Family Fun in Nashville, TN
There are so many things to do in Nashville that we would have a hard time narrowing it down. If you go on-line to www.nashvilletn.com you will see lots of tourist attractions. But what we want to share with you are the things we find our friends and family like to do when they come to visit us. We gravitate toward all things local and outdoorsy, and there are a ton of great parks and cool areas to check out. I've teamed up with my awesome Mama to share some highlights in her neck of the woods in Franklin as well as my city of Nashville.
Welcome to Nashville!
Click here to see some great photo highlights of Nashville. As we have been traveling around the country as a family, we wanted to highlight the things in our own hometown that we've loved over the years!
Nashville has exploded in the last five years, and I know this is merely the tip of the iceberg on what all is available in the area to explore!
There are boat rides down the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville. Some are with entertainment and food, some just food and some just to look at the scenery.
If you really want to taste Music City USA take a stroll down 2nd Avenue near the river and up Broadway. The honky-tonk bars are where a lot of country music stars got their start...and still do. It can be a little overload with crowds, but it's still small-town compared to big cities. There are a ton of good restaurants in that area and lots of shops and things to see but it can be pretty crowded with people....especially at night. There are also horse-drawn carriage rides. Rock Bottom is a great restaurant, and Demo's is a very nice and affordable Italian restaurant with a great house wine. The Old Spaghetti Factory is also a great experience. Printer's Alley and The Arcade are two known hot-spots for bars and shopping.
There are all kinds of ways to tour the area - the Carriage rides were great and a fun way to see the city, and my mother loves the Nash Trash tour which is a hoot! She says it's funny and a bit bawdy. 😉 There are a ton of stars......not just singers but also movie stars.....who live in the area. Many live in Franklin. It is a hotspot for the rich and famous. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Jennifer O-Neill, Naomi and Wynona Judd, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Amy Grant and Vince Gill, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Depp (my eldest flipped when she heard Cap'n Jack Sparrow bought a house here)....I could go on and on...... There are so many. You can get maps and bus tours at the Nashville Welcome centers. One recommendation Nathan has been on is the Music City Brew Tour - great way to get a (literal) taste of some of the awesome breweries we have around town, and learn about how they make their yummy brews!
Her sign said: "Working a 9-5 was simply draining my soul. I just love playing music! Although every single dollar is a huge blessing, I'm also here to encourage everyone to follow their passion! Thank you! Do awesome things!!" Love stuff like this and love my town- even with our traveling dreams, we love Nashville. #nashvegas
Our Favorite Parks
Another must-see is The Parthenon in Centennial Park in Nashville. It is an exact replica of the one in Athens, Greece. It is really beautiful and a great place to take pictures. If you go inside it you will find a great art gallery with a statue of Athena that is almost 42 ft. tall. Pretty incredible. The park around this building is quite pretty with a lake and flowers and often has arts and crafts shows going on.....and also plays and music from the pavilion...usually free to the public. There is a pond where people are always out feeding the ducks - we love to take the kids there to feed the ducks, climb the awesome magnolia tree, and play at the playground! You'll find what events are going on there right here.
Cumberland Park is fabulous. I'm pretty certain it's our all-time favorite park. This place has up and down hills with astroturf to run and slide on, sandbox, an awesome splash pad with a wading pool and all kinds of waterfall fun, a rock-climbing wall, slides, and a huge stage for your inner rock-star to come out. All of this, free parking, and a simple walk over the pedestrian bridge and you are in downtown Nashville. They have a fun "Jazz on the Cumberland" series with free live music during the summer.
I spent two days starting at this park with kids where we then walked downtown Nashville and ate at Sbarro for a cheap meal and took in all the sights and sounds of NashVegas, and another evening it was a romantic stroll with Nathan - checking out the city scene on a Friday night, grabbing a fancy dessert at The Melting Pot, checking out an art crawl and seeing Elvis, Jesus, a silver statue man and a magician all on just one corner on Broadway. The music, the awesome people-watching, and the Southern hospitality definitely makes this my kind of city.
During the summer they have all kinds of awesome concerts going on - I just found out about this big band dance series that looks like a blast!
