The Top 21 Things to Do in Nashville
Commonly known as “Music City,” Nashville is one of the most vibrant music destinations in the entire world. Around every corner, you’ll find bars spilling out with live music, packed music venues and concert halls, studios, and record labels. But music isn’t all that there’s to Nashville!
The Tennessee capital is filled with parks overlooking the river, as well as gorgeous spots for all those that want to relax in the bliss of nature.
Several museums showcase everything from the history of Tennessee to impressive 19th-century art collections; you’ll definitely find something that’ll pique your interest.
Nashville truly has something for everyone, so check out our list for the top 21 things to do in Nashville so you could tick off exploring Nashville from your bucket list!
1. Grand Ole Opry
Starting off with the Grand Ole Opry, this show is among the top contributors to the city’s famous music scene. The live broadcast takes place weekly and features the greatest names in country music, as well as folk, gospel, and bluegrass.
The Grand Ole Opry first started off as a radio broadcast in 1925 and has since been the longest-running radio program in history. It’s been running for nearly a century and has shown a great capability of changing and adapting to the changing times.
Get tickets for the Grand Ole Opry (View Opry Seating Chart) and catch a show that is guaranteed to provide you with memories that’ll last you a lifetime, where you’ll get to see surprise appearances from country music legends, as well as listen to fresh sounds of new, up-and-coming musicians.
2. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame goes above and beyond to bring you one of the most extensive music collections worldwide. It’s the only museum of its kind, which is dedicated to showcasing the stories of famous country musicians through recorded music, photos, and video clips.
It features exhibits that display musical instruments used by some of the most iconic country musicians in history. You’ll also find interactive displays and explore some famous sites such as the RCA Studio B.
Artists ranging from Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn to Taylor swift are featured there, so you’re bound to find a name that you’ll recognize whether or not you’re a country fan.
You don’t have to be a country music fanatic to enjoy this place; you just need to be a music enthusiast with love for musical history.
3. Nashville Zoo
The Nashville Zoo dates back to the 1800s, where it was first a standard farm home, but later on, the land it was on was generously donated by the Croft family to the city.
The standard home is still available on the property as a centerpiece of the park. It holds stories stretching over five generations that you can get to explore through a tour through the Grassmere Historic Home.
This zoo provides a one-of-a-kind experience to its visitors, both young children and adults, as it’s the ninth-largest zoo in the country, featuring 3,000 animals in total that represent 365 species ranging from Bengal tigers to clouded leopards. A lot of these animals are kept in a habitat that replicates their original environment.
Some animals are available for taking pictures with or feeding, which will allow you to get a closer look at them. There are also some animal exhibits that give you a more personal experience with the animals, such as Kangaroo Kickabout, Lorikeet Landing, Shell Station, and Critter Encounters.
For kids, there are also many attractions to explore after watching the animals in their habitats. Children of all ages can enjoy the Wild Animal Carousel, while kids up to the age of 5 can take a train ride on the Wilderness Express Train. There’s also a 66,000 square feet Jungle Gym for kids to explore running, swinging, or climbing.
4. Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
Located in downtown Nashville, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame gives you the chance to explore the history of the state’s numerous award-winning athletes, such as Reggie Grimes and Daren Bates.
Several exhibits and displays give you a closer look at the history of Nashville’s greatest sportsmen through photographs and jerseys. Kids can also get dressed in jerseys and helmets for photos.
5. The Parthenon
Located near the city center, The Parthenon standing in Centennial Park is a replica of Athens’ Parthenon that was initially constructed out of wood for the 1897 Centennial Exposition in Tennessee. This structure was later rebuilt in cement to serve a more permanent and accurate replication of the greek temple.
So, why was a Parthenon built? Why not another type of building? Well, it all goes back to Nashville’s higher education status. The city was given the nickname “Athens of the South” as it had the most number of colleges and universities in Tennessee. Thus, this building was brought into life.
More recently, a 42-foot-tall full-scale replica statue of the goddess Athena Parthenos was installed. The Parthenon’s also a fine arts museum that features a permanent art collection of 63 paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists. Temporary exhibits and shows are also held there sometimes, so make sure not to miss out.
