The Best Part Of Nashville Is The Road Less Traveled

We spent a week in Nashville. Having a full week there was spectacular because we had the opportunity to see and explore much more than the standard – “BROADWAY” in Downtown. I’ll let you know how we decided where to go, what we opted to check out, and when we selected to do each of our mini adventures so you too can maximize your visit to Nashville.

First, let’s talk about parking. Nashville is a city. Try not to forget that when you decide to visit. This isn’t a quaint little southern town. It is the capital city of Tennessee. Don’t worry, they don’t lack in the charm department, but they do charge for parking and it isn’t usually cheap. There are parking garages situated all over the place, but we’re in a massive pick-up truck and typically don’t fit.

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There are some privately owned lots and on the street parking available, but that adds up quickly. Through the magic of the internet and YouTube searches, we truly dug through a ton of information, we managed to find free parking. That’s right! You read that correctly! There IS free parking in Downtown Nashville!!

The Tennessee Titans NFL football team plays at Nissan stadium. The stadium is located directly over the river from Downtown Nashville where you will find all of the big name Honky-Tonks. You’re allowed to park in Lot R at Nissan stadium for FREE on non-event days. Across the river you say? I know, you’re probably thinking that doesn’t help you much because now you have to cross the damn river. Well, there aren’t canoes for you to rent to get across – although – note to Nashville – that may be something to consider.

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Nashville one-upped the canoe and closed an older bridge to automobile traffic back in 1998 and now it is solely there and maintained for the pedestrian traffic to cross the river into the Downtown section of town. Now, this free lot isn’t going to help during football season when the Titans are in town. But there are definitely more NON-event days than event days in a year, so it’s still a good tip, just look into their schedule first.

Nashville Skyline from the Pedestrian Bridge
Nashville Skyline from the Pedestrian Bridge

From Lot R, it’s a 10 minute walk up and over the bridge. It drops you off on 4th Avenue, one block to the right is Broadway. It really doesn’t get any easier than that! Now, if you plan to partake in any of the shenanigans on Broadway, I would suggest utilizing a ride share program like Lyft or Uber, but if you have a driver, and the Titan’s aren’t playing, you now know where you can park for FREE in Downtown Nashville!

We arrived in the Nashville area on a Monday, and spent the day at the camper. Lagertha LOVES riding in the truck, but she does still feel a little stress from moving day. So we used the time to see what kind of city tours Nashville had to offer and which one peaked our interest the most. We enjoy taking a city tour of some kind when we’re somewhere new. They usually provide us with a lay of the land and there’s some cool history bestowed upon us. Most important though, it helps us decide where we want to go spend more time, what order we’d like to try to do everything so we can get back to the camper in a good Lagertha approved window of time.

Nashville is not short on the tour options. You can pretty much pick your passion of tours in Nashville right down to the mode of transportation that will take you on said tour. Want to ride up and down Broadway being towed by a tractor – SURE! Want to sit in a golf cart and have a personal driver bring you around town – SURE! Want to hop on a scooter and navigate the city yourself – SURE! Want to do a walking food tour – SURE! Want to ride around in an old converted firetruck – SURE! Seriously, I didn’t see it, but I heard there’s a bus or wagon with a pool in the back that you can hangout in while it tours the city. Personally, we picked the Old Town Trolley Tour. We used their tour when we were in St. Augustine, and had no complaints. We wanted to do our tour as early in our stay, as well as, early in the day as possible.

Old Town Trolley is a hop-on hop-off trolley service. You purchase your ticket for a single day (in some cities they do offer a multi-day ticket) and you can jump on and off the bus as many times in as many places as your little heart desires. All the while, there is a spunky conductor narrating over the speakers some fun facts and history of the area.

If you get on the bus at stop 1, and take it all the way around and back to stop 1, you will see a huge chunk of what Nashville has to offer in about 2 hours time. Doing it this way, we were able to get back off at stop 1 which is on Broadway, bounce into Kid Rock’s honky-tonk for lunch (where we met a fellow NJ native), and mapped out our plan for where we wanted to go back to while we still had our pass for the day. Side note – If you pick the Old Town Trolley, purchase your ticket online and present your emailed ticket at the station. You will save 10%!

