Explore Nashville, Tennessee: the beating heart of the American south

Best known for its vibrant music scene, Nashville is a superb place for anyone looking to learn more about the American south’s varied history, food and culture…

A statue of President Andrew Jackson stands in front of the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville. (Image by Getty Images)

Best known for its vibrant music scene, Nashville is a superb place for anyone looking to learn more about the American south’s varied history, food and culture.

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The city’s location overlooking the Cumberland river has meant that it has long been of strategic importance. A recreation of Fort Nashborough, the revolutionary-era military stockade that preceded the city itself, can be visited today, while the Tennessee State Museum is the best place to follow the city’s timeline.

The Civil War raged in Tennessee, with key battles taking place in both Nashville and nearby Franklin. Much of the vast Nashville battlefield is now under housing and other developments. However Franklin, 20 miles away, has two fascinating houses that played a key part in the conflict, as well as many Civil War graves. Franklin is also a well-preserved historic town in its own right and contains the McLemore House Museum – a rare surviving example of a house bought by a former slave.

In 1897 Nashville celebrated the centenary of Tennessee’s entry into the United States by hosting an International Exposition. As part of the event, a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens was constructed, which still exists today. This stands as a fascinating remnant of the Exposition, and also makes Nashville, remarkably, the best place after the Greek capital to get a taste of what the Parthenon looked like in its pomp.

Elsewhere, museums devoted to local musical icons Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, as well as Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, offer the chance to immerse yourself in the sounds the city is known for.

Don’t leave without sampling Nashville’s famous hot chicken, a fiery twist on southern-fried cooking inspired, legend has it, by a punishment meal once served up to a cheating partner. The fellow rather enjoyed it, and today there are hot chicken joints around the city.

IF YOU LIKE THIS…

  • There’s nowhere quite like New Orleans, and the city is a great companion to Nashville if you plan on seeing more of the south
  • The scenery and atmosphere may be different, but Havana, Cuba is another essential destination for music enthusiasts

By Tom Hall, travel writer and author of Lonely Planet’s Best Ever Travel Tips

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This article was first published in the July 2019 edition of BBC History Magazine