Nashville Study Guide: Walking Itineraries for the Curious Traveler - Atlas Obscura

Walking Itineraries for the Curious Traveler
Nashville Study Guide

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Glitz, glamour, guitars, honky-tonks, sequins, and neon are synonymous with Music City and its country music roots. While there’s perhaps no other city that embraces big hats, big hair and big personalities quite the way Nashville does, there’s much more to Tennessee’s capital than meets the eye. Its rich history of food, culture, and innovation makes it a haven for creatives of all stripes. Though the city shimmers with energy, it’s easy to commune with nature and enjoy the pristine beauty of East Tennessee, starting with the Cumberland River that runs right through the heart of downtown. Whether you’re looking for a brush with history, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors or an opportunity to hear some of music’s biggest stars, Nashville has it all. If your boots don’t feel like walking the entire route, Old Town Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off tours around the city, with a stop just outside Graduate Nashville.

The world’s only exact-size and detail replica of the Parthenon in ancient Athens, Greece.

1. The Parthenon

When Nashville held the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition in 1897 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the state’s entry into the union, the centerpiece was the world’s only exact-size and detail replica of the Parthenon in ancient Athens, Greece. Though it was meant to be a temporary construction, Nashvillians advocated for making it permanent; a project to shore up the exterior was completed in 1925. In 1931, the interior renovation was completed and the building opened to the public as a museum that same year. In 1982, the Park Board commissioned sculptor Alan LeQuire to recreate the Athena statue that Athens’ Parthenon once held. The 42-foot gilded statue is the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western Hemisphere. Visitors can visit the Parthenon in what is now the 132-acre Centennial Park, and peruse a variety of temporary and permanent art and historical exhibits throughout the building. 

Pro tip: Some roads are closed due to renovations taking place on the grounds of the Parthenon. Visitors can still visit the museum during normal operating hours, accessible via the northeastern entrance.

2500 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37203

Make your way to Music Row’s Starstruck Entertainment building to find this hidden heart.

2. Hidden Heart at Starstruck Entertainment

The music industry can be famously cut-throat, leaving many broken hearts of starry-eyed dreamers chasing fame in its wake. For an uplifting find, make your way to Music Row’s Starstruck Entertainment building. The company was founded by Reba McEntire and her then-husband Narvel Blackstock and currently manages an A-list roster including Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and others. Thousands of stones are stacked to form the wall surrounding the building; tucked among the many rectangular shapes is a heart. Insider tip: No matter how diligently you search for this masonry anomaly on the front of the building, you won’t find it. Turn the corner along Chet Atkins Place, and you’ll see this subtle tribute to the power of having the heart to pursue your dreams. 

40 Music Square W Nashville, Tennessee United States

Hatch Show Print has turned out posters for some of country music's biggest stars, but it also produced posters for prominent magicians, actors, and blues and jazz artists.

3. Hatch Show Print

While you’re exploring music history, don’t miss a stop at one of America’s oldest letterpress print shops. In 1879, brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch made a name for themselves creating a handbill for a local appearance by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (brother of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe). More work steadily flowed in, and Charles’ son William, a master woodworker, took over the business in the mid-1920s. In the relief printing technique, the image and typography is carved on a raised surface, ink is applied and the paper is pressed like a stamp. Not only did the company’s letterpress turn out posters for some of the day’s biggest country stars, but it also produced posters for prominent magicians, actors, and blues and jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith—anyone who wanted to draw a crowd. Nearly 150 years later the shop, now housed in the lobby of the Country Music Hall of Fame, is still thriving, turning out 500 to 700 jobs annually. Take a tour for a close-up look at the printing process, or shop for a bold signature poster to take home. 

224 5th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203

The factory location offers behind-the-scenes tours where guests can play trivia and make a custom cluster.