Drinks at the Kid Rock Honky Tonk after our Old Time Trolley Tour
Drinks at the Kid Rock Honky Tonk after our Old Town Trolley Tour

Because our truck was already parked for free, and since it is a little out of the way of the downtown area, we went back to Marathon Village on the trolley. Marathon Village is the old Marathon Motor Works car manufacturing plant. It was the only automobile manufacturer in the south. They opened in 1907, moved to Nashville in 1910, but ultimately closed in 1914 likely due to World War I.

In 1986 the building was purchased and has been repurposed to house a Marathon Motors museum, as well as, several small shops, an event center, a few distilleries, wineries, and even a recording studio. If you’ve ever watched the TV show American Pickers on the History Channel, you’ll be happy to know that Antique Archeology has a shop there too! We spent a little time exploring over there (partaking in the free whiskey tasting) and then jumped back on the trolley and headed home for the day. But now, with our mental map of the region, we had a better understanding of what we could do WITH Lagertha the following day.

High-Five to Nashville for their green spaces. Lagertha may not be able to sit on a barstool in a Honky-Tonk, but there were plenty of open parks and areas that we were able to bring her to. The 2 big ones are Centennial Park and Bicentennial Capital Mall Park.

We brought her over to Centennial Park which is a beautiful area to just walk with manicured gardens and a lake trail. The park was established in 1896 to celebrate Tennessee’s 100th year of statehood. The plan was to host a Centennial Exposition in celebration of their 100th year, unfortunately, they weren’t quite prepared for the event and missed the deadline. The exposition took place the following year in 1897. At the time, Nashville was known as “the Athens of the South” because of their focus on higher education, so they took advantage and showcased that name by constructing replica features of Athens in Greece, like the Parthenon!

All of the buildings for the Centennial Exposition were designed to be temporary, but the people of Tennessee, and around the country, loved the replica Parthenon so much, that in 1920 after years of continuous patch work, the building was finally torn down and a new, durable Parthenon was erected. When they did it this time though, it was a 1 to 1 ratio, full sized Parthenon including the interior space! Now, for a $10 fee, you can explore the art exhibits on the first floor, then head up to the second floor where you’ll find a 42 foot statue of the Greek Goddess Athena holding a 6 foot tall sculpture of Nike in her hand. She is MASSIVE! And the building itself if something magnificent to see. Lagertha wasn’t allowed inside, but she had a ball running around the park with us before we brought her back to the camper and made a solo trip to go inside another day.

Parthenon of Nashville – Centennial Park

Bicentennial Park is in the shadow of the capital building. Much like the National Mall in Washington DC. Did you know that Tennessee is one of only 11 states whose Capital Building does not have a dome? Interesting, huh?! As you may have already guessed by it’s name, this space was created in 1996 to celebrate Tennessee’s 200th year of statehood. This park is just as beautiful as Centennial Park, but includes a lot of history of the state. There is a 200 foot granite map of Tennessee that you can walk across. This park includes the State Library and Archives, and the Tennessee State Museum, both of which are free.

There are a lot of cool features in the park. Each of the 95 counties in Tennessee created a Time Capsule to be opened during their Tricentennial Celebration in 2096. Each time capsule looks like a manhole cover along one of the many sidewalks. Plus, when your belly starts to grumble at you from all of the walking that you’ll be doing here, there is a wonderful enclosed Farmer’s Market with lots of goodies to try out.

Farm Market in Bicentennial Park

Alright, you can’t really talk about Nashville without talking about the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry House is not located in the Downtown area. The almost 100 year old radio show has had many homes to include the Ryman Auditorium, but since 1974 has been homed in the Opry House outside of center city. When you head out to Nashville, take a look at their schedule and see who will be playing while you are in town. The ticket prices are reasonable and the venue is extraordinary!

The show embodies the past, present, and future of country music. You will have the opportunity to listen to a little Blue Grass, a little classic country, performances from legends to rising stars, and even today’s superstars all in one show with some comedy along the way. Each artist has the stage for only about 2 or 3 songs or 15 minutes, with the headliner on stage for about 5 songs for about 30 minutes.

