By Pam Windsor on January 20, 2022 in Travel
While barhopping along Lower Broadway offers Nashville visitors a nice taste of live music and country music history, the city has much more to offer when it comes to exciting musical attractions. Read on to discover Nashville’s top musical hot spots — both popular and lesser-known ones — and find tips for visiting plus fun historical facts.
Must-Visit Nashville Musical Attractions
Ready to tour some of Nashville’s most famous musical stops? Here are a few you won’t want to miss.
Lower Broadway/Honky Tonk Highway
If you’re ready to take a walk and hear great music, head down to Lower Broadway. This five-block stretch serves as the pulse of downtown Nashville. It’s often called Honky Tonk Highway or Honky Tonk Row because of dozens of honky tonks (bars with live music) located on both sides of the street. This area is a must-see, even if only for a short stroll, to get a feel for why people call Nashville Music City. It’s just as busy during the day as at night.
Seven days a week, live music starts at about 10:30 a.m. and goes until the early morning hours of the following day. Take time to stop by Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Legends Corner, or Robert’s Western World. Also stop at one of the many clubs owned or partially owned by major country artists, such as Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Jason Aldean’s Kitchen & Rooftop Bar, and more. You’ll find talented singers and performers in every venue playing a variety of music. Feel free to move from one place to the next. Music venues don’t charge cover fees in downtown Nashville, but bands play for tips, so bring cash to tip them. From Lower Broadway, it’s an easy walk to many of Nashville’s famous attractions.
The Ryman Auditorium
You’ve likely heard of The Ryman. Built in 1892, it’s known as the “Mother Church of Country Music” because of the many great artists who got their start there when it was home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and even Elvis performed on its iconic stage. The Ryman closed in 1974 when the Grand Ole Opry moved to its current location. The city almost lost this majestic historic landmark because National Life, the owner at the time, slated it for demolition. However, a handful of preservationists fought to save the Ryman, and it sat vacant for the next two decades. Then, in the early 1990s, singer Emmylou Harris recorded a live album inside the abandoned venue. Listeners were so struck by its incredible acoustics that they launched a campaign to save it. It reopened in 1994 and remains a popular music venue today with live shows year-round. It’s open daily for tours.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop
Not far from the Ryman, you’ll see the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. This store first opened its doors in 1947 a few blocks away, before moving to its current location. Ernest Tubb was one of the most influential performers in country music with a career that spanned more than 50 years. He was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He started something called the Midnite Jamboree and when the shows at the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman would end, he would bring some of those same artists to a small stage inside his store to perform. The Midnite Jamboree continues today at a different time and location. The store, however, remains open for business, and it’s full of music, books, souvenirs, and memorabilia.
Johnny Cash Museum
After you leave the shop, head over to the Johnny Cash Museum. Opened by one of Johnny Cash’s close friends, this museum has the greatest collection of Cash memorabilia in the world. The displays reflect many aspects of The Man in Black’s life from his early days in the Air Force to his famous prison performances to his extensive musical legacy. He acted in many films and TV shows, and a small theater in the museum continuously loops many of his performances. The gift shop sells souvenirs and rare collectibles.
On the second floor, a small museum celebrates Patsy Cline. It has a separate admission and entrance and includes family items, offering a glimpse into the personal and private side of the late singer.
Walk of Fame Park
From the Johnny Cash Museum, it’s two blocks to Nashville’s own Walk of Fame Park. Look down as you walk along the sidewalk, and you’ll see stars etched in the cement honoring singers, songwriters, musicians, and industry professionals who’ve made their mark on Music City. It’s a long list with famous names like Dolly Parton, Elvis, Garth Brooks, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson, and Reba McEntire. The Walk of Fame induction ceremonies are open to the public.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Once you’re finished at the Walk of Fame Park, cross the street and you’ll arrive at the front entrance to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum, one of Nashville’s most-visited downtown attractions, boasts the world’s largest archive of country music artifacts. Here, you’ll find permanent and rotating exhibits with memorabilia, stage costumes, musical instruments, and more, highlighting some of the most successful stars in country music, both past and present. The round Hall of Fame Rotunda bears plaques displaying the names of Hall of Fame members. Gift stores in the lobby offer a large collection of clothing, souvenirs, books, and music.
