There are two sides to every city — one side of the city that attracts tourists to experience activities they’ve heard about on TV or read about in travel magazines, and the other side of the city that attracts those who are looking for activities and attractions that are more under the radar and eclectic.
Or perhaps they would like to meet more of the local population and see a side of the city that not everyone gets a chance to see.
In this way, Nashville is like any other city. While there’s nothing wrong with Music City's iconic sites such as The Grand Ole Opry or The Country Music Hall of Fame, travelers and locals alike may want to expand to a side of Nashville that they haven’t gotten a chance to see for themselves.
Below, you’ll find our top five picks for non-touristy destinations and activities followed by a larger list of more of the same, sorted by activity type.
Table Of Contents
Our Top 5 Picks
1. Check out The Parthenon and Centennial Park. When locals look for activities for their out-of-town friends and family, they take them to Nashville’s Parthenon, a full-scale replica of The Parthenon in Greece. Surrounding The Parthenon is Centennial Park, an area where many locals come to have a picnic, walk their dogs, or just enjoy the sunshine.
2. Take advantage of the local sports scene. Everyone has heard of The Tennesee Titans, but there are many other teams to be discovered here in Nashville, for example – college teams, Tennessee State University’s Tigers, and Vanderbilt University’s Commodores.
3. Participate in the Art Crawl. It’s rare that tourists will get the opportunity to participate in Nashville’s art crawl because it only happens on one evening every month — First Friday. But if you are in town for this special event, take a tour of Nashville’s art scene, and score some free refreshments along the way.
4. Tour the Lane Motor Museum. This museum features bizarre cars from around the world and is the perfect destination for a traveler looking to view Nashville from off the beaten path.
5. Kayak the Cumberland River. Nashville locals have been floating and boating the Cumberland River for centuries. It’s easy for experienced kayakers to find a place to put out, and there are many groups for beginners to kayak with without feeling like a tourist.
Other Great Non-Touristy Things To Do In Nashville
Check out the exhibits at Frist Art Museum
The Frist Art Museum is a great place to view art you might not get the chance to view in other cities, but also has an unusual story. Originally a post office built in the early 1930s, this museum was designed with the unique architectural style of Art Deco. It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that this unique style would be utilized appropriately to repurpose the former post office as an art museum.
Today, the Frist Art Museum is a place many Nashville locals grew up going to learn about various styles of art, and the stories of artists throughout the ages, and if you are traveling with kids of your own, you can bring them to the Frist Art Museum free of charge.
See a celebrity at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
If you’re looking for an experience that’s strange and out of the box, why not visit a wax museum?
Country music legends such as Patsy Cline and Waylon Jennings have sadly passed many years ago, but you can still see their uncanny likenesses up close and even get a picture taken with them at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
While there are many tourist attractions in Nashville that will teach you the details of the lives of musicians and actors of this great city, there are no opportunities such as this Madame Tussaud’s to really give you a true perspective of what they looked like in breathtaking replicas of where they lived and worked.
See a piece of television history at Cooter’s
Cooter’s is a pretty niche location when it comes to museums, but that’s what makes it such a great addition to our list of non-touristy activities! Best of all, the admission to Cooter’s is completely free.
So what is Cooter’s? For those who grew up watching The Dukes of Hazzard show on TV, you likely already know the answer to this question — it’s a museum dedicated to protecting the props and set items from this spectacular program, including the many infamous cars used in the stunts that made this show such a joy to watch.
Lastly, if you visit Cooter’s at the right time, you just might get lucky enough to meet Ben Jones (the actor who played Cooter) because he happens to be the museum’s founder and proprietor.
Visit the Tennessee State Museum
What greater way is there to truly learn about the great state of Tennessee and the people who live here than to visit the Tennessee State Museum, a government-funded museum dedicated to the history and function of the state, and the cultures of the people that enrichen it.
Here you’ll be given an opportunity to learn all there is to know about this fantastic state and city and see a perspective that you might not gain from run-of-the-mill tourist attractions.