The show isn’t more than 2 1/2 hours. The acoustics in the auditorium are something to behold. But the most spectacular part is watching the performers come out and stand in the circle. It doesn’t matter if they’re a superstar or upcoming talent, when they take the stage you can see each and every one of them search the stage for the center circle. They all need to make sure that at least one foot is touching this sacred spot. So, what is this circle??

Well, back when the Opry House was built, they took original wood from the Ryman Auditorium stage before it was completely replaced and made a circle with it in the center of the Opry’s stage. To those who have the privilege of performing here, it’s like guidance from all of those who have come before them. The Opry House does offer tours and backstage passes, but if you do nothing else there, go and watch a show!

When most people head out to Nashville they think about Broadway. I can’t really say that I wrote an article about Nashville and not at the very least include a little bit about this infamous street. Honky-Tonks. Ok, enough said. Ha Ha!

Broadway features classic establishments that have been around for years, like Tootsies, and Honky-Tonks owned by current superstars as well, like Justin Timberlake and Luke Bryan. So what is a Honky-Tonk exactly? And how is it different from a bar? Don’t feel silly asking this… I had to look it up myself. The basic definition is that it’s a bar with loud, unrestrained music. Hmmm. Ok. Yup! They’ve all got that covered! Each building is multi-leveled. Each level has a different stage. Each stage could be performing a different genre of music. And don’t forget about the rooftop. That too is usually a bar with yet another bar and another performer. Pick your fancy, or do like we did and see if you can hit them all. (not recommended)

The first time we did Broadway was on a Wednesday evening. If you want to get a taste for Broadway, but aren’t too keen on crowds, or maybe want to dip your toes in the water before jumping in, I would suggest a Wednesday. Everything is open, but the crowds are notably smaller than a Saturday evening. We went back out to Broadway with friends mid-day on Saturday. By the time we were looking to leave downtown, the crowd of people was intense. There were lines to get into most of the bars. Broadway was closed off to vehicle traffic, and we had to walk several blocks to grab our ride home. It doesn’t matter when you go, downtown Nashville will suck you in. We’ve never been anyplace like it before. For 2 people that don’t love cities, the electricity that you feel in downtown is addicting. Even National Geographic just named Nashville the top destination in the world.

But of all the Honky-Tonks we went in to, I have to tell you about my favorite. Doug’s too. We undoubtedly agreed on this one. Bootleggers. Frankly, I think if you didn’t know to look for it, you could easily pass it by and not even realize it was there. But I think that was what we liked about it. Bootleggers is a Honky-Tonk. There is still live music. It is still a bar. But it has that hometown bar feel to it. There is security at the door keeping the “ruffians” out. The bartenders are friendly and eager to introduce themselves and carry a conversation. It wasn’t empty, but wasn’t overly crowded either. The patrons there with you are eager to chat. You aren’t worried about bellying up to the bar next to a stranger. It was the perfect place to finish your night in downtown Nashville. Krista, was close to finishing her shift when we got there, but she stayed back and chatted with us for good while. She told us a lot about the bar, how they keep the hometown charm, and why it was set up to be like that. She sat with us and was excited to hear about our Adventure, and I promised she would be included in my Nashville article. Cheers Krista! Thanks for the great service, helpful recommendations, outstanding conversation, and your time! We are so glad we absently landed in Bootleggers, and you made the stop that much better.

Nashville really was the perfect city for Doug and I. As crazy as Broadway was, there were so many other things to see and do while we were there. I’m glad we only stayed one week. I don’t know that we could have handled more than that. But it is positively someplace that we will return to. Even with the time we had, there was so much more to see. If you are planning a trip to Nashville, take the time to leave the 4 block circle of Broadway. You won’t be disappointed. Before you get there, try and make a plan of what you would like to check out. Maybe hit those places early in the day, so you can still head out and enjoy the crazy nightlife that is Broadway. No matter how you do Nashville, you will not leave disappointed! Check out our YouTube video of our visit here.

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