The ABC hit series Nashville, starring Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton, has brought popularity to the South’s music capital, albeit in dramatic fashion. But what is this Tennessee city really like for those visiting? We break down the show’s filming locations and where to experience the “real” Nashville.
The Real Nashville Off Screen
GRAND OLE OPRY
here may be no place more significant to country music than the Grand Ole Opry. It started as a weekly country show in 1925 before moving to the historic Ryman Auditorium in 1943 then on to the larger Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. Musicians must be invited to play here, making it a prestigious place to play. Rayna and Juliette meet here for the first time in season 1 and you can check it out for yourself on a backstage tour.
Nearly every performer on the show has shared this stage and its prestige is as high in real life as is depicted on screen. The small cafe has tables surrounding the intimate performing area, so guests are right in the action. Acts like Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes and Taylor Swift have performed here in real life and the cafe prides itself on showcasing undiscovered songwriters and musicians. Tickets will cost you no more than $20, no matter who’s performing, but be prepared to wait in line to get in. This is the real Nashville!
Known as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” the Ryman was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, where legends like Johnny Cash, Patty Griffin and Neil Young performed. Originally the Union Gospel Tabernacle, it held the Opry broadcasts from 1943 to 1974. It sustained architectural damage over the years, but was renovated in 2012 and musicians continue to perform here. Visitors can go on a behind the scenes tour or catch a performance for the full experience.
TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE
On the show, Gunnar and Will play open mic night at the legendary Tootsie’s on Broadway, which is one of the world’s best honky tonks. Conveniently located behind the Ryman, Tootsie’s two stages have hosted acts like Jason Aldean, Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. Matriarch Tootsie Bess used to slip money to hungry writers and musicians before they made it big. Look out for the signature purple paint decking the outside. Other music venues featured on the show that you can check out for yourself include Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, The Five Spot, Mercy Lounge, Robert’s Western World, Legends Corner and Wildhorse Saloon.
Restaurants and Bars
Nashville’s thriving food scene also plays a large role in the filming of the show. Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel is the sight of a secret rendezvous by Deacon and Coleman and it’s also home to the Oak Bar, one of the top nightspots in town. Also included in filming are Rippy’s Bar and Grill, where Will plays, the Sky Blue Cafe and Watermark.
What was once a rough neighborhood has recently been gentrified and taken over by hipsters, who flock to coffee mecca Barista Parlor and shop for secondhand threads at stores like Hip Zipper. It’s also full of bars and restaurants and is ideal for walking or a peaceful bike ride. Many of the characters on the show, Deacon, Scarlett and Gunnar in particular, live in this part of town, the real Nashville.
This neighborhood is popular with Vanderbilt University students for its coffee shops, brunch spots and secondhand bookstores. Teddy and Peggy have a run in here in season 1. Give yourself an afternoon to have brunch at Fido before wandering through Pangea, home to funky home decor and gifts, and Bookman/Bookwoman, the best bookstore in town.
BROADWAY AND DOWNTOWN
Many scenes are filmed on Broadway, where the honky tonks line the main drag. While most locals don’t spend much time here, it’s worth a walk just to see where it all began. Also be sure to try on a pair of cowboy boots at Boot Country to see how the country music lifestyle suits you.
The Best of the “Real” Nashville
Apart from the neighborhoods listed above, there are plenty of other places to see outside of Nashville’s episodes. The Parthenon and Centennial Park are featured on the show and are a scale replica of the Athenian temple and its surrounding parklands.
Loveless Cafe is the best breakfast in town for its country ham and world famous biscuits. Rolf and Daughters, on the other hand, is the newest and most talked about restaurant where you’ll find modern takes on traditional Southern fare. To hoist a pint, try local beers at Yazoo Brewing Company before a catching show at venues like The Listening Room or Third and Lindley. And while it’s certainly a tourist hotspot, you can’t visit Nashville without seeing the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel with its glass ceiling and indoor water features.