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Nashville tops the vacation charts for a lot of people so chances are you've already visited or would like to visit this small-scale city. If I'm honest, that criteria alone always kept me away (mobs of people?, no thanks!) so I always said I'd wait for a reason to head there before planning a trip of my own. I had successfully avoided the bachelorette-run streets until January 2020, when Eric and I found ourselves attending a travel event in the heart of Nashville itself.
We booked our tickets, which to my surprise was only a 2 hour flight from Philadelphia, and jumped right into it without any real expectations. Nashville has a reputation for being a party spot, frequented by bachelor/bachelorettes and others looking for overall debauchery. It's even been dubbed "NashVegas" and we seriously heard someone refer to it as that as we were boarding our flight. I have nothing against Las Vegas (we got married there!), but we really aren't the biggest party-goers so big party towns can fall a little flat for our sober tastes (ahem, Austin). It's only natural that we had fears of the same happening in Nashville. I sat between my husband and a Nashville transplant on the plane, who explained to us that quote "Nashville is like a huge Austin." At this point in time Eric and I turned to each other and wondered what we were getting ourselves into.
After 4 days in Nashville, I'm happy to report that Mr. "NashVegas" and our plane neighbor couldn't have been more wrong about Nashville! Now of course you can go and party your face off and we saw plenty of people doing just that, but this blog is about something different: the hidden gem Nashville you can experience when you're not partying. We filled our days with donuts, coffee, history, adventure, and plenty more coffee. Did I mention the coffee in Nashville is legendary? I know they're known for their music, but dang the coffee is good!
Here's a breakdown by activity with some key tips on making your visit to Nashville the best ever!
We arrived around midnight so our first taste of town was our Airbnb, and boy did it set the tone right! We often stay in Airbnbs to really get the feel of the place we're visiting, but this was our first time renting a private room. In case you're new to this like us, it's exactly what it sounds like: you get a private room in what is otherwise a fully occupied house.
Our private room experience included a private bedroom/bathroom combo, both of which were on the 2nd level of a stunning craftsman house. Our host was Anna, and I'm so thankful to have had her help us navigate this new experience. She is truly the sweetest human imaginable and made herself available as needed, but didn't overwhelm us. Plus, she's amazingly cultured and shared so many wonderful stories with us!
I could go on forever about this place but think you'd much prefer photos ;) If you're anything like us, you'll want to book this the second you see it, so here's the link to the listing directly. If you do book, tell Anna we sent you and that we say hello!
12 South Neighborhood
Our Airbnb was situated perfectly in the center of the 12 South neighborhood, which was far and away our favorite region in Nashville. If downtown is a party girl in her mid-twenties, 12 South is her cooler, richer aunt that travels for a living.
It's much quieter than the other regions (we had it to ourselves every day until about 9am), but it livens up as the day progresses and is in full swing by dinner time. There's a great mix of shopping, swanky restaurants, pastry shops, and of course...COFFEE!
Don't miss out on these great finds in 12 South:
5 Daughters Bakery - Known for their 100 layer donut and lines around the block (get there early)! My favorite part is they have a huge selection of vegan donuts And. They're. Delicious.
Frothy Monkey - Out of all the coffee options, we came here the most. They have a signature mocha they make with a banana syrup that's so unique and yummy! Like the rest of town, it fills up by 9am so I recommend getting there early.
Murals - 12 South has a ton of murals that make for total Instagram worthy posts. You can hire a local guide through Airbnb, but I recommend just walking around and trying to find them. Some are a little more hidden than others, but it's so rewarding to find one on your own!
Low Key Drinks @ The Filling Station - We happened upon this one-room cabin that looks more like a carry-out beer distributor than anything else, but found out it's so much more. You can buy some specialty 6 packs to bring home, but I'd recommend staying and having a drink inside. It's a small-gathering kind of vibe and we were 2 of the 4 people in there on a Sunday night. They also have a huge selection of non-alcoholic beers and kombucha, which makes me say - why don't more bars offer draft NA beers? So much fun!
Have you really been to Nashville if you haven't been to Broadway? Probably, but why risk it? I've found that Broadway is what most people refer to when they talk about Nashville (i.e.: NashVegas / "Big Austin" from before). It's a main street of bars with neon signs all playing live bands. It spans for about 4 blocks before it turns into the rest of Nashville, but it's plenty of space to drink, make out with a random bachelorette, and move on...erhm, I mean...nope that's exactly what I mean.
The music starts early (before dinner) which I loved because we were able to have a nice dinner, hear live music, dance my little heart out, and get back in bed by 11pm. I know, I'm a wild one. But trust me, I have a feeling the party goes way later. The people watching is in it's prime around 9pm - I'd recommend taking a walk down the strip for that alone. Just be ready for lots of tourists wearing cowboy hats, large party trucks beeping down the strip, and a few peddlers handing out advertisements. While this isn't my element personally, I will say that the energy was incredibly positive. I've had some negative run-ins with legendary party towns and even Vegas and Austin feel a bit "dark" at times, but everyone here was so happy and having an amazing time!
But wait, there's more! There's so much more to Nashville that you just can't miss out on. Here are some of our favorite activities:
Franklin - This is a lovely little town with great shopping. I didn't buy much on this trip, but everything I did buy came from stores in Franklin. I'll be doing a full fashion post on what I got! Also, if you rent a car to get out there, I recommend taking a detour through Brentwood on the way back to the city. Get lost a little and see all the mega mansions.
TN State Museum - You can skip this one if you're not into museums, but we love a good history lesson and accidentally spent the entire day here. The state's history is so complex (and we aren't taught as much about it being from the North) so it was great to learn about it. Perfect rainy weather activity! When you're done, walk across the street for some amazing coffee at Farm City located in the farmer's market.
Outlanders Southern Chicken - This restaurant won't come up on anyone else's recommended places to eat because it's a little off the beaten path in Nolensville. We got lost one day and Yelped some close food options and happened upon this place. I'm telling you, skip the fuss with Hattie B's chicken and just come here - you won't regret it!
Bongo Java - This was the first coffee shop in Nashville, and although it's been updated over time and adapted to the Belmont University crowd, it's still definitely worth a stop. The food & coffee were both amazing (PS: anyone else notice that everyone rocks at latte art in Nashville?).
Rabbit Circle Farm Tour - If you're looking for a cultural experience, this is it. Jennifer leads the tours and she's simply amazing! We were the only ones on the tour that day so we had total control of our agenda. We spent hours feeding & learning about animals on the farm, went to a local cafe for lunch, and even got to experience a cattle auction. Jennifer takes you to the true "back country" and gives you access to local experiences that you wouldn't get on your own. Her unique background in agricultural sustainability studies mixed with her long-time TN family heritage makes for an amazing trip!