Many times, the most memorable parts of a vacation are the moments spent in an unexpected place. Let’s face it ‚ tourist traps are in abundance in Nashville, and many of them are expensive, crowded, and not nearly as fun as they’re advertised online.
Luckily, we’ve done a deep dive to find all of the lesser-known hidden gems in Nashville and organized them here by activity type, starting with our top 5 picks.
Table Of Contents
Our Top 5 Picks
1. Visit the National Museum of African American Music. The National Museum of African American Music offers an intimate view of African American influence on the many types of music throughout the world, through exhibits, education, and events.
2. Get a drink or a bite at Greenhouse Bar. Greenhouse Bar is the perfect combination of refreshing house-made cocktails and delicious menu items all in a warm, lush atmosphere.
3. See a show at The Caverns. If you’re looking for an outdoor stage unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, look no further. The Caverns is a massive music venue located deep in the heart of an underground cave surrounded by lush Tennessee forests.
4. Check out the Dwyer Observatory. Experience the wonders of our solar system at the Dwyer Observatory located in the mountains surrounding Nashville. They offer live events, educational experiences, and exhibits available to the public by appointment.
5. Go shopping or get a hot cup at Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms is a boutique shopping experience with a great cause. The retail space offers one-of-a-kind handmade products including essential oils, candles, and jewelry as well as a cafe space for tea, coffee, and light snacks. All sales go towards housing women in need of shelter and all products sold are handmade by survivors of domestic violence, exploitation, or trafficking.
Food & Beverage
6. Get a beer and a burger at Dino’s
There are many notable places to get burgers in Nashville, but Dino’s doesn’t always get the recognition they deserve.
Sure their burgers have been featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and voted the third best burger in the country by Bon Appetite Magazine, but typically, you’ll see crowds get drawn to burger joints closer to downtown.
Dino’s, on the other hand, is located in East Nashville, just outside of the downtown area, making it the perfect hidden spot for those seeking cold beer, good people, a breezy patio, decent prices, and one hell of a burger.
7. Eat at Bill’s Sandwich Palace
Also located in East Nashville is Bill’s Sandwich Palace, a haven for sandwich lovers from all over the world.
Since their grand opening a year ago, Bill’s Sandwich Palace has served up every classic sandwich imaginable from meatball parmigiana to ham and swiss while also composing a variety of unique sandwich recipes for their customers to enjoy.
How is that possible? By rotating their menu every two weeks, their kitchen can pump out endless combinations of holistic and delicious ingredients, creating the perfect sandwich every time.
8. Get some soul food at Ramzys Meat and Three
You can’t have a list of hidden gem restaurants without mentioning Ramzy’s Meat and Three. This local hole-in-the-wall serves up classic meat and three dinners or lunches (hence the name) cafeteria style.
The options are limitless — pulled pork, green beans, cheesy potatoes; fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese; fried catfish, coleslaw, and cornbread — and so much more. If you’re looking for soul food in Music City, this is the place to go.
9. Get a drink on the water at Sam’s Sports Grill
Nashville surprisingly has a lack of riverside restaurants and bars for being a city nestled by the Cumberland River. But if you’re looking for a cold one or some delicious pub food with a great view of the water, Sam’s Sports Grill on Turtle Bay is the perfect place for you.
There’s everything from pizza to burgers to seafood as well as a full bar and friendly people, and a massive deck perfect for breezy outdoor get-togethers with family and friends.
10. Play some games and get a drink at Kung Fu Saloon
While technically a chain based in Texas, Kung Fu Saloon is still a must-see for those looking to hit up an under-the-radar barcade. You’ll find all the classic components of a gamer’s haven here — Pacman, Galaga, Big Buck Hunter, as well as foosball, skeeball, ping pong, and board games.
They also offer a full menu featuring everything from juicy burgers to nachos, cold drinks, and a lively patio where you can enjoy yard games such as giant Jenga and Connect Four.
11. Check out some local art at Elephant Gallery
If you’re looking to experience authentic Nashville art, take a trip to the Buchannan Arts District in North Nashville to Elephant Gallery.
While at first glance, the building itself may seem small in size, the space is able to hold a surprising amount of high-quality art on display from local artists. The gallery holds a regular rotation of exhibits of various mediums including sculpture, needlework, jewelry, paintings, and much more.
12. See some weird cars at Lane Motor Museum
The Lane Motor Museum is one of the most impressive (and surprisingly affordable) museums in the area, but for some reason, it’s often overlooked by tourists.
The main draw of Lane Motor Museum is the massive selection of bizarre and rare cars, including discontinued military vehicles, 100-year-old cars, and even aquatic vehicles. The size of the collection is enormous, and you can easily burn the entire day attempting to view everything.
13. Take a look at TV history at Cooter’s
If you grew up watching the Duke boys slide across the hood of their car and save Hazzard County episode after episode, then Ben Jones (aka Cooter Davenport) is a man who needs no introduction.
You can meet the man in person at Cooter’s, a hidden gem of a museum and tribute to the iconic TV show that captured American audiences with stunts and one-liners in the 70s and 80s. Stop by to see the set artifacts up close for as long as you like with 100% free admission!
14. Visit the Tennessee Agricultural Museum
While somewhat of a niche interest, another free museum located in Tennessee is the Tennessee Agricultural Museum.
If you’re looking to learn about agricultural systems and history in a fun and informative setting, this should be at the top of your list of Nashville destinations. They’re open every weekday from 9:00 to 4:00 and feature several exhibits and activities for adults, families, and kids.
