City Guide / Nashville

What Is It Actually Like Living in Nashville?

By Margaret Littman | Jan 16, 2023
Nashville skyline at sunset
Landing author Margaret Litman at the Parthenon in Nashville, TN

Over the course of my career, I have made a living writing about Nashville, its people, and its places—but even I admit that it can take a little effort to get into a local groove in a city that is so well known (and beloved) by tourists.

If you’re thinking about moving to Music City but want to know what it’s like staying in town longer than a weekend getaway, here’s what it’s really like living in Nashville, from someone with (cowboy) boots on the ground.

(Yes, I’m wearing cowboy boots as I write this article. Studded cowboy boots. The stereotype is true—Nashvillians love their boots!)

Nashville remains a city for creators

Man with guitar case in Nashville, Tennessee

I initially moved to Nashville to attend university. Like many (most?) college students, I spent more time on campus than out in the city, but I still got to explore. As an editor of the yearbook, I got to have my photograph taken onstage at the Grand Ole Opry with Roy Acuff, saw The Judds perform before they were uber-famous, ate biscuits at Loveless Cafe, and built a house with Habitat for Humanity in North Nashville.

I graduated, moved away, and saw the world. Then, I decided to move back to Nashville mid-career because creativity is in the air in Music City. People live here because it’s a place that allows them to try new things, whether that is making music, building apps, or constructing rhinestone-bedecked clothing. I wanted to live somewhere with a community of creatives.

Nashville has changed a lot in the past 15 years since I’ve been back (and even more when compared to my college days!) but the creative ethos still exists.

You’ll find great music in obvious—and not-so-obvious—places

Live music in Nashville, TN

When talking about what to do—and what not to do—during a long stay in Nashville, we have to start with the elephant in the room: Lower Broad. This section of Broadway is also called the Honky Tonk Highway (but not “the Strip.” If you hear people say that, they’re not from here).

This part of the city has been essential to Nashville’s growth as Music City. In the early days of the Grand Ole Opry, musicians sat and drank in the honky tonks that had back doors along the alley next to the Ryman Auditorium. When it was their turn to get onstage, someone would shout out the door of the Ryman, and they would run across the alley, grab their instruments, and start playing. There are so many honky tonks lining Broadway these days—and so many people lining up to get in—that the old systems just wouldn’t work now. You’d never hear anyone yell!

Lots of people say that locals don’t go to Broadway anymore, and for a lot of people, that’s true. It’s so crowded that it’s hard to dance, which is the point of a honky tonk! Recent trends have also led to big-name bars playing rock covers instead of the original country, bluegrass, Americana, and Western swing songs.

While there are some incredible performers at the Lower Broad honky tonks, you might have a better experience do-si-do-ing at a live music joint off of Broadway, such as The CountrypolitanNashville Palace, and Bobby’s Idle Hour on Music Row.

Looking for more spots to jam out? Check out our blog, “The 6 Best Bars With Live Music in Nashville.”

You can explore Nashville’s rich (and complicated) history

Banjo player in the country band

A lot of American hits, for better and worse, were produced in Nashville, and I’m not just talking about music. Nashville was the site of the sit-ins in the 1960s that made it the first Southern city to desegregate its lunch counters and offered an example to the rest of the country. President Andrew Jackson lived here both before and after his presidency, and his historic home has been preserved for visitors. The passage of the 19th Amendment was largely dependent on what took place in Tennessee a century ago.

However, the city hasn’t always preserved important spots or told its stories in full, complete ways. Some local tours, including plantations, tend to gloss over the inhumane treatment slaves experienced at these historic venues. Many sites that were part of the Civil Rights movement have been shuttered or razed. Jefferson Street, once the heart of Black life and the Black music scene in Nashville, was cut off from the rest of the city when the interstate was built.

For a look into this city’s history, stop by the Nashville Public Library’s main branch downtown to check out the Civil Rights room and the Votes for Women room. The Jefferson Street Sound Museum and the National Museum of African American Music are also good places to explore the influence of gospel, soul, and R&B on country music.

Traffic can be tough, but Nashville’s sights are worth the drive

Sunset on Percy Priest Lake in Nashville - Tennessee

Nashville is a big city physically, with lots of different types of topography, hiking trails, rivers, lakes, and distinct neighborhoods. However, it can take forever to get across town. Nashville doesn’t have the robust public transit system of many comparable cities of its size. Bus service is good in the urban core, but in outer neighborhoods and suburbs, schedules are intermittent. So, to get from the great immigrant-owned restaurants along Nolensville Pike to a performance at the creative incubator OZ Arts, you’ll need to take a car (either your own or through a ride-hailing app).

Once you find a way to get around and build up some patience for traffic jams, you’ll learn that it’s pretty easy to pack a lot into a day. Start out cycling along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway or spend an hour paddleboarding on J. Percy Priest Lake, then go shopping in East Nashville, and end the night listening to a band in Printers Alley. It’s hard to have that kind of diversity of experience in many other big cities.

There’s so much to do, but it’s hard to get a night’s rest

Looking pretty music city mural

As a city that sees awards shows, national tours, conferences, pop-up concerts, theater, symphony, professional sports, and much, much more, it can be hard to schedule a night to stay home and do your laundry. There are just so many fun things to do! If you’re looking for a low-maintenance home base, consider renting from Landing, which offers fully furnished apartments throughout Nashville and flexible leases that make it easy to stay in town on your terms. Learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you today!

Margaret Littman

Margaret Littman tells the stories of the people and the places of the South. From her home on the Cumberland River in Nashville, she researches restaurants, honky-tonks, paddling destinations, and bootmakers in the region. Her work has appeared in Preservation, Condé Nast Traveler, Real Simple, PUNCH, and many other publications. She writes guidebooks to the southeast under the Moon imprint. Life in Nashville has allowed her to acquire a boot collection but not the ability to carry a tune. She recently finished paddleboarding in all 50 states.