I expected bars. I expected honky tonks. I expected music. I expected to lose my bra in a saloon, only to find a pair of cowboy boots.
What I did not expect from Nashville was a whole city full of wonderful things to do with kids. No pun intended, but this city really struck a chord with me.
Continue reading to find out why.
1. Play At Adventure Science Center
Like most science centres in the US, my kids could not get enough of the one in Nashville. Pure parent-nirvana edutainment at it’s best - one part indoor playground and one part art/science centre.
This centre provides 44,000 square feet of educational play space and has nearly 175 hands-on exhibits – covering themes from health to physics to space to earth science. Plus there are daily science demonstrations!
It’s no surprise the Adventure Science Center has been recognised by The Tennessean’s 2014 Readers Choice Awards as the “Best place to take kids”.
2. Get Creative At The Frist Center For The Visual Arts
Nothing bores me more than art, but my daughter is addicted. She is a creative genius and we heard that the Frist Centre is more than just looking at art… it’s creating!
The Frist Centre is an art museum, housed in a historic US Post Office from the 1930s.
The Martin ArtQuest room was the highlight of our visit to the Frist. Multiple stations were thoughtfully designed for the kids to explore art through drawing, painting, sculpting, printing, movie making, block building and more. It really was an amazing afternoon for our whole family and our kids could have spent 3 or more hours here without thinking twice.
Tip: Children 18 and under receive free admission.
Tip: A parking lot is available behind the art centre. But get your parking ticket validated at the entry desk for substantially discounted parking. It’s also an easy walk to downtown from Frist Center. So combine a visit here with a few downtown attractions to save on parking.
3. Make Your Own Songs At The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
I knew I would love the Country Music Hall of Fame, what I didn’t realise is how much fun the kids would have too. Their favourite part was the interactive singing booth where they could record and mix their own tunes inside Taylor Swift’s touring bus. Boy, did we sing our lungs out!
I loved looking at the costumes from famous country singers, the awards and the impressive display of guitars.
Save a good couple of hours for this one.
4. Sugar Overload At Rocket Fizz Candy Store
There are many candy and ice cream stores in Nashville worth visiting. But we spent time in this one admiring old school candy and hundreds of different sodas. You may find it difficult to walk away empty handed.
5. See A Play At Nashville Children’s Theatre
The Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT) was established in 1931 making it the oldest professional children’s theatre company in America.
A beautiful, modern theatre that didn’t scrimp on design just because their audience are too young to have full-time jobs.
Each year NCT produces four or more professional shows and while we were in town we saw Cinderella. If I didn’t know this was Nashville, you could have convinced me we were in New York’s theatre district. Skilled actors delivered an charming and comical story. Our kids loved it. There were no songs or music, which is my preference in a stage show, however our kids were thoroughly entertained every minute. Creative sets, stunning costumes and a well-sharpened script all flowed together for a fun night out.
Josh’s pet hate is scaffolding, which is all he was greeted with in Athens (and most of Europe). But not here in Nashville. Possibly the weirdest thing you will find in the country music capital of the world is a full size replica of The Parthenon (minus the marble).
And inside the kids are going to be gobsmacked at the world’s biggest indoor sculpture – a giant 42-foot gold-plated image of Athena.
7. Ride The Music City Trolley Hop On Hop Off
Seeing the sites in any city can get tiring for little feet so one of our favourite ways to explore is with a hop-on-hop-off tour and this one has so much character. A whole loop takes 60-75 minutes and covers all Nashville’s main attractions. Our driver/guide was exceptionally knowledgeable and revealed a fascinating side of Nashville we wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.
However if you are on a tight budget you might like to try the MTA downtown bus loop, which is free.
8. Walk The Line At Johnny Cash Museum
The man, the myth, the legend. A small, but well-appointed museum that eloquently captures the life of the late Johnny Cash, my favourite country music star. From memorabilia to instruments to photos to outfits, everything to do with Johnny Cash is here in one convenient spot. Kids who aren’t country music fans (yet) may find this a tad underwhelming at first. However they’ll find iPads and headphones to listen to Johnny’s music and a mini cinema to watch documentaries and clips from Johnny’s film career. I’d suggest setting aside 1 hour or 2 at the most.
If you haven’t seen the superb film “Walk The Line”, I recommend watching that before you get there to fully appreciate the life and far-reaching influence of one of the world’s most prolific recording artists - Johnny Cash.
