Top 10 Attractions in Nashville
If you’re a country music fan, the chances are pretty good that you have Nashville on your travel bucket list. But even if your taste in music skews more classical or rock ’n’ roll, Nashville is still a great place to visit. Known for its museums, artists, walking areas and amazing food, the Music City is a wonderful vacation destination for everybody whether you’re a family with kids, a couple of retirees or a solo traveler. Spend a weekend or stay a week—you’ll never run out of things to do. To get started, here are 10 of the top attractions in Nashville.
1. THE RYMAN AUDITORIUM
The Ryman was originally constructed as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in the early 1890s. Over the following decades, it hosted sermons and revivals, operas and ballets, talks by President Roosevelt and Helen Keller and others, along with shows from Mae West, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong and so many more famous artists. Bluegrass music was invented here, too, but it was the Ryman’s hosting of the Grand Ole Opry for three decades that really put it on the map. Come here for a backstage tour and stand on the stage where so many renowned stars performed. You can even record a song in the recording booth, purchase tickets for a show and check out the permanent exhibits.
2. THE PARTHENON AND CENTENNIAL PARK
It seems strange to see the Parthenon in Nashville until you learn that Nashville used to be known as the “Athens of the South.” The Parthenon is an exact replica of the one in Athens, Greece, built in Centennial Park for the city’s Centennial Exposition in 1897. It features a full-scale 42-foot replica of the goddess Athena, as well as a nicely sized museum (at ground level) with paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists. In addition to the Parthenon, the 132-acre Centennial Park contains many historical monuments worth seeing, as well as the Musician’s Corner, where family-friendly musical acts perform for free on Saturdays in May and June and Thursdays in September.
3. NASHVILLE ZOO
Traveling with little kids, or just young at heart yourself? Be sure to visit the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, about six miles southeast of Nashville. The zoo has more than 365 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish and arthropods—including a new Sumatran tiger exhibit, meerkats, giraffe, kangaroos and rhinoceros. At the zoo’s new veterinary center, visitors can watch veterinarians draw blood, perform acupuncture, administer exams and conduct ultrasounds on various animal patients. Purchase food from snack bars at the zoo or bring in your own and make a day of it.
4. WARNER PARKS
Edwin and Percy Warner Parks together cover nearly 3,200 acres of preserved land and forests southwest of Nashville. This is the place to go for hiking, cycling, fishing and just plain exploring. Start at the Warner Park Nature Center to learn more about the park as well as its flora and fauna, and to join free guided hikes, butterfly hunts, workshops and more. Little kids will enjoy the StoryWalk—each season features a new book along the quarter-mile Acorn Trail behind the Nature Center—as well as various “I Spy” critter searches.
5. MUSICIANS HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM
A celebration of all music—not just country—the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum displays iconic instruments, outfits and memorabilia. It focuses not just on stars like the Supremes, Elvis, Otis Redding, the Beach Boys and Ringo Starr, but also on the behind-the-scenes studio musicians who played with them. Browse the exhibits and watch the videos, then head to the GRAMMY Museum Gallery to play instruments, sing and even record! This museum is a little piece of music heaven within Music City.
6. THE HERMITAGE
Visit the Hermitage, a plantation that was the home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, until his death in 1845. This National Historic Landmark consists of a museum, the mansion and plenty of grounds to explore, including a spring house, restored slave cabins and Jackson’s grave. Visitors can spend hours learning about the man who graces the $20 bill through interactive displays, exhibits and guided tours, so be sure to plan to spend at least half a day.
7. FIRST SATURDAY ART CRAWL
If you’re in Nashville on the first Saturday of the month, don’t miss the First Saturday Art Crawl downtown. During First Saturday, participating galleries along 5th Avenue of the Arts, 2nd Avenue North and the Arcade open from 6-9 p.m. for artist receptions and free viewings of their exhibits. Many also offer wine and other refreshments. The galleries can get crowded, but it’s a fun way to experience a range of different art works and artists. There are often live musical performances and “street” games to play, such as Jenga and checkers.
8. JOHNNY CASH MUSEUM
Much smaller than the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum pays tribute to the black-clad icon of country music, presenting his life and career in a chronological retrospective. See his guitars, lyric sheets, records, stage outfits and other memorabilia, as well as some recorded musical performances, including the famous set at Folsom Prison. It’s not a large museum, but it’s highly informative.
9. LANE MOTOR MUSEUM
Jeff Lane opened the Lane Motor Museum in 2003 to share his love for cars, and especially vintage European cars, with the rest of the world. While his private collection served as the museum’s foundation, he continues to add to the museum’s stock, looking for innovative and unique vehicles around the world. Gearheads will especially love visiting, as the museum is a working one—all vehicles are maintained in running order. Visitors are also sure to note the museum’s architecture, as it sits in the former Sunbeam Bakery’s circa-1950s building.
10. CHEEKWOOD ESTATE & GARDENS
There’s a reason to visit Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in every season—beautiful tulip displays in the spring, harvest activities in the fall and a million-light holiday light show in the winter. Originally the home of the Cheek family, heirs to the Maxwell House fortune, the botanical gardens span 55 acres and include an art museum with permanent and temporary exhibits. Tour the Cheek family home, stroll through the flowers, peruse the paintings and sculptures and just generally unwind at your own pace. Make sure you visit the Turner Seasons Garden for the TRAINS! exhibit, which is especially popular with children.