Set on a bluff by the Cumberland River amid the gentle hills and farmlands of central Tennessee, big-hearted NASHVILLE attracts millions of visitors each year. The majority come for the country music, whether at mainstream showcases like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, or in the hipper honky-tonks and other live music venues found not only downtown but also in Nashville’s many characterful neighbourhoods.
Behind the rhinestone glitter and showbiz exists a conservative, hard-working city. Nashville has been the leading settlement in middle Tennessee since Fort Nashborough was established in 1779, and state capital since 1843. It is now a major financial and insurance centre and a notably religious place: there are more churches per head here than anywhere else in the nation.
Downtown Nashville is spread along the Cumberland River, and while it looks much like any other regional business centre, “Lower Broad”, along Broadway between 2nd and 5th avenues, is prime country music territory, lined with honky-tonks, bars, restaurants and gift stores. In addition to the venerable structures you’d expect in a state capital, downtown boasts many of the city’s premier attractions, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and the Johnny Cash Museum. Further afield, Music Row, which centres on Demonbreun Street a mile southwest of downtown, forms the heart of Nashville’s recording industry, with companies including Warner Bros., Mercury and Sony operating out of plush office blocks.
The city has a number of hip little neighbourhoods ripe for discovery, particularly East Nashville, located across the river. It’s a left-leaning place made up of aspiring musicians and young families, where quirky galleries rub elbows with thrift stores and stylish restaurants. East of Centennial Park, across West End Avenue, the campus of Vanderbilt University abuts the colourful Hillsboro Village, a four-block radius sliced through by 21st Avenue South and abounding in cafés and arty boutiques. Most visitors will enjoy themselves immensely by launching full-tilt into what “Nash Vegas” is best known for: the flash and fun of country music. If you’re hankering for more local flavour, venture out of downtown to swill regional beer, browse oddball record stores and hunt for the perfect pair of cowboy boots.