24 Best Things to Do in Nashville 2021 — Music, Arts, Outdoors, With Kids, Historical, Sports, At Night, Day Trips
Nashville, Tennessee, is known for its country music scene, making it an amazing destination to visit if you’re a country music fan. But, don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s all there is to this city. Museums, historic and cultural attractions, family fun, and more await. With a bit of it all included, here are the 24 best things to do during a trip to Nashville.
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Nashville is known as Music City. You’ll certainly find plenty of fun things to do and see in the area if you’re a music lover. And, don’t think that Nashville is all honky-tonks and country tunes, either. You can find a little bit of every genre here.
1. The National Museum of African American Music
One of Nashville’s newest musical attractions, the National Museum of African American Music first opened in 2020. With 56,000 square feet of exhibit space, it covers just about every genre of music. There are more than 50 genres in total. Galleries focus on topics such as the evolution of African American music traditions, the emergence of blues, the African American religious experience, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. Book tickets to the National Museum of African American Music in advance.
2. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
With more than 2 million music-related artifacts, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-visit for anyone coming to Nashville, no matter how much you like country music. The primary exhibit, entitled Sing Me Back Home, follows the development of country music, from its folk roots in the 1800s, all the way to what it is today. The exhibit blends artifacts, photos, video, recordings, film, and more to create an immersive experience unlike any other. Beyond this, you’ll find specialty exhibits rotating throughout the year, touching on country music legends both well-known and not-so-well-known, from superstars to behind-the-scenes songwriters. Book tickets to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in advance.
3. Schermerhorn Symphony Center
As mentioned, Nashville isn’t only honky-tonks and country tunes. Check out the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and catch a performance from the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony. Don’t think you’re big on classical music? There’s so much more than Beethoven on this symphony’s event calendar. They also perform movie scores, pop hits, Broadway tunes, and more.
4. Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum
Likewise going beyond country music, the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum looks at a wider range of genres and also includes the Grammy Museum Gallery. See relics and artifacts from famous musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and, Elton John, among others. You can book a guided tour of Musicians Hall of Fame & Glen Campbell Museum in advance.
5. The Johnny Cash Museum
And if you can’t get your fill of the legendary Johnny Cash at either the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you can always go to the dedicated Johnny Cash Museum, named one of the top music museums in the world and filled with the largest comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia.
Arts & Culture Attractions
Arts and culture lovers will also find plenty to enjoy in Nashville!
6. The Frist Art Museum
Part of downtown Nashville for the past 20 years, the Frist Art Museum isn’t your average, stuffy art gallery. This family-friendly destination offers exhibits and shows for adults, sure, but one of its most popular areas is the Martin ArtQuest Gallery, designed with kids in mind, with its hands-on activities and interactive stations. Otherwise, expect exhibitions with themes such as Art Nouveau, art of the American West, Picasso, and more.
7. The Frederick Hart Studio Museum
Sometimes called America’s Greatest Sculptor, Frederick Hart’s work includes The Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Ex Nihilo at the Washington National Cathedral. See the artist’s permanent collection at the Frederick Hart Studio Museum, as well as a recreation of his Virginia home studio.
Nashville has plenty of history and historical spots, from southern plantations to nods to Tennessee’s status as the 36th and final state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. Here are some of the favorite historical sights for travelers to take in while in town.
8. Historic Travelers Rest
This 1779 Federal Period home is the oldest home in Nashville (at least, the oldest home in Nashville that’s currently open to the public). Stop in for a brief tour, courtesy of your living history guide, costume included. The property is particularly picturesque in the summer when the trees and fields are in full bloom.
9. Belle Meade Plantation
Another historic home, Belle Meade Plantation is about as “southern luxury” as it gets. The 1853 Greek Revival mansion was once a thoroughbred stud farm, but now hosts guests for tours, wine tastings, whiskey tastings, cooking classes, special events, live music, and more. Check the plantation’s calendar before you visit to catch one of these fun activities, or just stop by to see if you can catch a tour, or shop for some souvenirs in the lobby, or stop by the fudge house for a sweet treat!