The museum itself is located right downtown near the Parthenon and Broadway and costs absolutely nothing to view the exhibits.
See a bluegrass show at The Caverns
There are plenty of places you can see a bluegrass show in Nashville, but if you’re looking for a venue that is likely a little outside the comfort zone of most tourists, The Caverns is the place to go.
The Caverns is exactly what it sounds like — an underground cave that is large enough and stable enough to host epic bluegrass shows.
The inside is breathtaking and the unique natural structure of the cave helps foster a perfect acoustic environment that’s sure to please your eardrums. As an added bonus, The Caverns is a great place to meet locals in their own spaces, and you’ll be sure to make some friends along with catching a great show.
See a movie or attend an event at the Belcourt Theatre
If your trip to Nashville is overshadowed by a rainy forecast, you may consider going to the movies. You could go to one of the many mainstream movie theatres Nashville has to offer, but you’re not a tourist — you’re a traveler. For those wanting a fantastic, non-touristy movie experience, The Belcourt Theatre is the perfect alternative.
If you’re in town for a few days, another fun community-oriented activity is to attend local cultural events, which are frequently hosted at The Belcourt Theatre. Check their calendar to see if any will be happening while you’re in town.
Walk the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
Pedestrian bridges are great but why did we include it in the entertainment section of our guide?
The reasoning is pretty simple — if you’re looking to experience the real music scene of Nashville that tourists might not get the opportunity to see, you can catch many talented street musicians and performers on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
Here you can hear original pieces performed live without the crowds or pressure to buy drinks, while also getting a fantastic view of the Nashville city skyline and getting a healthy dose of fresh air and sunshine.
See a show at The Bowery Vault
As far as music venues go, you can’t get more eclectic than The Bowery Vault. This former brothel not only has an amazing stage, intimate dance floor, and a fantastic lighting and sound system, but it also doubles as a bar and retail space featuring vintage music-themed clothing such as authentic vintage tour t-shirts, vintage western wear, hats, and denim.
If you’re looking for a fun place to see a show and also score unique vintage clothing, there’s no other place like The Bowery Vault.
Find a unique piece at Hail Dark Aesthetics
Hail Dark Aesthetics isn’t for the faint of heart, and that’s why you’ll likely never run into a tourist while shopping there.
The second you step into this magical place you’ll see various taxidermy, bones, and skulls, creepy and dated antiques, pieces of art that make your skin crawl, and many other must-have items that look like they’ve been taken out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.
If you’re looking for a souvenir from your trip to Nashville, don’t settle for your run-of-the-mill trinkets — seek the extraordinary and strange.
Visit Printer’s Alley
Printer’s Alley is one of the more historic districts of the Nashville downtown area with a reputation for the strange and unusual shops and establishments in town.
Here you can find eccentric art galleries and jewelry shops along with many fantastically strange restaurants in the neighborhood of Nashville where the speakeasies, saloons, and printers once flourished. Come see the weird side of Nashville and maybe take home a piece with you when you leave.
Pick out a record or see a show at Grimey’s New and Pre-loved Music
Grimey’s New and Pre-loved Music is more than just a music store. They provide an amazing selection of both new and used CDs, records, cassettes, posters, books, and magazines for even the most particular music lover.
In addition to being an amazing music shop, they also host a wide variety of local events such as in-store performances and book and album signings, so it’s a great way to get a real feel for the local community.
Find some local produce at the Nashville Farmer’s Market
The Nashville Farmer’s Market is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country, and Nashville locals have been buying fresh produce and meat directly from local farmers there for over 200 years.
Today the farmers market takes place in the heart of downtown, and besides fresh produce, you can also find food vendors, antique stands, hand crafted soaps, local art, and so much more. If you only have a limited amount of time in Nashville, don’t fret because the Nashville Farmer’s Market takes place every day, year-round!
Food & Beverage
Get a glass of local wine at Arrington Vineyards
Arrington Vineyards provides a truly amazing wine-tasting experience for those who appreciate local wine. The space also has beautiful rolling landscapes and a large outdoor green where you can sit, sample delicious local wines, and take it all in. In the cooler months, they light bonfires, and they have a stage where they invite many local artists to perform.
