Nashville is a large modern city that retains the quaint ambiance of the American South. Known as Music City, it combines urban sophistication with small town charm. Nestled on the banks of the Cumberland River, the city skyline is set against a backdrop of lush rolling hills. Nashville is a world-renowned vacation destination that attracts music fans and history buffs alike. The city boasts acclaimed museums and major league sports franchises as well as an eclectic food and music scene. With revitalized areas like the Gulch and the District, Nashville is a vibrant as well as historic city. With so much to see and do, finding an attraction, museum or tour that appeals to each member of your family won’t be hard. Follow this guide for the best things to do in Nashville with family and start making memories!
As the Country Music Capital of the World, Nashville is a popular year-round vacation destination. Even though Music City is best known for its honky-tonks and other adult-themed distractions, it also offers a wide range of activities that children will love. Nashville is filled with museum exhibitions and playgrounds as well as shops and restaurants that were created with children in mind. When planning a trip to Nashville, consider the following list of kid-friendly activities and annual events that will educate and entertain your little ones.
Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, was founded in 1779. An important antebellum and post-Civil War trading and shipping port on the Cumberland River, the city hosted the World’s Fair in 1897. In the 1920s, it became the focal point of country music and the home of well-known attractions like the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. The “Country Music Capital of the World” also hosts several fall festivals that celebrate the region’s food, history and culture.
The perfect vacation getaway, Music City offers visitors a wide range of fun and unique festivals, events and attractions that are designed to please the entire family. While the summer weather and the great outdoors can combine to form a spectacular backdrop for adventure, there are also plenty of things to do in Nashville when conditions require you to take the fun indoors. Consider the following tours and attractions when planning your summer vacation to Nashville.
The Tennessee State Museum, located near trolley stop 5, is a top attraction that tells the story of the state’s rich history including the civil war, the age of Jackson, antebellum south, reconstruction era, and the prehistoric frontier. Expanding approximately 120,000 square feet, the museum currently occupies three floors with about 60,000 square feet devoted to exhibits. The exhibitions and programs at the Tennessee State Museum are designed for your educational and cultural enrichment.
Seating up to 19,395 guests, the Bridgestone Arena is a multipurpose indoor entertainment venue. The home arena for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, the stadium hosts concerts, religious gatherings and sporting events like basketball, indoor football and professional wrestling. The arena can also be configured for theater-style concerts and Broadway shows. One of the nation’s most highly acclaimed entertainment venues, the arena is Nashville’s top venue for large-scale musical productions. The Bridgestone Arena tower contains the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
Situated on the campus of Vanderbilt University, the stadium was originally built in 1922 as the first athletic venue in the South to be constructed solely for hosting collegiate football. Home to the Vanderbilt Commodores, the stadium accommodates approximately 40,550 fans. It is the smallest football venue in the Southeastern Conference. In addition to a high-definition video scoreboard, Vanderbilt Stadium features a grassy berm at the north end where fans can spread their blankets and enjoy a picnic while watching the game. The university Navy ROTC detachment blasts the “Admiral,” a foghorn, when the Commodores take the field, score points and win home games.
President Rutherford B. Hayes laid the Customs House cornerstone in 1877. Opening five years later, the federal building housed the post office as well as the area offices for the Treasury and Justice Departments. Designed by William Appleton, the ornate stone building features a Victorian Gothic-style with a soaring central clock tower. Exterior architectural details include lancet windows and a deep inset triple-arched entrance. Considered nonessential by the federal government in the 1990s, the building was repurposed as private office space.
The late-Victorian Romanesque Revival-style Union Station was completed in 1900. A passenger terminal for several rail lines until 1979, the site was a way station for Al Capone during his trip to a Georgia penitentiary. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the landmark building experienced years of neglect until it was converted into a luxury hotel. The majestic lobby features a barrel-vaulted, 65-foot-high ceiling enclosed by Tiffany-styled stained glass. Modern conveniences combine with the opulent public spaces that are filled with architectural details like wrought iron and Italian marble. The likeness of Mercury adorns the clock tower.