Hatch Show Print
In the same building, check out Hatch Show Print. Opened in Nashville in 1879, it’s one of America’s oldest working letterpress printshops. It remains in operation today, still using some of the original turn-of-the-century technology that printed concert posters for artists like Hank Williams, Elvis, and Bob Dylan. Schedule a tour to see the operation up close and make a poster of your own.
RCA Studio B
From downtown, it’s just a 15-minute ride (depending on traffic) to Historic RCA Studio B. Located on Nashville’s famous Music Row, this world-renowned studio is known as the Home of 1,000 Hits. Within these walls, Dolly Parton recorded “Jolene,” Roy Orbison recorded “Only the Lonely,” and Elvis recorded as many as 250 songs. It’s the only music studio opened for tours. To take one, buy a ticket to the Country Music Hall of Fame, then purchase a companion ticket for Studio B. The ticket includes the bus ride from the Country Music Hall of Fame to Music Row, then back again. If you’re a fan of music and music history, you’ll remember and appreciate this experience for years to come.
Musicians Hall of Fame
We’ve mentioned the Country Music Hall of Fame, which honors some of country music’s biggest artists, but Nashville is also home to the Musicians Hall of Fame. This museum pays tribute to musicians from all genres who played on some of the greatest recordings of all time. It also showcases the cities that played important roles in the history of American music such as Nashville, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Atlanta, and Detroit (aka Motown). The interactive GRAMMY Museum Gallery explains the history of the GRAMMY Awards and how a GRAMMY is made.
The Grand Ole Opry
One of the most iconic places you can visit in Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry. Depending on the day of the week, you can do that by taking a tour, seeing a show, or both. The Grand Ole Opry is “the show that made country music famous,” and it has broadcast live on the radio every Saturday night for 96 years. Today, it also has live shows on Friday nights, and often Tuesday nights, as well. Each show runs for about two hours and features eight to 10 artists ranging from legendary performers to up-and-coming artists. The Opry also offers a variety of tours. You can take one during the day, just before a show, or stay after a performance for a post-show tour.
Carter Vintage Guitars
If you’re a true music fan, you may also be a performer. If you want to buy an instrument while you’re in Nashville, head to Carter Vintage Guitars within walking distance of Lower Broadway. Allow yourself plenty of time. The number of instruments here will make your head spin. Although the name says guitars, the store sells banjos, mandolins, bass guitars, and other instruments. Everyone who works at Carter Vintage is a music professional who can answer any questions you may have.
Day Trips from Nashville
Once you’ve enjoyed much of what Nashville has to offer, consider taking a day trip to one of the state’s other major attractions.
If you’re an Elvis fan and want to visit Graceland, it’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive west of Nashville. The mansion Elvis once called home is located on a massive estate that now serves as an entertainment complex. Pick from a variety of tours tailored to what you want to see. Walk through his home and see the living room, kitchen, and famous Jungle Room. Outside, a meditation garden, trophy building, racquetball building, and other sights give a glimpse into the personal life of the man known as the King of Rock and Roll. Some of the tour options beyond the mansion include an array of Elvis museums highlighting different aspects of his career. An Automobile Museum houses some of his many cars, and you can walk onto his luxury plane: the Lisa Marie.
Dollywood is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive east of Nashville. Located in the Smoky Mountains, in Pigeon Forge, this 150-acre amusement park created by Dolly Parton is the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in the state. It offers roller coasters, water rides, family adventures, seasonal festivals, craft demonstrations, and more. Watch live musical performances and tour the museum, called Chasing Rainbows, that tells Dolly Parton’s rags to riches journey. Don’t miss the “coat of many colors,” which she wrote about in one of her signature songs. It helps tell the story of the little girl who grew up poor in nearby Sevierville, but had a gift for music, a dream, and a family who encouraged her.
Music Feeds the Soul
With so many amazing musical attractions in Tennessee, you’ll leave richer after you visit. Map out your trip to include as many stops as you can. Most people who visit Tennessee’s musical attractions come back. Anything you don’t see on your first trip, you can save for next time.