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Nashville Attractions

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Melodious attractions like the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Grand Ole Opry draw in plenty of tourists, but Nashville is also proud of its history. You should spend a day sightseeing: The Parthenon, a replica of the famous Greek structure that represents Nashville’s role as the Athens of the South, is a pretty good photo op. For those traveling with kids, the Adventure Science Center is a great place to spend an afternoon. And don’t forget to pencil in some time listening to live music at the honky-tonks on Broadway. To see all of the best spots, take a guided tour with a local.

Broadway

While many people come to Nashville to soak up the history of country music at the city’s museums, others prefer enjoying the tunes in person. The best way to do that is to stop in to the many bars that line Broadway, downtown Nashville’s main thoroughfare. Lower Broadway is nicknamed “Honky Tonk Highway” because of the numerous establishments that host live acts daily.

Grand Ole Opry

It was this radio show, which began broadcasting in the 1920s, that put Nashville on the map as the “Country Music Capital of the World.” Although its venue has changed over the years, the Grand Ole Opry continues to host top country performers like Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. And a trip to Nashville isn’t complete without stopping by the Grand Ole Opry House for a tour to look back through the ages. Get a behind-the-scenes look one of three ways: with a daytime backstage tour, a post-show tour or a VIP tour.

Belle Meade Plantation

Constructed in 1853 in a breathtaking Greek Revival style, the Belle Meade Plantation is known as the “Queen of the Tennessee Plantations.” At the center of the plantation is the mansion (its columns are peppered with bullet holes from the Civil War), where guides dressed in period costumes offer tours of the mansion’s antebellum-style interior.

The Johnny Cash Museum

Uncover the enigma behind The Man in Black with a visit to The Johnny Cash Museum. The museum, which opened in April 2013, boasts the world’s largest collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia, including films, handwritten notes and letters penned by Cash himself along with more than 25 costumes made famous during the music legend’s career.

Ryman Auditorium

There’s no better place to start absorbing Nashville’s musical heritage than the Ryman Auditorium. It’s no longer home to the Grand Ole Opry, but the auditorium continues to host contemporary acts like Trace Adkins, Blake Shelton and Luke Combs. Recent visitors suggest opting for a tour to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the legendary music venue.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Music and history lovers can mix and mingle over the exhibits found at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Peruse the plaques dedicated to country music’s finest – from Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash – and walk among artifacts like Jimmie Rodgers’ guitar and Elvis Presley’s solid gold Cadillac limo.

Shelby Bottoms Nature Center & Greenway

Located on an expansive stretch of the Cumberland River about 5 miles east of downtown Nashville, the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center & Greenway is a sprawling green space where visitors can learn about the local landscape and take advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities. When you visit, start at the nature center, where you can view cultural history exhibits and artwork.

Tennessee State Museum

Located in downtown Nashville next to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, the Tennessee State Museum preserves the unique and storied history of the Volunteer State. The large museum showcases permanent exhibits that display the heritage of Tennessee’s natural history; Native American history; military and sporting history; and Civil War history. Plus, there are rotating temporary cultural and art exhibits on display as well.

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

Art aficionados and nature lovers alike should plan on making a stop at the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. With its greenhouses, sculpture trail and chromatic flower display, the 55-acre Botanical Garden offers sanctuary from downtown’s bustle. The on-site art museum is just as beautiful: Housed in the original Georgian-style Cheek family mansion at the heart of the grounds, the museum boasts an impressive collection of 19th- and 20th-century American art, as well as antique furniture, temporary exhibitions and artifacts from around the world.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

After a day exploring the roots of the “Country Music Capital of the World,” why not experience the sounds of Music City first-hand? If you’re looking for an authentic atmosphere with top-notch performances, Tootsie’s “World Famous” Orchid Lounge is the place to go. Since the days when the Grand Ole Opry still sought refuge at the Ryman Auditorium, this downtown bar has been featuring performances by both world-renowned and up-and-coming artists.

Radnor Lake State Park

Though Nashville is a bustling metropolis, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors right on the outskirts of town. Located 9 miles south of downtown, Radnor Lake State Park is a calm and serene getaway for those looking to go for a walk and observe nature. The 1,368-acre park features a unique ecosystem of plants and animals, including owls, water fowl and herons. Plus, there are numerous jogging, hiking and biking trails in the park, many of which provide impressive lake views. If you’re looking to learn more about local birds in the area, check out the Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center for interactive displays, ranger-led programs and panoramic views of the surrounding hillside.

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Fans of whiskey and bourbon should pencil in a stop at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery on a visit to Nashville. The distillery’s roots reach back to the 1800s, when Charles Nelson, a German immigrant, started producing whiskey in the late 1800s in Greenbrier, Tennessee. It became so popular he ended up selling about 2 million bottles of whiskey in 1885 alone. He died in 1891 and his wife Louisa took over, though in 1909, Prohibition forced her to shutter the operation. Nearly 100 years later, the couple’s great-great-great grandsons, brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson, restored the business and brought the operation to Nashville. Today, the venue features the distillery, a tasting room, an event space and a gift and bottle shop, and tours are offered daily.

