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Tennessee travel guide: What to see and do in Nashville and throughout the state

With rolling hills that echo country and blues music and a palate-pleasing combination of hot chicken and whiskey, Tennessee is an irresistible destination for music lovers, nature enthusiasts and history buffs.

Recognized for its Southern hospitality, its people charm visitors with easy conversations and a willingness to lend a helping hand. 

Foodies traveling to Tennessee will not be disappointed. With its mouth-watering barbecue and Nashville’s acclaimed hot chicken, every food enthusiast will have plenty of choices to immerse themselves in the culture through their stomach.

What to do in Nashville

Nashville, a thriving spot for bachelorette and bachelor parties, music enthusiasts, food aficionados and nature lovers, ranks high on the list of top tourist destinations nationwide. Its lively streets and establishments pulse with music, offering an exhilarating experience for every visitor. 

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Cultural landmarks, professional sporting events, outdoor adventures and an abundance of other activities fill the city for everyone to enjoy.

"Tennessee - The Volunteer State - Welcomes You" sign

The state of Tennessee has a rich history, beautiful nature and changing seasons. (Education Images/Universal Images)

Walk around one of Nashville’s parks

Centennial Park, a Nashville site that hosted the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, now houses a serene man-made lake, well-maintained landscaped areas and the Parthenon replica, which includes a 42-foot statue of Athena.

Radnor Lake is a 1367-acre natural reserve, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, with 7.75 miles of hiking and wildlife observation trails. Nature lovers might spot owls, herons, waterfowl or amphibians.

Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Nature Center has almost 1,300 acres of diverse terrain and offers free public nature and environmental education programs, according to the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. The park features 10 miles of paved trails and 7 miles of unpaved trails.

Love Circle Park, located between Natchez Trace and West End, offers a stunning vantage point of Nashville. Friends, lovers and individuals may enjoy the sunset views over the city, accompanied by a picnic or a relaxing drink.

See a show at a well-known music venue

Aptly labeled “Music City,” Nashville caters to music enthusiasts of all genres with its diverse musical landscape.

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Intimate singer-songwriter spots like the Listening Room Café and The Bluebird Café are among numerous venues that should be included on any Nashville itinerary.

Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry is an attraction that has been the stage for the greatest country artists for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1925 as a radio station, it has evolved into a sensational live performance hub. Guests can embark on a daytime tour or enjoy a performance by their favorite artists.

Ryman Auditorium

As a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame landmark, the Ryman Auditorium, referred to as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” is an essential landmark of music history. 

In this spot, Johnny Cash first encountered June Carter when it served as the original home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, according to the venue’s website. 

The auditorium’s architecture lends a spiritual essence, and the building’s acoustics guarantee an extraordinary concert experience. The theater has hosted musical legends like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Open for tours and shows daily, the Ryman Auditorium invites guests to immerse themselves in its rich legacy.

Foreigner plays at venue in Nashville

From sold-out shows to honky-tonks, Nashville is recognized as the “the country music capital of the world.” (Jason Kempin)

Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame

A haven for country music lovers, Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum houses a collection of 2.5 million artifacts on two floors. The museum allows guests to trace the evolution of this esteemed American musical genre. 

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Visitors can delve into the lives and contributions of past and present icons, such as Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Alabama and Garth Brooks, through intriguing exhibits, video recordings and galleries. 

“The museum is filled with rich history spanning from the roots of country music to current artists.”

— Country Music Hall of Fame volunteer

“I love the little stories I learn about artists, their upbringings and their ability to evoke emotions through creative songwriting and music,” said Carly Nelson, a volunteer at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Recommendations for Broadway Street, Nashville’s main strip

When travelers think of Nashville, Broadway filled with the twang of honky-tonks and giddy brides-to-be dressed in white dresses and cowgirl boots likely comes to mind. 

Every weekend, the Broadway Historic District, more commonly known as Lower Broadway, teems with country music fans from all over who are drawn to Nashville’s celebrated nightlife.

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Honky-tonks, like the classic Tootsies and The Stage, line the street, interspersed with a myriad of bars and grills. Some favorite country singers, including Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, own rooftop bars. 

