With the state capitol, the Tennessee State Museum, the Tennessee Center for the Performing Arts, the Tennessee Convention Center, and the Ryman Auditorium, downtown Nashville is a surprisingly vibrant area for a small Southern city. However, this is still almost exclusively a business and government district, and after dark the streets empty out, with the exception of the area known as the District.
With restored buildings housing interesting shops, tourist restaurants, nightclubs, and bars, this downtown historic district (along Second Ave. and Broadway) is the center of Nashville’s nightlife scene. With each passing year, it becomes a livelier spot; pickup trucks and limousines jockey for space at night along Second Avenue. On Friday and Saturday nights, the sidewalks are packed with partiers who roam from dive bar to retro-disco to line-dance hootenanny.
A few blocks northwest of downtown lies the charming historic community of Germantown. Named for the European immigrants who first started settling here in the mid-19th century, the 18 square blocks are bounded by Jefferson Street to the north, Rosa Parks Boulevard on the west and Third Avenue North on the east. On the National Register of Historic Places, the once-blighted area has become a benchmark for urban redevelopment in recent years, with new loft condos, cafes, shops, and professional offices.
JEFFERSON STREET AND FISK UNIVERSITY
Next to Germantown, stretching west along Jefferson Street, is an area known for some of the city’s best soul food spots and African-American-owned businesses. This section of Nashville is home to historic Fisk University as well as Tennessee State University. Front-yard tailgating before college football games is a popular past-time here.
Just south of downtown lies this once-abandoned industrial area that’s become the hottest real estate in Nashville. Old warehouses are being razed and revamped, and gleaming high-rise condos and lofts are being developed, as upscale new hotels, restaurants, and clubs compete for space here.
EIGHTH AVENUE SOUTH
Just south of downtown and the Gulch, Eighth Avenue is an emerging district lined with antiques shops, corner cafes, and family-friendly eateries. If you’re into leisurely bargain-shopping or are on a hunt for a one-of-a-kind antique, this no-frills, nontouristy area is great for browsing.
12TH AVENUE SOUTH
What would have been unthinkable only a few years ago has come to pass. A once-blighted area south of downtown and the Gulch is enjoying a renaissance. Idealists, entrepreneurs, and young adults with dreams have been buying up and restoring old houses to set up shop. As a result, an interesting, off-the-beaten-path array of quirky boutiques and happening restaurants and night spots now dot the area roughly bordered by Linden and Kirkwood avenues.
Recording studios and record companies make this neighborhood, located around the corner from 16th Avenue South and Demonbreun Street (pronounced “De-mon-bree-in”), the center of the country-music recording industry. Driving down the tree-lined boulevards, you’ll see stately homes converted into the offices of country music publishers, public-relations agents, and the occasional gated recording studio. Although Music Row is a distinct district, the general area between the edge of downtown and the West End is also sometimes referred to as midtown.
THE WEST END
While tourists and barflies congregate in the District, the moneymakers and musicians of the Nashville scene gather in the West End, referred to by locals as the intellectual side of town. Located adjacent to Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, this upscale neighborhood is home to many small shops, lots of excellent (and often expensive) restaurants, and several hotels. Also known as Hillsboro Village, the area has a lively late-night dining scene fueled by the college crowd and well-heeled locals looking to see and be seen. At the edge of the West End is the affluent Belle Meade community. Mansions abound in Belle Meade, and country stars own many of them. Two such historic mansions — Belle Meade Plantation and Cheekwood — are open to the public.
Across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville is this laid-back enclave of bars, coffee shops, and funky boutiques. Many homes in the area, which date back to the early 1900s, are being preserved and renovated by young families attracted to the area. Increasingly, culturally diverse East Nashville is also home to some of the locals’ best-loved restaurants, such as Marché Artisan Foods.
This area on the east side of Nashville is where you’ll find the Opryland Resort, the Grand Ole Opry House, Opry Mills shopping center, and numerous other country-themed tourist attractions. There are very few decent restaurants in the area (except within Opry Mills and the Gaylord Opryland Resort itself).
GREEN HILLS, SOUTH NASHVILLE, AND BERRY HILL
Upscale shopping, chain restaurants, and affluent residential areas define the suburban enclave of Green Hills. Among Nashvillians, Green Hills is considered to be a lively, desirable neighborhood. Tourists might visit the Mall at Green Hills, the go-to, shop-’til-you-drop spot that anchors the area. The famed Bluebird Cafe, home to up-and-coming songwriters, is also out in this neck of the woods.