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Things to Do in Tennessee

Tennessee is a road tripper's dream: Visitors can wind their way down from the Appalachian mountains to the rivers and corn fields below, stopping at cities spaced just far enough apart for a rest, refuel, and repeat. Along the way, nature enthusiasts will fall in love with hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, river rafting on Pigeon River, and opportunities for adventure amid the rivers and foothills of the eastern part of the state, punctuated by the cities of Knoxville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Chattanooga. Views of the blue-hued mountains from the many stopping points along the roads near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are not to be missed—or for something special, see the landscape from above by helicopter. Downtown Nashville is a must-visit for a look at how the heart of country music has transformed into one of the hippest cities in the South. See it on a sightseeing tour, stopping at Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, followed by dinner at a trendy farm-to-fork restaurant and a brewery tour or pub crawl. Then, head on down to Memphis for award-winning Tennessee-style barbecue and an Elvis Presley–style peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich near the King’s grand mansion of Graceland. Pick up pieces of history along the way, from learning about the Civil War at Belle Meade Plantation to seeing the home of America's seventh president, Andrew Jackson.
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Sun Studio
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Known as "The Birthplace of Rock and Roll," this former studio is Memphis's own Mecca of music. Opened in 1950, the studio was the recording site of what is supposedly the first rock and roll single - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' Rocket 88. From there, Sun Studio took off, signing iconic rock and country artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis to its label and continuing to serve as the recording site for these superstars.

Today, take a tour of the famous studio's headquarters and see the place where legendary performers laid down their first hit singles. Among the artifacts on display includes the microphone Elvis Presley used in 1954 when he recorded his first song, "That's All Right." After a tour of the studio, enjoy refreshments or pick up a souvenir in the ‘50s-style Sun Studio Soda Shop and Record Store. Sun Studio's musical heritage and collection of one-of-a-kind memorabilia.

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Graceland
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The second most visited home in the United States (behind only the White House), Graceland was home to Elvis Presley during the height of his career. The iconic rock and roll singer, called "The King of Rock and Roll," died in the white-columned mansion in 1977 at the age of 42. The King is buried in the Meditation Gardens on the estate. A tour of the mansion takes you through the first story of the 23-room house. The interior of the house is worth seeing not because it is especially beautiful, but because of its excessively opulent and tacky displays. Red fur and leopard print constitute the main decorating scheme in most of the rooms. Touring the wacky rooms of this 17,552 square foot (1,630.6 square meter) estate gives you an insight into the quirky mind of Elvis. The television room in the basement, where he often watched 3 television sets at once, is just one example that represents the star's eclectic taste.
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Downtown Nashville
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This is Music City and Nashville’s lively downtown doesn’t disappoint. Sounds resonate from popular pit stops like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Ryman Auditorium venue and so-called “Mother Church of Country Music,” the Johnny Cash Museum, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to countless small venues tucked in the over 200 bars and restaurants of downtown Nashville. Buzzing with creative-types, Nashville’s heart is also a hub for art galleries and studios, theater and museums including the lauded Frist Center for the Visual Arts. A downtown Art Walk spanning a 10-block by 10-block maze of sidewalks along the western shores of the Cumberland River lists over 75 stops, and the first Saturday of each month residents and visitors come out in droves to explore the city’s art scene after hours.
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Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
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ew things are as deeply connected with the South as country music, so while you're in Nashville (known as "Music City") it's apropos to check out the world famous Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

With its mixture of historic video clips and recorded music, dynamic exhibits and state-of-the-art design, regular menu of live performances and public programs, the museum is filled with fascinating attractions. You don't have to be a country music fan to appreciate the museum's significance. All that is required for enjoyment is an appreciation for musical history and culture.

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Beale Street
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All music lovers as well as those just looking for a fun night out on the town will not want to pass up an opportunity to visit Beale Street. This 1.8 mi (2.9 km) stretch of restaurants, bars, and clubs is more than just a place to get a bite to eat. It is now considered "The Official Home of the Blues."

From 1920 to 1940, artists descended on Beale Street and began to collaborate with one another, creating a new music style that blended smooth jazz with hard charging rock 'n' roll. This blend eventually gave birth to the blues, a new and distinctly American genre of music that gradually made its way into the American pop culture mainstream.

A visit to Beale Street today allows you to check out the blues clubs that served as the launching sites for some of the most famous American blues musicians of all time.

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Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum
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No trip to Memphis would be complete without learning about its music history, and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is just the place to do this. Originally a Smithsonian Institute research project, it became their first permanent exhibition outside of New York and Washington DC. Inside, you’ll find seven expansive galleries showcasing instruments, costumes, photographs, artifacts and exhibits like “Rural Music,” “Coming to Memphis,” “Sun Records & Youth Culture,” “Soul Music” and “Social Changes” that take you through a timeline and tell the story of Memphis and its music history.

The doesn’t just focus on the music itself or the artists, but the actual socio-economic and racial struggles as well as the successes of the people who overcame prejudice and put Memphis on the map as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

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Ryman Auditorium
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The historic home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is one of the must see sites that makes Music City famous. Built in 1892 (and initially serving as a tabernacle) it was used for the Opry broadcasts from 1943 until 1974. After the Opry moved to a larger venue, the Ryman sat largely unused until it was reopened as a performance hall and museum in 1994.

