Start: Riverfront Park at the intersection of Broadway and First Avenue. (There's a public parking lot here.)
Finish: Printer's Alley.
Time: Anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, depending on how much time you spend in the museums, shopping, or dining.
Best Times: Tuesday through Friday, when both the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Capitol are open to the public.
Worst Times: Sunday, Monday, and holidays, when a number of places are closed. Or anytime the Titans have a home football game, which makes traffic and parking a mess.
Though Nashville is a city of the New South and sprawls in all directions with suburbs full of office parks and shopping malls, it still has a downtown where you can do a bit of exploring on foot. Within the downtown area are the three distinct areas that make up the District, a historic area containing many late-19th-century commercial buildings that have been preserved and now house restaurants, clubs, and interesting shops. Because Nashville is the state capital, the downtown area also has many impressive government office buildings.
Start your tour at the intersection of Broadway and First Avenue, on the banks of the Cumberland River, at:
1. Riverfront Park
The park was built as part of Nashville's bicentennial celebration, and it's where the Nashville trolleys start their circuits around downtown and out to Music Row. If you grow tired of walking at any time during your walk, just look for a trolley stop and ride the free trolley back to the park.
Walk north along the river to:
2. Fort Nashborough
This is a reconstruction of the 1780 fort that served as the first white settlement in this area.
Continue up First Avenue to Union Street and turn left. Across the street is the:
3. Metropolitan Courthouse
This imposing building, which also houses the Nashville City Hall, was built in 1937. It incorporates many classic Greek architectural details. Of particular interest are the bronze doors, the etched-glass panels above the doors, and the lobby murals. At the information booth in the lobby, you can pick up a brochure detailing the building's many design elements.
If you now head back down Second Avenue, you'll find yourself in the:
4. Second Avenue Historic District
Between Union Avenue and Broadway are numerous Victorian commercial buildings, most of which have now been restored. Much of the architectural detail is near the tops of the buildings, so keep your eyes trained upward.
Take a Break -- Second Avenue has several excellent restaurants where you can stop for lunch or a drink. The Old Spaghetti Factory, 160 Second Ave. N. (tel. 615/254-9010), is a cavernous place filled with Victorian antiques. There's even a trolley car parked in the middle of the main dining room. A couple of doors down is B.B. King's Blues Club, at 152 Second Ave. N. (tel. 615/256-2727), a bluesy bar with a juke-joint atmosphere where you can sample Southern food or grab a burger.
Note: There are several interesting antiques and crafts stores along Second Avenue.
A few doors down from The Old Spaghetti Factory you'll find:
5. Wildhorse Saloon
This is Nashville's hottest country nightspot. In the daylight hours, you can snap a picture of the comical, cowboy-booted horse statue near the front entrance.
Also along this stretch of the street is the:
6. Market Street Emporium
The emporium holds a collection of specialty shops.
At the corner of Second Avenue and Broadway, turn right. Between Third and Fourth avenues, watch for:
7. Hatch Show Print
The oldest poster shop in the United States still prints its posters on an old-fashioned letterpress printer. The most popular posters are those advertising the Grand Ole Opry.
Cross Fourth Avenue and you'll come to:
8. Gruhn Guitars
This is the most famous guitar shop in Nashville; it specializes in used and vintage guitars.
Walk up Fourth Avenue less than a block and you will come to the new main entrance of:
9. Ryman Auditorium
The Grand Ole Opry was held here from 1943 to 1974. The building was originally built as a tabernacle to host evangelical revival meetings, but because of its good acoustics and large seating capacity, it became a popular setting for theater and music performances.
After leaving the Ryman Auditorium, walk back down to the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue.
Take a Break -- If you didn't stop for lunch on Second Avenue, now would be a good time. On the opposite side of the street from the Ryman, at Fourth and Broadway, is The Merchants restaurant, at 401 Broadway (tel. 615/254-1892), a favorite Nashville power-lunch spot. The atmosphere is sophisticated and the cuisine is New American and New Southern.