15. Enroll in the Refuge Discovery Series
The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge hosts a series of year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. This is a unique experience that few locals have heard about, let alone tourists.
The list of activities includes hunting, fishing, photography, educational classes, boating, biking, horseback riding, nature painting, and archery. The classes are 100% free to attend and are led by park staff. Find the full list of activities, locations, and schedule here!
16. Go on a kayaking trip on Percy Priest Lake
The close proximity of the Cumberland River to downtown Nashville makes it a popular kayaking spot for both tourists and locals alike. But just ten miles outside of the city, is a massive lake perfect for kayaking adventures. While the Cumberland River is perfect for beautiful views of the city, it can be limited for exploration.
This is where Percy Priest Lake is a stronger contender as a kayaking destination. The sheer size of the lake provides a great opportunity for exploring hidden coves and surrounding forests, but there are also a handful of sizeable uninhabited islands worth checking out, or even camping on if you have the time!
17. Check out the local disc golf scene
Whether you’re a seasoned disc golf champion, or just a hobbyist looking for a new activity, you’ll feel right at home in Nashville. Disc golf is surprisingly popular here and there are plenty of great courses to choose from.
If you’re an experienced disc golfer with your own equipment, consider spending the day at Cedar Hills Disc Golf Course. The landscape is challenging enough for experienced disc golfers, but because it’s a lesser-known course, you’ll likely have little to no wait between cages.
For beginners and for those without equipment, we recommend the disc golf course at Shelby Bottoms where you can find a visitor center that offers a disc rental.
18. Bike Nashville’s greenway system
One notable thing you can find in Nashville that you might not find in other popular tourist destinations is a sizeable greenway system. If you’re looking to save money on ride-share services, this is an especially attractive option for transportation between activities, but it also thoroughly passes as a fun and energetic activity all on its own.
There are over 100 miles of beautiful trails throughout the city that sprawl through urban, riverside, and forested landscapes, perfect for getting a great view of downtown and the surrounding areas.
19. Get some Kurdish products at Azadi International Food Market
One fact about Nashville that may surprise many visitors is that we have the largest Kurdish population out of any US city. Luckily for us (and you, if you visit), that means we also have a large supply of Kurdish restaurants and markets.
Kurdish food is criminally underrated, and if you’re looking to experience some of the lesser-known flavors of the area, consider taking a trip to Azadi International Food Market, where you can pick up unique Kurdish ingredients as well as freshly made Kurdish products.
20. Visit Defunct Books
Visiting a bookshop on vacation isn’t necessarily an out-of-the-box idea, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how unique and special of a place Defunct Books is.
Defunct Books specializes in out-of-print, unique, rare, and just plain weird books. But apart from the whimsy of their selection, the shop itself is cozy, and the outdoor patio also adds to the unique charm of the space. Stop by for a few books to enjoy on the trip home.
21. Check out the Nashville Farmers Market
It doesn’t get more local than a trip to the local farmers market! The Nashville Farmers Market is the perfect place to find unique gifts, handmade products, and or some quality local ingredients.
If you don’t have space in your suitcase, it’s still worth the trip — there is an endless supply of delicious, fresh cooked, meals served up by local vendors in this massive, indoor and outdoor retail space. The Nashville Farmers Market is open daily and year-round, no matter what time of year you decide to visit, they’ve got your back for a homecooked meal.
22. Score some antiques at Antique Archeology
If you’re looking for a shopping experience a little off the beaten path, why not go antiquing? Antique Archeology, founded by American Picker’s Mike Wolfe, has a massive retail space with a variety of rare and unique items including old motorcycles, unique workwear, classic lunchboxes, toys, artwork, old postcards, and jewelry.
Antique Archeology is located in East Nashville and is open daily. Stop by to pick up a souvenir or a gift for a loved one back home!
23. See a show or go shopping at The Bowery Vault
While some music venues put out a small merch booth and call it a day, The Bowery Vault is arguably as popular as a retail space as it is a music venue. If you’re stopping by on a shopping expedition, you can find fun items such as Westernwear, vintage band t-shirts, jewelry, leather, hats, and boots.
Additionally, they have a full bar and cafe, and that’s all without mentioning the epic venue itself where they book a variety of local bands from various genres. Come get a new outfit and see a local band!
24. Get a beer or buy a power drill at Joelton Hardware
If someone says they’re headed out to Joelton Hardware they likely aren’t just going for a box of nails. They could be going to see a live event or music in the venue space. They could be going to get a juicy burger and fries. Or they could be going to pick up some organic produce or medicinal herbs located in their retail space.
If you’re willing to travel a few miles outside of Nashville, Joelton Hardware is worth the trip, whether you’re just picking up a few things, or you’d just like to grab a cold one and see your favorite band!
25. Check out the events at Nashville Public Library
When sharing the details of your vacation to Nashville, your friends might look at you a little funny if you tell them you spent the day at the public library.
But if you decide to stop by the Nashville Public Library on your trip to Music City, you’ll see why it’s one of our must-see hidden gems — there are endless things to do and see here for the fantastic low price of free! The Nashville Public Library offers yoga, wellness workshops, book clubs, as well as seasonal exhibits on history and culture!
26. Record a song at Third Man Records
Nashville is known as Music City because of our rich history in the music recording business. There are a million places to get your music recorded, but there’s only one place where you can get a single song recorded for less than a dollar — Third Man Records, founded by White Stripes frontman, Jack White!
Apart from their recording booth, you can also find a cozy bar for cocktails or beer, as well as a music shop loaded with thousands of records, cassettes, and CDs in a variety of genres. You can also find music equipment such as turntables and vintage boom boxes, books, and clothing!