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The ultimate hotel guide to Nashville

You’ll still find country music and honky-tonks in the Tennessee capital, but a newfound indie spirit and growing crop of new boutique hotels mean Music City is singing a new tune.

By Travis Levius
Published 21 Apr 2021, 09:30 BST
The Nashville skyline.

Country music stars, Deep South cuisine and boot-stompin’ honky-tonks defined Nashville for decades, but these days the Tennessee capital is flaunting its more liberal, hip side.

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s tough to keep up with Nashville. Country music stars, Deep South cuisine and boot-stompin’ honky-tonks defined the Tennessee capital for decades, but these days the metropolis is flaunting its more liberal, hip side. And to cater to the ever-growing influx of visitors, and locals after smart staycations, Nashville has seen an explosion of boutique hotels in the past few years. You’ll find the largest concentration in Downtown, along with the city’s greatest hits, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the recently opened National Museum of African American Music, which shines an overdue spotlight on black music’s legacy and contribution to Nashville’s sound. For a more local flavour, as well as affordable hotel rates, head to East Nashville for boutique cafes and independent shops, and you’ll no doubt also find a bartending singer-songwriter looking for their big break in Music City.

The rooftop pool and frilly fuchsia umbrellas at Graduate Nashville.

Photograph by DigitalLove

Best for country kitsch: Graduate Nashville

This is every Dolly Parton fan’s dream — all floral prints, bright colours and flamboyant nods to Tennessean music and culture. Above each of the canopied beds in the 205 rooms is a portrait of a female country musician; choose a room with Parton and nod off with the music icon watching over you. Everyone wants to visit White Limozeen (named after Dolly’s 1989 album), the pretty-in-pink rooftop bar that’s like a Barbie playhouse for grown-ups. Beyond the pool backdrop and frilly fuchsia umbrellas is a seafood-driven dining menu. Be sure to start your meal with a Champagne jelly shot and top it off with a Millionaire’s Twinkie, composed of chocolate, shortbread crumble and gold leaf.
Rooms: From $189 (£136). 

Best for history-lovers: Union Station Hotel

This former railway station is now a glamorous hotel with an enviable lobby: a 20-metre-high, barrel-vaulted atrium, with chandeliers, sculptures and a stained-glass ceiling. The exterior is a historic beauty, too, and there are tours should guests want to learn more. The sleeping quarters are a different story: the 175 decidedly contemporary-looking rooms sport cowhide headboards and contemporary works by local artists.
Rooms: From $221 (£158).

Stained glass detail at The Russell, housed in a century-old former Presbyterian church.

Photograph by The Russell Hotel

Best for do-gooders: The Russell

Housed in a century-old former Presbyterian church, this eclectic hotel still pops with original charm, including the enormous stained-glass windows that enhance the already colourful, airy lobby. Guests can choose between 23 individually decorated and configured rooms, including 1970s-style penthouses with balconies overlooking the atrium. Check-in is contactless, with numeric door codes for building and room entry sent via email after booking. The hotel’s slogan, ‘Stay here, change lives’, isn’t mere hyperbole: a portion of proceeds from overnight stays goes towards local homeless ministries.
Rooms: From $149 (£107). 

The lobby at Dream Nashville, a stylish hotel on buzzing Printer’s Alley with six nightlife and dining options.

Photograph by Dream Nashville

Best for party animals: Dream Nashville

Nashville loves a good party, and a stay at this stylish hotel on buzzing Printer’s Alley means you won’t have to venture far to find it. Known for its see-and-be-seen hotels in New York and Hollywood, the Dream team restored a pair of late 19th-century buildings in Downtown (including the former The Climax Saloon, an aptly named bar and brothel) and merged them into a 168-room hotel with six nightlife and dining options. Like the lobby, the rooms are decorated in rich blues and burnt oranges with an art deco flourish. Enjoy a cocktail underneath the glass atrium at Stateside Kitchen, and hunt down the speakeasy club where VIPs and celebrities let their hair down (hint: it’s behind the doors of a small boutique shop).
Rooms: From $185 (£133) 

The retro-style decor at the Dive Motel, which has a members-only community pool.

