Middle Age Miles

15 Helpful Things to Know for a Visit to Nashville

Downtown Nashville skyline, from the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge crossing the Cumberland River

This article is part of our Trip Report – Adventures with Edventure in Nashville.

After our trip to Nashville, I jotted down a list of things I thought it would be helpful (or at least interesting) to know for a visit to Nashville. There are probably a few other things that I’ve covered in other articles in this Trip Report, but without further ado …

1. It Hosts the Most Bachelorette Parties in the US

I don’t have any idea if this is true or not, but the locals swear it’s so. In any event, there’s no missing that Nashville is certainly a haven for bachelorettes. They certainly liven up the festivities. And you can usually hear them coming, identifiable by their unmistakable call, “Woooooooo!!!!!”

A bachelorette party on a bus, downtown Nashville

2. It’s a Good Place to Visit Without Advance Plans

Many of the hotspots in Nashville, especially downtown, are simply bars. Even if there’s live music playing, at most of them you can simply walk in and enjoy the good times (subject of course to the ID check at the door), with no cover charge. Dinner reservations were helpful, but we didn’t make ours until about 72 hours ahead of time. Tickets for attractions such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum were readily available when we walked up, with a few minutes’ line, even on a very busy weekend. And Stubhub is available for big concerts or sporting events like the Titans or Predators.

3. Downtown Nashville Is Very Walkable

It’s a little hilly north of Broadway, but the key areas where you’ll spend most of your time downtown are very compact. The lively section of Broadway with the lineup of bars is pretty short – just 4 blocks from 1st Avenue to 5th Avenue. You can easily do most of your partying in that segment of Broadway, plus perhaps the block of 2nd Avenue that’s immediately north of Broadway.

In addition, Bridgestone Arena is just south of Broadway at 5th Street, the Country Music Hall of Fame is 2 blocks south, between 4th and 5th, and nearby are the Nashville Symphony Hall and several restaurants.

Map of downtown Nashville

However, you can’t really walk between downtown and the newly-hot Gulch area, so you’re going to need an Uber or some other transportation if you head there.

Which leads me to …

4. The Grand Ole Opry Is Out of Town

Although the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, is right in the thick of downtown, the Opry itself has long since moved. It’s now located about 10 miles out of town, near Opryland and the massive Gaylord hotel. It’s good to know ahead of time that if you’re downtown and planning to go to the Opry, you’re going to need to leave time for a 30-minute Uber ride – or the reverse, if you’re staying out at the Gaylord, it’s going to take a lot of time and be a lot of trouble to shuttle back and forth to the downtown action.

You can still tour the Ryman Auditorium or see a show there. Information on tours is available here, and information on shows and tickets is available here.

5. Nashville Is the City of Long Lines

From getting in to eat at Nashville’s famed Hattie B’s Hot Chicken or Biscuit Love restaurants (and a few others), to getting your picture taken at the iconic “Wings” mural in The Gulch, to getting into some of the hottest bars on a weekend night, you’re likely to wait in line in Nashville. Maybe for a very long time.

Nashville “Wings” Mural in The Gulch, where many people wait in line for a very long time to get the perfect Instagram shot

We can’t help you much with the lines for the bars (except maybe try another one that’s less crowded; they’re lined up one next to the other all along Broadway) or the Wings (maybe try early in the morning). But we might be able to help you with the popular eating places – which brings us to …

6. Check Out the “Locals” Locations of the Most Popular Eating Places – Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and Biscuit Love

This is a tip we got from Rick the 4.98-star Uber driver on our way into downtown from Nashville airport, and boy did he get it right. Two of the most popular eating places in Nashville are the iconic Hattie B’s Hot Chicken restaurant and the super-trendy breakfast/brunch place, Biscuit Love. Neither takes reservations, and the main location of each of these restaurants will have a huge line-up with a wait of an hour or more, most of the time.

But each of these restaurants has a second location, reasonably close but out of the heavily-touristed areas – “for the locals,” as Rick described it – that will have a much shorter line and wait.

We tested this for Hattie B’s. For Friday lunch, we went by the main “tourist” location around 11:40 am. There was a huge line-up. It’s hard to tell exactly how long it would have taken, but it was easy to imagine that the wait would be an hour or more. We then continued our Uber ride to the “locals” location. The line there consisted of a few people out the door, and the wait to order ended up being only 10-15 minutes.