6. The Hermitage
The Hermitage was constructed back in 1821 to serve as the home of the seventh US President Andrew Jackson. Nowadays, the Greek Revival mansion is open for tours that provide a more personal look at the main house, the kitchen as well as the Old Hermitage Church.
The grandiosity of the mansion doesn’t let you forget that it was built by 150 enslaved people that Jackson owned and housed in tiny log cabins behind the estate. Guided tours through these cabins and the property’s slave quarters show visitors the harsh reality of the slaves that Jackson owned, as you can get to see the cotton fields where they were forced to work.
7. Radnor Lake State Park
Radnor Lake offers a break from the bustling city life. Located south of downtown, it provides a calm getaway with beautiful scenery to observe. There are numerous hiking and biking trails, where you can enjoy the outdoors while being surrounded by animals.
Deer are always seen running through the trees, while red-tailed hawks, herons, owls, and turtles offer diverse wildlife that stretches over the 1,368 acres of the park. Although swimming in the lake is prohibited, supervised canoe trips can be arranged in the springtime.
8. Tennessee State Museum
The rich history of Tennessee can’t be summarized. Still, Tennessee State Museum does a great job at offering a close look at the diversity that the state provides through permanent exhibits that showcase its Native American history, sporting history, natural history, military and Civil War history.
It’s located in downtown Nashville and offers temporary cultural and art exhibits as well as hosts several educational events.
9. National Museum of African American Music
At the core of Nashville’s embodiment of country music are several influences, including African American music that helped shape up country music as we know it today. The National Museum of African American Music shows the role that African American musicians had in creating and influencing 50 different music genres and subgenres such as jazz, country, hip-hop, and gospel.
The 56,000-square-foot museum has several permanent themed galleries, each focusing on the change that African American music went through in specific time periods. The first gallery, which is “Rivers of Rhythm,” serves as the center of the rest of the galleries that connect them all together. It features an interactive timeline of African American music.
The “Wade in the Water” gallery shows the history of African American religious music of the 1600s, with musical traditions and indigenous African spirituals. The “Crossroads” gallery focuses on the work songs that enslaved people would sing in the 1900s and their roles as the precursor to modern blues.
The “A Love Supreme” gallery, which got its name from the iconic album by John Coltrane, focuses more on jazz music, showcasing the influence that the Harlem Renaissance had on music.
The “One Nation Under a Groove” gallery details the history of R&B music dating back to WWII and highlights the music popularized by the civil rights era.
The final gallery, which is “The Message,” traces the history of hip-hop and rap music from their origin in the Bronx. The Roots Theater is a 200-seat theater where you can watch enveloping movies.
The museum also hosts several mini-exhibits. You’ll find a collection of up to 1,400 musical artifacts such as musical instruments, recording equipment, and sheet music used by distinguished African American artists, such as Whitney Houston, Dorothy Dandridge, and Nat King Cole.
10. Shelby Bottoms Nature Center
Located in urban East Nashville, about 4 miles from Printers Alley, the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center is an educational facility where people can learn about the natural and urban landscape with over 950 acres of Shelby Bottoms Greenway and 336 acres of Shelby Park.
There are plenty of recreation opportunities, environmental educational programs, training workshops, and volunteering opportunities. There’s also a Nashville B-Cycle station where both residents and visitors alike can rent a bike to ride on the over 10 miles of both paved and unpaved pathways in the Shelby Bottoms Greenway.
More available facilities include exhibits for art, photography, and natural and cultural history. There’s a Nature Play area for children and a library including children’s books and titles for natural and cultural history. For a more hands-on experience, the center offers a teaching garden with organic demonstrations.
11. Adventure Science Center of Nashville
The Adventure Science Center of Nashville takes a different approach to teach science and technology, as they have permanent interactive exhibits that cover many various topics.