Across the street and just slightly south of the park is one of my parent's favorite eating establishments.....Ted's Montana Grille (Ted Turner). It features Bison and Beef and veggie burgers for those who are not carnivores. The food is good, service excellent and the price is very reasonable. Mom highly recommends the Bison Short Ribs....very meaty and sooooo good! (insert by Ashley...if you want the best local (and vegetarian) food, check out my East Nashville section below)
Bicentennial Mall is actually not a mall at all, but a 19 acre park in the heart of downtown Nashville! It's a great place to go with kids, with plenty of area for Frisbee and kites, and a marble wall that lays out the whole history of Tennessee.
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
This is a definite must see - it's not your average zoo. The Nashville Zoo was originally a wildlife preserve/park called Grassmere, and they kept with that theme when they converted it to a full-fledged zoo. Everything is in very natural habitats, and they are in the process of a $10 million dollar renovation to really make this a must-see in Nashville. Already they have added a flamingo exhibit and a walk-through Kangaroo exhibit where you can actually pet them! You can also walk in and feed Lorikeets nectar, spend a whole day doing nothing but playing at their amazing playground, or just explore the Unseen New World. (I don't recommend the train ride - not worth the $ - but the lorikeets and the carousel are great!) There is a whole historic farmhouse and gardens as well that are a wonderful place for a picnic and to get away from any crowds.
They do a great job of focusing on education and giving back - most of the animals are either on the endangered species list, in breeding programs so they build back up the population, or are rescues from crazy owners, etc. They have plans to even put in a local farmer's market at the exit to help people learn about other ways to care for their environment.
Fannie Mae Dees Park (aka Dragon Park)
Dragon Park is a great little park close to downtown Nashville that is all playground. It's actually in the back yard of a school for kids with special needs, so the playground is completely wheelchair-accessible, which is pretty neat! The mosaic dragon is the coolest aspect, though, and kids (and adults) are welcome to climb on it!
Radnor Lake is perfect if you'd like to hit the trails for a great walk/hike without straying too far from the city. This is a gorgeous path up in the hills or around the lake. This is in between Franklin and Nashville and is a breath of fresh air (literally) any time of the year. (It's within running distance of our home if you airbnb!)
You can't come to this area and not go to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. It takes about 30 min to get there from the Miller home but it is so worth the trip. I suggest you park in the lot at Opry Mills (and that's another fun place to go) at the end near the Hotel and walk in the back door. That way you save a ton on parking fees! When you get inside you won't believe its beauty. Plan to spend some time there just looking at it all. There are two absolutely gorgeous and huge atrium areas with restaurants, waterfalls and even a New Orleans style shopping/eating area. You can take a gondola ride down the river...yes, INSIDE...and it isn't expensive. Kids and adults all enjoy this place and it is accessible by stroller for the small ones. You won't believe the foliage. This is perfect to get a little bit of the outdoors on a cold and/or rainy day. Inside the hotel lobby is a classic "Gone With The Wind" type staircase and fireplaces and beauty everywhere you look. The elegant south in it's finest.
**The Opryland Hotel is breathtaking during the holiday season, with over 2 million lights decorating the already beautiful hotel. You can see pictures and video of the lighting ceremony from 2010 by clicking here.
East Nashville is the hipster area - if you want artisan, local, crunchy mama awesome flair, "East Nasty" is the place to go. Perfectly urban with gorgeous historic homes, this is a very cool place to hang.
The Pharmacy is an excellent local burger joint in East Nashville with some awesome vegetarian options as well. Very cool vibe and they stick kids and families in the back of the fully fenced in outdoor seating area so they can play and run around. Love this place.
Another great park in East Nashville is Shelby Park. The Shelby Bottoms Nature center is wonderful, and the slide and natural playground right next to it is awesome. The playground has no regular playground equipment - it has sand, dirt, sticks, and woods to let your imagination run wild. There are greenways all over the place, including to an old airstrip where kids can ride their bikes all over with a huge flat area.
Here is another overview of East Nashville and Restaurants.
