The “Mother Church of Country Music”, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville is a 2362-seat performance venue and cultural icon.
Once the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium is a National Historic Landmark and a functional music venue to this day. It’s branded as the birthplace of bluegrass music and has hosted some of the most defining artists of all time, including Johnny Cash, June Carter, Minnie Pearl, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and about a bajillion others.
I had the absolute honor of visiting the Ryman Auditorium on my recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and I was absolutely floored by the beauty of the building. To sit in the pews and stand on the stage was, by no exaggeration, a top music venue experience.
In this article, I’ll dish the details on how to get the most out of your visit to this national historic landmark and country music mecca!
How to Visit the Ryman Auditorium
How to Get to the Ryman Auditorium
🚶♀️ Walk – The venue is located right in downtown Nashville on 5th Avenue N. It’s easily walkable from many Nashville hotels and the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Frist Art Museum, and the National Museum of African American Music.
🚗 Drive – You can drive to the Ryman Auditorium, although I will caution that parking in this area of Nashville can be tricky to come by and expensive when you do. If you’re looking to rent a car in Nashville, I recommend checking Discover Cars first.
🚕 Rideshare – If you’re coming to the Ryman from any other area of Nashville, then taking an Uber or Lyft (or taxi) is the way to go. Besides having a rental car for a couple of days, rideshares were my primary mode of transportation.
🚌 Bus – Nashville has a public transportation system called WeGo Public Transit, and there are bus routes that go near the Ryman. As with many American cities though, I’d say that taking public transit around Nashville won’t be the most time effective, but (besides walking) will be the most cost-effective.
Ryman Auditorium Tours
Taking a Ryman Auditorium tour is undoubtedly the best way to get a real scope of the building’s history.
Because I was short on time and wanted some flexibility, I took this self-guided Ryman Auditorium tour and loved it. To start, you get led into a room to take in a fantastic holographic film (although it was more than just that) about the history of the Ryman and its significance. Then, although there are guides wandering around to give you history tidbits and help you out, you’re left to your own devices to discover the Ryman.
Also included in the price of your ticket is a photo of you and yours on the iconic Ryman Stage and a recording booth session.
If you have more time, then you can also take a guided backstage tour through the Ryman. This will give you more insights than the self-guided tour, although you have to show up at the designated time.
If you want to catch a show at the Ryman Auditorium, then I’d recommend booking far in advance. There are always shows going on here, but it’s not a huge venue and it attracts top performers. You can see the latest event schedule here.
Also, if you’re not a huge country music fan, don’t fret, you can still catch a show. The Ryman hosts everything from ballet performances to punk music.
Hours and Details About the Ryman Auditorium
🕖 Hours: General hours are Monday through Sunday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. However, because it is primarily a concert venue, double-check if it’s open the day you’re planning to visit. They do sometimes implement special hours.
🖥️ Website: https://www.ryman.com/
📞 Phone: (615) 889-3060
📍 Address: 116 5th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219, United States
History of Ryman Auditorium
Construction & Early Days
Originally constructed as a tabernacle, the auditorium opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. The endeavor was fronted by a Nashville businessman named Thomas Ryman.
While the auditorium’s early primary purpose was as a religious place of worship, in order to have a steady income and pay off debts, the auditorium began booking non-religious events as well.
A woman who eventually became one of the music industry’s most iconic concert promoters, Lula C. Naff began booking non-religious events at the Ryman in 1904. She initially took on the role as a side project from her stenographer job, but then went full-time in 1914 booking speaking engagements, concerts, and even boxing matches. Although at the time she used the name “L.C. Naff” to thwart misogynistic prejudices in the industry.
It was Naff who kept the mother church at the forefront of the industry in these early days, and her efforts put the place on the map. Not only was she winning landmark anti-censorship cases, championing women’s rights, and working towards racial diversity in Tennessee, but she was also booking some of the biggest entertainers in the world. Famous names such as Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, and way more performed at the Ryman during this period. Even US presidents gave speeches at the Ryman.
Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman
Originally named the WSM Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry is a radio show that debuted in 1925. Today, it’s the longest-running radio show in United States history. The Grand Ole Opry wasn’t originally a stage show, but in the early days was an AM broadcast across 30 eastern states.
Soon, the show began to draw in listeners who wanted to see it live, and the Opry realized it had to find a venue to accommodate. The Opry had a few homes around Nashville in its early days, but eventually Naff thought the Ryman would be the perfect home for the Opry, and it had its first show there on June 5, 1943. There it would stay for the next 31 years – selling out shows and making history.
Before 1963, the Ryman Auditorium didn’t have an owner per se. In fact, it was an independent place governed by a board of directors. Then, WSM, Inc. purchased the building and renamed it the Grand Ole Opry House.
But not all that glittered was gold. Though some upgrades were made to the Opry House in the 60s to preserve the space, the building was quickly falling into disrepair. The Grand Ole Opry was drawing in more crowds than ever while failing to upkeep or update the building.
In 1969, The Grand Ole Opry announced its plans to move to a new custom-built auditorium that would be more comfortable for both performers and audiences. In 1974, the Grand Ole Opry officially moved to The Grand Ole Opry House (and took a circle of wood from the original stage with it).
