Travel Stories: Nashville - Part One - Discover Nashville's Best-Kept Secrets

Dive into the heart of Nashville, Tennessee through this two-part travel series. Indulge in the city's famous hot chicken, step back in time at the Hermitage, and discover the treasures of the Tennessee State Museum and Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.

Travel Stories: Nashville - Part One - Discover Nashville's Best-Kept Secrets

When you hear the word Nashville, you might think of Music Row, you might think of Broadway, you might think of Country Music. Hell, you might even think of Johnny Cash. All of those things are true, and so much more. Over the past decade, Nashville has seen significant growth and is on track to become one of the largest cities in America. My initial trip to Nashville was in 2017, and I was captivated by its blend of music and history, as well as its deep roots as a strategic location during the American Revolution, its adjacency to the Cumberland River as a major port, and it's effects on the railroad industry. Returning in 2022, I was amazed by its development while still holding onto its rich history. In this edition of Travel Stories, I will combine experiences from both visits to provide recommendations for solo travelers. In fact, I have so many suggestions that I've decided to split this into two parts!


Walk and Wander and the City Tour

As with my time in Charleston, in both times in Nashville, I always start with a brief walk around downtown. On my first visit in 2017, my first stop was the "hop on/hop off" tour. While waiting for the tour to begin, I snapped some photos of the area near Broadway. The city's architecture brings to mind my hometown in New England - filled with stunning brick buildings that exude history and classic charm, now reinvented for contemporary use. This is the view that greets you by the Cumberland River, highlighting the walkability of this vibrant area.

When I visit a new city, I always make it a point to take a "hop on hop off" tour as soon as I can, and my recent trip to Nashville was no different. Nashville is one of the few cities that offers the "Old Town Trolley Tour," which is led by a knowledgeable conductor who knows the ins and outs of the city and can show you all the highlights. These tours may be a bit pricey, but they are definitely worth it as they give you a chance to explore the attractions and learn about the city's history at the same time. You can treat the tour as an attraction in itself or use it as a convenient mode of transportation to get around the city. The trolley stops at various places including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium, Frist Art Museum, the Farmers Market, and Centennial Park. It's truly a great way to get around if you're a first time visitor, or just want to learn more about the city from a local.

The Tennessee State Museum

This museum, situated next to the Nashville Farmers Market and the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, reopened in 2021 with a stunning and expansive new building. With two floors, the majority of exhibits can be found on the second floor. Serving as a natural history museum, an art museum, and a history museum, it showcases the state's journey from prehistoric times to Native American settlements, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and recent history. I was struck by the "Tennessee Time Tunnel," which is a fascinating tool that connects its art collections with various artifacts from Tennessee's history. Additionally, there are temporary galleries like in other history museums. The best part? It's completely free for both locals and tourists, making it an incredibly generous experience. Whether you have a half day or a full day to spare, visiting this museum is a fantastic way to spend your time. It's also the perfect complement to the next stop.

Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

Sitting beside the Tennessee State Museum is a row of monuments made of stone, with the state capitol building perched on a hill in the background, which bears a striking resemblance to the Mall at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. It's a collection of monuments and structures that delve into Tennessee's history, highlighting its past battles and conflicts. Walking through this area felt like an oasis, it was both solemn and serene as it offers a profound insight into the state's history and the surrounding region. It's an ideal spot for a leisurely walk or a bike ride, with bike rental stations conveniently located nearby during my visit. Additionally, there are numerous restaurants surrounding the mall, perfect for grabbing a bite to eat.

The Hermitage

Andrew Jackson is one of the most controversial presidents in American history, and for good reason. I highly recommend this book from one of my old history professors at Central Connecticut State University if you want to learn about Andrew Jackson, both the good and bad. I studied history in college (can you tell?), and I've always believed that history should not be sanitized. The phrase "sunlight is the best disinfectant" truly applies here. History is meant to make us uncomfortable, to embarrass us in some ways, but it's also meant to teach us and show us how far we've come. The Hermitage is refreshingly honest about its history and what the site used to be - a plantation acquired by Andrew Jackson for the purpose of cotton production using enslaved men and women. Now, you might wonder why anyone would want to visit such a place. Well, by visiting, you'll get a glimpse into the lives of both the Jackson family and the enslaved people. The property itself is stunning, featuring a grand mansion and a fully functional farm that still operates today. There's an abundance of history within those walls, even though what remains today is just a small part of the original property. The house and the property have been preserved remarkably well. If you decide to visit, I highly recommend taking a tour - it's truly worth it. Additionally, they offer wine tastings and have a restaurant on site.

The Food!

OK, you've done a lot of sightseeing so far, so what about the food?! If you've heard of "hot chicken", it's a staple in Nashville, and one of the better "introductory places" is Hattie B's, and it's quite good. As I pointed out in my review on Raising Cane's, the seasoning should be enough where you don't need to dip the chicken but it also shouldn't overpower either. If you want to learn more about hot chicken and the other establishments that serve it, Eater has a fantastic guide. Nashville's culinary scene has expanded alongside its growth, offering an array of delectable options. Situated near Broadway, the Assembly Food Hall stands out as a must-visit destination, boasting numerous bars, eateries, and even a few rooftop bars. In my long post on food, I pointed out that food halls should be your go-to option when traveling on your own. The menu is diverse, featuring mouthwatering tacos, juicy burgers, and of course, the iconic hot chicken. Prince's is the go-to spot for this fiery delicacy, offering a range of heat levels to suit every palate. During my visit in 2022, I vividly remember the heat options ranging from mild to Carolina Reaper, which is a notch hotter than the infamous Ghost Pepper. Back in 2013, I once dared to try the boneless wings infused with ghost pepper, and let me tell you, when a plate comes with a disclaimer, you know you're in for an intense experience. The burn was real, my friends. However, I eventually settled for the habanero heat chicken in the form of a refreshing salad. Despite the valiant efforts of the honey mustard dressing, the heat proved unbeatable. Nevertheless, the food hall served its purpose impeccably, providing a welcome respite for solo travelers seeking a break from the bustling Broadway scene. Whether you're just starting your night or winding down after a memorable evening on Broadway, the Assembly Food Hall is a fantastic stop to satisfy your cravings and indulge in Nashville's vibrant culinary offerings.

Isn't Nashville the home of the Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman Auditorium, and country music? It sure is, and I will discuss that....next time.