Things to Do in Tennessee
ew things are as deeply connected with the South as country music, so while you're in Nashville (known as "Music City") it's apropos to check out the world famous Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
With its mixture of historic video clips and recorded music, dynamic exhibits and state-of-the-art design, regular menu of live performances and public programs, the museum is filled with fascinating attractions. You don't have to be a country music fan to appreciate the museum's significance. All that is required for enjoyment is an appreciation for musical history and culture.
Bored with eating dinner at the same restaurants every night? Want a new way to relax and enjoy Tennessee's warm weather during the day? Then the General Jackson Showboat might be just what the doctor ordered.
The General Jackson is a 300 foot (91.5 meter) paddlewheel riverboat, one of the largest showboats in the country. Harkening back to the days when showboats plied the American rivers in the 19th century, a tour on the General Jackson serves as both a historic and relaxing trip. It boasts four massive decks with a beautiful two-story Victorian Theater located in the center, which serves as the site of live musical performances. Take either a day drip down the Cumberland River or a night cruise and enjoy a dinner under the stars.
The historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is one of the must see sites that makes Music City famous. Built in 1892 (and initially serving as a tabernacle) it was used for the Opry broadcasts from 1943 until 1974. After the Opry moved to a larger venue, the Ryman sat largely unused until it was reopened as a performance hall and museum in 1994.
Today, the Ryman is a popular 2,362-seat live performance venue as well as a National Historic Landmark. Both country music stars and legends in other genres have graced the Ryman stage throughout its long and proud history. Among the many notable stars to have performed there include Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, and Patsy Kline.
Taking a tour of the Ryman allows you to walk in the same steps of music royalty, seeing the backstage area and dressing rooms that hosted these many stars.
A must-attend event while in "Music City," The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert that has highlighted the genre's biggest stars since 1925. Originally a radio broadcast, the Opry is the longest running radio program in history. Dedicated to honoring country music, the event showcases different artists each night to perform songs in genres including country, bluegrass, folk, comedy, and gospel.
Considered the "Show that Made Country Famous," the Opry is famous for its multi-generational approach and ability to adapt with the changing times. This approach continues today as it features both legendary performers and contemporary chart toppers. An American icon, the Opry is regularly listened to by millions of internet and radio users and visited by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.
Step back into the Old South and get a feel for what it might have been like to live on a plantation in the 1800s. Located 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) west of Nashville, the Belle Meade Plantation is a historic plantation mansion whose grounds now function as a museum.
First bought in 1806, and continually expanded throughout the 19th century, the Belle Meade Plantation became world renowned as a first-rate horse breeding establishment. Buyers from around the world flocked to the plantation for its annual yearling sales, hoping to purchase one of their champion thoroughbred horses. A tour of the mansion reveals Belle Meade's rich history and offers insight into the distinct Southern culture of the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras.
No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to Music Row. Along with being the spot where many big names got their start in the music business, it offers numerous choices to hear live music from possible future recording stars.
RCA Studio B is the first thing on most visitors list. The famous recording studio recorded hits from the likes of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins. Elvis recorded more than 200 songs here. Music lovers will enjoy seeing all of the old houses converted into music companies and offices. Not far from Vanderbilt University’s campus, it’s the type of place where you can happily wander, especially on a sunny day.
All of America’s great cities have a fantastic urban park. New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Nashville’s Centennial Park.
The lush green landscape provides a needed escape from the towering skyscrapers and bustling city life. The most notable, and possibly most out-of-place feature of the park is the Parthenon replica, built to scale. Commissioned for Nashville’s celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday, it also commemorates Nashville’s reputation as the “Athens of the South” because of its many universities and arts scene.
Don’t just admire this architectural feat from the outside, the builders took this replica project to its fullest extent. According to Ancient Greek history, the Parthenon was built to house an ivory and gold statue built by Phidias to honor the goddess. Its size can’t be described as anything but breath-taking, and it’s mind-blowing to think about this being built during the B.C. era.
When Nashville turned 200 it decided to throw a party—and to open a park. Since June, 1996, the 19-acre Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park has given locals and visitors a calm and scenic place to rest. The park boasts numerous features, like an impressive view of the Capitol building, erupting geyser fountains, an informative Civil War exhibit and a Greek amphitheater for live concerts.
Visitors can take an easy walk along the .9-mile paved Bicentennial Mall Trail, or stop at the nearby Nashville Farmers’ Market before picnicking on the well-kept lawns. The 200-fee wide granite map on the park’s southern end gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the state and at the park’s northern end, travelers can wander the short Path of Volunteers and the flora-lined Walkway of Counties.