In the same block as The Merchants, you'll find the:
10. Ernest Tubb Record Shop
This store was once the home of the Midnite Jamboree, a country music radio show that took place after the Grand Ole Opry was over on Saturday nights.
Continue up the block to the corner of Fifth Avenue and you'll come to the main entrance of the new:
11. Sommet Center
The Sommet Center is a sports and entertainment venue that also houses the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitors Center. If you haven't already stopped in for information or to check out the gift shop or pick up a map, now would be a good time.
Back across Broadway, you'll find:
12. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
Grand Ole Opry musicians used to duck in here, one of the more famous bars in Nashville, before, during, and after the show at the Ryman. There's live country music all day long at Tootsie's.
From this corner, head up Broadway, and at the corner of Seventh Avenue, you'll find the:
13. First Baptist Church
This modern building incorporates a Victorian Gothic church tower built between 1884 and 1886. The church's congregation wanted a new church but didn't want to give up the beautiful old tower. This is the compromise that was reached.
Across Seventh Avenue is the:
14. U.S. Customs House
Now leased as private office space, this Victorian Gothic building was built in 1877 and displays fine stonework and friezes. The imposing structure, with its soaring tower and arched windows, could be in any European city.
Directly across the street is:
15. Hume-Fogg High School
Built between 1912 and 1916, the building incorporates elements of English Tudor and Gothic design.
Two blocks farther up Broadway, you'll see a decidedly different style of architecture, the:
16. Frist Center for the Visual Arts
This breathtaking art museum is housed in the historic U.S. Post Office building, designed with elements of both neoclassical and Art Deco architectural styling.
The post office shares a parking lot with:
17. Union Station Hotel
This Victorian Romanesque Revival building was built in 1900 as Nashville's main passenger railroad station, but, in 1986, it was renovated and reopened as a luxury hotel. The stone exterior walls incorporate many fine carvings, and the lobby is one of the most elegant historic spaces in Nashville.
Head back the way you came and cross over to the opposite side of Broadway at Ninth Avenue. Here you'll find:
18. Christ Episcopal Church
Constructed between 1887 and 1892, the building is in the Victorian Gothic style and is complete with gargoyles. This church also has Tiffany stained-glass windows.
Continue back down Broadway and, at Seventh Avenue, turn left and walk up to Union Street and turn right. In 1 block, you'll come to the:
19. Hermitage Hotel
This is Nashville's last grand old hotel The lobby exudes Beaux Arts extravagance, with a stained-glass skylight and marble columns and floor.
Across Union Street from the Hermitage Hotel is:
20. Legislative Plaza
This large public plaza is a popular lunch spot for downtown office workers.
Fronting this plaza is the:
21. War Memorial Building
This neoclassical building was built in 1925 to honor soldiers who died in World War I. The centerpiece is an atrium holding a large statue titled Victory. This building also houses the Tennessee State Museum Military Branch.
On the opposite side of the plaza is the:
22. Tennessee State Museum
In the basement of the same building that houses the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, this museum contains an extensive and well-displayed collection of artifacts pertaining to Tennessee history.
Returning to the Legislative Plaza and continuing to the north across Charlotte Street will bring you to the:
23. Tennessee State Capitol
This Greek Revival building was built between 1845 and 1859. Be sure to take a look inside, where you'll find many beautiful architectural details and works of art.
If you walk back across the Legislative Plaza and take a left on Union Street and then a right on Fifth Avenue (cross to the far side of the street), you'll come to the west entrance of the:
24. Nashville Arcade
This covered shopping arcade was built in 1903 and is modeled after an arcade in Italy. Only a few such arcades remain in the United States, and, unfortunately, no one has yet breathed new life into this one. Still, you can mail a letter here or buy a bag of fresh-roasted peanuts.
Walk through the arcade and continue across Fourth Avenue. The alley in front of you leads to:
25. Printer's Alley
For more than a century, this has been a center for evening entertainment. Today, things are much tamer than they once were, but you can still find several nightclubs featuring live music.