First 24 hours: Nashville, USA
As the first direct flights from the UK land in the neon glitz of honky tonk Nashville, discover a growing city that moves to a different rhythm entirely, says Chris Moss
The first direct flights from the UK to Nashville have brought the honky-tonk city within earshot – here’s how to soak up the country music capital in a day
Before you arrive
Nashville wasn’t always the toe-tapping home of country music. It began life as Fort Nashborough, a stockade founded by American explorer James Robertson and a party of frontier settlers in 1779. Named after the American Revolutionary War hero Francis Nash, it has been Tennessee’s permanent state capital since 1843.
But before it became ‘Music City’, antebellum Nashville was a wealthy commercial hub, later emerging as an important transport and printing centre. These days, however, the railway line that cuts the urban centre is only used by freight trains as the city moved in a different direction entirely.
It was the advent of the Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1925 – and later the recording studios of Music Row – that positioned Nashville as ‘Music City USA’, even if this nickname was first coined by Queen Victoria after seeing the city’s African-american Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1873. The Opry may have later moved to a larger venue outside the city in 1974, but its old home – the Ryman Auditorium – still stands and even hosts Opry shows in winter.
Until as recently as last year, Nashville was Tennessee’s second city, but it has just surpassed Memphis in population size. Today, it is a city on the rise in every sense, especially in downtown where dozens of cranes work on skyscrapers. The famous Nashville skyline is changing, fast.
At the airport
On 4 May, British Airways began flying from London Heathrow to Nashville five times weekly, making it the first airline to connect the city directly with Europe. Flight time takes around nine hours.
Nashville International is 10km east of downtown and is more like a regional airport in size, though it still has plenty of ATMS and shops. One nice touch is the live music that plays in its restaurants and bars. A new international terminal opens in 2023.
Getting into town
The public bus stop is located on Level 1 of the airport – look for the blue-and-white MTA sign. Route 18 goes downtown and costs $1.70 (£1.25) each way. On the return journey from the city, take either the Airport, Elm Hill or Airport Express buses (all marked ‘18’) from Bay 13 of Music City Central station. Express trips take about 20 minutes while those making local stops tend to take between 34 and 45 minutes depending on traffic.
Ten firms (the usual suspects) offer car hire at the airport. Or if taking a taxi, there’s a $25 (£18) flat rate from the airport to downtown or the Opryland hotel area. Some hotels operate their own shuttles.
Other ways to arrive
No passenger trains stop in Nashville (the closest Amtrak station is in Memphis), but long-distance Greyhound (greyhound.com) coach services arrive at the station on 5th Avenue.