More Things to Do in Tennessee
The Johnny Cash Museum may be new to Nashville, but visitors to this Mecca devoted to the Man in Black say the place feels like it’s been around forever. Bill Miller, one of Cash’s closest friends, has gathered and cataloged the country singer superstar’s memorabilia for decades, resulting in a relatively small space that still manages to hold one of the most impressive—and exhaustive—Cash collections ever.
Visitors can wander through museum halls lined with memories and artifacts from the singer’s impressive career, including performance highlights and television cameos. But what makes the Johnny Cash Museum truly unique are the personal effects only a close friend could collect—childhood report cards, military uniforms, and handwritten love letters to Cash’s wives.
Known as "The Birthplace of Rock and Roll," this former studio is Memphis's own Mecca of music. Opened in 1950, the studio was the recording site of what is supposedly the first rock and roll single - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' Rocket 88. From there, Sun Studio took off, signing iconic rock and country artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis to its label and continuing to serve as the recording site for these superstars.
Today, take a tour of the famous studio's headquarters and see the place where legendary performers laid down their first hit singles. Among the artifacts on display includes the microphone Elvis Presley used in 1954 when he recorded his first song, "That's All Right." After a tour of the studio, enjoy refreshments or pick up a souvenir in the ‘50s-style Sun Studio Soda Shop and Record Store. Sun Studio's musical heritage and collection of one-of-a-kind memorabilia.
Built in 1928, the Orpheum Theater is a historic theater and one of America’s few remaining “movie palaces” from the 1920s era. Before it was the Orpheum, it was the site of the Grand Opera House and home to vaudeville performances for nearly two decades. Since then it has withstood the threat of bankruptcy, demolition and being burnt to the ground to become known as the “South’s Finest Theater.”
Decorated with ornate crystal chandeliers, luxe draperies, carved moldings, and a large pipe organ, the theater was restored in 1996 to its former glory along with an expansion of the stage and backstage areas. Today, the theater hosts top Broadway shows, concerts, comedy shows, and special events year-round. Many famous faces have graced the Orpheum stage, and it continues to be a center for arts and entertainment and culture of Memphis.
Peabody Hotel has some unique permanent guests in the famous “Peabody Ducks,” who live on the hotel’s rooftop and perform a march toward the Grand Lobby twice daily. The tradition dates back to 1933, when the general manager of the time returned from a weekend hunting trip and placed several of his live duck decoys in the hotel’s fountain. The guests’ positive response prompted their stay, and now five ducks live and train in the Peabody Hotel.
The Peabody Ducks are led by their “Duckmaster” (an official position in the hotel) from their home on the roof, down in an elevator, across a red carpet, and over to the Italian travertine marble fountain. They march to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March. The ducks live in the “Duck Palace” on the roof when they’re not playing in the water of the lobby’s fountain, and can be visited there in the off hours.
Nashville may be the country music capital of America, but the Schermerhorn Symphony Center brings a touch of class to a bustling downtown area that’s filled with gritty bars and live music venues.
Since 2006, the Center’s Laura Turner Concert Hall has been home to the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony. Its natural lighting, 30 soundproof windows and custom-built organ make for a unique concert experience. The smaller Mike Curb Family Music Education Hall hosts performances for children, schools and families as part of the Center’s Music Education City initiative. While the symphony is one of the hottest tickets in Nashville, visitors say even if you can’t catch a performance, it’s still worth touring the grand space and wandering through the beautiful public Martha Rivers Ingram Garden Courtyard on a trip to Nashville.
All music lovers as well as those just looking for a fun night out on the town will not want to pass up an opportunity to visit Beale Street. This 1.8 mi (2.9 km) stretch of restaurants, bars, and clubs is more than just a place to get a bite to eat. It is now considered "The Official Home of the Blues."
From 1920 to 1940, artists descended on Beale Street and began to collaborate with one another, creating a new music style that blended smooth jazz with hard charging rock 'n' roll. This blend eventually gave birth to the blues, a new and distinctly American genre of music that gradually made its way into the American pop culture mainstream.
A visit to Beale Street today allows you to check out the blues clubs that served as the launching sites for some of the most famous American blues musicians of all time.
Things to do near Tennessee
- Things to do in Nashville
- Things to do in Memphis
- Things to do in Gatlinburg
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