Nashville Skyline along the Cumberland River, Nashville, Tennessee, USA (Photo: OFFFSTOCK/Shutterstock)
Nashville Skyline along the Cumberland River, Nashville, Tennessee, USA (Photo: OFFFSTOCK/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Jason Frye
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Nashville

If you've never visited Nashville you probably think the city's full of live music, cowboy hats, and the hope of becoming the next big country star. That's not far off, but it's also not the complete picture.

Nashville's nickname -- Music City -- fits like a fine pair of blue jeans because the city is the epicenter of country music and home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and more than a hundred venues where live music is a nightly thing. But what you're able to hear in Nashville ranges far beyond the country, western (yes, there is a difference) and Americana you expect. There are plenty of cowboy hats, but more likely you'll find western shirts inspired by the likes of Nudie Cohn and Nathan Turk -- you know the ones: pearl buttons, fancy stitching at the shoulder. And while the city still draws plenty of next-generation musicians, you're more likely to find aspiring chefs, bartenders, brewers and artists -- and more than a few visitors enjoying the city -- while you're out and about.

Much of the music action is centered on Broadway Avenue, specifically Lower Broadway (which just happens to be near Riverfront Park, where many of the cruise ships dock), where honky-tonks and rooftop bars are interspersed with restaurants (featuring their own live music lineups), souvenir shops and boutiques. Printer's Alley, just a few blocks north of Broadway, has its own slate of bars and venues, and between Music Row and The Gulch, you'll find even more places to sip and listen.

You'll hear music all day from street corner buskers and coming from the stages of every open restaurant and bar you pass, but at night, things get hopping. Along Broadway, the sidewalks get packed and lines form at the most popular honkytonks, or at the ones where the band is playing a particularly hot lick at the moment. If you want a more refined music experience, those are available too. The Grand Old Opry, a radio show that started airing weekly concerts in 1925 and has hosted legends in country, bluegrass, Americana and even rock, records at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville and at the Grand Ole Opry House just a short ride away; no matter where the Opry is recording or who's on the show that night, this musical legend is worth seeing.

Given the city's musical history, several museums pay homage to the greats of country music. The Johnny Cash Museum, downstairs from the Patsy Cline Museum, is a good place to start as The Man in Black was a crossover artist who influenced artists from all stripes of the musical spectrum for five decades (Patsy Cline's story and musical legacy is strong today too). The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is jam-packed with memorabilia and music from the genre's past and present, and the Music City Walk of Fame Park spreads the love beyond the country borders. At the Hatch Show Print's Haley Gallery, you can see original concert posters and today's interpretation of the iconic designs: bold primary colors, big block lettering, prominent graphic of the artist on the playbill.

But Nashville's not all music, there's art, food and drink to be enjoyed, too.

The Rymer Gallery, Nashville's largest gallery of contemporary artwork, features work by more than 40 artists from the U.S. and abroad, and at Zeitgeist gallery you can catch performances and exhibits by established and emerging artists. Shopping at a bookstore like Parnassus Books, an antique shop like Antique Archaeology Nashville, or for delightfully tourist tacky souvenirs at one of the innumerable such shops that line Broadway makes for an easy way to pass an afternoon.

Nashville's food scene has made restaurants here a destination unto themselves, and new places and chefs continue to make a name for themselves. Spots like Acme Feed & Seed, located across the street from Riverfront Park, is a convenient meeting place for cruise lines and serves a menu that's expansive and tasty. Hot Chicken -- fried chicken with a spicy breading and spicier sauce -- is a Nashville original, but the two best places -- Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's -- will require a short Uber ride.