If you are into antiques and quaint little shops you won't want to miss going into downtown Franklin. Franklin is dubbed the #1 small city in Tennessee. It is quaint, clean and so filled with little shops that are so fun to browse. There is an antique mall and tea shops, ice cream parlors, Starbucks, art galleries, restaurants and a couple of beautiful old churches. Check out the Episcopal church at the end of Main Street next to the fire station. It is always open and looks like you have stepped back in time in England-so pretty! Some great restaurants are Puckett's Grocery for your ultimate southern experience, McCreary's Pub for the best fish-n-chips, Franklin Mercantile and Dotsons (Dotson's is a little po-dunk restaurant in a trailer, but for some reason is a celebrity hotspot and everyone raves about the Southern food. I can guarantee you that everyone in there will call you "honey," regardless of who you are).
If you're up for a beautiful drive through the countryside, take the Natchez Trace Parkway to Loveless Cafe. Again, this is a place where celebrities and world travelers come to - a tiny little southern restaurant that is world famous.
Okay, there are three big shopping areas - if you want super high-end (think Prada, Louis Vitton, and tons of name brands I don't even know), then Green Hills Mall is the place to go. You'll also find a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, movie theater, Cheesecake Factory, etc in this area. Traffic is a bit of a beast because it's mainly just one road up and down the area.
For the big discount shopping, an IMAX, Rainforest Cafe, Bass Pro Shop, etc., Opry Mills Mall is the tourist destination and where you can take it all in - do the mall thing and then walk over to the hotel from there for a full day.
Cool Springs is the area to go to if you want an elegant mall, about every kind of restaurant imaginable, a huge 20-screen theatre (55 and over get senior prices!) and much more. This is where the locals in Nashville and Franklin can shop for anything they need. They have an American Girl store as well as an H&M as some of the new arrivals!
If you are into shoes.....I know that sounds weird.......but whenever people come to visit they ALWAYS want to take a trip to Marti and Liz shoes. It is in the Cool Springs area just an exit north of us on I-65. Marti and Liz is NOT your typical shoe store. They carry designer and very upscale shoes that have been used on runways or are leftovers from shoe stores or returned due to ill-fitting or a myriad of other reasons. Rarely do you go there and not buy at least several pair. They carry men's and women's and the prices are a fraction of what they cost at regular shoe stores. Honestly!!
Cool Springs is the epicenter for any restaurant you can imagine. At last count there were over 250 restaurants open at lunchtime...that's not even counting the ones that are only open for dinner!
There are also TONS of places to shop all over this area - the Cool Springs Galleria is a very nice shopping mall
The Factory In Franklin
If you want to see a quaint area that is also a great place for lunch, go to The Factory at Franklin. It is an old stove factory that has been turned into a playhouse, restaurants, art galleries, quaint shops, a pet rescue facility, a pottery place where you can paint your own items (kids love it) and antique shops. There is a restaurant called Stoveworks inside that serves a great lunch with specials everyday.
If you like history and beauty and southern charm........Historic Carnton Plantation, an antebellum mansion located in historic Franklin, TN, was built in 1826 by Randal McGavock, a former Nashville mayor. In its early years, this house was a social and political center, and later became a hospital and cemetery location for Confederate soldiers and Generals of the Civil War. With approximately 1,500 graves, the McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest private Confederate cemetery in the United States.
Carnton Plantation is open daily and is located on 1345 Carnton Lane in Franklin. Tours include views of the restored mansion, ornamental gardens, and the cemetery. See the official site of The Carnton Plantation for more details on admission fees, group rates, and daily operating hours.
More Fun with Kids
Another excellent suggestion is a site that is chock-full of awesome things to do with your kids in the summer here -
Now, we have barely scratched the surface but unless you plan to stay a week or so, we've probably already told you more than you can possibly do in a short amount of time. Keep in mind, too that there are dozens of nice parks, walkways, golf courses and playhouses too.....so there is a plethora of things to do in this area.
Crockett Park (Franklin/Brentwood) Concerts - there are awesome FREE concerts on Sunday nights in the summer - excellent shaded playground, wonderful shaded trails that link it to another park, and a perfect place for an outdoor concert.
NowPlayingNashville - great resource for seeing what's going on in the area
HomeschoolCalendar.org - this is run by my awesome friend and it definitely the best go-to place to see what fun and educational things there are to do with kids in the area. Watch out - she can set you up with a full tour of the area while you're here!
Hours-Locations.com - Find store hours and locations for thousands of local businesses.
TN State Parks FB Page - see what's going on and ask questions about the parks
10 TN Swimming Holes you can't miss - Fall Creek Falls is gorgeous!