Photograph by Ben Fitchett

Best for disco divas: The Dive Motel

Is this the world’s coolest motel? It’s certainly the most thematic. Tucked away on a not-so-happening swathe of East Nashville the pool club, bar and motel doesn’t keep its obsession with the 1970s under wraps. The main anchor is the members-only community pool, featuring a vintage ‘No Diving’ sign, where DJs spin throwback tunes to a sociable crowd of guests and fun, young locals. No two rooms are alike here, from the pool-facing suites to the wood-lined cabins and detached penthouse suites, but all have a glittering disco ball activated by a Party Switch — flip it on and explore the four Dive Radio music channels: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and Sleep. There are no televisions in the rooms, but you’ll be having too much nostalgia-fuelled fun to notice.
Rooms: From $179 (£128). 

Best for retro chic: Fairlane Hotel

Mad Men fans will drool over this mid-century-inspired Downtown pad, a great jumping-off point for Broadway and the riverfront. The modernist building has 81 retro-glam rooms with velvety beds and marble peekaboo showers. The scene-stealer is its lobby with terrazzo flooring, wood panelling and vintage-style sofas. Restaurant Ellington’s keeps things jazzy with brown leather dining booths; its pork chop with braised cabbage and bourbon-braised peaches is to die for.
Rooms: From $180 (£129). 

Room detail at The Joseph, an old-school five-star hotel in SoBro, near the Music City Center and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Photograph by ©Jim Kruger/Kruger-images ’20 All rights reserved

Best for bons vivants: The Joseph

Nashville needed a hotel like this: an old-school five-star to help diversify the hip new hotel landscape. Opened in 2020, the 297-room establishment is in SoBro, near the Music City Center and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. High-end modern art defines the hotel — unsurprising, as it’s run by the family behind Ohio’s Pizzuti Collection of Columbus Museum of Art. They’ve lent over 1,000 pieces to the hotel for display in public areas and guest rooms. Both the lobby-level Italian restaurant, Yolan, and the rooftop pool lounge, Denim, are overseen by a chef who’s helmed a Michelin-starred restaurant, so you’re sure of a first-class experience. Don’t check-out without a visit to Rose, the city’s best new spa.
Rooms: From $366 (£262)

Vandyke Bed + Beverage, a boozy, over-21s-only boutique in East Nashville’s hip and walkable Five Points.

Photograph by Jessica Amerson

Best for libation-lovers: Vandyke Bed + Beverage

The ‘pub with rooms’ concept has yet to arrive in the US, but this boozy, over-21s-only boutique in East Nashville’s hip and walkable Five Points comes pretty close. Each of the eight themed rooms has a drink-themed name: turquoise-accented ‘Rum’ resembles a tropical getaway; ‘Beer’, meanwhile, contains vintage lockers and a leather punching bag. Fronting the hotel is an artificial grass-covered courtyard, while the second floor is home to a plush rooftop deck for cocktails. Bar service commences in the afternoon, and in the evening, Setsun, a wine bar residency, serves up stellar vino selections and assorted international dishes.
Rooms: From $299 (£214).

Bar at Noelle, a Downtown boutique hotel housed in a 1930s landmark on Printer’s Alley.

Photograph by Noelle

Best for local luxury: Noelle

Art deco meets slick modern at Noelle, a Downtown boutique hotel housed in a 1930s landmark on Printer’s Alley. The 224-room property showcases local creative talent, from the ground-floor area lined with art to the fabulous restoration of the 13-storey building itself. Rooms and suites feature woodcut portraits of hometown heroes, as well as brass details and ceilings etched with geometric patterns. The Trade Room, a cavernous bar with pink marble walls, high arches and gilded balconies, is one of the prettiest places in town for a tipple; the Cumberland River-facing Rare Bird rooftop lounge is a must-visit, too. When you’re ready to explore, grab a copy of The Line, the biannual hotel newspaper, for the latest on where to go in the city.
Rooms: From $242 (£174).

Best for opulence: The Hermitage Hotel

Everyone from presidents to princes has stayed at this legendary, 122-room Downtown five-star since its inception in 1910, and its ornate beaux-arts aesthetic still dazzles today’s jet set. The basement level houses the gentlemen’s club-style Oak Bar and a top steakhouse restaurant. All 122 classically appointed rooms have separate showers and soaking tubs, Frette linens and in-mirror televisions. North-facing rooms overlook the Tennessee State Capitol.
Rooms: From $288 (£206). 

Read more: Breaking bread: the smoky taste of Nashville, Tennessee

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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