Shore Excursions

About Nashville


Pro

Fun for foodies and music fans

Con

Broadway Avenue can be crowded and a little raucous at night

Bottom Line

With lots to see and do, Nashville deserves a few extra nights


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Port Facilities

You'll be docked in downtown Nashville's Riverfront Park at the foot of Broadway Avenue While there's no port facility at Riverfront Park, you are across the street from one of Nashville's main drags and all the amenities it brings. In this area there are plenty of restaurants and bars and a few cafes, where you can get a bite, soak up some free Wi-Fi and shop in local boutiques and specialty stores. There are bus stops nearby (Music City Star Riverfront Station) if you want to hop on the free Music City Circuit, and taxis frequent the area.

Good to Know

You won't pay a cover to get into one of the honky-tonks or bars in Nashville, but that doesn't mean shows are free. Instead of charging at the door, bands pass the hat -- usually a bucket, not much money fits in a hat -- a time or two during the show.

Be ready to make friends when you're out and about as the city's one of the friendliest around. Don't be surprised if strangers join in a conversation while you're at the bar or a concert, and don't be surprised if when you leave your friends with your bartender, server and the people sitting at stools and tables around you.

One last thing. Don't be offended if people call you "ma'am" or "sir," regardless of your age. Folks around here are taught to say "yes ma'am" and "no sir" and please and thank you, so please do the same; thank you.

Getting Around

On Foot: Many of Nashville's tourist attractions are found within a 20-minute walk of the riverboat dock, and the city's gentle grade and gridded layout makes navigation easy. From Riverfront Park, where the riverboats dock, walk up Broadway Avenue and you'll find restaurants, bars, honkytonks, boot shops, souvenir stores and some of the best people-watching in the South.

By Bus: The Music City Circuit runs two free buses that travel between the Riverfront and Tennessee State University and The Gulch and Bicentennial Mall, which means they cover just about every block of the city's key tourist areas with regularity and ease. Between the two routes there are more than 75 stops across the city, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, and bars and restaurants along Broadway and in The Gulch.

Bus service to and from Nashville International Airport is available for around $2; simply take Route 18 Airport/Downtown. Know that most cruise lines offer a shuttle from the airport to the cruise terminal for a nominal fee.

If you'll be in town for a while, one-day and seven-day passes are available (prices range from less than $4 to less than $20).

By Taxi: Taxis are plentiful, as are rideshare options like Uber.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Nashville uses the U.S. dollar as the only accepted paper currency, though most businesses and taxis will accept credit or debit cards. ATMs are plentiful downtown, the nearest to the riverboat dock is at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Second Avenue South. The ATMs will be the easiest place to acquire U.S. dollars, though some larger bank branches may be able to exchange limited amounts of currency, if that's your only option.

Language

English, with a mix of country twang and Southern drawl, is what you'll hear in Nashville.

Food and Drink

Acme Feed & Seed: This three-story eatery serves burgers, tacos, barbecue, sushi, ribs and more on the first two floors, then adds a rooftop bar to the mix to liven things up. The food is good, music, when they have it, is just as good. (101 Broadway Ave.; 615-915-0888; open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to late, and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to late)

Prince's Hot Chicken: A legendary spot serving Nashville hot chicken, fried chicken with some added heat in the batter and sometimes sauce. It's fried perfectly and is deceptively spicy. The menu is small, just fried chicken, wings or tenders and a few sides, but that's all you need when you make one of the most sought-after fried chicken dishes in the south. (123 Ewing Dr.; 615-226-9442; open Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 a.m., and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 4 a.m.)

