Actually Cool Things You Can Still Do This Winter in Nashville
There’s plenty to do this winter, we swear.
Even though we may be staying two guitar lengths apart for the time being, Nashville still offers all sorts of ways to have a good time without having to dive into the touristy mess that is Lower Broad. Live like a tourist in your own hometown or discover spots that most travel magazines would never tell you about. Here’s a sampling of things to entertain and educate yourself in Nashville this winter.
Go on a mural walkFree
Music City has evolved into mural city over the past few years, and not just the famous ones that tourists love to use as selfie backdrops. The walls of the city are dotted with all sorts of public art projects, including many with historical or cultural significance. Former Thrillist contributor Kristin Luna is the doyenne of local wall art, and she shares the stories behind many murals at her personal blog, Camels & Chocolate. Or if you don’t feel like leaving the couch to discover some fine art, you can always take a virtual tour instead.
Take in some of Nashville’s most iconic sitesFree
Solo walking is still a safe way to explore as long as you maintain social distance, and although Nashville is a hilly city, there are all sorts of great routes around town to discover some local history and get your exercise at the same time. Nashville Sites has gathered some thematic walking itineraries from 1-2 miles that highlight architecture, history, restaurants, and music. Lace up your shoes and head out on a hike!
Discover the OGs of Nashville Hot ChickenFree
Nashville’s iconic hometown specialty has enjoyed a second wave of popularity in recent years thanks to the national food media (even KFC did a version). But for a true taste of history, you should experience your fiery fowl cooked by the families that have been doing it for decades. Prince’s Hot Chicken is the undisputed king of the cluckers, but don’t miss out on a trip to Bolton’s or 400 Degrees to experience more masters of heat. While most spots are offering limited-capacity dine-in opportuntunities, you can also always place your order via delivery or pick them up to take home.
Stroll 12 SouthFree
Nashville’s most walkable commercial strip is a mile-long stretch of 12 Avenue. South where both sides of the street are lined with fun restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques. There’s also the bucolic Sevier Park at the southern terminus, a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch of your carryout from dining spots like the new Asian hotspot Locust, old reliable 12 South Taproom, or Taqueria del Sol.
Nashville’s oldest movie theater has been around since 1925, formerly housing the Grand Ole Opry from 1934 to 1936. After a major refurbishing a few years back, the theater has been modernized into one the best places to watch a movie in town. Offerings range from art house films to documentaries to new releases. They’ve joined up with local alt-weekly the Nashville Scene to host a “Wednesday Night Living Room Film Club” where you can watch along with movies from the Criterion Collection and join in Zoom discussions with other cinephiles from the comfort of your couch, and they also screen classic films in their two theaters.
Browse some legendary gee-tars at the Gallery of Iconic GuitarsFree
Belmont University is famous for being one of the top music and music business schools in the country, so it’s just logical that they should also house a collection of some of the greatest musical instruments ever crafted. The Gallery of Iconic Guitars (GIG) is the collection of guitars from a university benefactor who wanted them displayed and actually played after his death. From acoustic guitars to electric prototypes of famous axes, this is a gearhead’s dream. Until they open up again, the GIG is offering free videos of famous pickers telling the stories behind their instruments that are on display.
While the thrilling treetop zip lines are certainly a highlight at The Nashville Adventure Park, there’s actually a lot more to do here than just hang from a harness. There are also rope and cable bridges to cross, axe throwing stations and picnic areas to take a break from the action. It’s a self-guided experience where visitors buy a block of time to experience the thrills at their own pace, or you can hire a guide to lead you through the park.
Experience some bizarre history at the Tennessee State MuseumFree
The modern new Tennessee State Museum fortunately upped their tech game when they moved into their new digs in Germantown, offering online tours of their permanent collections, videos of discussions by guest lecturers, a blog of personal stories told by colorful characters and even downloadable coloring pages for the kiddies.
If you’re one of the 90% of people who apparently bought a bike during this shut-in year, don’t just put it away for the winter. Instead, bundle up and head for a fast, flat loop down Belle Meade Boulevard and back. The five-mile loop will take you past some of Nashville’s toniest residences, and you can extend your ride by tackling the hills of Percy Warner Park at the south end of The Boulevard.
While the Adventure Science Center is aimed at children, there’s plenty of educational entertainment for grownups, too. In addition to the star shows at the Sudekum Planetarium and permanent exhibits about earthquakes, the physics of light and flight, beekeeping, and virtual reality, where else in town can you ride a colorectal slide through a giant representation of the human digestive system?
They don’t call the Ryman Auditorium “The Mother Church of Country Music” for nothing. It is best known as the longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry, but through the years the Ryman has hosted eclectic musical acts ranging from Bill Monroe to Elvis (both Presley and Costello) to Widespread Panic and Foo Fighters. Until the lights go up again, the auditorium is presenting a series of streaming concerts from the iconic stage featuring acts like Scotty McCreery, Brett Young and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Soak up some culture virtually at The FristFree
The Frist Art Museum is novel in that it doesn’t really maintain a permanent collection of artwork, choosing instead to showcase rotating exhibits of local, regional artists along with major US and international traveling exhibitions. The Frist’s YouTube channel offers archives of lectures, instructional videos, short features and live performances. Their exhibit, We Count: First-Time Voters will be available online from May 1-December 31. They describe the exhibition as a way to honor “the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment and the importance of civic engagement by highlighting the history of voting in the United States and the first voting experiences of a diverse group of Nashvillians.”