Opening in 1974, the award-winning Station Inn is considered to be one of Nashville’s premier venues for bluegrass music. Notable artists to perform at this world-famous bluegrass Mecca include Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire. The no-frills atmosphere is the backdrop for concerts and impromptu jam sessions by up-and-coming artists as well as established performers. The Station Inn features drinks, snacks and live acoustic music every night. A Swedish fan gave the Inn the massive cowbell hanging over the bar, which is rung after an impressive performance.
Located in the Gulch, Two Old Hippies is a retail store offering a selection of guitars, music, clothing and other novelty merchandise in an atmosphere of peace, love and understanding. The 8,000-square-foot shop features a stage outfitted with an organ, several guitars and a drum set as well as lighting and a mixing board. “The Vault” is a room where customers can try out various guitars in a quiet space. In the center of the store is a converted VW “Magic Bus.” The walls of the store are lined with an extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia.
The Gulch is a historic neighborhood located south of downtown with a hip atmosphere. This easily walkable former industrial area once housed the downtown railroad terminal, now the Union Station Hotel. Today, it is the setting for renovated warehouses that feature residential and office spaces as well as a variety of upscale restaurants, eclectic boutiques and vibrant nightlife venues. It is a popular destination for tourists, locals and college students. The Station Inn, a highly regarded concert venue for bluegrass music, is located in the Gulch.
Headquartered on Music Square East, Curb Records is an independent music label founded by Mike Curb in 1964. The label’s top recordings include hits by legendary artists like the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison and Tim McGraw as well as Gloria Gaynor, the Judds and LeAnn Rimes. A philanthropist, Curb has been instrumental in restoring historic buildings, including Columbia’s Historic Quonset Hut, a recording studio originally established by Owen Bradley, and the Johnny Cash Museum. Curb is honored with a star on the Music City Walk of Fame. The company operates a retail shop that offers a wide selection of vinyl records, DVDs and specialty merchandise.
The Renaissance Revival-style Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged buildings were constructed in 1916. The complex occupies more than two acres on Horton Street between 17th and 18th Avenues. The main, E-shaped four-story building is a historically significant example of early-20th century architecture. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic relief agency, operated the home until 1968. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the buildings have been repurposed to house the Nashville offices of BMG Music Publishing. The main building’s chapel has been converted into a concert hall for various live music and video performances.
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is an organization that collects and distributes royalties and licensing fees in order to protect the copyrights of its members. The organization sponsors an annual awards gala honoring its top members. Founded in 1939, it is the world’s largest music rights organization. It tracks the public performance of more than 10.5 million works worldwide and issues licenses to companies like nightclubs, radio stations and digital music providers. BMI’s Nashville offices are located on Music Square East.
Situated southwest of downtown, Music Row is home to several businesses and attractions related to the city’s musical heritage. Considered the heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry, the Music Row area is centered on 16th and 17th Avenues South, which are known as Music Square East and West respectively. Points of interest in the district include the historic RCA Studio B, Columbia’s Historic Quonset Hut, the first recording studio on Music Row, and Owen Bradley Park as well as numerous shops and upscale eateries. “Musica,” a large bronze statue designed by Alan LeQuire, is the centerpiece of the Music Row Roundabout.
Located on the campus of Belmont University, the house museum is a historic Italianate villa-style mansion constructed in the mid-1800s by Adelicia Hayes Franklin. It is the work of architect William Strickland, who also designed the Tennessee State Capitol. The residence served as the headquarters for Union General Thomas Wood before the Battle of Nashville in 1864. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the mansion is the largest house museum in the Volunteer State. The ornate home features a collection of Venetian glass, period furnishings, paintings and statuary as well as elaborately landscaped gardens.