10. The Greek Parthenon
Built for the Nashville centennial celebration in 1897, the Greek Parthenon was a full-size reproduction of the real thing in Greece. Unlike the other many structures built for the centennial celebration, though, Nashville residents decided to keep the Parthenon around for good. Step inside the upstairs main hall to see the huge statue of the goddess Athena. Take a tour and stroll through the four fine art galleries. Fun fact: the Athena statue is the tallest indoor statue in the Western Hemisphere.
11. The Tennessee State Museum
Travel back 13,000 years to learn about Tennessee’s earliest history. In addition to covering history, the Tennessee State Museum also covers Tennessee art and culture. It also features a children’s gallery. Permanent exhibitions focus on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, natural history, and Tennessee’s First Peoples.
Best Outdoor Activities
Who said you couldn’t find a little outdoor fun in the middle of the city?
12. Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
This historic estate (built by the family that founded the Maxwell House coffee brand, interestingly enough) is a good outdoor activity for just about any traveler. Visiting adults and couples will love the beautiful gardens and historic appeal in the main house, while families will love the plenteous activities for kids. Take a tour of the impressive house with all its antiques and artwork, if you like, but if you’re just there to enjoy the outdoors, take full advantage of the expansive 55 acres of gardens. Kids will especially enjoy the outdoor model trains and dedicated children’s garden. If you’re visiting around Christmastime, be sure to stop by for the after-dark holiday light display.
13. Nashville Greenways
Nashville offers almost 100 miles of greenways — well-maintained walking, running, and cycling paths that criss-cross through the city, allowing you to enjoy Nashville’s nature easily and conveniently. Grab a Nashville Greenway map and hit the trails. You’re sure to find a greenway close to wherever you happen to be staying in the city. If you are a little more adventurous, you may enjoy Nashville’s TreeTop Adventure Park — great for kids and adults.
14. Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park
This park right in the middle of downtown Nashville is an easy visit and a convenient way to enjoy 11 acres of pristine nature without even leaving town. One of the coolest park features is a 200-foot granite map of Tennessee, as well as a 95-bell carillon. The park is planted with native species and is a fun spot for families to enjoy a picnic or otherwise blow off some steam after a day spent indoors.
Best Kids’ Activities
Traveling with the kids? Say no more. While many of the above activities are suitable for the whole family, there are just some that you’ll want to add to your itinerary only when your littlest travelers are in tow.
15. The Adventure Science Center
Kids of all ages will enjoy the hands-on educational experiences found at the Adventure Science Center. Learn about weather phenomena, the human body, animals and nature, galaxies, physics, and more. Families could easily spend a full day exploring everything there is to see and do here. Book your tickets to the Adventure Science Center in advance.
16. Soundwaves at Gaylord Opryland
The Gaylord Opryland resort is a great place to stay in Nashville in general, especially for families, but if you’re looking for a little bit of outdoor fun, it’s also a great place to visit for just the day, with its Soundwaves indoor-outdoor water park. There are spaces specifically for kids and families, as well as spots for adults to enjoy the water away from all the splashing, with a drink in hand. Plus, since the water park features both indoor and outdoor spaces, it’s open all year round. You may also like Nashville Shores Waterpark — also great for kids and adults.
With all that music, you can rest assured the nightlife scene in Nashville is going to be great.
17. Honky Tonk Highway
Right in downtown Nashville, Honky Tonk Highway sits as an unofficial thoroughfare filled with honky-tonks and live music venues where you can saddle up to the bar, enjoy a beverage (or a few), and listen to some amazing musicians. You might even discover your next favorite up-and-coming singer-songwriter. There’s a range of honky-tonks along this street, with music and revelers spilling out onto the sidewalk once darkness falls. Just head on down, take a walk around, and find a good spot to post up for the night. Or, just find a good spot to start the party. The best part? There are no cover charges. If you are looking to check out Nashville’s beer and spirits scene, another option is a brewery and distillery cart tour.
