by Christy Ulmet
The Ryman Auditorium, the fifth home of the Grand Ole Opry radio show and the birthplace of bluegrass music, is irrefutably a Nashville icon. It’s also one of Music City’s busiest, most prestigious venues, having hosted Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. See also: Jack White, Coldplay, Emmylou Harris, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Peter Frampton, a handful of U.S. presidents, and Charlie Chaplin.
Before the auditorium became a world-famous music hall, the building — which boasts a soaring steeple and stained-glass arched windows — was the Union Gospel Tabernacle, a gathering place for prayer services and revivals. You can still see the wooden pews, which have survived since the auditorium’s opening some 120 years ago.
By the time the Ryman closed its doors in 1974, after hosting what was presumed to be the last Grand Ole Opry show ever recorded there, the façade was in disrepair, and the stage rendered unsafe. It took two decades for music lovers to find the money and resources to get the building back in action.
While the Ryman hosts official tours by day, visitors need to check out the place for a nighttime concert to truly understand the appeal. If you’re seeing a performer you really love (this way for Ryman’s official calendar of events), don’t forget to pick up a poster from Nashville’s famous Hatch Show Print; the posters are designed specially for each show. Visitors can also visit the Hatch Show Print gallery on the balcony level to see the most iconic posters from the Ryman’s past.
Another tip: Come hungry and stop by the new Café Lula, just outside the main entrance. Named after Ms. Lula Naff, who arguably made the Rymanwhat it is today, this café features some of Nashville’s favorite dishes. Try the smoked gouda mac-n-cheese and finish off with one of its homemade RiceKrispie treats. Or, if you’re in the mood for drinks, visit Lula’s during happy hour from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for discounted sips and live music.
This article originally appeared on Travel+Leisure’s Nashville Travel Guide. Property of Time, Inc.