The West End Methodist Church traces its origins to an 1869 religious mission that originally met in a repurposed army barracks. The congregation erected a wood-frame church six years later. The building was replaced by a brick edifice in 1890. Fifty years later, the congregation moved to their current building. The completed sanctuary was dedicated in 1948. The towering stone church features customized stained glass windows by the Italian-born artist Nicola D’Ascenzo, a cloister garden and a 136-rank Moller organ, the largest pipe organ in the mid-South. Renowned for its music program, the church sponsors a variety of concerts throughout the year.
Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt University was named in honor of shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Although the industrialist never visited the South, he felt that his $1 million endowment would help heal Civil War wounds. The largest private university in Tennessee, the school enrolls students from all 50 states and 90 foreign countries. The university’s 330-acre urban campus is a national arboretum featuring hundreds of different tree and shrub species. The Bicentennial Oak pre-dates the Revolutionary War. Several buildings on the campus are listed on the National Historic Register, including the Alumni Hall, the Old Gymnasium and the Mechanical and Engineering Building.
Located on a 110-acre estate, Grinder’s Switch Winery is an award-winning artisan wine producer. The winery offers tours of the beautiful property and their handcrafted log cabin where you can sample unique wines in the tasting room. Grinder’s Switch Winery has a satellite location in the historic Marathon Village in Nashville. Guests are encouraged to come and relax while enjoying the company’s wine and hospitality. In addition to a wide selection of various vintages, the winery also offers an array of local handmade crafts in the 1,250-square-foot tasting room and retail shop.
Located in Robertson County, Green Brier is a celebrated Tennessee whiskey distillery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Descendants of the original founder have revitalized this centuries-old iconic brand with a new distillery located in Nashville. Two of Charles Nelson’s great-great-great grandsons are distilling whiskey using their forebear’s original recipes. The distillery is open for tours. While all guests visit the production floor and experience the history of the storied Green Brier whiskey, individuals over 21 can also sample a variety of the award-winning spirits in the tasting room. The modern iteration of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is located in Marathon Village.
With their popular History Channel television show “American Pickers,” Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz have introduced new generations to the art of discovering a hidden treasure in someone else’s trash. They travel across the United States in search of just the right pieces. Wolf opened a store in Nashville called Antique Archaeology where he exhibits and sells the duo’s unique finds. There are also pieces from Mike’s personal collection like a vintage 1919 Indian motorcycle. The shop is located in the former Marathon Automobile Factory that has been repurposed into a retail shop, design and event space.
The Marathon Motors Factory is a popular must-visit on any Nashville sightseeing itinerary, located in the heart of downtown Nashville. The four-block complex of cultural offerings, includes an array of music recording studios, numerous shops, a film production company, artist’s and photographer’s studios, a radio station, a distillery, a winery and more. Read on to learn more about this attraction and what you can expect when you visit during your vacation in Nashville.
Located in the heart of downtown in the shadow of the Tennessee State Capitol, Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is patterned after the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It opened on June 1, 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Volunteer State’s admission into the Union. Bordered on the north and south by Jefferson Street and James Robertson Parkway, the 19-acre park is bounded on its east and west sides by the northern sections of Sixth and Seventh Avenues. This expansive memorial to the state’s bicentennial celebration introduces visitors to the history and natural beauty of Tennessee.
The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) hosts the Nashville Repertory Theatre as well as the city’s professional ballet and opera companies. The center is a leading venue for a variety of classical performances and Broadway-style shows that are designed to entertain families as well as discerning theater devotees. TPAC is located downtown in the James K. Polk Cultural Center, which encompasses an entire city block. The performing arts center includes Andrew Jackson Hall, the James K. Polk Theater and the Andrew Johnson Theater along with the War Memorial Auditorium situated across the street from the TPAC.
The Musicians Hall of Fame at Historic Nashville Auditorium honors the artists and session musicians who have accompanied legendary performers in a broad range of musical genres, including country, rock, jazz and soul. Honorees include groups like the A-Team, Booker T and the MGs, the Memphis Boys and Toto. These versatile performers provided background music during recording sessions for numerous hit records. The museum’s galleries and artifacts commemorate these talented musicians along with the unique sounds emanating from cities like Nashville, Detroit, Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Los Angeles.