Even if you’re not yet dining out at your favorite restaurants, you can still at least enjoy a reasonable facsimile of some of their favorite dishes in your own home thanks to a free online cookbook created by the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. Recipe Notes features recipes from some of the city’s most beloved dining establishments, including the broccoli salad from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Thai Esane’s drunken noodles, the turkey apple crisp sandwich from the Listening Room Cafe, and Hattie B’s banana cream pie.
Once reserved strictly for guests of the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort, SoundWaves is an expansive indoor/outdoor waterpark that’s the perfect way to get out of the chill into an always temperate environment. With lazy rivers, waterslides, a surfing simulator and plenty of space for lounging and relaxing, you can choose your own aquatic adventure. Plus, there are plenty of drinking and dining options so you’ll never have to leave your lounge chair (except to get wet). For the first time, it’s opened up the park to Tennessee residents thanks to a special deal, so go see what all the fuss is about.
Nashville’s music scene isn’t exclusively about country. The city is also blessed with some talented DJs who have been keeping the party pumping at clubs all over town for years. Many of them have actually expanded the artform by spinning sets from their own homes and inviting folks to listen in online and hopefully leave a little something in the virtual tip jar. Nashville-based QuaranStream compiles an ongoing schedule of these events, including some happening outside of Music City. But once you don your wireless Beats headphones and start dancing around the living room, do you really care where the music is coming from?
Taste and tour at some local distilleries$
Instead of just hanging out in some bar somewhere, why not actually learn something with the chance to discover a new favorite spirit as part of a distillery tour? Nashville is blessed with some excellent artisan spirit producers who offer tours and tastings to small groups or individuals. The portions are just a sip or two, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about getting home safely after visiting spots like Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville Craft Distillery, or Corsair. Plus you can do a little bottle shopping and check a few names off your holiday gift list.
Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame in the basement of Municipal Auditorium is the only museum in the world solely dedicated to telling the stories of the musicians who played on the greatest recordings of all time, regardless of the musical genre. Permanent exhibits showcase some of the most iconic musical instruments in history and recognize the talented musicians who played them. Actual inductees to the hall of fame range from legendary guitar pickers to groups that laid down the rhythm and the groove behind famous vocalists. They’ve collected a series of interviews with many of the past inductees on their YouTube channel along with a special “Musicians Hall of Fame Backstage” series that shares many of the behind-the-scenes stories of the museum.
Check out some hotel artFree
A nice byproduct of the recent downtown hotel construction boom is the fact that their lobbies are decorated with some amazing art open for public viewing. The 21C Museum Hotel features more than 10,000 square feet of public gallery space with both permanent and rotating exhibitions of modern art. The new Joseph Hotel integrates fine art into the hotel decor in unexpected places like the tooled leather front desk created by the famous Lucchese boot company and specially commissioned pieces of art like sculptured front door handles, a copper and glass chandelier hanging over the lobby bar and even the carpeting with fun little elements of Tennessee history hidden among the weave. Heck, even the Margaritaville Hotel has a chandelier made out of margarita glasses hanging over the lobby and a giant sculpture of a flip flop that could qualify as pop art.
Operating by reservation only for the time being, the limited capacity constraints at the Nashville Zoo just mean that there’s more room to roam as you walk the paths of the animal habitats, either by yourself or as part of a guided tour. The variety of the residents at the Nashville Zoo is impressive, with almost 3,000 animals from more than 350 different species, and smaller crowds mean you can get up close and personal with exhibits like Critter Encounters, Lorikeet Landing, Shell Station, and Kangaroo Kickabout.
Go take a hikeFree
We could all use some fresh air every now and again, and the city if fortunate to feature some excellent hiking trails close to the urban center. Stroll along a flat paved path as part of Nashville’s extensive greenway system, choose one of the hiking paths around Radnor Lake, or wander around the one-mile loop at Centennial Park taking in changing perspectives of the scale-model of the Greek Parthenon and the new exhibit commemorating Nashville’s role in the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago.
Add some vintage to your closetFree
Aside from the jokes about the “hipster uniform” of typical East Nashville denizens, the neighborhood is home to some of the city’s coolest vintage clothing stores, so it’s an ideal environment for adding some old school style to your wardrobe. Some of the best spots to dig through the clothing bins for concert t-shirts, distressed denim and leather jackets include The Hip Zipper, Good Buy Girls, and High Class Hillbilly. In no time, you’ll be blending in anywhere in Five Points.
Shop for some cool vinylFree
A benefit of living in such a musical city is that many residents possess excellent record collections, and sometimes they have to sell a few to make rent. That means that local record stores are full of fantastic finds if you’re willing to flip through the stacks of vinyl. Jack White’s Third Man Records stocks the latest and greatest of analog music plus some cool guitar gear. For older music, frequent spots like Grimey’s, The Great Escape, Phonoluxe, Fond Objects, Alison’s Record Shop, and Vinyl Tap, where you can also grab a sixer of craft beer to-go.
Go on a campus crawlFree
The reason that Nashville is known as “The Athens of the South” is because it has long been a center of higher education as home to more than twenty colleges and universities. Many of the campuses offer beautiful architecture like Fisk’s famous Jubilee Hall or the Belmont Mansion. Vanderbilt University has managed to maintain plenty of green space aspart of its massive 200-acre campus and the school has been designated as an official arboretum thanks to more than 190 species of trees on campus, including the massive Centennial Oak that is actually more than two centuries old. Relive your college days without having to worry about going to class with a leisurely walk around the grounds.
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