Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to a day of the best Nashville attractions. Nashville is famous for lots of things, like big hair, gee-tars, and the spiciest chicken in the South. But though all of those things are awesome, Nashville has even more to offer.
That’s why I invite you to join me for a day visiting what I think are some of the best Nashville attractions. We’re going to check out the capitol building, visit an amazing art museum, and end the evening at the best restaurant in the city. Come along now! Time and Nashville wait for no Internet Strangers.
Best Nashville Attractions
Where to Stay?
Nashville hotels are much more expensive than I was expecting. But I suppose that’s not so surprising given how popular the best Nashville attractions are with tourists. It was a little tricky for me to find a hotel that was in a good location and affordable. That’s why I was grateful to the Fairlane Hotel for showing me such a good time.
The location could not have been better, as it was within walking distance of pretty much everything you would want to see in Downtown Nashville. And the rooms were gorgeous, but the price didn’t leave me broker than a hound dog crying in the rain over your cheatin’ heart.
If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore great deals on almost 1000 other hotels in Nashville, click here. This search engine will help you find the most affordable and convenient hotel during your time exploring the best Nashville attractions.
Best Nashville Attractions
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Best Nashville Attractions
Morning: Tennessee State Capitol
Not only is Nashville one of the coolest and most popular places in Tennessee, it’s also the state capital. I’m so used to lesser-known cities like Albany, Springfield, Harrisburg, and Boston being the state capitals, that it threw me for a loop that Nashville could be Tennessee’s seat of government.
But there are several reasons that the Tennessee State Capitol is one of Nashville’s best attractions. First of all, it’s free. Second of all, there are docent tours of the capitol building and those are free too. Third of all, it’s very pretty. And fourth of all, it’s easy to walk to from Downtown Nashville.
I think that’s enough reasons! Let’s grab breakfast and then we’ll be off.
24 Hour Treat: Bagelshop
I’m from New York City, so you’d think I wouldn’t want to get a bagel in Nashville, but you’d be wrong. I get homesick sometimes on the road, and I always like to know where I can get a good bagel. (My favorite bagels are in Fargo, North Dakota, not NYC anyway.)
Bagelshop was convenient because it’s located inside the Fairlane Hotel where I was staying. The bagels were also made fresh every day and chewy on the outside, soft on the inside like a bagel should be. Are they New York bagels? No, but they are yummy Tennessee bagels, and they will start your day of the best Nashville attractions off right.
Now that we’re all nice and fed, it’s time for…
Three Fun Facts: Tennessee State Capitol
1) Are there any presidents from Tennessee?
You’re in luck! There are three presidents from the Volunteer State. So there are three US presidents from Tennessee, and you can see their portraits in the state house. All three portraits are hanging in my photo that you can see above.
The most famous president from TN was Andrew Jackson, but there was also President James Polk and President Johnson. (That’s President Andrew Johnson, not LBJ, who would slap your face, ghost-style, if you suggested he was not from Texas.)
Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson had one thing in common, which is that they both came from humble beginnings. However, Andrew Jackson married one of the daughters of one of the founders of Nashville and was a prominent general, whereas Johnson wasn’t actually elected president.
AJ just became president when Lincoln was assassinated and then became the first president to be impeached because he was awful and everyone hated him. Actually, Jackson was a fairly terrible person too, in his own right. Let’s just say that Polk was the best president from Tennessee and call it a day!
2) What’s the coolest part of the capitol building?
I’m going to give you a few choices! I was extremely fond of this gorgeous curving staircase in the library. No, I don’t have any cool stories about it, but isn’t it charming?
There’s also this portrait of famous people from Tennessee, including David Crockett, who apparently really loathed being called Davey, Sergeant York, a WWI hero famous for being played by Gary Cooper (super dooper!), and Ida B. Wells, a civil rights activist and journalist. I’m afraid I don’t know the names of everyone in the painting, especially the horse.
3) Do you need to book a tour to see the capitol?
Absolutely not! You don’t even need to take the free tour to see the capitol, but please do take it if you can because the tour is so interesting. The tours leave from the docent desk every hour, so just show up. But if there’s no tour that day, you can always explore on your own.
I was joined by a lovely couple who were trying to visit every state capitol building. I gathered that Nashville was a little more exciting than some other state capitals like Pierre or Montpelier.
Don’t forget to say hello to James K. Polk as you exit the capitol grounds! He and his wife are buried right there. I don’t think he’ll answer back, but it’s the thought that counts.