For Biscuit Love, we didn’t actually go to the “locals” location. But when we passed by the “tourist” location on Saturday morning around 11:00 am, there was a massive line-up.

Here are the details on the locations:

  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
    • “Tourist” location with long line: Nashville Broadway (Midtown), 112 19th Ave S
    • “Locals” location with short line: Nashville Melrose, 2222 8th Ave S
  • Biscuit Love
    • “Tourist” location with long line: Biscuit Love Gulch, 316 11th Ave S
    • “Locals” location with short line (according to Rick the 4.98-star Uber driver): Biscuit Love Hillsboro Village, 2001 Belcourt Ave

Middle Age Miles found a much shorter line at the Hattie B’s “locals” location on 8th Avenue South, than at the popular “tourist” Midtown location

And speaking of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, our next helpful thing to know is …

7. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken is REALLY Hot!

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken gets its hotness from a cayenne pepper-based sauce, and mercy is it hot!

To try to accommodate all tastes, Hattie B’s offers 6 levels of heat – Southern (no heat); Mild (touch of heat); Medium (warming up); Hot! (feel the heat); Damn Hot!! (fire starter); and Shut the Cluck Up!!! (burn notice). I handle spiciness reasonably well, and I ordered the Medium – level 3 of 6. I have to say, Medium Hattie B’s was hotter than I expected, and hot enough that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. I even sweated a bit from the temple, which I typically don’t do with even very spicy BBQ sauce. Wow.

As for the rest of our group – Philly is a born-and-raised New Mexico girl. She loves the heat and handles it with the best of them. She went right to the top of the chart for her heat, but even she would have preferred it a little less spicy. And there was no doubt that the Edventure crew was wishing for some less-hot food.

Moral of the story – Don’t be a hero at Hattie B’s. Order down a hotness level or two from whatever you’re thinking, and you’ll almost certainly enjoy your meal more.

And one last heads-up on Hattie B’s chicken – the sauce is liquid, so the chicken is really messy to eat.

A very hot and messy – but tasty – lunch from Hattie B’s

8. Only Tourists Wear Cowboy Boots and Hats

Before we visited, we assumed Nashville to be all about country music, and that cowboy boots and hats would be standard wardrobe. But once we arrived, we were quickly dispelled of that notion. Turns out, only tourists wear cowboy boots and hats in Nashville.

And even for tourists, boots and hats are the exception (save, perhaps, for the bachelorettes). Edventure’s collection of t-shirts fit in best with the Nashville crowd. I guess I’m saying, don’t worry about being under-dressed in Nashville.

Along the same lines, we were also a bit surprised at the lack of places to shop for boots, hats and other Western wear in downtown Nashville. French’s on 2nd Avenue had a decent selection of boots, but that was about it.

Edventure at French’s Shoes & Boots, 2nd Avenue, downtown Nashville

But what is a thing in Nashville? …

9. Pedal Drinking Carts Are Everywhere

All over the streets of Nashville, you’ll see pedal drinking carts. In short, it’s a bus-sized vehicle with open sides, with a bar in the middle, and people sitting around the perimeter pedaling bike-like pedals to propel the vehicle, while they’re drinking. Somehow I don’t feel like that’s a sufficient description. In this instance, a picture may be worth more than a thousand words:

Pedal drinking cart in Nashville

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this seems like fun. But then I remember that I could be drinking while sitting still, in a comfortable seat, without working and sweating, and without paying for the pedal cart. Hmmmmm.

In any event, they’re ubiquitous in downtown Nashville. The main provider seems to be Nashville Pedal Tavern, and if the insurance rates aren’t too high, those guys must be making a killing.

And another thing that’s very popular in Nashville …

10. Rooftop Bars Are Big in Nashville

Many of the downtown Nashville establishments have rooftop bars. I actually like this a lot. If the weather is decent, it’s great to be out in the fresh air rather than cooped up inside a bar. People seem more relaxed and friendly. And Nashville has an interesting enough scene and skyline that the views are entertaining as well.

We checked out a couple of the rooftop bars, at Jason Aldean’s and at Tootsie’s. They were definitely the place to be.

