is well worth a visit. Just two miles from downtown in Centennial Park you will find the world’s only full-scale reproduction of the ancient Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Since I had visited Athens as part of a Greek Isles cruise the year before and had seen the ruins of the famous Greek temple there, I was especially interested to see Nashville’s version of it and what it would have looked like in its original splendor.
Originally built as a temporary structure for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in 1897, it fell into disrepair but was rebuilt in the 1920s.
Don’t miss going inside! Hours, admission prices and more information can be found on the Nashville.gov website. You’ll be wowed as I was by the statue of Athena Parthenos, patron goddess of Athens, standing nearly 42 feet high and covered in 24K gold leaf. The tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world, Athena was unveiled in 1990 after an eight year process by Nashville artist Alan LeQuire.
Check out plaster replicas of sculptures that originally appeared as the crowning feature of the temple front called the Parthenon Marbles. An art gallery is on the ground level.
This article was written by Debbra Dunning Brouillette. All photos are owned and were taken by Debbra, as well.
About Debbra Dunning Brouillette
Debbra is an award-winning freelance travel journalist who was born and raised in the Midwest. While her travels have taken her to many tropical destinations around the world, which she covers on her website, Tropical Travel Girl, some of her earliest memories are of family vacations through the U.S. southern states. She continues to enjoy traveling the south! Debbra is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) and the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA).
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