4. Goo Goo Clusters at the Goo Goo Shop

Find a sugar high with a stop at the factory store for Goo Goo Clusters, nostalgic sweets created in a copper kettle in 1912. The brand claims it was the world's first “combination candy bar” with caramel, marshmallow nougat, roasted peanuts and milk chocolate. The Standard Candy Co. was formed by five men in Nashville in 1901. Their sixth partner, 19-year-old Howell H. Campbell, was entrusted to run the enterprise, despite being too young to participate in the incorporation (at the time, state law required partners to be at least 21). He, along with factory manager Porter Moore, came up with the now-iconic recipe. Shop visitors can peruse a mini-museum of sorts, complete with vintage advertising, packaging from past partnerships, antique copper kettles and uniforms from the 1980s and ’90s when the Goo Goo Cluster Buick was a prominent fixture on the NASCAR circuit. The factory location offers behind-the-scenes tours where guests learn brand trivia and can make a custom cluster. While Goo Goo’s standard flavors are original, peanut butter and pecan, the oversized build-your-own treats can be filled with ingredients like bourbon caramel, brown sugar nougat, potato chips, pretzels and more.

116 3rd Ave S, Nashville, TN 37201

The bridge was declared too hazardous for vehicles in 1998 and scheduled for demolition before public support led it to be transformed into a pedestrian-only structure in 2003.

5. John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

At first brush, this 3,150-foot pedestrian-only truss bridge may seem simply like an expedient way to get from one side of the Cumberland River to the other, but there’s more to the story. Built as an automobile thoroughfare in 1909 to connect downtown to the eastern suburbs, it was christened the Shelby Bridge, before being renamed in 2014 for the late John Seigenthaler, a former editor of the Tennessean newspaper and an outspoken champion for civil rights. The bridge, suspended 16 feet over the water, was designed by railway engineer Howard M. Jones; it was the first in North America to be supported by arched concrete piers. The bridge was declared too hazardous for vehicles in 1998 and scheduled for demolition before a groundswell of public support led it to be transformed into a pedestrian-only structure in 2003. It’s now one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Walk across it and enjoy sweeping views of the downtown skyline, Nissan Stadium (where the Tennessee Titans play on any given Sunday) and the Ghost Ballet sculpture.

Nashville, TN 37213

One of the city’s quintessential honky-tonk pilgrimages is found in a tiny alley.

6. Ryman Alley

Music history is just about everywhere you look in Nashville, but while you’re marveling at the well-known Ryman Auditorium (built in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle and host of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974) and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the city’s quintessential honky-tonk, take a moment to walk the alley between the two. It’s such an iconic pilgrimage that Willie Nelson once said it was “17 steps to Tootsie’s and 34 back,” since he was known to sneak off to have a few drinks between sets at the Ryman. The two are inextricably linked since so many stars who got their start on Tootsie’s tiny wooden stage—including Kenny Chesney, Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and the Everly Brothers—went on to play at the much larger Ryman (capacity 2,362 fans). Fun fact: Kris Kristofferson and Nelson both lived upstairs at Tootsie’s when they were just beginning their careers.

116 5th Ave N Nashville, Tennessee, 37219 United States

The Marathon Motor Works Museum showcases four antique Marathon automobiles (there are only eight known to exist in the world today). 

7. Marathon Village

Connect with Music City’s industrial past at this collection of buildings, constructed in 1881, that first housed the Nashville Cotton Mills and later Marathon Motor Works, the first company to manufacture automobiles from start to finish in the Southern U.S. Now, the weathered buildings house a bourbon distillery, moonshine distillery, boutiques, galleries, homewares shops, a comedy club and Antique Archaeology, the Nashville retail outpost of the History Channel’s “American Pickers” show. History buffs won’t want to miss meandering through the free museum exhibits spread throughout—including antique factory machinery, early hand tools and artifacts recovered from the wreck of The City of Florence Steamboat that went down in the Tennessee River in 1913. One highlight is the Marathon Motor Works Museum, which showcases four antique Marathon automobiles (there are only eight known to exist in the world today). 

1305 Clinton St STE 100, Nashville, TN 37203

Bolton's dry rub spice comes in six levels of heat and is not for the faint of heart.

8. Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish

Mention Nashville’s signature dish, hot chicken, and locals are bound to have an opinion on the best and hottest recipe in town. While there are newer, flashier outfits scattered around the city, this no-frills, cash-only spot is steeped in history. The legacy of Bolton’s hot chicken recipe goes back to the 1980s when Bolton Polk—the uncle of co-founder Bolton Matthews—ran The Chicken Shack in East Nashville. Armed with his recipe, Matthews and Dolly Ingram launched Bolton’s in 1997 (with the addition of Ingram’s signature fried fish method). The dry rub spice comes in six levels of heat and is not for the faint of heart: There’s a posted warning, urging guests to “Please wash your hands before rubbing your eyes or babies! No refunds, returns or exchanges. Choose your spice level at your own risk!” Carefully select your spice level and the vehicle—chicken tenders on a stick, wings, quarter chicken, or a catfish or whiting fish sandwich—and be prepared to let it hurt so good. 

