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Tennessee's state capital Nashville draws millions of country fans every year, serenaded by the Nashville sound of crooning vocals, smooth strings and more pop-leaning sensibilities. Hundreds of famous musicians have made their name in Nashville since 1925 when the legendary Grand Ole Opry went on the air, broadcasting weekly shows touting the talents of up and coming stars. This all began in the downtown Ryman Auditorium where the likes of Dolly Parton and Roy Acuff first strutted their stuff.
Visitors still come today to visit Opryland, the resort that incorporates the new Grand Ole Opry, northeast of the city. Just around the corner is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum while fans flock to the area known as The District, crammed with nightclubs, bars and restaurants where country music reigns supreme.
Beyond the soundwaves, Nashville offers many historic sites such as the old Belle Meade Plantation, a centre of thoroughbred breeding and training, as well as the Tennessee State Museum, filled with exhibits detailing the entire state and area history from millions of years ago to the present day.
Known as the Athens of the South because of its early focus on education, there's also the added attraction of the Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the original which houses a fine collection of art. For those who want to experience a bit of Tennessee's beautiful country scenery and rich wildlife, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is around four hours away.
Found in Downtown Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the world's largest museums and research centres for American music. The core exhibit is Sing Me Back Home, a journey through the history of country music, drawing on the museum's rich collection of costumes, memorabilia, instruments, photographs and manuscripts. Temporary displays focus on individual Hall of Fame inductees, and the Archive Spotlight Series highlights specific themes from the main exhibition. There's a big assemblage of moving images, recorded sounds and photographs, as well as media on the development of recordings, filming and photography. Among the exhibits are Elvis Presley's gold-leaf covered Cadillac, Emmy Lou Harris' jewelled cowboy boots and Bob Dylan's autographed lyric sheets.
Built in 1892, the Ryman Auditorium is regarded as the founding home of country music, having hosted the world-renowned Grand Ole Opry radio show until 1974. Originally serving as an evangelical meeting hall, regular performances by gospel singers and choirs became more common with passing years, with music eventually becoming the building's main focus. Nicknamed the Mother Church of Country Music, superstars like Sarah Bernhardt, Patsy Cline and Elvis Presly have all taken to its stage. Now restored, it holds regular concerts while also operating as a museum, detailing its rich history and offering exhibits highlighting all the great names to have walked through its doors.
No visit to Nashville is complete without attending a show at the Grand Ole Opry, which has been going strong on the airwaves since 1925. From a vast 4,400 seat auditorium on Opryland Drive, the world's longest running radio show is still broadcast on the Nashville station WSM (650 on the AM dial), featuring new stars and legends of country and bluegrass music performing live on stage. From February to October, the shows are hosted by the new Grand Ole Opry House while the winter run from November to January is hosted by the Opry's former smaller home, the Ryman Auditorium.
Belle Meade Plantation is home to an 1853 Greek Revival mansion carefully restored to show off its original elegance. The plantation was founded in 1807 by John Harding, who brought thoroughbred horses for racing and breeding to Tennessee from the commonwealth of Virginia. Visitors to the plantation today can view the authentic Civil War bullet holes that riddle the old mansion's pillars. Among the outbuildings that survive on the 30 acre (12 ha) site is one of the oldest houses in Tennessee, a log cabin built in 1790. There is also a carriage house, visitor centre, tearoom and gift shop. Tours of the antebellum furnished mansion and grounds are given by guides dressed in period costume.
The centrepiece of Nashville's Centennial Park is the world's only full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, complete with a re-creation of the 42ft (13m) high statue of Athena that stood outside the temple in ancient Greece. Like the original, the Parthenon in Nashville faces east to let in light as the sun rises. The Parthenon was originally built for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition, with direct plaster casts of the Parthenon Marbles and sculptures which adorned the pediment of the temple from 438 BC. The massive bronze doors measuring 24 feet high and 7 feet across come in two sets of two, making them the largest set of matching doors in the world. Today, the Parthenon in Nashville serves as the city's art museum, with a collection highlighting 19th and 20th century American artists.
One of the largest of its kind in the United States, the Tennessee State Museum tells the story of the region from prehistoric times to the modern day. Founded originally as a portrait gallery, the collection has grown to encompass anything from natural history, first peoples and the throes of independence to civil war, world wars and the Cold War era. Alongside these are numerous temporary exhibits, covering things such as the women's vote and Tennessee's musical heritage, as well as permanent displays of well-preserved artefacts . Also featured are recreations of a 19th-century gristmill, an 18th-century print shop and a Victorian painting gallery.
Nashville has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers and cold winters. Ample annual rainfall keeps things green, but there are enough sunny days in between to keep everyone happy. Summers (June to August) can be very humid, which pushes up the discomfort index even if temperatures do not hit major highs; temperatures average between 79°F (26°C) and 90°F (32°C) in summer. Winters (December to February) are mild to cold, with light snowfall. Average temperatures range from 28°F (-2°C) to 52°F (11°C). Nashville has long springs and autumns and with its diverse array of trees and flowers, this could make it uncomfortable for allergy sufferers.
Music lovers take to the streets each year to run the Rock 'n Roll Marathon (or a half marathon), vying for trophies and prizes with all proceeds of the race going to charity. The race is part of the Rock 'n Roll Marathon series and is well-organized and smoothly run. The runners are encouraged by the strains of more than 50 bands on about two dozen stages set up along the marathon route, culminating in a massive concert with a top country star which is free for runners. The runs aren't too difficult, while the weather in April is perfect for running in Tennessee. There's also a cheerleading contest and even a small course for kids.