If you’re traveling to Nashville with children, this is an activity that they’ll for sure enjoy while also gaining invaluable knowledge in the process. Are they curious about how earthquakes take place? The “Anatomy of an Earthquake” exhibit offers a closer look at how earthquakes operate by helping you build an earthquake-proof structure.
Maybe they want to help save the bees! Well, there’s a “Beekeeping” exhibit that includes a glass-enclosed beehive that teaches kids about the three different types of bees while they get to watch how bees work on feeding young bees, collecting pollen, and making honey. They’ll also learn how to harvest honey and get a look at the tools that beekeepers maintain healthy and happy hives with.
The “Virtual Reality” exhibit offers a unique experience with custom-designed experiences that are developed in partnership with Nashville developers. The VR installation allows visitors to immerse themselves in a whole new world. There are six separate VR spaces for individual use so that several people can enjoy the installation simultaneously.
The VR experiences, which are designed for people ages 10 years and older, include a tour of the International Space Station, as well as a relaxing nature experience where you can interact with animals, dive underwater, or take a walk on a tropical beach all while controlling the weather.
In addition, you can take a VR tour of a fine art museum where you can get up close to the paintings and sculptures without any barriers. The V-Rex experience gives you an immersive look at a time when dinosaurs existed, as you’ll get to roam through nature with the now-extinct creatures by your side.
If you can’t get enough of bees, you can help the queen bee and her hive cross-pollinate flowers in the Planet Pollinator experience by creating flight paths for the worker bees to take while bringing nectar back to their hive.
The Hydro Hero experience is a Minecraft-style experience in which you’ll get to learn about the different elements that the water cycle consists of, while the City-Scraper experience offers a unique look at what it’s like to be an architect, where you’ll get to build your own skyscraper.
There are many more exhibits available; you can check out their website for a detailed look.
All in all, the Adventure Science Center of Nashville offers something for everyone, so make sure to check it out on your visit to Nashville.
12. Sri Ganesha Temple
The pure diversity and multiculturalism of Nashville are some of the top things that attract visitors to it, and that’s made more evident when the first phase of the Sri Ganesha Temple was built and officially opened in 1985.
Its story dates back to 1978 when several Indian immigrants that immigrated to Nashville first realized that they might not be able to go back to India. They began to have several meetings between 1978 and 1979, ultimately forming a committee in 1980 to discuss the need to build a religious and cultural center that would help teach their children about their rich Hindu culture.
The majority of the committee chose “Hindu Cultural Center of Tennessee”, which they felt would provide a strong base for a cultural organization and temple. The first phase of the Sri Ganesha Temple was constructed on 13 acres of land.
Later on, as the number of devotees increased, a bigger temple was planned, and the basic construction for the second phase was completed in 1990.
It was built as a place that provides educational, cultural, and spiritual activities all related to Hinduism. There are tour guides that can explain the meaning and history behind various statues and shrines to visitors. If you want to experience Hindu culture, make sure to pay a visit.
13. Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe
Johnny Cash is a crucial part of country music history, and the Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe shows the influence that he had through displays of posters, artifacts, and records.
You can listen to samples of his most famous songs in listening stations and check out some of his most priceless guitars guarded in glass cases.
Later on, you can listen to a live band that covers Johnny Cash in the nearby cafe. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the Man in Black, you’ll still have a fun time at the Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe.
14. Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary
Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary is a nonprofit that aims at rehabilitating animals and repopulating plants. It spans over 300 acres and provides a protected home to more than 2,000 native flora and fauna species.
You can sign up for one of their several nature-related classes or have a picnic, or you could take a tour through their nature trails where you’re bound to see many wildlife species in their protected areas, such as mammals, birds, and reptiles.
The tickets sold are put towards the conservation of the sanctuary, so rest easy knowing that you’ll be contributing to a good cause.
15. Schermerhorn Symphony Center
The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which was named in honor of the late Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, is located in downtown Nashville, just across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
It was first opened in 2006 and has since hosted a wide range of musical events of all genres, including pop, jazz, and classical music. It is a popular venue for Nashville concerts.
The building’s main venue is the 1,844-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall, which can be transformed into a 5,700-square-foot ballroom floor that’s used for events such as jazz concerts. This is made possible thanks to an innovative convertible seating system that gives the hall diverse use.
