Nashville

Walking Tour: Downtown Cumberland River

By Jane Boxall

The Cumberland River runs some 688 miles from the Appalachians to Kentucky, and provides a scenic backdrop to downtown Nashville. Thanks to a stylish pedestrian bridge connecting the banks, you can explore both sides of the river on foot. The bustling honky-tonk strip of Lower Broadway on the west bank provides contrast to the quiet natural space of the Shelby Bottoms greenway on the east side.

Historically, the Cumberland River provided a means of travel for hunter-gatherers and early settlers in the region — later on, riverboats carried trade beween Nashville and the Ohio or Mississippi rivers. Until the mid-1800s, the Cumberland River was a primary mode of transport and a trade route for Nashville-area residents. Today, pleasure craft including the General Jackson Showboat cruise the river. In summer, the Music City Triathlon race course includes a swim in the Cumberland River before athletes cycle and run to the finish line.

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Heron on the Cumberland River

The walking tour starts at Riverfront Station, the downtown stop for the Music City Star train. Nashville’s MTA buses also drop off passengers outside the station on 1st Avenue South, with free bus transfers to downtown garages and hubs. With the Cumberland River behind you, check out Acme Feed & Seed on the corner of 1st Avenue and Lower Broadway. Acme boasts multiple floors of space for you to eat, drink, hear some live music or even take a rooftop yoga class — you’ll find some tasty fuel for your upcoming walk. The live music schedule at Acme is pretty diverse, and the venue showcases original artists as well as cover bands. 

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Acme Feed & Seed, corner of 1st and Broadway

Turn up Broadway away from the Cumberland River, and walk a couple of blocks through the strip where live music is happening in almost every venue at almost every hour of the day. Turn left on 3rd Avenue, and pass the Johnny Cash Museum on the right side of the street. The museum dedicated to the Man in Black is open 9am to 7pm, seven days a week. The museum also hosts the Bongo Java Cafe, in case you need to caffeinate your walking legs. Where 3rd Avenue crosses Symphony Place, look to your right for a view of the impressive Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home to the Nashville Symphony. At this intersection you can ascend to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge via a ramp — there are also steps or an elevator to the bridge one block East at 2nd Avenue. Built between 1907 and 1909, the bridge has been known as the Sparkman Street Bridge and the Shelby Street Bridge. It has been designated for pedestrian use since 1998. The views from the bridge’s crest back towards the Nashville skyline are unparalleled, and you really appreciate the scope of the Cumberland as you cross the river.

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Pedestrians exit the bridge on the East bank of the Cumberland, with the Nissan Stadium on their left at the end of the bridge. Nissan Stadium is home to the NFL team Tennessee Titans, and also hosts major music events and concerts including the CMA Music Festival main stage every June. You could end your walking tour here and return over the bridge to downtown Nashville. Or, if you have energy to walk another three miles East, you can follow the Music City Bikeway from the pedestrian bridge to the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and Greenway. To take this extension to the walking tour, from the Nissan Stadium turn right on 1st Street. This becomes Davidson Street and the Music City Bikeway. The bike path and pedestrian lane are separated from the traffic lanes by red and white posts — there’s also a separate sidewalk for much of the way. The walk takes you past mixed residential and industrial areas lining the East bank of the Cumberland, before the green space of Shelby Bottoms park opens up. This park stretches for nearly 1,000 acres, and the Nature Center sits at the gateway to the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, a mixed-use paved trail that runs East beside the Cumberland River. From here, turn back and retrace your steps back to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and cross the river to return to downtown Nashville.

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