10 Unique Things to Do in Downtown Nashville

by Paul Joseph  |  Published June 26, 2023

Home to a huge variety of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops – all set to around-the-clock live music – downtown Nashville is truly the district that never sleeps.

Military attire on display at the Tennessee State Museum (Photo: Lester Snapwell via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

There’s no escaping what binds Nashville’s bustling downtown neighbourhood together and that’s its deeply entrenched music culture. But while its honky-tonk bars and historic buildings reimagined into music attractions dominate the entertainment scene, there’s also plenty more to enjoy in this perpetually buzzing district. We’ve picked out 12 of the best things to see and do in downtown Nashville below.

Explore a top-class museum

Visitors can immerse themselves in 13,000 years of regional art and history at the Tennessee State Museum. Through a huge assortment of artefacts, films and interactive displays, the museum tells the story of the state’s evolution from its geological beginnings to its emergence as a major industrial power and through to its modern incarnation at the vanguard of contemporary art, culture and commerce. Artworks, furniture, textiles, and photographs produced by Tennesseans are all on display, along with an incredible collection of Civil War artefacts including uniforms, battle flags and weapons. And if that’s not enough o tempt you, the museum is completely free to enter.

1000 Rosa L Parks Boulevard / Tues-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Mon

Immerse yourself in Nashville’s world-famous music scene

There are few places on earth with quite the musical heritage as the downtown district known simply as Music Row. Home to record label offices, radio stations, and recording studios, the district, most of which is spread over 16th and 17th Avenues, is at the beating heart of the city’s world-renowned country music industry and draws huge numbers of music lovers from across the world who see their visit as akin to a religious pilgrimage. One of the most methodical – and fun – ways of exploring the area is on an organised group tour, during which your entertaining guide will deliver an endless stream of facts and anecdotes about its unrivalled history.

As well as the iconic studios and offices where so many deals were struck and music made, Music Row is also home to one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American music. First opened in 1964, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum chronicles the  riveting story of country music through interactive exhibits – including recordings, films, instruments, photo archives and listening stations – that celebrate those who have helped shape the genre down the years. Exhibit highlights include instruments once belonging to country music legends Mother Maybelle and Earl Scruggs.

222 Rep. John Lewis Way South / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm

Guitars on show at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (Photo: Lingostal via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit one of America’s oldest working Capitol buildings

One of the oldest working capitols in the United States, the Tennessee State Capitol is well worth a visit while in downtown Nashville. Built in 1855, the building was used as a federal fortress during the American Civil War, during which it suffered significant damage and then general deterioration in the years after. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that efforts were made to return the Capitol to its former glory, with all of the limestone columns, pediments and parapets replaced with reproductions of the originals. Today it welcomes visitors for daily guided and self-guided tours.

600 Dr. M.L.K. Jr Boulevard / Mon-Fri 9am-4pm Closed Sat-Sun

The Tennessee State Capitol set against a clear blue Nashville sky (Photo: Gary Todd via Flickr / CC0 1.0)

Take in some performing arts

Among Nashville’s most acclaimed cultural institutions, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center is the home of Broadway, the performing arts, and arts education in the city. The center manages four performance venues – Andrew Jackson Hall, Andrew Johnson Theater, James K. Polk Theater, and the War Memorial Auditorium – each playing host to a packed annual programme of live shows and performances catering to every age and taste. Tickets can be purchased from the box office either online, by phone, or in person at the venue.

Catch a baseball game

As in almost every city across America, baseball is a seriously big deal in Nashville. And at the heart of the city’s baseball are the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, who play their home games at First Horizon Park in the downtown district of Germantown. The state-of-the-art arena offers visitors the chance to experience that most American of recreational activities – attending a ball game – with tickets available to the public for most matches. Expect plenty of great sporting action, along with lashings of fast-food favourites including fries, chilli cheese dogs, boiled peanuts and beer.

19 Jr Gilliam Way

A baseball match in action at First Horizon Park (Photo: Shane Raynor via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Soak up the atmosphere at a local market

There are few better ways to get under the skin of a city than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a public market. Held daily throughout the year, the historic Nashville Farmers Market can trace its roots back to the 1800s and continues to do a roaring trade to this day. Stretching along Rosa Parks Boulevard adjacent to the Bicentennial State Park Mall, the vast market hosts farmers, artisans and other merchants selling fresh produce and a wide range of local goods, and there are also sit-down eateries, a weekend flea market and various special events.

1000 Rosa L Parks Boulevard / Mon-Sun 8am-6pm

Embark on a kayak river tour 

One of the most beloved natural features in Nashville, the Cumberland River winds its way through the middle of the city presenting many exciting outdoor activities. This kayak river tour in downtown Nashville starts on the banks of the river, where you’ll be given a quick tutorial before being invited to don your gear and board your kayak. Over the next hour, you’ll paddle miles along the extensive waterway, taking in the incredible skyline views and looking out for local wildlife such as Turtles and Great Blue Herons that dot the riverbank. The tour price includes your kayak rental, paddle and life jacket.

Book at GetYourGuide

A kayaker paddles down the Cumberland River (Photo: River Queen Voyages / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Get a taste of the local food scene

Nashville has a vibrant culinary scene and visitors can discover it for themselves during a walking food tour. Over the course of three hours, you’ll be introduced to local Nashville fare and Southern favourites as you explore downtown and beyond in the company of an expert guide. Along the way, there’ll be opportunities to try local dishes and delicacies such as hot chicken, BBQ, beer, and more at local restaurants while your guide regales you with stories about the city’s long history.

Book at Viator

Admire downtown from the sky

The bright lights of downtown Nashville are a sight to behold from any vantage point, but there are few views to match those afforded on a helicopter tour high above the city. The 30-minute journey in a climate-controlled cabin with leather seats invites you to feast your eyes on downtown’s many attractions including the Parthenon at Centennial Park, the state capitol building, and the AT&T building, as well as the broader Nashville skyline and hills of Tennessee. As you soar through the sky, you’ll get to listen as your pilot-guide provides expert narration about the sights below. You can also upgrade your experience with a VIP champagne option.

Book at GetYourGuide

A helicopter soars above the Nashville skyline (Photo: RJH, LLC / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Escape the city at a picturesque urban park

Perched along the bank of the Cumberland River, Riverfront Park serves as the ideal antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The large urban park plays host to a busy programme of open-air concerts and events and is also a popular spot to kick back and take in the gorgeous views of the river – especially in the fall when the weather cools down. A replica of the city’s first settlement, Fort Nashborough, stands in the park’s Bicenennial Park and there’s also an amphitheatre, plus several pieces of unique public art on display, including the striking Ghost Ballet on the east bank of the river.

100 1st Avenue North / Mon-Sun 6am-11pm

Take a stroll around a charming neighbourhood

In the northwest reaches of downtown is Germantown, perhaps the city’s most famous neighbourhood. Named after the European immigrants who first settled here in the mid-19th century, the historic district is dotted with chic restaurants housed in restored Victorian buildings, cosy cafes lining brick sidewalks, and former warehouses containing elegant boutiques – not to mention some of the city’s finest restaurants. In short, Germantown positively oozes character and charm and is a must-visit for all Nashville visitors.

Downtown Nashville is relatively walkable, but there are also some fun alternative options for getting around the district and beyond, including golf cart tours and carriage rides.