The limestone Greek Revival style Tennessee State Capitol was designed by William Strickland whose remains are interred near the building’s cornerstone. The tower was inspired by the monument to Lysicrates in Athens. Completed in 1859, the national historic landmark is one of the country’s oldest working capitols. In addition to large ornate chandeliers, the interior features incredible frescoes, portraits and other artwork. The Capitol Grounds display statues of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson as well as Sergeant Alvin York. The site also includes the tomb of President James Polk. The building and grounds are open for public tours.
The plaza is located adjacent to the east wing of the War Memorial Building, which was constructed to honor Tennesseans who died during World War I. Overlooked by the State Capitol, the plaza is a central connecting point for the statehouse, the War Memorial Building, the State Museum and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. It is an open space used for various public events. The plaza contains a statue designed by Belle Kinney that is dedicated to the Women of the Confederacy and a monument by Russell Faxon that honors the state’s Korean War veterans.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is a renowned honky-tonk bar located behind the iconic Ryman Auditorium. The lounge, featuring three stages, hosts a variety of live musical performances every night by local artists. Located on Broadway in downtown, Tootsie’s nurtured the careers of several country music legends. According to local lore, Willie Nelson received his first songwriting job after singing at Tootsie’s. The interior walls are decorated with memorabilia from numerous famous and not-so famous artists who have performed on an Orchid Lounge stage. The bar, formerly known as Mom’s, acquired its name when the exterior was accidentally painted purple.
A native of the Volunteer State, Chet Atkins was a highly regarded musician and producer who signed Charley Pride, country music’s first African-American singer. After Atkins’ death in 2001, Bank of America commissioned Tennessee sculptor Russell Faxon to create a statue in his honor. The life-sized bronze statue of Atkins is situated outside their Nashville headquarters at the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Union Street. Atkins is depicted sitting on a stool and playing a guitar.
After more than a century, Nashville’s first enclosed shopping center is still a popular attraction. The Arcade was created in 1902 with the enclosure of the former Overton Alley. Featuring identical Palladian entrances, the Arcade is located between Fourth and Fifth avenues north of Broadway. The local firm Thompson, Gibel & Asmus patterned their design of the two-story arcade after the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The Edgefield and Nashville Manufacturing Company was entrusted with the task of constructing the Arcade. A gabled glass roof whose rolled steel bracing system was installed by the Nashville Bridge Company allows natural light to enter the interior space. The exterior face of the first floor shops boasts a funky Art Deco style. More than 40,000 people attended the grand opening. The popular attraction was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
A National Historic Landmark, the Downtown Presbyterian Church was built in 1851. State Capitol architect William Strickland designed the building, which is one of the country’s largest and best-preserved examples of Egyptian Revival style architecture. Serving as a Union military hospital during the Civil War, the church was renovated in the 1880s. The interior, painted to resemble an Egyptian temple, features walnut benches and vivid motifs like winged globes representing the Egyptian sun god Amun-Ra, which signifies eternity. The 4,000-pound church bell, donated by Adelicia Acklen, served as the city fire alarm for more than two decades.
Known colloquially as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” Ryman Auditorium began as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Local entrepreneur Thomas Ryman built it as a permanent location for tent revival-style gospel meetings. The auditorium was also the site of secular gatherings like Helen Keller’s lectures, Fisk Jubilee Singers’ performances and WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. While a statue of Ryman is located outside this National Historic Landmark, a bronze tribute honoring Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff is situated inside the lobby.
Founded in 1947 by Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb, the music store is a one-stop shop for country and bluegrass sheet music, records and memorabilia. This charming store offers a wide variety of works by contemporary and classic artists. The store is famous for stocking obscure and forgotten musicians as well as their ability to locate hard-to-find releases. With its creaking hardwood floors and walls lined with autographed photos, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop is an essential stop for people interested in Nashville’s rich homespun cultural legacy.