Best Nashville Attractions
Afternoon: Frist Art Museum
The Frist Art Museum is relatively young, as I learned it was only founded in 2001. But Nashville might have prioritized museums dedicated to more local topics like Tennessee history, country music, and the Goo Goo Cluster first.
Even though the Frist isn’t old, it still has many gorgeous objects for your perusal. I promise we’ll get to that soon. But first–lunch!
24 Hour Treat: Frothy Monkey
There’s usually a line for Frothy Monkey, an adorbs cafe in Nashville, but it is worth the wait! Get one of their specialty coffee drinks like the Hummingbird, made with espresso with pecans, banana, and cinnamon. It did taste exactly like the sort of thing a highly discerning monkey would enjoy.
For lunch, I select the cheesy grits bowl with feta, prosciutto, arugula, and tomato jam. It was like one of those quinoa bowls you sometimes see, only made Southern-style with grits. It was also soothing on the stomach if you were hungover, which I may or may not have been.
And now that our tummies are full, it’s time to feed our minds with…
Three Fun Facts: Frist Art Museum
1) What Was the Prettiest Thing At the Frist?
When I was there, it was this elegant furniture designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Frist was actually offering a free docent tour of the exhibit, so I got to learn everything I wanted to know about Mackintosh and more! That’s what I call value!
Our docent said that Mackintosh was inspired by shapes from nature, like flowers, which were often used in a way that was almost sexual. Bomp chicka wah wah! I’m not sure I think that chair in my photo above looks super sexual. It looks very pretty but uncomfortable to sit in, like a chair that Daisy from The Great Gatsby might want to own. But if that’s what floats your boat, more power to you!
2) What was the most powerful object at the Frist?
I would say these pieces by Kara Walker, an artist who often uses silhouettes to portray moments from Black American history. Her work always looks like drawings from fairytales to me, but the gruesome kind from the original Grimm’s fairytales. And of course, unlike those stories, her images of violence are taken from real life.
These works above show the myth of “Leda and the Swan”, in which Zeus turns into a swan so he can rape a young woman. Including a Black woman in the story of a myth about woman who is violated just underlines how sexual violence in the United States has so often had a racist component.
3) Does the Frist Have a Permanent Collection?
It does not! At least, not as of this writing. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that the Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Kara Walker shows won’t be there when you go. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing special and permanent about the Frist. Just take a look at that building!
The Frist is located in a historic former Post Office. You can tell just from looking at my photo that the style is Art Deco, just like the Chrysler Building even if it’s not as shiny at the Chrysler.
When you go visit the Frist, spend some time wandering around the museum so you can appreciate its unique Art Deco features. You can also discover some of the smaller exhibitions this way, like the work of Bethany Collins, who uses words to make her pictures. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so why not!
As you leave this historic building, keep an eye out for any other historic markers. Remember, if you see a James K. Polk sign, you’re probably in Nashville.
Best Nashville Attractions
Evening: Dinner at The Catbird Seat
I’ve taken you through two of the best Nashville attractions, but my absolute favorite attraction is my favorite restaurant in Nashville, The Catbird Seat. The Catbird Seat has no choices, just one superlative tasting menu served every night. So if you’re a picky eater, this is not the restaurant for you.
But if you love amazing comestibles, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in the catbird seat at this restaurant. (Oh! That must be where they got the idea for the name!) Make reservations as far in advance as you can.
Much like with the Frist, I can guarantee that most of what you see on this blog won’t actually be on the menu when you go to The Catbird Seat, but it will be just as delicious.
If I had to describe the restaurant’s vibe in one phrase, it would be “cutting-edge Southern”. So our amuse-bouches, which you can see in my top photo were barbecued eggplant over grits, spicy watermelon with pistachio, and shishito peppers stuffed with beef. A lot of Southern classics but done in funky ways.
Next there was the short rib and sunchoke miso lettuce wrap. Nothing says the South like ribs! But my grandpappy never had them Korean barbecue-style like this. (I bet he would have enjoyed it as much as I did, too.)
We’ve got about fifteen more courses to go, so buckle up! Here’s the toro tuna with fermented tomato and bronze fennel. One thing I like about this restaurant is that the chefs are not shy about telling you how to eat the bites. This one you just eat in one bite and then you sip the vinegar afterwards, so it was like the fatty tuna was being contrasted with the vinegar.