The Hermitage

Constructed in 1821 for President Andrew Jackson, this Greek Revival mansion now stands as a National Historic Landmark and a preserved window into the president’s home life. Most of us may be familiar with Jackson from his role in the War of 1812, his stint as president and his appearance on the $20 bill, but a tour of the 1,000-acre estate provides a more up-close-and-personal look. Along the guided tour you’ll see the main house, the kitchen, an original log cabin, Jackson’s tomb and the Old Hermitage Church. Another popular exhibit tells the story of the 150 slaves that worked on the grounds from 1804 to 1865.Travelers said the tour of the property was educational, engaging and informative, adding it’s well worth the entry fee.

Nashville Zoo at Grassmere

If you’re an animal lover or just in the mood for a family outing, then the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is an excellent spot to visit. The zoo boasts 375 different animal species and more than 2,600 different animals, including clouded leopards, giraffes, meerkats, red pandas, white rhinoceroses, alligators and komodo dragons. Plus, there are fish and bird exhibits showcasing both local wildlife and exotic creatures. There are a number of hands-on exhibits that are popular among kids, including the Critter Encounters (where you can get up close with various animals), Kangaroo Kickabout (where you can pet kangaroos) and Shell Station (where you can see tortoises and touch their shells). What’s more, the zoo also features a historic home and garden, a jungle gym and a Wilderness Express Train.

Belmont Mansion

If you love history, slot some time for a tour of Belmont Mansion – the largest house museum in Nashville. This beautiful Italian-style villa was constructed in the 1850s for Adelicia Acklen, one of the wealthiest women in the country at the time and, according to some, Nashville’s own Scarlett O’Hara. Although it was originally built to be a summer home, Ms. Acklen did not skimp on the details. A tour of the 19,000-square-foot mansion leads visitors through rooms ornately decorated with 19th-century antiques and lavish art.

The Parthenon

Nashville is a city of many nicknames; most of them have to do with music. Still, the city is also known as the “Athens of the South” thanks to the numerous higher education institutions established there. This identity is realized with the construction of the Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the one found in Athens, Greece. Although the Parthenon was only meant to be temporary – it was built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897 – it has since become a beloved attraction, housing models of the statues found in the original structure as well as an impressive art collection. Recent visitors praised the well-kept grounds, peaceful atmosphere and magnificent building, recommending an evening visit to see it illuminated. Others rave about the surrounding green space, which is free to access and great for picnicking. However, parents warn that kids’ attention can quickly wane.

Adventure Science Center

Take a break from history and country music and treat your kids to some hands-on educational entertainment. Interactive displays at the Adventure Science Center allow little ones to learn about science, from what goes on inside the human body to what goes on thousands of light-years above our heads. Kids can get behind the controls of a flight simulator, learn what it takes to become an astronaut and step inside a face-altering photo booth to get a peek at what their future selves will look like. Regular demonstrations and lectures help children learn from the center’s interactive elements, and shows in the planetarium are entertaining for the whole family. Recent visitors praised the hardworking staff but recommend avoiding an afternoon visit when the center gets overcrowded with school groups.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

Closed to automobile traffic in 1998, the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge provides outstanding views of the Cumberland River and the Nashville skyline. The bridge connects downtown Nashville with the suburb of East Nashville, and is a reliable way to cross the river. It brings out the inner photographer in most tourists, as various points along the bridge allow travelers to capture different angles of Nashville.

Visitors come here for the panoramic views and to escape the busy downtown crowds. From the bridge, travelers can see Nissan Stadium (home to the Tennessee Titans) and any happenings on the Cumberland River. Though there are not many places to sit on the pedestrian bridge, it can be a good spot to enjoy the sunset with a loved one, according to travelers. Visitors also note that it is worthwhile seeing the view from the bridge during the day and at night to get the full effect.

Historic RCA Studio B

Through its tours, educational programs and events, the Historic RCA Studio B remains a landmark that humbles those who walk through its doors. It contains the essences of the legends who have made music in the building, including Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Opened in 1957, it became the home base of “Nashville Sound” in the 1960s. The studio and its artists’ unique sounds helped put Nashville on the map as an internationally known city for recording music. Today, the studio teaches young students the technology of recording music and the science of sound.

Not a country music fan? You don’t have to love country music to enjoy the tour, visitors say. If you appreciate music, you’ll enjoy the tour. Music geeks can stand where Elvis sang countless songs, listen to music in the studio setting and view original instruments used to record smash hits. For many, the tour brings nostalgia and memories of early days of country music. Visitors say the tour guides are knowledgeable, friendly and timely.

Frist Art Museum

Before it was the Frist Art Museum, this art deco-style building was a U.S. Postal Service office. Now it holds works of art from the region and from around the world, and new art rotates through every six to eight weeks. Past and present exhibits include Roman art, Australian Aboriginal art, collections by Nashville-born artists and more. The museum also promotes learning through creating art in its Martin ArtQuest Gallery, with 30 interactive stations. In this experimental art space, guests can create works of their own. The admission to Martin ArtQuest Gallery is free with adult general admission tickets and free for those 18 and under.

The Frist gift shop and cafe are also popular, as guests like to take a break between exhibits and shop around for collectible pieces to take home. The cafe receives high marks because it offers a variety of menu options, and it caters to what many museumgoers want: good coffee or a glass of wine.

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