An integral part of Nashville, Broadway offers an abundance of bars and music venues that have been instrumental in launching numerous legendary country music careers.

View of Lower Broadway at night

Broadway Street was originally used as a connection between businesses and the port of Nashville. (iStock)

Lower Broadway’s appeal includes more than its honky-tonks. The area consists of landmarks such as the Ryman Auditorium and cultural centers like the Frist Art Museum, offering exploration of diverse art forms. 

With plenty of shops along the way, tourists can collect plenty of souvenirs. Since Broadway requires visitors to be partially outdoors, the optimal visitation period is from April to October. However, visitors should prepare for hot and humid summer conditions.

Top spots to visit in other parts of Tennessee

The Volunteer State promises an exciting time for all travelers, whether the trip is geared toward a historical education or musical experience. 

Although Nashville is the primary focus for many tourists, there is much to see throughout the state.

Elvis Presley’s Graceland

Elvis Presley dressed in all white standing in front of Graceland

Elvis Presley purchased Graceland for $102,500 in 1957, according to the History Channel website.  (Michael Ochs Archives)

Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion, located in Memphis, offers visitors a journey into the life of the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Guests can explore the mansion, walk through the tranquil gardens, visit the aircraft used by Elvis for traveling to shows and experience Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex.

The Graceland mansion is the primary attraction on the 120-acre property. 

However, the estate offers abundant experiences that celebrate Elvis Presley’s life and legacy. Various tour options are available, beginning at $30 per person.

Dollywood, a theme park with Southern charm

Dollywood, the seasonal park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, celebrates the legacy of country music icon Dolly Parton. Though Dolly is the main focus, this theme park intertwines elements of the Smoky Mountains and Southern culture. 

The park offers a mix of thrilling rides, concert stages and an array of southern food delicacies, extending a unique experience to fans of the stars and general visitors.

Dollywood sign with a clear blue sky

Dollywood employs a special team of “lighting bugs” in June to get the theme park ready for the holiday season. (George Rose)

Moonshine tasting at Ole Smoky

The Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the state’s first federally licensed moonshine distillery. As visitors approach, they are greeted with the distinct aroma of cooking grains. 

Comprehensive tours engage all senses, from observing and understanding the whiskey-making process to optional tastings. After the tour, visitors can ask questions about the production process and explore the souvenir shop.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg is the country’s most visited park. 

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The park welcomes more annual visitors than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, according to the park’s website.

As guests explore the park, they will encounter nature’s scenic splendors, ranging from cascading waterfalls to diverse wildlife, presented through various nature walks amid wildflowers or along the Appalachian Trail.

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Although fall is the park’s most popular season, Tennessee’s changing seasons bring unique experiences, making the Smoky Mountains a year-round attraction.

Bucket list-worthy waterfalls

Tennessee is home to 908 waterfalls, according to Tennessee Landforms, with a substantial number accessible to the public, despite some being on private lands or off trail. Among these, several waterfalls stand out across the state:

  • Ruby Falls is found within Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.
  • Laurel Falls is a striking 25-foot waterfall in Beersheba Springs, that transforms into a winter spectacle with snowfall.
  • Burgess Falls is an enchanting cascading waterfall in Sparta.
  • Fall Creek Falls claims the title of the tallest waterfall in the state and is located in Spencer.
Fall season at the Smoky Mountains

There are more than 800 miles of hiking trails in Smoky Mountains National Park. (Wolfgang Kaehler)

What’s the best time of year to visit Tennessee?

Tennessee is an excellent year-round destination. 

Given the possibility of sudden weather changes, it is recommended to pack layers no matter the season.

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Summer is the busiest time of year for tourism in Tennessee, according to Frommer’s. However, spring and fall are the most temperate seasons for outdoor activities. Although snow falls only once or twice a year, winter temperatures often dip below freezing.

Visitors should plan their trip based on their vacation goals and the purpose of the trip. Given Tennessee’s vibrant music scene, syncing a trip with a concert or show can significantly enhance the overall experience.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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