Why It’s Time to 'Come On Back' to Nashville
Sure, its nickname is Music City. And rightly so (see: the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Auditorium, for starters). But as any fan of Nashville will tell you, the city is just as compelling to lovers of food, art, history—and seriously chic hotels.
Even if you're a repeat visitor, you won't believe what you've missed since you've been gone. After breathing new life into historic legends and debuting a whole series of highly anticipated draws, Nashville is poised to become your new old favorite, whatever type of traveler you are.
For the music lover…
There's arguably no local institution more legendary or beloved than the Grand Ole Opry—and you can once again experience it firsthand. Though the weekly broadcasts had continued uninterrupted throughout 2020 (in fact, the Opry is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history), live audiences have made a recent comeback with social distancing measures in place. There’s also a new safety-enhanced version of the backstage tour that serious fans won’t want to miss, from the immersive theatrical kickoff with Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood to your own big moment—and photo op—inside the Opry’s fabled circle.
Other icons reopening with enhanced safety protocols include the Country Music Hall of Fame (through July 2021, catch Brooks & Dunn: Kings of Neon, an exhibit about the best-selling duo in Country history); The Station Inn (be sure to arrive early as the newly limited seating is first-come, first-serve); and of course, Ryman Auditorium, the so-called Mother Church of Country Music (where both shows and self-guided tours are back on, and socially distanced).
But perhaps the biggest news out of Music City is this: The end of January marked the opening of the much anticipated National Museum of African American Music, a suitably sprawling (56,000-square-foot) tribute to the incalculable role African Americans have played in the creation of our national music, from spirituals to hip hop—with about 50 genres and sub-genres in between. Beyond the high-tech interactive galleries and extraordinary artifacts, there are music events you won’t want to miss, so watch the calendar for details.
For the traveling foodie…
In a town where music-filled nights tend to stretch into the wee hours, stick-to-the-ribs staples come as no surprise (the meat & three, after all, is said to have been born here). But what may well astonish you is the sheer variety of amazing local eats—to the point that you could spend your entire visit on culinary tourism alone.
However dedicated a foodie you may be, you’ll want to hit at least some of the buzziest places of the season. Whether they’re just opening or reopening, know that everyone has new protocols in place, and plenty offer outdoor dining—for starters, White Limozeen, on the rooftop of the new Graduate Hotel (more on that shortly), where you’ll find the likes of “hammed” pork shoulder with corn and shishito succotash or smoked collard greens with smoked tomato gribiche.
Other newsy spots are inspired by everything from Asian street food (whether East Side Banh Mi’s griddle-seared bologna or Locust’s dumplings and kakigori) to chef Sean Brock’s love of cheeseburgers, biscuits and Southern fried chicken, as you’ll discover at the aptly named Joyland.
In fact, Brock—as prolific a resident celebrity chef as you’ll find—has a multitude of new and soon-to-debut spots. There’s the Continental at the new Grand Hyatt (more on that soon), where specialties include Stuffed Bucksnort Trout en Papilliote and Autumn Vegetable Tarte Tatin, and Audrey, a restaurant named for his mother, inspired by his Appalachian heritage, and staffed by global foodie stars from the likes of Noma and Eleven Madison Park.
On the fine dining side of the spectrum, don’t miss Yolan, the new Italian home of Michelin-starred chef Tony Mantuano and wine savant Cathy Mantuano. And even if you go big on one of the house pastas—say, the Cacio e Pepe or Bucatini all’Amatriciana—save room for the dolci, whether the caramello or house-made gelati.
For the hotel connoisseur…
Nashville saw 12 new hotels open in 2020, with several more scheduled for 2021 (to say nothing of the 18 that opened in 2019). So whether you’re a fan of boutique hotels, luxury suites, sustainable stays or all of the above, there’s at least one new opening with your name on it (and all have extra safety protocols in place).
The Virgin Hotel Nashville has been one of the most anticipated openings in the nation—not just the city—and true to the brand’s ethos, the new property is equal parts hip and green. The rooftop, with its 360-degree views of historic Music Row and Nashville, is one of the best hangouts, whether you’re kicking back on a sleek red lounger or ordering up at the bar. (In a nod to the brand’s British heritage, order up the Crisps con Queso.) But whatever damage you do at the bar, the aforementioned sustainability measures will keep you feeling virtuous, especially if you choose one of the hotel’s Green Your Stay options to help neutralize your visit’s carbon footprint.
For an even higher-up rooftop bar—the highest in town, in fact—check out (or better yet, check into) the Grand Hyatt Nashville, where perks include room service from the aforementioned Sean Brock restaurant, The Continental.
If you like your sophistication on a more intimate scale, know that the Luxury Collection has a new Nashville outpost: The Joseph, where—for starters—you’ll find the abovementioned Michelin-starred Chef Mantuano and his refined Italian offerings. Then again, if you stay in one of the corner suites—with their views of the Cumberland River—you’ll have a hard time just prying yourself from your king-sized, pillow-topped, Frette-dressed bed.
For more whimsy (and direct access to those “hammed” pork shoulders at White Limozeen on the roof), check out the Graduate Nashville, where you’ll be within walking distance of Vanderbilt University—not that you need to be visiting a student of faculty member to appreciate the hotel’s charms, which include one of the world’s cutest takes on the canopy bed theme.
As of May, you can add another newsy option to your list of possibilities: the W Nashville, opening in the trend-setting Gulch neighborhood, where the hotel will offer everything from garden-to-glass cocktails at an almost 10,000-square-foot pool and bar space to Extreme Wow Suites with panoramic downtown views.
For art and history buffs…
Though music may be the best-known pillar of the local cultural scene, the visual arts and historic museums are well worth your time, too.
For starters, the only place to catch Picasso. Figures in the US this year is the Ingram Gallery of the Frist Art Museum, where the exhibit has kicked off the museum's 20th anniversary celebrations. Through May 2, you can see these 75 career-spanning works on loan from the Musée National Picasso-Paris, but be sure to book in advance for timed entry.
For some local history, don't miss the Tennessee State Museum, where you can catch the impressive Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote through September 26, as well as fascinating permanent exhibits on Tennesseans of every period from the Ice Age to the Modern Era. But some of the most noteworthy Nashvillians to date are those who've been creating all the amazing art, music, food and hospitality that's come on the scene while you've been away. So—seriously—it's time to come on back.