The venue hosts a wide array of shows, including string orchestras, violin concertos, jazz shows, and even Disney musicals, so you’re bound to find an event that’ll interest you at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
At the center of downtown Nashville’s lively nature is Broadway, a passage that extends from the southwest reaching the northeast. It connects several neighborhoods where you can enjoy sightseeing, then dine at one of the several available restaurants.
Broadway offers a nightlife like no other. With rooftop bars and pubs bursting with live music, you’ll definitely have a night that you won’t forget.
17. Tennessee State Capitol
The Tennessee State Capitol is a unique place to tour. It’s one of the oldest working capitols in the United States, dating back to 1859, and it’s home to the Tennessee General Assembly as well as includes the governor’s office.
Make sure to visit the ground of the State Capitol, where you’ll find statues honoring Sgt. Alvin York, Sam Davis, and presidents Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson. The Capitol’s structure was designed by architect William Strickland who was buried in the north facade of the Capitol after dying abruptly during construction.
Make sure to pay a visit to learn more about the national historic landmark!
18. Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory
The Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory serves as an astronomy center where many of Vanderbilt University’s original astronomical instruments, dating back to 1875, are housed.
The observatory offers numerous activities such as summer camps, Telescope Nights, eclipse parties and even hosts special lectures given by world-class scientists. Telescopes are open to the public to look through and observe celestial wonders such as the rings of Saturn or clouds on Jupiter.
Several outdoor music performances are also hosted throughout the year, where local musicians put on a lively show as you lay on the grass and enjoy the music. After the music’s over, the observatory opens its doors for visitors to look through the Seyfert and DeWitt Telescopes.
19. Belle Meade Plantation
The Belle Meade Plantation is a greek-style mansion that was built in 1853 southwest of Downtown Nashville. It has bullet holes from the civil war stretching across its 30 acres of ground.
You can take a self-guided tour through carriage houses, cabins and stables, or opt for a guided experience such as the “Journey to Jubilee” tour, which shows the lives of the enslaved workers that lived at the plantation as well as details their journey to emancipation.
In order to reach the Belle Meade Plantation, you’ll need to take a short road trip to the city of Belle Meade, which is located south of Nashville.
20. Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens is a 55-acre botanical garden, museum, and arboretum that offers a break from the busy downtown life.
Located 8 miles southwest of downtown Nashville, Cheekwood showcases an impressive collection of paintings, furniture, textiles, and decorative arts, as well as archival material and sculptures collected since Cheekwood first opened its doors to the public in 1960.
Works by American impressionists John White Alexander, Childe Hassam, and William Merritt Chase are part of the Checkwood Estate & Gardens collection. The place also boasts the most extensive collection of sculptures by William Edmondson.
The estate includes 12 gardens and a 1.5- mile long woodland trail that you can take a relaxing walk on while being surrounded by outdoor sculptures. Pay a visit to Cheekwood Estate & Gardens for a stroll amongst beautiful gardens and to check out their lovely exhibitions.
21. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
The bright purple building is hard to miss when you’re taking a stroll in downtown Nashville. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is the oldest honky-tonk in Nashville and has operated since 1960.
Tootsie got its iconic color when the painter accidentally used orchid purple color to paint the exterior. Still, it turned into a beautiful mistake, and the color hasn’t been changed since.
The famous bar got its name when Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, the owner of the lounge, bought a lounge and named it after herself. She’s since served numerous famous customers that were up-and-coming musicians at the time such as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Faron Young.
The lounge provides a lively, colorful atmosphere and good live music that’ll guarantee you a night that you’ll never forget.
Nashville truly has more than meets the eye. From greek-style structures to several nature get-aways, you’re bound to find an activity that you’ll love without having to drift far off the city itself.
Although most of the places that we mentioned are located near downtown Nashville, a few places might need a short road trip to reach as they’re located on the outskirts of the city.
Start planning your trip to Nashville, or you could start living like a tourist in your own town and check out the places that piqued your interest!