624 Main St, Nashville, TN 37206

For a behind-the-scenes look at the chocolate-making process, take a factory tour at Olive and Sinclair.

9. Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.

Fuel up with a rich cup of joe at Graduate Nashville’s all-day café, Poindexter, and you may notice the Olive & Sinclair chocolate bars displayed on the counter. Let the colorfully packaged sweets inspire you to make a pilgrimage to East Nashville to visit Tennessee’s first bean-to-bar chocolate confectionery. Since 2007, the boutique brand has been turning out small-batch chocolate, and its factory and storefront occupy the former H.G. Hill Grocery Store location, built in 1890. The shop is outfitted with antique pendant lighting, the building’s roof is supported by 200-year-old reclaimed heart pine beams and the air is perfumed with the nuanced aromas of roasting beans. For a behind-the-scenes look at the chocolate-making process, join one of the 40-minute tours (offered on Saturdays), and you’ll learn how fair trade cocoa beans are slow-roasted before being ground in a vintage melangeur (stone mill grinder) and turned into bars studded with sea salt, candied lemon, cinnamon and chile, and salt and pepper. Other sweet treats include salt and vinegar caramels, smoked cacao nibs made with another Tennessee favorite, Benton’s Bacon, caramels made with duck fat and more. 

1628 Fatherland St, Nashville, TN 37206

The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed animals appearing in Graduate Hotel artwork and figurines are a nod to nearby Vanderbilt University.

10. Magnolia Lawn at Vanderbilt University

Guests staying at Graduate Nashville might find the squirrel motifs in the rooms curious. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed animals appearing in artwork and figurines throughout the hotel are a nod to nearby Vanderbilt University. It’s popularly believed that there are three squirrels for every one human on the campus. While you won’t find a piece of squirrel-themed art in the sculpture garden next to the Peabody Library (one of nine libraries at the university), a walk through any of the many quads, parks and green spaces around campus might yield a sighting (particularly in the spring). 

2201 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37235

A pink chicken wire Dolly Parton sculpture, created by artist Ricky Pittman, graces the hotel’s 12th-floor rooftop bar.

11. Graduate Nashville

Now that you’ve explored the city,  make your way back to the hotel, where art and artifacts take center stage. The Polk Motel Sign glows proudly in the lobby, declaring “50 Beautiful Units” (don't take it too literally: Graduate Nashville has 205 rooms and suites). The sign, originally installed at a roadside motel in nearby Columbia, Tennessee in the 1950s, captured the imagination of Graduate Hotels CEO Ben Weprin, who arranged its loan. Handmade by the Columbia Neon Co., it’s a proud piece of history that the hotel is helping preserve for future generations. It’s also impossible to miss the colorful 15- by 9-foot latch hook tapestry of famous funny lady and Grand Ole Opry member Minnie Pearl (whose real name was Sarah Colley). Conceived by conceptual needlework artist Margaret Timbrell, the portrait even features Pearl’s hat with the price tag dangling, a signature part of her act. As you explore the property, take notice of a light made from a blue hoop skirt suspended over a communal table in Poindexter (a nod to the South’s historic beauty queen culture), the cowboy boots that make an appearance in the carpets lining the guest floors, and framed recipes by “Miss Daisy” King, a celebrated culinary fixture for more than four decades and author of 14 cookbooks. Don’t miss a look at the 75 velvet paintings depicting some of Nashville’s beloved music stars inside Cross-Eyed Critters karaoke bar and what’s fast-becoming the quintessential snap: a pink chicken wire Dolly Parton sculpture, created by artist Ricky Pittman, graces the hotel’s 12th-floor rooftop bar.

101 20th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37203

Graduate Hotels are a hand-crafted collection of hotels that reside in the most dynamic university-anchored towns across the country. Find a location near you here.

Where to Stay
Graduate Nashville

Surround yourself in history and legend at our funky, floral jewel box. Right in the heart of Midtown, Graduate Nashville features playful, luxe guest rooms that celebrate the town’s innate charm. Channel your inner Opry star at our animatronic karaoke bar or take in the Nashville skyline from our rooftop bar.

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