There’s no denying that Nashville, Tennessee is getting a lot of attention at the moment. The southern city is booming: it’s full of great restaurants, lively nightlife, and more people are moving in each day.
Music City really is a fantastic place to spend a couple days, but your time in Tennessee shouldn’t end there. Make sure you hit the road and head east to experience its picturesque landscape, particularly the Great Smoky Mountains.
Here’s your travel guide for how to balance the city and the country on a road trip in Tennessee, USA.
In the City: Nashville
When in Nashville, experiencing the food and the music should be at the top of your list.
Stay in East Nashville
First off, make East Nashville your home base. From there you can stay within walking distance of hip restaurants and bars, but also easily hop over to the honky tonks and the more touristy part of town. To get a more local feel, opt to stay in an AirBnB; there are plenty of stylish and practical options.
Experience the Music
Next, head out and soak up the sound. Make your way over to Broadway and wander through the honky tonks and bars. While it’s a pretty touristy area, the number of music venues and performers are no less impressive.
Two of the best places for a drink and a show sit at either end of Broadway. Don’t miss Acme Feed & Seed and Robert’s Western World. Both are great places to grab a cocktail, hear some tunes, and hit the dance floor.
Another great way to experience the music in Nashville is to browse its record stores.
While bar hopping on Broadway, stop into Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Founded by the country music pioneer, the shop specializes in hard-to-find country music and memorabilia.
Not too far from Broadway is the Third Man Records store. The label and its adjoining shop were started by Jack White. The sleek shop features local music, books, and decor.
Finally, while you’re over in East Nashville, pop into your nearest shop, such as The Groove, for even more local flavor.
If you’re still looking for more music, there are plenty of museums and sites you can visit as well, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum.
Eat (and Drink)!
Now, onto the best part of any trip, the food. For some of the best food, you can stay local in East Nashville.
For breakfast, pop into the Sky Blue Cafe. Their classic breakfast and breakfast bowls are a perfect way to start a day of exploring, and the trivia cards on the table make for a fun morning. Just make sure to get there early or you’ll find a long wait.
For some delicious cocktails and innovative bar snacks, stop by Rosemary. This fairly new bar is in a converted house and is so unassuming from the outside that you’ll find yourself double checking the address (if not for the guy checking IDs outside, it might go completely unnoticed). Try the remake/remodel cocktail and the bao buns.
At some point, you’ll need some coffee, as most travelers do. For a serious caffeine fix, stop by Barista Parlor. This hip shop boasts some really, really good coffee. Opt for a classic latte or a plain ol’ cup of joe.
If you’re open to a trendy restaurant that’s on the pricier side, book a table at Butcher & Bee. The restaurant has been getting a lot of buzz lately, though for good reason. The menu is a selection of small plates, making it a great way to sample a variety of fare.
Finally, a last note about food, when in Nashville, you must eat hot chicken.
If you’re open to standing in line, you can stop by one of the famous hot chicken restaurants (like Hattie B’s), if you haven’t the time for that, grab some elsewhere. Just make sure you try some somewhere in town.
In the Country: The Great Smoky Mountains
Head for The Smokies
After you’ve had your fill of the city, it’s time to hit the road and head east to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Tennessee landscape is truly scenic; trees perched atop tall, jagged rock faces line the roadway, rivers wind through clusters of trees, mountains touch the wide, blue sky. (It’s just as Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”)
When in the mountains, your main goals are easy: relax and enjoy the scenery.
Cozy Up in a Cabin
As far as accommodations go, stay in a cabin. There are lots of cabin rental companies in the area, such as Volunteer Cabin Rentals.
Many of their cabins offer breathtaking views of the valley below. With a cabin you’ll have a relaxing place to call home while up in the mountains.
While most time is spent relaxing at the cabin, you’re bound to go out for a meal or two.
When you do, head to Elvira’s Cafe in Sevierville. They offer up flavorful, fresh food made using local ingredients. It’s best for breakfast or lunch and make sure not to miss out on the biscuits and gravy.
Enjoy the View
When it comes to enjoying the bucolic setting, you’ve got to choose your own adventure. You may want to make your way up into Great Smoky Mountains National Park to hike its trails and explore all it has to offer.
On the other hand, you may elect to simply take in the view from your cabin’s balcony, drink and book in hand. Whatever your method of outdoor recreation, the Smokies will fill you with a sense of peace and appreciation for this natural setting.
Make a Pit Stop
Another nearby activity for those with little ones (or just regular Dolly Parton fans) is Dollywood. The country singer’s theme park is a great family destination in the area if you’re looking for a bit more activity.
Don’t forget to make a pit stop at a classic southern restaurant along the road in Tennessee. There are plenty of southern staples, like Cracker Barrel and Waffle House, along highway 40 to keep you full throughout your journey.
Whether you fancy yourself more of a city cat or a country mouse, you’ll find enjoyment in the hustle and bustle of Nashville and the calm of the Great Smoky Mountains. This balance between the city and country will help make the most of your time in Tennessee. Cheers, y’all!