Hello all:) I recently visited Nashville for the second time! The main reason for the trip wasn’t experiencing the city like the first time, but attending a wedding celebration. If you’re headed to the area for an event, but still want to fit in some tourist activities, keep reading to see how we made the most out of our long weekend to Nashville, Tennessee.
The Decision to Drive
I’ll just start by saying I’m not a fan of sitting in a car for long periods of time. And while I’ve taken much longer road trips in the past (19 hours to Florida, 21 hours to San Antonio), I wasn’t super excited about a 11-12 hour drive to Nashville, Tennessee.
Actually, I wanted to fly. But once it was pointed out to me that it would take just as long to drive to Minneapolis, wait for our plane, fly, find a way back to our Airbnb, it was pretty much the same amount of time. Not to mention driving would end up being cheaper.
So despite the fact that I am not a fan of road trips, we decided to make the most of it and have positive attitudes. We were, after all, headed to Music City to celebrate a friend’s marriage!
Road Trip Preparation
Step one to enjoying our road trip was making sure all were as comfortable as possible. That meant comfy clothes, blankets, pillows, a cooler full of snacks, a new music playlist, and a good book to read.
Our pre-packed cooler saved us time, money, and probably some calories. We had two turkey sandwiches for each passenger, grapes, peeled orange segments, Sunchips, SmartFood popcorn, cheese and sausage slices, wheat thins, beef jerky, and granola bars. We didn’t have to stop for meals, had relatively healthy food that was easily accessible, and kept our tummies happy throughout the day.
Starved Rock State Park
To spice up the road trip fun, we decided we wanted to stop somewhere in Illinois along the way to do some site-seeing and add some more adventure to our long weekend. After doing some research on sites in Illinois, I soon realized that this state is home to a ridiculous number of random statues/attractions (example: world’s largest rhubarb, relics of the world’s tallest man, life-size mastodon statue…); none of which we were too excited about stopping to see.
In the end we decided to hike a state park along the way.
Right off the interstate in Utica, Illinois is Starved Rock State Park. This was about four hours into our drive and a perfect place to walk around and explore before continuing on our journey. We timed our drive to arrive when the park opened at 9:00 am, grabbed a map at the visitor center, and ventured out.
Disclaimer: It took us almost our whole visit to figure out that we were on Starved Rock, not looking for it in the distance…
The routes weren’t long at all and easy for all levels. A few stairs here and there, but overall an easy hike. We made it to several popular overlooks within our 1-2 hour time frame with lots of view-admiring in between.
There are picnic tables available that would’ve been a great place to eat lunch, but we ate our packed lunches in the car to save some time.
Two Girls and a Cupcake
On our way back to the interstate, a pink Sasquatch statue caught our eye and we felt compelled to stop and take a picture him (it being a spontaneous road trip and what not). And it just so happens that this statue stood in front of a local cupcakery…so obviously we went inside to check it out.
It was super cute inside. The cupcakes were amazing. We left with a cookies and cream, tiramisu, cookie dough, and birthday cake. All were incredible.
Illinois River Winery
Just as we were about to get back in the car, we noticed the building next door to the cupcakery was a winery. So obviously we went inside to check it out!
After asking for recommendations, the employee at the Illinois River Winery informed us that they offered tastings. As my driving shift was over for the day, I accepted the offer.
The wines were pretty sweet for my taste, but we enjoyed our time chatting with the bartender and learning about their different wines. I ended up leaving with a bottle of their Pinot Grigio, knowing that after being in the car all day, a glass or two of wine was exactly what I was going to need.
Our airbnb was actually located in Columbia Tennessee, about 45 miles from Nashville. It was a gorgeous home, complete with king beds, a hot tub, and a pool. Seven of us stayed there for a reasonable price, and it was close to the wedding venue. My favorite part of the next morning was drinking coffee on the porch while the world slowly woke up:)
Nashville: Day 1
Once all of us were awake, fed, and dressed, we headed into Nashville for a few hours. I didn’t want to plan too much over the weekend so we wouldn’t feel rushed. My main goal was to get a picture of the Nashville skyline from the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
The Pedestrian Bridge is located near the Nissan Stadium. Normally, there is free parking in Lot R. But unfortunately there was some kind of event happening that day, and they were charging $25 to park there. We drove around downtown for a while until we found $15 parking in a ramp somewhere.
Backtracking a little bit, we got our skyline pics and admired the Nashville views before heading back into the city for a rooftop bar drink.
Many of the popular sites downtown are located close together. In just a short walk around the area, I saw the Johnny Cash Museum, Patsy Cline Museum, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red bar, Luke’s 32 Bridge, Goo Goo Shop, Broadway Boots, pedal pubs, and party buses.
“This place is crazy,” my husband exclaimed on our walk toward the FGL House. It was his first time in Nashville, and his introductory experience was in the heart of honkey tonk row. There is literally live music and bachelorette parties around every corner.
After sipping some mimosas on the Cruise Rooftop Bar, we found ourselves in Honkey Tonk singing along to a cover band.
After Honkey Tonk we headed back to Columbia for a beautiful wedding at Meadow Hill Farm. Gorgeous setting. Rustic, romantic, and a beautiful day for a beautiful couple.
Nashville: Day 2
We didn’t get an early start to the day due to all the fun had the night before. We headed back into Nashville around noon, parking in Lot R this time by the stadium (it still cost us $5, but was a much easier spot to get in and out from than downtown). We explored the downtown area a bit, making a pit stop at Mike’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar.
Country Music Hall of Fame
Next we walked to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Admission was $25 for your basic self-guided tour. There was a short wait to get in.
To be honest, I realized I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the history of country music. The entire third floor was dedicated to people before my time, many I had never even heard of. The second floor I was much more familiar with. There were display cases with famous outfits artists had worn in the past and sometimes musical instruments or original handwritten lyrics from popular songs.
This is something I might recommend skipping if you aren’t super familiar with the history of country music and have a limited budget. The experience did, however, inspire me to sit down with my grandpa to listen and learn more about the artists and musicians of country music’s past.
Next we drove to 12 South, a different part of Nashville that had a lot of the food eateries we were interested in. Frothy Monkey, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Five Daughters Bakery, and bartaco are all along this street.
We ate at bartaco for dinner. It has a very beachy vibe with upscale street food. I love the variety of mini tacos they offer, and their salsa roja was delicious. If you have a picky eater who is expecting classic Mexican food, this might not be the best place. One of our friends was looking for a beef taco with cheese, which they luckily offered on the children’s menu.
Five Daughters Bakery
After bartaco we were in search of something sweet! We popped our head into Five Daughters Bakery, home of the 10 layer donut. Unfortunately there were only like 10 donuts in two flavors left by the time we got there. I ended up getting a salted chocolate caramel donut for my husband, which was SO good. (He took one bite and said, “All of have to say is…wow.”) Next time I’d like to get there earlier to see all of their pretty creations.
Jeni’s Ice Cream
We visited this ice cream shop on our first trip to Nashville and it did not disappoint. There’s always a line, but it is some of the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had.
Avenging Art Tattoo
As a final hoorah, we commemorated our trip by getting tattoos. We had been searching for a place throughout the day that accepted walk-ins but wouldn’t break the bank. Avenging Art tattoo was a short drive from 12 S and was quoting around $60 for a small tattoo (we were getting quotes of $90-$200 in the downtown area).
Despite the fact that we arrived about a half hour before closing, they were more than willing to help us. The owner was awesome and super friendly. He chatted with us, told us stories, offered us beverages and the Netflix remote to help us feel at home while we waited. Absolutely would be a returning customer if I lived in the area.