Today, the Ryman is a popular 2,362-seat live performance venue as well as a National Historic Landmark. Both country music stars and legends in other genres have graced the Ryman stage throughout its long and proud history. Among the many notable stars to have performed there include Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, and Patsy Kline.

Taking a tour of the Ryman allows you to walk in the same steps of music royalty, seeing the backstage area and dressing rooms that hosted these many stars.

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More Things to Do in Tennessee

Peabody Hotel Ducks

Peabody Hotel Ducks

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Peabody Hotel has some unique permanent guests in the famous “Peabody Ducks,” who live on the hotel’s rooftop and perform a march toward the Grand Lobby twice daily. The tradition dates back to 1933, when the general manager of the time returned from a weekend hunting trip and placed several of his live duck decoys in the hotel’s fountain. The guests’ positive response prompted their stay, and now five ducks live and train in the Peabody Hotel.

The Peabody Ducks are led by their “Duckmaster” (an official position in the hotel) from their home on the roof, down in an elevator, across a red carpet, and over to the Italian travertine marble fountain. They march to the tune of John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March. The ducks live in the “Duck Palace” on the roof when they’re not playing in the water of the lobby’s fountain, and can be visited there in the off hours.

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National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum

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Built around the former Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the National Civil Rights Museum immediately emits its cultural and historical significance to all who visit. The museum tells the story of African-American's struggle for independence and equality, dating from the arrival of the first Africans to the British colonies in 1619 to King's assassination. A walk through the museum offers a sense of the nation's tumultuous legacy regarding the civil rights of African-Americans. Exhibits chronicle some of the most important episodes of the Civil Rights Movement, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Little Rock Nine, Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and the famous Sit-Ins of the 1960s. Whether or not you are familiar with the history of the civil rights movement, the museum is a powerful testament to the sacrifices that ordinary Americans made in the name of freedom and equality for all.
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Tennessee State Capitol

Tennessee State Capitol

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Grand Majestic Dinner Theater

Grand Majestic Dinner Theater

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Music Row

Music Row

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No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to Music Row. Along with being the spot where many big names got their start in the music business, it offers numerous choices to hear live music from possible future recording stars.

RCA Studio B is the first thing on most visitors list. The famous recording studio recorded hits from the likes of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins. Elvis recorded more than 200 songs here. Music lovers will enjoy seeing all of the old houses converted into music companies and offices. Not far from Vanderbilt University’s campus, it’s the type of place where you can happily wander, especially on a sunny day.

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Belle Meade Plantation

Belle Meade Plantation

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Step back into the Old South and get a feel for what it might have been like to live on a plantation in the 1800s. Located 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) west of Nashville, the Belle Meade Plantation is a historic plantation mansion whose grounds now function as a museum.

First bought in 1806, and continually expanded throughout the 19th century, the Belle Meade Plantation became world renowned as a first-rate horse breeding establishment. Buyers from around the world flocked to the plantation for its annual yearling sales, hoping to purchase one of their champion thoroughbred horses. A tour of the mansion reveals Belle Meade's rich history and offers insight into the distinct Southern culture of the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras.

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A. Schwab

A. Schwab

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A. Schwab is a dry goods store that has become a local landmark and Memphis institution. Since being opened in 1876, the store has transformed from a men’s clothing and goods shop to a collection of seemingly every item imaginable. It is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.

With two floors of displays filled with everything from regional arts and crafts to historic books, records, and artifacts, it is only fitting that the Beale Street Museum, located on a small balcony above the first floor, is also housed here. A. Schwab even has quirky memorabilia such as love potions and corn cob pipes. The store’s creaky wooden floors, dim lighting and original architectural details keep the building’s historic feel, making a visit feel like a step back in time. Their motto is “if you can’t find it at Schwab’s, you’re better off without it.”

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Main Event Theater

Main Event Theater

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Memphis Orpheum Theater

Memphis Orpheum Theater

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Built in 1928, the Orpheum Theater is a historic theater and one of America’s few remaining “movie palaces” from the 1920s era. Before it was the Orpheum, it was the site of the Grand Opera House and home to vaudeville performances for nearly two decades. Since then it has withstood the threat of bankruptcy, demolition and being burnt to the ground to become known as the “South’s Finest Theater.”

Decorated with ornate crystal chandeliers, luxe draperies, carved moldings, and a large pipe organ, the theater was restored in 1996 to its former glory along with an expansion of the stage and backstage areas. Today, the theater hosts top Broadway shows, concerts, comedy shows, and special events year-round. Many famous faces have graced the Orpheum stage, and it continues to be a center for arts and entertainment and culture of Memphis.

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Centennial Park

Centennial Park

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All of America’s great cities have a fantastic urban park. New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Nashville’s Centennial Park.

The lush green landscape provides a needed escape from the towering skyscrapers and bustling city life. The most notable, and possibly most out-of-place feature of the park is the Parthenon replica, built to scale. Commissioned for Nashville’s celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday, it also commemorates Nashville’s reputation as the “Athens of the South” because of its many universities and arts scene.

Don’t just admire this architectural feat from the outside, the builders took this replica project to its fullest extent. According to Ancient Greek history, the Parthenon was built to house an ivory and gold statue built by Phidias to honor the goddess. Its size can’t be described as anything but breath-taking, and it’s mind-blowing to think about this being built during the B.C. era.

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