City Layout

Nashville was built on a bend in the Cumberland River, which helped define the city’s expansion over the years. The area referred to as downtown is located on the west side of the Cumberland and is built in a grid pattern. Numbered avenues run parallel to the river on a northwest-southeast axis. Streets perpendicular to the river are named. Though the grid pattern is interrupted by I-40, it remains fairly regular through the West End area until you get to Vanderbilt University.
While Nashville has historically been a sprawling city, a focus on more fully formed neighborhoods in recent years means there are many pockets of Nashville where visitors come, stay, and walk to everything. The one caveat to that is for tourists who want to visit big attractions such as Opryland, the Ryman, and Cheekwood, which are spread out. However, if you stay downtown, you could easily build a trip that doesn’t require a car at all. 

When it comes to the city’s streets and highways, rush hours are increasingly horrendous, so the best bet is to plan to stay in whatever area you’re in from 7 to 9am and 4 to 6pm, which is actually even easier for tourists to do than it is for locals. The most important things to watch out for when driving around Nashville are the numerous divisions of the interstate highways that encircle the city. If you don’t pay close attention to which lane you’re supposed to be in, you can easily wind up heading the wrong direction. Also keep an eye out for drivers who haven’t quite figured out how to navigate Nashville’s new influx of traffic—there are more of them than you’d think.

MAIN ARTERIES & STREETS — The main arteries in Nashville radiate from downtown, like spokes on a wheel. Broadway is the main drag downtown and leads southwest from the river. Just after crossing I-40, Broadway forks, with the right fork becoming West End Avenue, which eventually becomes Harding Road in Belle Meade. If, however, you stay to the left on Broadway, the road curves to the south and becomes 21st Avenue, which eventually turns into Hillsboro Pike. Confused yet? You will be. 

Eighth Avenue is one of downtown’s other main arteries, running roughly north-south. To the north, 8th Avenue becomes Rosa Parks Boulevard; to the south, it forks, with the right fork becoming Franklin Pike and the left fork becoming Lafayette Road and then Murfreesboro Pike. On the north side of downtown runs Charlotte Avenue, which turns into Charlotte Pike and then eventually Hwy. 70 S. as you head west. 

There are also several roads that you should become familiar with if you plan to travel into the suburbs. Briley Parkway is a large loop that begins just south of the airport, runs up the east side of the city through the Opryland area, and then curves around to the west, passing well north of downtown. On the south side of the city, Harding Place connects I-24 on the east with Belle Meade on the west side. Take note of the fact that Harding Place and Harding Road are not the same, and they only cross once, far out in Belle Meade.

FINDING AN ADDRESS  Nashville’s address-numbering system begins downtown, at Broadway and the Cumberland River, and increases as you move away from this point. In the downtown area, and out as far as there are numbered avenues, avenues include either a north or a south designation. The dividing line between north and south is Broadway.

STREET MAPS — You can get a map of the city and a whole mess of other stuff from the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitors Center. Maps can also be obtained in many hotel lobbies and at the airport. If you’re a AAA member, you can get free maps of Nashville and Tennessee from your local office or from the Nashville office at 2501 Hillsboro Rd., Ste. 1 (tel. 615/297-7700). They’re open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, but you’re better off getting that information online: Green Hills traffic is notoriously infuriating. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.