Country music is to Nashville what Beatles rock is to Liverpool. Or Flamenco to Spain. This is home to the Grand Ole Opry, the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame, after all, not to mention Tootsies, the original Honky Tonk. But word's out (thanks in many ways to the hit ABC show that shares this city's name): Nashville's charms run even deeper, with a slew of unique attractions that make it one of the country's truly great travel destinations.
Visit Athena, Skip Athens
In the heart of Nashville stands a beautiful tip of the hat to Greek history. An exact full-scale replica of the Parthenon – the temple that features prominently in ancient Greek history – is the centerpiece of Centennial Park. This one dates back only to 1897, but it comes complete with an exact full-scale replica of the young goddess, Athena; some of the adornment replicas were even direct casts from the originals. This is a great afternoon visit, especially since Nashville's art museum – with permanent displays dedicated to 19th and 20th century art – resides inside.
Order the Taco, Skip the Fried Chicken
Nashville is a haven for restaurants offering up some of the country's best Southern cooking. But consider going even further south. This city is home to a slew of Mexican eateries offering flavorful, fresh fare. La Hacienda Taqueria is a local's favorite – the margaritas get high marks – while San Antonio Taco Company is famous for its chili con queso. If you're visiting the Berry Hill neighborhood, take on an overstuffed burrito at Baja Burrito. And in East Nashville, the new Mas Tacos Por Favor is gaining fame for its… well, you know.
Look Up, Spot the Birds
Bird-watching has quite the following in Nashville. The Tennessee Ornithological Society launched in 1915 and is recognized today with a historical plaque near the property of its founding, 419 Union Street. The group, committed to the study and preservation of Tennessee birds, offers myriad resources on their web site, like links to recent sightings. And it points budding birders to specific locations in Nashville where viewing is good, like Radnor Lake, considered a top spot for spotting waterfowl.
See the Vineyard, Skip the Bar
The cocktail scene is on fire here, but Nashville is also at the heart of Tennessee's burgeoning viticulture, which includes more than 40 wineries. From Nashville, a visit to the Natchez Trace Wine Trail leads visitors to four wineries, including Amber Falls, which produces a bevy of sweet wines and a handful of award-winning Bordeaux blends, and Grinder's Switch, which hosts wine-and-blues music nights throughout the summer and classic movie screenings – with wine – monthly. Don't want to worry about driving? Companies like Nashville Wine Tours offer excursions out of Nashville lasting anywhere from three to seven hours.
Holy Spires, Batman You don't have to be a comic book fan to appreciate the cool look to the aptly-dubbed Batman Building. The 33-story skyscraper – the state's tallest building, actually – is home to AT&T's Tennessee headquarters. But for the rest of us, it's pretty neat architecture, with a dark façade and illuminated spires up top that do bear an uncanny resemblance to the mask worn by the Caped Crusader. See for yourself, at 333 Commerce Street.
Jazz it Up, Don't Stop at Country
Country music is the headliner in this city, no doubt about it. But, as a mark of Nashville's broad cultural landscape, there are some great jazz venues worth checking out, too. F. Scott's Restaurant & Jazz Bar serves up award-winning American fare in the community of Green Hills, though the nightly jazz acts are as big a draw. They also offer wine tastings weekly. In the Eight Avenue South neighborhood, Grimey's houses a wide range of music to buy – from CDs to vinyl. But downstairs, in the aptly-dubbed and intimate "Basement," jazz musicians share their talent regularly; you'll find a steady stream of blues and rock-and-roll acts down here as well.
Step Back in Time Nashville is where the music stars of tomorrow are wowing crowds today. But the city also offers unique opportunities to feel like you've been swept back in time. Like the General Jackson Showboat, a 300-foot paddlewheel riverboat whose atmosphere and two-story Victorian theater exude a 19th-century feel; the dinner shows here feature some great musical talent. The Belle Meade Plantation along Harding Rd. was founded in 1807 as a breeding and training ground for thoroughbred horses. Today, a visit is study in a variety of 19th century architectural styles, and tours take guests to onsite structure like the grand mansion, horse stables and gardens. If you're going with the kids, ask about their family rate, and children under five are free.
See Vintage, Skip New
If you want to shop like a local, you've got to go vintage. Music buffs will make classic finds at hot shops like Grimey's and The Great Escape. Antique Archaeology, housed in a 100-year-old car factory just outside downtown, has a cool, gritty vibe and sells everything from motorcycle gear to lamps. And if you're looking to revamp your wardrobe, check out shops like Old Made Good and Local Honey, which features mostly female and under-30 designers.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary with a "15 Golden Giveaway" campaign, an interactive social media contest. The campaign offers travelers the chance to win one of 15 exotic vacations and getaways around the world, including a five-star getaway for two to Nashville.