Country music lovers should make sure to be in Nashville during June for CMA Fest and its feast of four big concerts. The event allows fans to interact with the genre's big names who go all out to meet the fans and happily pose for photographs and sign autographs as they wander through the event and activity venues. CMA Fest is aimed at artists getting to know their fans who flock to Nashville in their tens of thousands for the nightly concerts and all-day non-stop music at Riverfront Park. Up-and-coming artists are also showcased and festival-goers are given the chance to be the first to see tomorrow's stars in the making.
Bonnaroo is an American music festival that attracts premier artists, rapidly growing into one of the country's coolest and most popular outdoor festivals. Each year, Bonnaroo draws up to 80,000 people to a 700-acre (283 ha) farm just outside Manchester, Tennessee. Year after year, a diverse line-up grace the festival's many stages in this idyllic setting, showcasing the very best in a huge array of musical genres. Notable past performers include Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Artisans sell unique products, organic food and drink, while revellers enjoy silent discos, cinema tents and a Ferris wheel. All in all, a great time is pretty much guaranteed but book well in advance, as the festival is routinely sold out.
The home of country music, Nashville is big on entertainment. With a music industry that keeps on churning out headlining acts, visitors are sure to have a good time when they hit the Nashville streets for a night out. But don't be fooled by the charming southern drawl, this city isn't just about country. Visitors will find enough rock, jazz, bluegrass and gospel for any discerning taste.
First stop has to be the District, a historic neighbourhood containing beautiful architecture and great southern mansions, with trolley rides or a horse-drawn buggy both good options for taking in the area's sights and sounds. Crammed with nightclubs, bars and restaurants, the District is the heart of Nashville's party scene, particularly Second Avenue's clubs and restaurants. Printer's Avenue is also a good spot for a night on the town and is one of the oldest areas in the District. So too is Lower Broadway, home of the legendary Tootsie's Orchid Lounge where many previously unknown artists have been discovered.
For a more relaxed night out, look no further than Music Valley where you'll find the long-running country music radio broadcast known as the Grand Ole Opry House as well as Nashville Palace and the Opryland Hotel. These bars feature live music while Five Points neighbourhood contains some great bars and cafés for a mellow night out.
Buses and trolleys operate in the streets of Nashville, with the WeGo Public Transit running over 50 routes throughout the city. The daily Bus 34 is the Opry Mills Route that links the downtown district with Opryland while the downtown area and attractions are easily walkable.
There are several taxi companies operating in Nashville, and the major car rental companies offer services. Driving in Nashville's small downtown area can be frustrating but a hired car is useful for excursions out of town.
Nashville is well known as the country music capital of the world, so it's no surprise that many of its most popular attractions are music-related. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the beloved genre, while the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium offer the opportunity to catch popular acts in equally-famous settings. The General Jackson Showboat also offers dinner entertainment on a historic 300-foot (91m) paddleboat.
But there's more to offer tourists in Nashville than just country music. Visitors can learn about the city's long and proud history at the Tennessee State Museum and the Belle Meade Plantation. The city also has plenty of pretty outdoor spaces including Radnor, Centennial Park and Nashville's famous Parthenon. There are numerous golf courses for those wanting to hit the greens while children will enjoy the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere and the Adventure Science Center.
East of Nashville on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina lies the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Covering more than one and a half million acres, the park is the largest in the eastern United States and most visited in the country. A designated International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, it draws millions of visitors every year with its panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams and uninterrupted forest. The mountains are home to a variety of plant and animal life, many of which are unique to the area. A symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear is probably the most famous resident, while rarer inhabitants include the river otter, elk and Peregrine Falcon. The park offers numerous outdoor activities and glimpses into early Appalachian farm life, with 77 historic structures like barns, churches and gristmills.
The fourth largest city in Tennessee, Chattanooga lies at the junction of four interstate highways and well worth a visit. The city has had a renaissance in recent years, redeveloping its riverfront and downtown area to offer an extensive greenway system and river walk through the historic art district and several beautiful parks. Main attractions in the city are the Tennessee Aquarium, Civil War battlefields, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and a Creative Discovery Museum, as well as the renowned Jack Daniels distillery. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, named after the song, provides the opportunity to sleep in historically decorated train cars and to look at models of trains and trolleys used in the city over the years. The main destination for visitors to Chattanooga is Lookout Mountain, offering its historic Incline Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world offering panoramic city views, and the Great Smoky Mountains 100 miles (161km) away. Lookout Mountain is also home to Battles for Chattanooga Museum, the underground Ruby Falls and Rock City Gardens, from where it's possible to view seven states on a clear day. There are zipline tours available from Ruby Falls, an adventurous way to take in both the falls and the beautiful mountains.
Visitors are treated to plenty of attractions in Knoxville, a three hour drive east of the more illustrious Nashville. Just a stone's throw away sits the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while downtown Knoxville is home to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the historic Tennessee Theatre. Home to the University of Tennessee, a ticket to a Vols football game is a must, with their fanatical orange-clad supporters and their monstrous 110,000 seater stadium. Lastly, the downtown area known as the Jackson Avenue Warehouse District is full of soot-blackened buildings, jazz bars and funky homestyle restaurants, immortalised by Cormac McCarthy's sprawling novel Suttree.
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