Rooftop bar at Jason Aldean’s, downtown Nashville

And this leads me to another feature of downtown Nashville …

11. You Can Rent Scooters in Downtown Nashville

This seems to be a wave that’s sweeping across America – the easy availability of motorized scooters to rent. We’ve seen them at home in downtown Dallas, and we had a good time using them on a recent trip to Washington, DC, to get ourselves around to the different monuments (we even wrote an article about it, Trip Tips – Washington DC – Getting Around with Capital Bikeshare and Skip Scooters).

And true to this trend, there are now motorized scooters generally available for rent in downtown Nashville. The two companies that provide the scooters in Nashville are Bird and Lime. With each company, the basic premise is the same – find an available scooter along the city streets, use the Bird or Lime app to activate the scooter, ride to your heart’s content (generally $1 to activate and 15 cents per minute until you end the rental), and leave the scooter on the sidewalk wherever you end your ride.

Edventure and I went on a 45-minute scooter ride on Saturday morning while we were in Nashville. They were fine to operate, although not as smooth or as easy to handle as the Skip scooters that I’d used a few days earlier in DC. We also had an issue when Edventure’s scooter ran out of power about a half-mile before we got back to our hotel.

We’re not sure how the scooters will fare long-term, as cities seem to be ready to regulate them more heavily, and some may ban them entirely. In Nashville in particular, the scooters seem to have come, gone, and returned once already. I’m not sure how long they’ll be available.

On our scooter ride, Edventure and I got a nice view of the Tennessee State Capitol Building on a beautiful Saturday morning in Nashville

12. The Bluebird Cafe Is Hard to Get Into

The Bluebird Cafe is a small music venue of less than 100 seats, which generally features aspiring country artists singing original material from a small stage set in the middle of the cafe. It appears to be an incredibly intimate setting for live music. They also have a modest food menu. It’s located about 6 miles southwest of downtown Nashville.

The Bluebird Cafe is rather famous. It’s recently come into even greater popularity through being regularly featured on the television series, Nashville. Legend has it that none other than the great Garth Brooks was discovered at the Bluebird Cafe, playing a showcase performance there during the summer of 1987 and being signed to Capitol Records the next day. And more recently, as the story goes (as the Love Story goes?), then-8th-grader Taylor Swift was playing the Bluebird Cafe when Big Machine Label Group’s Scott Borchetta saw her play and offered her a record deal.

I didn’t know this history, but Edventure was very hopeful that we could score tickets to a performance at the Bluebird Cafe while we were in Nashville. With some research, we learned that the very limited supply of tickets goes on sale a few days before each performance, online through the Bluebird Cafe website, at 8:00 am. We gave it our best shot to get tickets online, to no avail.

In practice, the Bluebird Cafe’s ticketing system worked like this – if you’re interested in tickets, you go to the website’s ticketing page sometime prior to the 8:00 am start of the sale. At 8:00 am, you’re placed (randomly, they say), into a waiting queue. The website will give you an estimate of your waiting time in the queue. In multiple tries, ours were always in the range of 20-30 minutes. When your place in the queue comes up, you can place an order for tickets if any are still available. Unfortunately for us, tickets were long gone before we reached the front of the queue.

I also tried the Amex Platinum Concierge to see if there was any way they could get us this tough ticket. The Concierge responded within a couple of hours and appeared to make an honest effort, but to no avail.

If you want to go to the Bluebird Cafe, Middle Age Miles wishes you the very best of luck!

13. Some Thoughts on Hotels in Downtown Nashville

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this Trip Report, we stayed at the Hilton Nashville Downtown. If I had it to do all over again, knowing what I’ve learned from our visit, I’d stay at exactly the same place. The location of the Hilton was perfect, and it turns out that location is extremely important in downtown Nashville given that you may be out late at night and you will probably be on foot (and getting around on foot is far easier than any other mode of transportation downtown).