They were both good, but the succulent fish was ever so slightly more delicious in my eyes than the vinegar.
Here we have a seasonal cucumber, cantaloupe, and peppercorns and honestly these were the most beautiful melons I’ve ever seen. At The Catbird Seat, you watch the chefs prepare all the food, and I really just wanted to watch them scoop those melons all day.
This next course did taste quite a bit better than it looks. It was fresh heirloom beans done with something called “leather britches”, which the chef told me were not in fact anyone’s old garment. “Leather britches” in the cooking world are the dried preserved beans from last year.
As if that weren’t enough, then it was served with a gooseberry tea on top, which really did make the bean flavor very powerful–just beans on beans on beans.
This flavor explosion was grilled corn with sheep milk cheese and chilies. We’re getting so much summer produce in this meal. I hope it’s blowing your mind like it did mind. (Also in my notes, I wrote down that this was sheet milk cheese, and I would definitely eat that too.)
And the corn keeps on rolling with corn chawanmushi with a country ham dashi broth and truffles on top. Chawanmushi is a classic Japanese savory egg custard, so this dish was Southern-Japanese fusion at its finest. The ham added that kind of rich saltiness that you expect from a dashi broth, and then the truffles on top were just the final nail of decadence in the coffin. But in a good way. A delicious coffin.
Our next course was the closest thing to a meat course on the menu. But The Catbird Seat isn’t a vegetarian restaurant! This is just how good the seasonal vegetables were when I visited. You didn’t miss the meat at all.
Anyway, this dish was one perfect scallop with peppers and a salsa verde. I’m not used to seeing scallops served in a dish with a little heat in it, so I found this terribly refreshing.
And then came the tomatoes. So many tomatoes. More than you could possibly believe. In fact, on the menu it says PREPARE TO BE TOMATOED. (It didn’t really say that. But it did say just Tomatoes, which is almost as nuts.)
First was a beefsteak tomato that was prepared in such a way that it tasted almost like a real steak.
Next there was a decadent flatbread with cheese and tomato jam. This was kind of like grilled cheese and tomato soup stuffed into one sandwich.
Like the color yellow? How about these citrine tomatoes doused in a luscious crab sauce?
And to close out Tomato-palooza, an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka dot one bite tomato tart.
We started gently transitioning into the dessert portion of the meal with this lychee-tomato salad. A little savory, a little sweet, a lotta tomato.
And one last savory-sweet course: a yeast doughnut with foie gras and berries. Man, if Krispy Kreme would put a foie gras doughnut on the menu, I’d just love them even more. But it wouldn’t taste anything like this good.
And now we have to make do with only three desserts. Remember that cantaloupe we had in the salad at the beginning of this meal? We get it again with sake and pickled elderflower. I don’t know what magic those chefs were working with the sake, but this just tasted purely of cantaloupe. Like Plato dreaming of a cantaloupe in a cave somewhere.
Fun fact! I learned while writing this blogpost that I don’t really know how to spell cantaloupe. Who knew there were two As?
It’s not summer without stone fruit, so we need to eat plum with some triple cream cheese turned into a light Japanese cheesecake and served with green yuzu. I know this meal had about a grillion courses, but even the desserts were light enough that I didn’t feel disgusting at the end.
And finally we have the mignardises, which are like the dessert version of the amuse bouche. At the top is a passionfruit pate de fruit, and then a mini lemon meringue pie, and finally a miniature moon pie. A moon pie is a true Southern classic–graham cookies and marshmallows dipped in chocolate.
If the only thing I got at the restaurant was a fancy mini moon pie, that would almost be enough to please me. So I hope you can see why I call The Catbird Seat one of the best Nashville attractions.
Best Nashville Attractions
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to the best Nashville attractions, if you are coming from somewhere else on the southern East Coast in the United States. You can drive here easily from Louisville, Atlanta, or other parts of Tennessee.
However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber and Lyft are widely available in Nashville. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.
By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in Nashville! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was the easiest way to get to the best Nashville attractions. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)
By Bus: I have definitely used the Greyhound bus to get to Nashville from Louisville. It’s a pretty easy and cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the place for you. But I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re coming to the best Nashville attractions from a long distance.
That’s a Perfect Day of the best Nashville attractions!
What do you think are the best Nashville attractions? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Nashville? Are you prepared to be tomatoed? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have one day of the best Nashville attractions. I have lots of other one day itineraries featuring more of the best Nashville attractions on this blog for you to enjoy!