Demolition Plans & Revival
After the Grand Ole Opry left the Ryman, the building sat unused and forgotten for the next twenty years. There were efforts to tear down the Ryman, although there was a ton of public blowback to those plans. It didn’t host performances but was still a beloved icon and tourist attraction.
Then, Emmylou Harris came to the rescue. In 1991 and 1992, the iconic Americana artist performed a concert series in the auditorium and released the recordings as “At the Ryman”. This revived interest in the building, and in 1993, Gaylord Entertainment began a full-scale renovation. Looking all shiny and new, the Ryman re-opened its doors to performances on June 4, 1994.
After that, the Grand Ole Opry has occasionally returned to the Ryman for special performances and benefits. In fact, if you book ahead and plan for it, you still can catch a Grand Ole Opry show at the Ryman.
Ryman Auditorium Today
Today, the Ryman Auditorium is a fully functioning music venue. Though it has gone through a ton of renovations, many of the venue’s original features remain – including the oak pews.
Some of these renovations include a 2012 stage replacement, during which time they removed the 61-year-old stage and replaced it with Brazilian teak. They did leave an 18-inch trim of the original stage along the front edge, however.
Then, in 2015, the mother church went through another big expansion and renovation. This included a larger lobby area, a gift shop, more bathrooms, and a concession area.
Tips for Visiting Ryman Auditorium
#1 – Take a Tour
I said it above, but you gotta buy a ticket to see the Ryman. I don’t just say this because it’s a fun thing to do in Nashville, but because they literally won’t let you in the building unless you do.
Self-guided tour tickets can be purchased on-site, or you can book online here. If you want to take a guided tour, then you’ll have to book through the Ryman’s website.
#2 – Experience the Recording Booth
Did you know that you can record a song at the Ryman Auditorium? It’s true – the Air Castle studio is located right in the auditorium, and recording a track here is included in the price of your ticket.
The booth includes soundproofing, a studio speaker system for playback, and instruments. You can choose to sing one of the wide selection of popular songs on offer, read scripts from historical Opry shows, jam on the keyboard, or strum the guitar. You do not have to be a professional performer to do this, the experience is for everyone.
Plus, while you record, you’ll be standing on a piece of the 1951 stage.
To sign up for the recording booth, head to the studio door to sign up for a time slot. Though the recording session is included in the price of your ticket, the digital copy of it is not, so set aside $15 if you want this as a keepsake.
#3 – Buy Concert Tickets Well in Advance
The whole reason I’m writing this article is because the Ryman Auditorium is one of the most iconic country music venues in the whole world. So yeah, it’s a pretty popular place.
If you want to see a concert at the Ryman, then I do recommend booking well in advance. Plan your trip to Nashville around a concert here, and then let everything else fall into place.
#4 – Don’t Expect Cozy Seats
As I mentioned above, the auditorium still features the original pews. Those on the main floor are from 1892 and the ones on the balcony are from 1897. They have been restored and kept in great condition, but you’ll still be sitting in wooden seats the whole performance.
#5 – Just Bring the Basics
I didn’t know this until I went to Tennessee, but you won’t be able to bring large bags or backpacks into many venues and centers unless it’s a clear bag. Leave the excess stuff at your Nashville hotel and just have the basics on you.
🏨 Need a hotel? The Omni Nashville is located just steps from the Ryman. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, check out The Iris Motel (it’s farther away and has basic amenities but I personally stayed here and can recommend it.)
Fast Facts About Ryman Auditorium
- The first concert at the Ryman Auditorium was on May 4, 1892
- The Ryman Auditorium was originally a place of worship called the “Union Gospel Tabernacle”
- It was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974
- It’s also known as the “Mother Church of Country Music”
- In the early 20th century, it was also referred to as the “Carnegie Hall of the South”
- Construction of the building took 7 years
- Bluegrass music was born here in 1945 when Earl Scruggs played the banjo with Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys on WSM
- Johnny Cash met June Carter backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956
- Emmylou Harris played historic shows at the Ryman that contributed to its revival
- The Johnny Cash Show was recorded in the auditorium
- All the pews are original and date back to the 1800s
- There are statues of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff in the lobby
FAQs About Ryman Auditorium
What is the difference between Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium?
The difference between the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium is that the Opry is a radio show, while the Ryman is a music venue.
How long do you spend at Ryman Auditorium?
For a tour, I recommend spending at least an hour and a half at Ryman Auditorium. If you plan to see an entertainment performance at the Ryman, then you’ll need a few hours.
What is special about the Ryman Auditorium?
The Ryman Auditorium is known as the “mother church of country music”, and is the birthplace of bluegrass. It has hosted the Grand Ole Opry show, as well as some of entertainment’s most iconic names.
Is the Grand Ole Opry still at the Ryman?
The Grand Ole Opry is not still at the Ryman, although it does play one-off shows there from time to time. The Grand Ole Opry’s residency is at the Grand Ole Opry House in the Opryland Resort area of Nashville.
Thanks for reading my visitor’s guide to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN! This is one of the most iconic music venues in the world and is a must-see in Nashville.
Have fun at the Ryman!