AOL PICK from our Editors
Nashville is full of sights for both history buffs and country-music lovers. Many of the best things to do in Nashville are conveniently situated either right in downtown or a short drive from the downtown area. You can't go wrong by making a beeline for the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Frist or the Parthenon (we'll be the first to admit that they're some of the best things to do in Nashville). You're bound to soak up the history
and soul of Music City, even if you find yourself in wandering mode.
Neighborhood: Belle Meade
The Queen of Tennessee Plantations has a history as rich as any royalty. Spared the wrath of the Union army in the Civil War, the Belle Meade Plantation once reigned over more than 5,000 acres devoted to farming and breeding thoroughbred horses, most notably Iroquois, the first American thoroughbred to win England's revered Epsom Derby. Now situated on only 30 acres, the mansion and many of the original buildings are well-preserved. Checking out the Belle Meade Plantation is often cited as one of the best things to do in Nashville. As you can imagine, they give a fascinating glimpse into plantation life. The gift shop is well stocked with souvenirs and decorative items that lean heavily on the equestrian theme. The plantation's restaurant, Belle, serves up a winning fusion of French country and deep American Southern cuisines.
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Neighborhood: West End
This is the world's only large-scale replica of the famous temple in Athens, Greece. Nashville's version was originally constructed as a temporary plaster exhibit for Tennessee's Centennial Exposition in 1897 and then was rebuilt with more permanent materials in 1931. The coolest part is the 42-foot, gold-leaf-gilded statue of Athena; it approximates what the original likely looked like and lends a hallowed feeling to an otherwise hollow hall. For those who enjoy learning about Ancient Greece, but are unable to visit the Mediterranean country ought to consider stopping by The Parthenon, one of the top things to do in Nashville. The interior also houses exhibits about the history of the structure, as well as a gallery with rotating shows and permanent artwork by such American masters as Winslow Homer.
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Neighborhood: Music Valley
The world's longest-running live radio show is one of the best things to do in Nashville, even if you’re not a fan of country music. Sure, it's steeped in down-home kitsch, but the Opry is Americana at its best, with a cast that often includes names most folks aren’t familiar with, like Little Jimmy Dickens. But plenty of Nashville’s brightest stars—and certainly those on the rise—have stood and continue to stand in the famed circle on the Opry stage, including Larry Gatlin, Brad Paisley, Loretta Lynn, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks and Alison Krauss—many of whom perform here often. Usually, the Grand Ole Opry is staged at the Opry House, part of the Opryland complex about 10 miles from downtown. But in the wake of the devastating May 2010 flooding, it is being temporarily relocated to the city’s Ryman Auditorium and other venues around town. Shows generally run Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 7:15PM and, on some Saturdays at 9:30PM, as well. But the normal schedule is subject to alteration, depending on the venue; be sure to check the Web site often if making plans to attend. The good news is that the Opry should be able to move home in late autumn of 2010.
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Neighborhood: Metro Nashville
It’s ironic that the tiny town of Lynchburg—home to Jack Daniel’s Distillery—is in a dry county; you won't get a taste of the famous Tennessee sippin’ whiskey anywhere in town, including the distillery. You can purchase some of the booze to take home with you, though, as long as it's not Sunday. No visit to the distillery would be complete without a visit to Miss Mary Bobo's, where buttery squash casserole, crispy fried chicken and hot homemade rolls and cornbread are served family-style in a historic home that was once a boarding house. Reservations are required for a meal at Miss Mary’s, ideally two or three months in advance; there is a cancellation list, too, in case your plans don't firm up till the day of. Tours of the distillery happen every 15 minutes from 9AM to 4:30PM daily except holidays.
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Neighborhood: The District
The impressive Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum wows even non-fans of country music. Exhibits in the piano-shaped building trace the music from its roots in Europe to its distillation in the rural South, and finally to the mega-dollar, mega-hit industry it has become. Stage costumes, personal memorabilia and instruments from stars of the genre are featured, and special exhibit space is devoted to Hall of Fame members. Closed Tuesdays in January and February.
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Neighborhood: Belle Meade
Nashville’s Cheek family made their money in coffee that’s good to the last drop, and spent much of it on the grounds and mansion that comprise Cheekwood. The 55-acre property includes several distinct gardens and a sculpture trail, while the mansion hosts an impressive collection of British and American decorative arts. The picturesque Pineapple Room Restaurant is a favorite for the ladies who lunch. It also offers to-go box lunches for dining among the gardens, so don’t forget to bring a blanket (we're sure your hotel won't mind) and enjoy one of the best things to do in Nashville.
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Neighborhood: North Nashville
We rate Fisk's massive art collection as one of the best in the state—and clearly one of Tennessee's best-kept cultural secrets. On the main floor of the Carl Van Vechten Gallery reside more than 100 pieces from the collection of Alfred Stieglitz, the great photographer who also promoted the modern art movement in America. Donated by his wife, Georgia O'Keeffe, the collection includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cezanne. The university uses the Aaron Douglas Gallery for rotating exhibitions that pull from its African, European and African-American collections. Don't leave campus without checking out the exterior of Jubilee Hall, a striking High Victorian Gothic structure. Nowadays, it's a residence hall, but when it was built in 1875, Jubilee was the first permanent building in the U.S. that was erected for African-American higher education. Closed on university holidays and summer Sundays. Entrance is free, but donations are appreciated.
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Neighborhood: South of Downtown
The zoo has come a long way in its short life. Just a few decades old, it has bloomed from petting zoo to a full-blown, fabulous zoo offering a meandering exploration of the unusual and the exotic. An excellent interactive area called Critter Encounters lets kids (and yes, moms and dads) get up close with alpacas and other beasts, while the Gibbon Islands area offers mesmerizing, open-air views of primates. There’s also an historic farm area, daily keeper talks and animal encounters, and special seasonal events. The zoo is one of the tops things to do in Nashville, so be sure to visit while on your enjoying your Nashville vacation.
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Neighborhood: East of Downtown
The ancestral home of President Andrew Jackson is a must on a Nashville vacation. The plantation contains many of its original features and furnishings, including intricately-detailed wallpaper. The love story that took place here between the general and his wife Rachel gives the home a warm dose of romanticism. Highlights include the formal gardens and the house itself, which was built in a Federal style, with a later Greek Revival renovation. Also, there’s a museum with many excellent exhibits on "Old Hickory," his slaves and his presidency. In our opinion, it’s the stories of his relationships—master and slave, husband and wife, president and citizens—that really make the experience the best thing to do in Nashville.
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Neighborhood: The District
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The gorgeous art deco post office is the stunning backdrop for the Frist, which has no collection of its own. Instead, the city’s main art museum brings in masterpieces from the world’s major museums for exhibition. If at all possible, sign up in advance for a tour from one of the museum’s docents—they’re a lively and entertaining bunch who have the ability to educate visitors on whatever exhibition they happen to be showcasing at the moment (their enthusiasm is contagious). Free admission for college students with IDs on Thursday and Friday evenings.
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