Honoring the life and memory of the “Man in Black,” the Johnny Cash Museum features a wide collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to the career of this legendary performer. The exhibits highlight various periods in his life, such as his stint in the Air Force and marriage to June Carter. The collection includes Cash’s costumes, handwritten letters and other personal mementos.
Encompassing 1.2 million square feet, Music City Center is Nashville’s downtown convention and exhibition complex. The work of Tvsdesign, the facility is adjacent to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bridgestone Arena. Along with stunning skyline views of downtown, the complex features a variety of flexible event spaces, including a 350,000-square-foot exhibition hall, 90,000-square-feet of meeting rooms and a 57,000-square-foot grand ballroom. The structure incorporates numerous eco-friendly designs, such as a four-acre green roof and a rainwater collection tank that is used to irrigate the building’s landscaping. Inside are several works by local area artisans.
Located near the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame honors legendary performers, songwriters and others who made a significant contribution to country music. Forming a bass clef when viewed from the air, the unique building is an iconic feature of the Nashville skyline. The Hall of Fame, surrounded by honky-tonks and other live entertainment venues where many of the honorees got their start, features a rotunda that chronicles the history of recording technology.
Situated on the bank of the Cumberland River, West Riverfront Park features over a mile of scenic multi-use trails, a 13,400-square-foot dog park and ornamental gardens. The sports facilities include basketball courts and adult-friendly swings. Guests also enjoy The Green, a 1.5-acre event lawn, and live performances in the Ascend Amphitheater. In addition to hosting a summer concert series, West Riverfront Park is the setting for various annual festivals, including Music City’s Independence Day celebration and fireworks display.
Also known as the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, the span over the Cumberland River connects downtown Riverfront Park on the west bank with Cumberland Park on the eastern shore. It is one of the world’s longest pedestrian-only bridges. Dramatically lit at night, the overpass offers expansive views of the river and Nashville’s skyline. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Cumberland Park features sandboxes, spray fountains, a climbing wall and walking trails. Riverfront Park is home to a 1,200-seat amphitheater that hosts summer concerts as well as the New Year’s Eve and July 4 festivals.
The backdrop for the CMT reality series “Can You Duet,” the world-famous Wild Horse Saloon is a 66,000–square-foot country western-themed bar, restaurant, dance club and concert venue. Located downtown and housed in a converted historic warehouse, the three-tier entertainment space invites guests to enjoy award-winning Southern smokehouse cuisine and great music. The two top tiers overlook the large dance floor. You can learn the latest dance steps during free nightly lessons before heading out on the largest dance floor in Tennessee. The stage hosts a variety of acts from different musical genres.
The very mention of Nashville often conjures up the image of a stage full of ornate boot and cowboy hat clad, banjo picking entertainers performing in front of star-struck concert-goers keeping time to the rhythm and dreaming of one day gracing that stage themselves. While that’s a fairly common scenario, we’re going to show you that Nashville is so much more than that.
Containing a full-scale replica of the original statue of Athena, the Parthenon was constructed in 1897 for the Tennessee Centenary Exposition. The 42-foot tall Athena Parthenos sculpture is the tallest indoor artistic work of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. While other exposition buildings were removed, the Parthenon was preserved as a museum. In addition to its elaborate statue, the building houses sculptures and paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists. A precise copy of the original Parthenon in Athens, the edifice sits atop a rolling hill in Centennial Park adjacent to a duck pond.
Situated in Nashville’s West End Neighborhood, Centennial Park is a lush oasis that offers a tranquil respite from the glittering lights of Lower Broadway, Music City’s Honk Tonk Highway. One of the most beloved parks in town, this gorgeous natural setting occupies 132 acres. The site has served as a fairground, a racetrack and the location for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition. The recreation area welcomes visitors of all ages with a variety of attractions and activities.