It would be difficult to put Nashville on the list of must see places if you didn’t have some kind of appreciation for music. Dubbed the “music city,” and named one of Traveller U.K.’s “cool places,” Tennessee’s capital city is home to legendary venues, publishing houses, gorgeous hotels, vibrant nightlife, and sprawling college campuses; like Vanderbilt and Belmont University. Founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and named for Francis Nash (the Revolutionary War hero), the city grew exponentially during the 1970’s, and then again in the 90’s, when urban renewal became the city’s priority, and a handful of urban landmarks were constructed and revamped.
Among the monuments the city chose to renovate was the Country Music Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the legends of twang. The first members; Hank Williams, Fred Rose, and Jimmie Rodgers were inducted in 1961. Since, the country music’s trade created the accolade to recognize “significant contributions to the advancement of country music by individuals,” and has ranked among them the likes of Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash. Nashville’s downtown area features also an enormous assortment of entertainment, dining, and architectural attractions alongside its love of country music and musicians.
Metonymic with the industry it homes, it is no wonder that the city’s most popular tourist diversions involve the music scene. The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1947 when the show moved on down the road to the Grand Ole Opry House, where it has since played several times a week, except for the winter run, (a limited edition, if you will): at the Ryman. If the Opry is what interests you, the best stay in Nashville is the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center (www.marriott.com). Less than ten miles from the airport and a ten-minute walk from the Opry itself, the accommodations and amenities qualify for an adventure in themselves while exploring Nashville.
A world away from the usual stuccoed hotels and motels along the usual strip of tourist trap attractions, the Gaylord Opryland is a step back in time. Boasting both indoor and outdoor pools, nine acres of indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls, an on-site spa, golf course and salon, there is no shortage of luxury to be found. 700,000 square feet of event space guarantee that the resort can host your most elegant, unforgettable meeting, conference, reunion, or reception without blinking an eye. Add to that the superior rooming, dining, and fitness opportunities on-site, and you might not actually ever leave the Opryland’s grounds.
Why would you, when you can take a boat tour on the indoor river, schedule a massage at the spa, or let the kids decide which one of the three pools to jump into first. The fitness center features your typical free weights and cardio equipment, just in case you’ve indulged in one too many Southern BBQ experiences, but also boasts 3,500 square feet of circuit training and a full body spa indulgence for your cool down. The choreographed show the Delta Fountain puts on is nothing short of spectacular, a feat of engineering that melds the beauty of light, water, and of course: music.
SummerFest featuring Music, Magic & Memories
Through September 3rd, the Gaylord Opryland Resort features SummerFest, an array of kid-friendly activities and attractions geared toward the property’s young guests. There are free events like the Hootenanny Hoedown (where DJ Tyrus gets you movin’and groovin’ with line dancing, limbo and kids karaoke), summer fountain shows (choreographed water, lights and music), a outdoor pool party complete with a summer playlist and the Learning Log (a giant fallen tree, hollowed out and made safe for exploration - crawl inside for a close-up look at the learning terrariums). An array of activities for a fee range from the Haunted History Tour (a PG-rated 40-minute narrated tour of the region’s spookiest tales), Junior Chefs Camp and “Music, Magic & Memories,” Live Atrium Show showcasing music, water, lights and extraordinary performers unite in a heart-pounding extravaganza. Our kids had an absolute ball becoming Tennessee trivia insiders on an interactive adventure exploring the resort to discover all the surprising hidden fun facts to turn in their completed booklets for a special prize.
If the kids somehow grow tired of the river tours, pools, and fountain show, look no further for city history than Centennial Park’s Parthenon. The pinnacle of architecture in the ancient world, Nashville’s version is a gorgeous, full-scale replica, complete with the 42-foot statue of Athena, built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Expo.
Leaving Athena’s home base, travel to Hermitage: the home of America’s advocate for the common man, and the 7th President of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Built solidly on 1,120 acres of farmland, the mansion features tours led by costumed docents, seasonal walking tours through the estate’s state of the art museum, and horse-drawn wagon tours. Our young history buffs were enthralled by “The Duel - Art of the Southern Gentlemen,”a 30-minute new visitor experience and actual dueling demonstration by Hermitage’s historical re-enactors.
Stepping back even further into the past, visit the Italian-style villa and residence of Tennessee’s own steel magnolia: Adelicia Acklen. Constructed in 1853, Acklen’s estate is drenched in history, from the ornate Victorian furnishings, to the history behind the Union’s headquarters during the Civil War.
Cruise through time with the Delta Riverboat Company on a guided tour of the Gaylord Opryland’s 4.5 acre indoor garden. Build up an appetite along the way and indulge in The Old Hickory Steakhouse, and see your fill of water attractions, working both with and against gravity. Three waterfalls, an 85-foot fountain, and a ride through Nashville’s most beautiful resort await.
Water not really your pace? Trade in for a unique combination of music and transportation with the Old Town Trolley Tour. A 1.5 hour guided roll through the streets of the Music City shows you straight to the heart of Fort Nashborough, the Cumberland’s fur trade, and each musicians heart wrenching dream played out from the steps of the bus to the streets of Broadway. A real “transportainment” delight.
From Ryland Auditorium to the steps of the Grand Ole Opry, tour music history and get the backstage story of each musician to walk the stage. Cross paths with the nation’s own country music superstars, and see just what happens behind the scenes of the show that made their names!
The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar
Our kids had a ridiculous amount of fun (and consumed an insane amount of chocolate and other sugary confections) during a hands-on chocolate class and dessert sampling where we all had an opportunity to make our very own version of the Goo Goo Cluster. The world’s first ever combination candy bar as imagined by the Standard Candy Company was created right here in Nashville in 1912. The original version is a roundish mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and rich milk chocolate. Our kids’ iterations also included oreos, pretzels, sprinkles and pecans and were a gooey-chocolate-y delight the effects of which lasted well into the evening and made for one of our most memorable activities while visiting Music City, USA. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar is located 116 3rd Ave. S in downtown Nashville (googoo.com).
Woolworth on 5th
Calling itself a "welcome table of southern roots and rhythms,” the building this reinvented restaurant resides was originally built in the 1890s and opened for business as one of the country’s first iconic “five and dime” stores in 1913. Today, Woolworth on 5th (woolworthon5th.com) is a registered historic site which honors the history of space with an upbeat atmosphere with food, music and dancing for all. The menu here explores the roots and history of Southern culinary arts, with ingredients and techniques that can be traced all over the globe - and the beverage program is inspired by the building’s previous life as a diner, where guests can order fro a menu of accessible, soda fountain-inspired cocktails, wine and beer. The basement level is home to the “New Era Ballroom,” which hosts a variety of regular music and performances - with emphasis on the sounds of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.