9. Eat Your Way Through Goo Goo Cluster
The Goo Goo Cluster is a chocolate, nutty, marshmallow caramel candy bar – America’s first combination candy. Across the road from Johnny Cash Museum is the flagship Goo Goo store where you can taste free samples and watch the premium gooey goodness being hand-made. Resist the lure of this tasty sweet treat… if you can.
10. Wander Through Fontanel Mansion
This is the largest log home in the world at 27,000 square feet. The home was lovingly built for country music and TV star Barbara Mandrell by her husband. Requiring 42 truckloads of logs during construction (not including the ceiling timbers), it was an engineering and construction marvel. It’s no longer used as a family home, but instead as a tourist attraction and venue for special events.
And the best bit? It’s a “touchable” attraction! The kids were allowed to play the wall-mounted guitars and touch many of the items in the house, which made it a standout tour for them.
11. Admire Gaylord Opryland Hotel
Even if you are not staying here, it’s worth visiting. It’s pure opulence. You can park to the right of the hotel in the drop off area for 15 minutes to just take a quick walk through.
Head past the lobby to the main atrium and prepare to be dumbfounded by the lavish waterfall and gardens. Best of all entry is free.
12. Take An Inside Tour of ABC’s Nashville TV Show
Want to see Taylor Swift’s Nashville home or catch a glimpse of Avery from the TV series “Nashville”? Then get your butt onto this tour. We wrote all about it here and even our kids (who have never watched the TV show) enjoyed it!
13. Watch The Film At Ryman Auditorium
Originally a church, the Ryman is now a live performance venue. While the kids might find looking at the auditorium slightly boring, the historical video was fabulous. With special projections on the walls and 3D effects, it’s well worth seeing.
14. Discover A Bygone Era At Belle Meade Plantation
From education about slavery to local history to large open spaces ready to explore, our kids enjoyed discovering the Belle Meade Plantation as much as us adults. Our period-dressed guide shared fascinating stories as we admired the way of life from the 1800s, encapsulated in this historic home.
No photography allowed in the house, but you do get free wine tasting at the end!
15. Stroll Through Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
This 55-acre estate is set on the western edge of Nashville in an area that craves exploring. At Cheekwood the kids can run for miles and see anything from dogwood to ferns to Japanese maple. Our kids were fascinated by the frozen pond (since it was December).
Also located on the grounds is a 30,000-square-foot Georgian style mansion that has been transformed into an art museum. Unlike Josh, I wasn’t so keen on the art, but the house itself and historic decorations were gorgeous.
16. Release Energy At Centennial Park
Right by The Parthenon is a 132-acre park worth taking your kids to. It houses a neat playground, an old train and miles of open grassy space, perfect for little ones to release energy.
17. Eat Your Way Through Nashville
The food, oh the food! You cannot go to Nashville without eating. And we wrote all about our mouth-watering memoirs here (coming soon).
18. Dance On The Coyote Ugly Bar
A wild and fun night at Coyote Ugly doesn’t sound like something you’d take kids to, but during the day this quiet bar does allow entrance to kids. Take them in and see if you can convince them to get up on the most famous and longest bar in Nashville.
19. Shop Your Heart Out At Opry Mills
Right beside the Grand Ole Opry is the Opry Mills Shopping Mall, complete with aquarium and cinema. It’s the perfect choice if you are tired of doing “stuff” and just need a little retail therapy.
Tip: head to the information booth and ask for the tourist discount coupon booklet.
20. Relax At The Resort
We stayed at the Wyndham during our time in Nashville. The location was perfect – away from the bustle of downtown, and close to Opry Mills. And while they did try to sell us on timeshare, we politely declined and were not bothered again. 6 nights was only US$375 (equalling $62.50 per night!) and the facilities were great. It was like being on a cruise without the sea.
The resort held daily events that ranged from a live performance by Johnny Cash’s little sister to National Strawberry Ice-cream Day with free ice cream for everyone. The lobby always had fresh, tantalising popcorn available for free and our one-bedroom suite had a fully equipped kitchen and plenty of space.
That meant we spent some time just sitting by the heated pool, eating popcorn, watching movies and enjoying a home-cooked meal – bonus!
The Bottom Line
I’m sure you can see how much there is to do in Nashville. And we only had 7 days. Imagine what you could do with a few weeks up your sleeve in Music City.
It’s no surprise that Lonely Planet recently christened Nashville as one of the 10 “Best In Travel” cities around the world in 2016.
I wholeheartedly agree. It’s now high on my list of favourite global destinations with the perfect harmony of trendy atmosphere, mouth-watering food, culture, history and fun attractions for the whole family. So make sure you find out what all the fuss is about before your friends do.