Hattie B's: Serving Nashville hot chicken with white or dark meat, half-bird platters, tenders and wings, Hattie B's is one of those destination dining places where the line is long and the food it totally worth it. Watch out, Nashville hot chicken can be quite hot, so when you order, try a heat level one below where you think you should be. (112 9th Ave. South; 615-678-4794; open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Biscuit Love: The biscuits Chef Karl Worley cooks up every morning draws quite a crowd, so much so you might want to arrive early so you don't have to stand in line and turn breakfast into lunch. Whether you get a plain buttermilk biscuit, a biscuit sandwich topped with fried chicken or beef patties, or biscuit French toast, you'll be glad you stopped by. (316 11th Ave. South; 615-490-9584; open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Husk Nashville: Chef Sean Brock made a name for himself in Charleston, South Carolina, but he heard the call of Nashville and opened a second location of his flagship restaurant, Husk, here. The menu is distinctively Southern but updated for contemporary palates and focuses on using local ingredients in every phase of the meal. Expect to find hot fish sandwiches, his version of hot chicken, duck, country ham and biscuits, steak and pork. (37 Rutledge St.; 615-256-6565; open for lunch Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; open for dinner Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Black Rabbit: Serving exceptional classic cocktails and modern updates as well as bites of sophisticated food on sharable plates and platters, Black Rabbit is known to visitors and locals as a place where the food and drink are exceptional. (218 3rd Ave. North; 615-730-9432; open Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to midnight, Friday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., closed Sunday)

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint: Whole hog barbecue cooked over hickory coals creates an aroma that draws in hungry visitors from far and wide. Pulled pork, sliced brisket, smoked turkey and a little thing called a Redneck Taco -- barbecue served on a cornbread hoecake -- are just some of the highlights here. (410 4th Ave. South; 615-288-0880; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

Jack's Bar-B-Que: The style of barbecue at Jack's is a combination of Tennessee and Texas, so on the menu you'll find pulled pork and brisket, as well as smoked turkey and chicken and hot sausages. Run by a longtime and lauded barbecue man in Nashville, Jack's is one of those places barbecue lovers seek out and check off their list. (416 Broadway Ave.; 615-254-5715; open Monday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

Nudie's Honky Tonk: Three levels, three stages, the longest bar in Nashville, and a giant Cadillac hanging on the wall make Nudie's one of the best honky-tonks in town. Named for Nudie Cohn, Rodeo Tailor, one of the iconic westernwear designers and quite a character, this is a hot party spot any night of the week. (409 Broadway Ave.; 615-942-5307; open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.)

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge: What's not to love about a tri-staged honky-tonk located right behind the Ryman Auditorium? That's Tootsie's, a place where you'll hear exceptional music, drink exceptionally cheap beer, and have a genuinely Nashville good time. (422 Broadway Ave.; 615-726-0463; open daily, 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.)

Beer Sellar: Beer Sellar has one of the best beer lists in downtown Nashville, with 50 taps and more than 100 bottles on offer. They always feature brews from Nashville and across Tennessee, as well as top southern and national breweries. (107 Church St.; 615-254-9464; open Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday to Sunday, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.)

Shopping

Shopping in Nashville ranges from the delightfully tacky tourist shops to exclusive boutiques. The District, 2nd Avenue off Broadway, is home to candy and souvenir shops, and more than a few boutiques. In SOBRO -- that's South of Broadway, in downtown -- near the Country Music Hall of Fame, there are shops catering to high-end clients with luxury leather goods and chic boutiques, but also decadent gourmet and food shops. At Marathon Village, just outside of downtown, you'll find distilleries, a Jack Daniel's store, Antique Archaeology (from Mike Wolfe of "American Pickers"), as well as leather shops and jewelers. If you've come to shop, you'll find what you're looking for in Nashville.

Parnassus Books: You'd expect one of the best bookstores to be owned by an author, and author Anne Patchett and her business partner deliver on all notes. With a broad selection and knowledgeable staff; a packed slate of signings, readings and events; and a good selection of signed copies and first editions, bibliophiles will loves stopping by. (3900 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 14; 615-953-2243; open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.)

Antique Archaeology Nashville: Mike Wolfe, of History Channel's "American Pickers," opened the second location of his showroom and shop, Antique Archaeology, in Nashville, a town where the motorcycle and advertising pieces, memorabilia and ephemera have gained an appreciative audience. Stop by and be wowed by what you find in the way of home decor, clothing, accessories, art and more. (1300 Clinton St., Suite 130; 615-810-9906; open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.)