18. The Grand Ole Opry
If you prefer your nightlife crowds to be a little less rambunctious and a little more “stay in your seats,” don’t miss a visit to what is easily the most iconic music venue in country music. The Grand Ole Opry is the place to go for stellar music shows in an intimate, small setting. Performing musicians change just about every night, so check the Opry’s calendar to pick the best evening for your visit, based on your favorite musicians. Book a Grand Ole Opry show ticket in advance or consider a Grand Ole Opry backstage tour.
Want to catch a professional sports game while in Nashville? No problem. The Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators are both loved by the city.
19. The Tennessee Titans
If you happen to be in Nashville during NFL season, try to catch a Tennessee Titans game. They play in Nissan Stadium right downtown. A game is only a short walk away from the honky-tonks and museums that are also on your itinerary. You can find tickets for games just about every weekend from August to January. And, even if you can’t catch a game during those months, look out for other events happening at Nissan Stadium throughout the year. They include Nashville SC events, college football games, music festivals, and more.
20. The Nashville Predators
Between October and June, you may be able to attend an NHL game while in Nashville. Watch the fast-paced action of the city’s Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Located downtown, the arena’s location makes a pub crawl or food tour the perfect pregame activity.
Day Trips From the City
Want to get out of Nashville? You can easily take a day trip for a scenic drive across some of Tennessee’s beautiful countryside and mountains.
21. The Jack Trail
Whiskey drinkers will enjoy The Jack Trail, which runs between Nashville and Lynchburg, Tennessee (which is home to, yes, Jack Daniel’s Distillery). The scenic trail is also home to other historic and natural attractions. They include the Giles County Trail of Tears Memorial, the Tennessee Agricultural Museum and, Fort Negley Park. You may want to consider the Jack Daniel’s Hometown Experience with Lunch tour.
22. Cumberland Caverns
For outdoor fun, just a short drive from the city, try Cumberland Caverns. This is the state’s largest show cave and a national natural landmark. The cave is open year-round and visitors can expect to discover almost 30 miles of caves, underground caverns, and water features. You will also experience gorgeous underground waterfalls. Both daytime and nighttime caving experiences are offered.
23. The Antebellum Trail
If you’re a history lover, you may want to start a day off with a visit to Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation (mentioned above, under the best historical sights to see in Nashville) and then follow the Antebellum Trail from there. The 80-mile loop is easy to traverse over a day and includes stops at tons of interesting historic sites. Some include Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and the James K. Polk Home.
24. Franklin, Tennessee
If you don’t fancy a day spent in the car, you can simply stop on over to the nearby town of Franklin, Tennessee. You will find loads of small-town charm right outside the city. Park and stroll the downtown streets to find lots of local, unique boutiques and restaurants. Keep your eyes peeled as Franklin is known as a desirable getaway for some of Nashville’s most prominent country music stars. After you’re finished sightseeing and shopping downtown, head on over to one of Franklin’s most prominent historic sites, Carter Houses and Carnton. You’ll learn about its harrowing role in the Civil War. Consider booking tickets in advance for Franklin’s Civil War tour.
Nashville offers mild weather all year round. Summer temperatures are hot and humid, while winter temperatures dip down into the 30s and 40s. Don’t expect a lot of snow, though. With the right clothing, you can be comfortable in Nashville no matter what time you visit. However, if you want to spend a lot of time walking in Nashville, you might do best to book your trip for spring or fall.
Most travelers find it easiest to fly into Nashville International Airport. Serving most major cities with regular flights, the airport is a quick drive from downtown.
If you want to see some of the historic sites or if you want to take any day trips from Nashville, you may want to rent a car for your visit. However, if you plan on staying mostly downtown, you’ll find Nashville to be highly walkable and it’s very easy to find rideshare service throughout the city.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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