Check out the various tasting packages, and buy a bottle in their retail space to take with you when it’s time to travel back home again.
Get a bite and play a round of bowling at Pinewood Social
This is one of the hippest places in Nashville but it’s far from being a tourist trap. Truly a one of a kind location, Pinewood Social is part restaurant, part cafe, part bar, and part bowling alley.
You would think a place with so many pokers in so many different fires would struggle to keep each part running smoothly but Pinewood Social magically executes all areas of their business fantastically. Come bowl on reclaimed wood alleys, get a cup of one of the best cups of coffee in town, and eat divine dishes such as their salmon and brussel sprouts, or short rib mac and cheese.
Get a burger and a beer at Dino’s
If you want to get a drink where the tourists go, there are plenty of options on Broadway, but if you’re looking to get a drink and delicious food where the locals go, you can’t find a better place than Dino’s, who holds the claim for the oldest dive bar in East Nashville.
Dino’s is an East Nashville establishment for a reason – amazing food, cold beer, and an unforgettable atmosphere. Their burgers were rated as the third-best burger in the country by Bon Appetit Magazine, and being a little off the beaten path, you’ll likely make many friends amongst the famously friendly Nashville locals.
Get breakfast at The Pfunky Griddle
If you’re looking for an authentic Nashville breakfast spot that’s a little outside the box, check out The Pfunky Griddle.
You’ll find all of the American breakfast staples here — toast, oatmeal, bacon, and eggs in every style, but the fun part here is that The Pfunky Griddle serves it up hibachi style right before your eyes, and will even let you participate in the cooking if you’re interested in whipping up a few pancakes.
Get a drink at Santa’s Pub
If you’re going off the name alone, you might think that Santa’s Pub is a Christmas-themed bar, but the unique name comes from the nickname of the bar’s famous proprietor, Denzel Irwin, who dons a signature long, white, beard.
This is a fantastic place to meet locals, see some live music, or sing some karaoke in a fun and unique atmosphere.
Stretch your legs at historic Cornelia Fort Airpark
If you’re looking to experience a bit of Nashville history while also getting some needed time outdoors, check out Cornelia Fort Airpark, a unique park equipped with plenty of open fields, a jungle gym, and a blacktop for sports.
This unique spot was the former site of a longtime airstrip, once used by the US Airforce, as well as by local air traffic. Some tragic, but important stories have surfaced here, such as the story of Cornelia Fort, whom the park was named after, and the first woman aviator to see action in Pearl Harbor.
But aside from being a historical site, it’s also a great place to meet locals and get a glimpse of Nashville’s breathtaking natural sites.
Go on a hike
Nashville and the surrounding area provide a perfect opportunity to lose yourself in nature, while also maintaining a good burn. While the tourists are busy at the Grande Ole Opry or barhopping on Broadway, you can be where the real Nashvillians are — enjoying the natural Tennesse beauty.
There are many places that provide a great hiking experience, but one popular spot amongst locals is Radnor Lake State Park, where you can catch lush forests, sparkling waters, and well-maintained trails.
Tour Cheekwood Estate and Gardens
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is a true gem of the Nashville area, and you won’t be surprised to learn that this is one place that both locals and tourists seem to enjoy together. Cheekwood is a massive property that holds beautifully manicured botanical gardens and sculpture gardens.
But aside from those, Cheekwood is also home to the historic Cheekwood Estate, a beautiful Country Place Era home built just after the Civil War. There is also an art museum open to the public, and in the warmer months, you can find lots of live music opportunities here.
Wherever you find yourself traveling, you’re always likely to find locals fishing. Nashville is no different, and if you’re looking to live as the locals do, going to the local fishing hole is a good way to do it.
Everyone has their own favorite fishing spot, but across the board, people will tell you that you can find good fishing at Percy Priest Lake, where you can find all kinds of trout, bass, and catfish.