The bad thing about being a college student without a car in Nashville is that it can be hard to get around. Music City loves its automobiles, and public transportation, bike lanes and pedestrian features are all playing catch-up. The good thing if you don't have a car, though, is that you'll get to know the city a lot better by foot than you would if you were driving everywhere. Here are three walking routes for college students new to Nashville that will make the city something more than a blur through a windshield — and more like a home away from home.
1. Demonbreun Street
A charming way to see where Nashville has been, where it is, and where it's going.
My second day in Nashville, I convinced a friend to embark on this with me amid the humidity and high temperatures all right before sunset. Find a ride or catch an MTA bus to the downtown Gulch neighborhood — full of new restaurants and progressive infrastructure, which is a notable exploration in itself — and start your walk at health-food hub Turnip Truck Urban Fare (321 12th Ave. S.). Don't forget to treat yourself to some juicy organic peaches. Continue up the hill on 12th Avenue South until you reach Demonbreun Street. Make a right on Demonbreun and this is your street for the next three-quarters of a mile. Don't get discouraged, because 1) it's downhill, and 2) you'll pass by some Nashville gems — so keep your eyes peeled and camera ready.
To your right, you'll most likely hear the roar of construction drills — you are watching Nashville in the making. Eventually, after walking for a couple minutes, your eyes will be drawn automatically to the building with the wavy roof. That's the Music City Center (201 Fifth Ave. S.). From the street, you can see a row of rocking chairs lined up for people inside to sit and observe.
Continue forth. The next vista point is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 Fifth Ave. S.). At the very least, peek inside to see the legendary Hatch Show Print, which has some of the coolest rock and country posters you'll ever see, then walk until you hit Third Ave South and make a left. You'll pass through the energy of the Lower Broadway tourist district; it's something else. (You'll know the tourists by their cowboy hats and cowgirl boots.)
After one block, look to your right. You'll see the entrance to the newly named John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. By now you are breaking a sweat, but the view is worth it all. One more uphill push after passing the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (1 Symphony Place), and you've made it. Stay on the left side of the bridge, walk to the middle, and find a bench on one of the overlook areas. Here you have the Cumberland River and the skyline before you, the Tennessee Titans' home stadium of LP Field to your right, and the bustle of Lower Broad just visible to the left.
2. The Parthenon
An ancient replica that always offers something new to appreciate.
I have walked to Nashville's 107-year-old version of the Athenian Parthenon many times from different points between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight, and different hours make it a new experience each time. Go at sunset and lie on the big grass lawn, close your eyes and listen to the world's sounds — the crickets, the nearby ducks and geese, even the mosquitoes — and feel the humidity wrap your body like a warm blanket. (If you go on Wednesdays at sunset, the juggler groups and hula-hoopers like to practice there.)
Then return at 10 p.m., when hardly anyone is around, with a blanket and good company (though we recommend the open, well-lit areas more than the shadowy, bush-lined stretches alongside the lake trail at night). Find the spot that gives you the best view of the Parthenon illuminated with floodlights — an incredible sight rising from the empty grass lawn, and a great place to get to know someone. As a bonus, if you stay till 11 p.m. in hot months the sprinklers turn on. It's nice to be a kid again and run through the spray (and here the good company is especially important).
The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park (2500 West End Ave.), which is undergoing a major restoration that will improve the water quality of its Lake Watauga while adding creekbeds, wetland gardens and other features. If you are a runner or want to become one, I would recommend doing one lap around the mile-long trail that surrounds Lake Watauga, though construction equipment may throw up some temporary obstacles.
3. Hillsboro Village
Here there be dragons.
An eclectic street full of good things for a college student is 21st Avenue South, from late-night pizza by the slice at Pizza Perfect (1602 21st Ave. S.) to the overstuffed racks of used books at Bookman/Bookwoman (1713 21st Ave. S.). Venture past the perpetual line outside breakfast spot The Pancake Pantry (1796 21st Ave. S.), the Sportsman's Grille (1601 21st Ave. S.) and trivia hangout Sam's (1803 21st Ave. S.) toward Belcourt Avenue.
This leads to one of my favorite places in Nashville, the coffee house and restaurant Fido (1812 21st Ave. S.). I started all my mornings right here. Go in before 9:30 a.m. and beat the line, but if you happen to go when it's crowded you'll spend a lot of time by their counter of sugary, delicious cookies. Whatever the time, you'll be welcomed by smiles at the register. When you pay, the cashier will hand you a tag of a dog with a description of the dog's breed, dog's age, dog's favorite toy, and why the dog is the best. I learned that a shiba inu named Optimus Prime likes to cuddle with his PBR, plays soccer with socks and is a devoted Miley Cyrus fan.
Find a spot to sit down, and on the way to your table look to your right after you pass by the baristas. Read the descriptions they write for their coffees, which change daily (sample: "Bible Belt Brew"). If you want a place to escape — to read, to study, to think — there's a lot of charm here.
Look at the corner across the street for a giant dragon painted on the wall of a building. You're going in the right direction: up Belcourt Avenue. You'll pass by the Belcourt Theatre (2012 Belcourt Ave.), the city's independent movie house and home to everything from anime to midnight movies to foreign films, and live concerts. You'll also stroll by a lot of inexpensive eating options, among them chicken tenders at McDougal's Chicken (2115 Belcourt Ave.), Italian sandwiches at Savarino's Cucina (2121 Belcourt Ave.), and hot dogs at The Dog of Nashville (2127 Belcourt Ave.). If it's 8 p.m., stop in Belcourt Taps (2117 Belcourt Ave.). It's a small, cozy bar that allows local musicians to showcase their original songs, and there is nothing more inspiring than coming to Music City and seeing all the talent around you.
At the end of the street is the entrance to Fannie Mae Dees Park (2400 Blakemore Ave.), known to most people simply as the Dragon Park. Run through the park, set up a picnic on the grass, climb the trees, squeeze yourself in the "adult" teeter-totter, walk through the giant pipe — but most importantly, spend some time with the enormous mosaic dragon, one of the city's most iconic pieces of public art. Within it you'll find mermaids, fish, faces and unusual patterns and objects.
It's also a great place to call back home and tell your parents that you are doing just fine in Nashville.