But that said, I thought it might be worth a few words about other hotel options in downtown Nashville:

  • The Omni Nashville – This also has a good location, just 3-4 blocks off of Broadway. We walked through, and it seems very nice. And you might get lucky and catch an Amex Offer for Omni Hotels, to save some money!
  • Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Downtown, Hyatt Place Nashville Downtown, and Hampton Inn & Suites Nashville-Downtown – All three of these more modestly-priced hotels are in good locations within 3-4 blocks of Broadway and seem like reasonable alternatives.
  • Renaissance Nashville – This is also well-located within 3-4 blocks of the main part of Broadway.
  • The Westin Nashville, the JW Marriott Nashville, and the Union Station Hotel Nashville (Marriott’s Autograph Collection) – These 3 Marriott-affiliated properties all seem very nice, but they’re all west of the downtown core. Importantly, they’re not easy walking distance from the main Broadway bars at night after drinking. That said, we have good friends who recently stayed at the Westin and loved it. And we’ll have a separate article on our visit to the Union Station Hotel later in this Trip Report.
  • The Hermitage Hotel – We made a quick visit to this Preferred Hotels & Resorts-affiliated property, which we wrote about in 72 Hours (Almost) of Middle Age Miles and Edventure in Nashville – Part 2. It’s old-school Southern elegance, and it appears to be very nice. But it’s a hard, hilly walk of about a half-mile from the heart of Broadway.
  • Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown – We almost stayed at this hotel. I found a great American Bar Association corporate rate at the Sheraton Grand. But by the time I discovered the rate, the hotel was full on at least one of the weekend nights when we’d be in town. This may have worked out for the best, as it’s near the Hermitage Hotel and also a hard half-mile walk from the Broadway bars.

The ornate lobby of the Union Station Hotel (Marriott’s Autograph Collection), Nashville

14. The Country Music Hall of Fame Is Fine, But the Johnny Cash Museum Is Great

We largely covered this in 72 Hours (Almost) of Middle Age Miles and Edventure in Nashville – Part 2, but it bears repeating here in this “Helpful Things to Know” article. We understand that the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is going to be near the top of most people’s list of things to do in Nashville. And we’re not unhappy that we went there; it was just crowded and not that well designed, and seemed like it could have been much, much better.

But if we had time to do only one country music museum in Nashville, we’d pick the Johnny Cash Museum, hands-down, every time. I won’t repeat all the platitudes from our last article, but suffice to say it was absolutely terrific.

Middle Age Miles with the Man in Black, the great Johnny Cash

And last of all …

15. You Might Get Sick of Hearing Some Otherwise Good Songs

One thing that surprised me about Nashville was the type of live music we heard. I was expecting more music like the Bluebird Cafe advertises – up-and-coming country artists singing original material in hopes of being noticed. But the music scene downtown was quite different – it was all 5-piece bands playing cover songs of mostly well-known pop-rock hits. Every band downtown seemed to have virtually the same set list. It’s fine, and I now understand why it works that way (it’s enthusiastic, the general population knows the songs, and the bachelorettes love it). But it’s repetitive. By Saturday, we had grown very tired of hearing Don’t Stop Believing, Wagon Wheel, Sweet Caroline, and even The Devil Went Down to Georgia (although I never fail to appreciate the great talent of the fiddlers who take on The Devil).

[Brief aside – A rendition of The Devil Went Down to Georgia will often lead to someone showing off their knowledge of the artist by saying something like “Woo! Charlie Daniels Band!” This in turn leads to me to ask a trivia question: Name two songs by The Charlie Daniels Band. That one usually stumps the crowd.]

For the record, the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar up in Printers Alley had a good band with a mostly different playlist, which was very welcome to our ears by Saturday night. Despite its name, the music wasn’t bluesy on the night we went, which we appreciated since we’re not the biggest blues fans.

And finally, bring some cash to the live music bars – regardless of what they play, the people in the bands are working hard to entertain you, and they rely on your tips to pay the bills. Put some cash in the bucket when they pass it around.

This band was working hard to entertain the lively crowd inside Luke Bryan’s Bar

And these guys were bringing it on a Saturday afternoon at Tootsies Orchid Lounge

We hope you’ve enjoyed these helpful tips for a visit to Nashville. Have a great time in Music City!

[Oh, and we think the strongest answer to the Charlie Daniels “second song” question is In America. It’s the Charlie Daniels Band’s second highest-charting song (#11), and it’s also patriotic. (“This lady may have stumbled / But she ain’t never fell / And if the Russians don’t believe that / They can all go straight to hell” and “Cause we’ll all stick together / And you can take that to the bank / That’s the cowboys and the hippies / And the rebels and the yanks.”)]

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