There’s a reason it is called Music City, but there’s even more to this boomtown than country crooners and bluegrass twang.
Nashville. The name seems to pulse with energy and sparkle with light, as if spelled out in the rhinestones of a vintage Grand Ole Opry costume. But while it remains loyal to its guitar-pickin’ past, Nashville has ridden a fresh wave of artisans and innovators to become one of the cultural capitals of the Deep South.
“There’s a real spirit of creativity here,” says Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam. Although she and her husband, Governor Bill Haslam, hail from opposite ends of the state—Memphis and Knoxville, respectively—they’ve found a delightful middle ground in Nashville’s rolling hills. Since settling into the Tennessee Residence, as the governor’s mansion is named, the couple have become enthusiastic ambassadors for their adopted hometown. Crissy, an avid hostess known for her hospitality, loves sharing her favorite haunts with visitors, among them, Cheekwood Botanical Garden, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s former home. And no Nashville getaway is complete without a night of toe tapping at one of the city’s legendary music venues. “I always recommend that visitors check to see who’s playing at the Ryman and the Bluebird,” Crissy says.
Although she urges locals and travelers to come and explore the Residence—especially its newly embellished gardens and grounds—Crissy’s time for leading tours is more limited than she’d like. Still, this early-childhood-education advocate makes it a priority to carve out room in her schedule for her youngest guests. “We welcome children on field trips to work in the garden, and 95 percent of the time I’m a part of those field trips,” she says. “I’ll read to them, take them into the garden, let the chef talk to them about healthy eating and using the vegetables, and then take them through the house.”
Crissy also enjoys browsing Nashville’s distinctive neighborhoods, from gracious Belle Meade to Victorian-flavored Germantown. The upscale Green Hills enclave near the Residence is home to both independent boutiques and well-known luxury brands like Tiffany and Tory Burch. Head to the buzzing 12 South district to spend an afternoon shopping for bespoke jewelry at Judith Bright, hip housewares at White’s Mercantile, or artisan-made boots at Lucchese.
When hunger hits, visitors are spoiled for choice: Nashville’s vibrant dining scene is a food-lover’s dream. There’s no shortage of good old-fashioned barbecue or the area’s famous hot chicken, but world-class restaurants abound—among them Marché, whose menu includes nods to Europe and Morocco, and the Farm House, where every last ingredient is sourced from local providers. End the day by snuggling in at the Hermitage Hotel, a 1910 Beaux-Arts belle that sets a lofty bar for accommodations in the city and, indeed, the South.
Retreat from Nashville’s bustling street life with a stroll through Cheekwood Botanical Garden, 50-plus acres of flora and foliage crowned by an expansive art museum. The Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail, along which contemporary works by acclaimed artists harmonize with the woodland setting, helps bridge the museum and gardens together. Admire the striking Music City Center, before touring the Country Music Hall of Fame, then catch a performance at the venerable Ryman Auditorium. Home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, it remains a world-renowned venue for performers across all genres.
Built in 1799 and owned by prominent judge and Memphis founder John Overton, Travellers Rest provides a glimpse into Middle Tennessee’s history, including the Battle of Nashville during the Civil War. Tour the Hermitage, onetime residence of President Andrew Jackson, for an inside look at the fascinating life of the man dubbed “Old Hickory.” The Belmont University campus is home to the Belmont Mansion, a historic house museum whose collections of fine and decorative art complement the elaborate Italianate architecture.
Offering a well-curated menu that blends global spirit with Southern soul, Marché Artisan Foods is a crowd-pleasing hot spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Savor a spread of uber-local fare at the Farm House —each and every morsel comes from area growers, dairies, and other sources. Custom-roasted coffee at Barista Parlor fuels a marathon morning of Nashville shopping and sightseeing. At Josephine, deceptively simple cooking techniques showcase inspired ingredient pairings with explosive flavors.
Treat yourself to a statement piece or two at Judith Bright, a bespoke jeweler known for unfussy yet bold and striking designs. Choose your ideal style, and then select a gemstone for the ultimate in mix-and-match versatility. Owned by Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr., White’s Mercantile puts a sassy spin on the old-fashioned idea of a general store—you’re sure to find a handful of take-home treasures amid its continually changing mix of home goods, clothing, beauty products, foods, and other odds and ends. Nothing makes a better Nashville memento than cowgirl boots, and famed bootmaker Lucchese is the spot to pick out your perfect pair.
Sleep in style at the Hermitage Hotel, an early 20th-century stunner that enjoys pride of place near the State Capitol building. In addition to the lavish rooms and suites, guests are pampered with luxurious amenities that include in-room pillow menus, limousine service, and an on-call bath concierge who’ll prepare a fragrant soak at the end of a busy day around town. Escape to the spa for a hot stone massage or a honey-almond scrub, or tuck into a delicious dinner at the Capitol Grille, with grass-fed beef and heirloom vegetables from the hotel’s own farm and gardens.