There’s no better way to experience a city than on two wheels. From a bicycle, you can get 360-degree views of the skyline and a backroads feel for the area that most don’t take the time to appreciate. Plus, you can burn a few calories along the way. Far from flat, Nashville has the kind of varied terrain that can make a bike ride challenging but certainly rewarding. And thanks to the installation of Music City’s first-ever bike-sharing program, Nashville B-cycle, this spring, riding through the city has never been easier.
So, whether you rent a bike for a few hours, or have one of your own, we’ve compiled two routes perfect for a day of exploring Tennessee’s capital. “All the Attractions” takes you on a quick jaunt through downtown, while “New Nashville” will send you on a wide loop around the city to see some of its local treasures.
All the Attractions
3.8 miles, mostly flat (click here for map)
For this ride, start at the Frist Center of Visual Arts. After scoping out the current exhibits, cycle .5 miles to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where guided tours run daily. But since you have a lot more of the city to see, save on the tickets and opt for the “gold” package (not platinum) audio tour. After your tour, hop back on the bike and trek 0.2 miles to the new Johnny Cash Museum. There, you’ll see a host of Cash memorabilia, curated by some of the nation’s greatest collectors and fans. (Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for children between ages 6 and 15. Children under 5 are free.)
Next, continue another 0.3 miles to see Ryman Auditorium. A former church and the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman is steeped in Nashville history. If you can, snag a tour or grab tickets to a show for that night at the box office. After seeing the old tabernacle, swing 0.5 miles toward the Cumberland River — retrace your path on Broadway before turning on Third Avenue North so you can pass by legendary Hatch Show Print, where concert posters and album art have and always will be made by hand. Bike through the famous Printer’s Alley, a nightlife district since the 1940s, for a different taste of the city.
For the longest stretch of the day, ride one mile northwest to Nashville Farmer’s Market and refuel with a bite from one of the famed restaurants (choose wisely, there are 16 enticing options). After your meal, head back toward downtown to catch a glimpse of Legislative Plaza and the Tennessee State Capitol Building. Finally, finish your day with a quick 0.7-mile jaunt back to the Frist.
11.6 miles, slightly hilly (click here for map)
Nashville has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance in the last few years, transforming from kitschy country music town to cosmopolitan mecca of all things awesome. To catch a sense of the changes, take this 11.6-mile route. It’s hilly and a little long; but the food, fashion and shopping you’ll find will be worth every calorie burned along the way.
Start your adventure at Marathon Village. This former car factory is now home to some of the city’s coolest entrepreneurs and ventures. Since the doors aren’t numbered and signs are hard to come by, stop in first at The Bang Candy Company for a few of Sarah Souther’s handmade marshmallows. Inside, traipse the halls and find sewing machines galore: Otis James Nashville creates hand-sewn ties and hats, while nearby Emil Erwin fashions fine leather accessories ranging from bags to sunglass cases. And this spring, Nashville’s famed denim clothiers, Imogene + Willie, moved its corporate office and warehouse to Marathon Village, too. Before you leave, stop by Corsair Distillery — though we don’t encourage you to drink and ride, perhaps you can take home a bottle of the triple smoke whiskey.
If you haven’t gotten lost in Marathon Village, hop back on your bike and head about two miles southeast to Isle of Printing. Bryce McCloud is a letterpress printer who fuses age-old and modern techniques to create innovative and one-of-a-kind designs. Recently, he worked with Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, to laser cut the gold and platinum limited edition album artwork for The Great Gatsby soundtrack. His studio, though off the beaten path, is one of Nashville’s better-kept secrets.
After a tour of McCloud’s studio, jump back on your bike and make your way across the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge over to East Nashville. Ride 3.8 miles into Shelby Park (you can add some more mileage in the park if you’d like), then continue for about 1.2 miles from the edge of the park to the Shoppes at Fatherland — a set of 23 incubator shops, where new entrepreneurs can rent small retail space to try and get their idea off the ground. After a walk through the startup community, cycle 0.6 miles north to Barista Parlor for a refreshing cup of joe, or a housemade buttermilk sausage biscuit. This coffee boutique is known for its top-of-the-line java culture, and is a hub for East Nashville residents and musicians. (Don’t be surprised if you run into The Black Keys — the band’s guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach is often there.) And take note of the mural in the back; it was created by McCloud, who you’ve already met on your ride.
Next, head back west across the Woodland Street Bridge, and venture for 3.3 miles before stopping in East Germantown, where Peter Nappi will make you drool over leather shoes. After a few minutes (or hours) in his studio, ride 0.7 miles down to Taylor Street for your final stop. Order a light appetizer or cocktail at Rolf and Daughters, where chef Philip Krajeck whips up his famed squid ink pasta and bartenders stir one of the best Manhattans in town. After 11.6 miles on a bike, you’ve earned it.
Photos courtesy of Claire Gibson