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As a native to Nashville, Ten­nessee, I love to tell every­one about my home city. There’s just some­thing spe­cial about the Nashville way. We smile and say hel­lo to strangers. We help each oth­er recov­er after floods or tor­na­does. And we nev­er, ever pester our res­i­dent celebri­ties, who can be seen around town get­ting gro­ceries just like — gasp — reg­u­lar people.

(Wink, wink) Can you say that, L.A.? 

 

 

Once known most­ly for Music Row and honky-tonks, Nashville has become a des­ti­na­tion for fam­i­ly trav­el. As your home­grown guide, I’m here to share the best tips to plan your vaca­tion in my city. Whether you love music or his­to­ry, camp­ing or resorts, here’s a list of the best things to do with your kids in Nashville. 

 

 

 

Downtown Exploring

 

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is walk through down­town Nashville. Start on Broad­way at Bridge­stone Are­na, the home of the Nashville Preda­tors. You’ll be in the heart of Nashville’s tourist dis­trict. Honky-tonks and bars like Robert’s West­ern World dom­i­nate the area, but the best stops for kids are Savan­nah’s Can­dy Kitchen on Broad­way and Mike’s Ice Cream on Sec­ond Avenue. Con­tin­ue walk­ing to the river­front off of First Avenue to explore along the Cum­ber­land Riv­er, with a walk­ing trail near Ascend Amphithe­ater, views of Nis­san Sta­di­um where the Ten­nessee Titans play, and a recon­struc­tion of Fort Nash­bor­ough. Ready to go off the beat­en path? Walk up to the his­toric Arcade between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Built in 1902, the eclec­tic shop­ping area is pop­u­lar with the lunchtime crowd (I rec­om­mend try­ing can­dy by the pound at The Peanut Shop or grab­bing a slice at Man­ny’s House of Piz­za). Next, walk three blocks to the Nashville Library, which has a remark­able chil­dren’s area includ­ing sto­ry­times with pup­pets and enter­tain­ers. A cen­tral court­yard, a grand read­ing room, and a civ­il rights room make the library a love­ly place to relax after a long walk. If you pre­fer a guid­ed tour of the city, I high­ly rec­om­mend Unit­ed Street Tours, which offers a unique per­spec­tive on his­toric and con­tem­po­rary Nashville with an empha­sis on Black His­to­ry. And yes, you can even book them for food tours and mur­al tours, per­fect for those Insta­gram selfies. 

 

The Peanut Shop, in Nashville’s his­toric Arcade, has been sell­ing can­dy since the 1920s. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

 

 

Frist Art Museum

 

The Frist Art Muse­um is one of my favorite rainy day activ­i­ties. The muse­um fea­tures world-class exhibits on art and his­to­ry. How­ev­er, the true draw for our fam­i­ly is Mar­tin ArtQuest, an inter­ac­tive area for fam­i­lies to devel­op their own artis­tic skills. My kids run straight to the stop-motion ani­ma­tion dis­plays and the giant light board. The draw­ing, paint­ing, and print­mak­ing sta­tions are pop­u­lar and often are themed to go along with cur­rent exhibits. ArtQuest is a safe space for kids to explore, but all ages are wel­come. I see adults sketch­ing and paint­ing each time I go, and I have a few trea­sured prints I’ve made as keep­sakes of our vis­its. A cafe on the low­er lev­el of the muse­um is a con­ve­nient place for a meal or snack in the mid­dle of the day. Before leav­ing the area, be sure to walk next door to vis­it the Union Sta­tion Hotel and peek at the rail­road tracks behind the building. 

 

 

Mar­tin ArtQuest, inside the Frist Art Muse­um, is fun for all ages. Some­times our fam­i­ly does­n’t make it to the rest of the muse­um. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Don’t Miss! Mak­ing His­to­ry Cool: Philadel­phia Tours with Teens

 

Country Music Hall of Fame and National Museum of African American Music 

 

Add a sound­track to your vis­it to Music City with the Coun­try Music Hall of Fame and Muse­um (CMHOF). The mem­o­ra­bil­ia in the muse­um is enjoy­able for coun­try music fans, and kids can have fun with inter­ac­tive games, scav­enger hunts, and record­ing booths. My favorite part of the muse­um is the edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram­ming offered through­out the year. Class­es on song­writ­ing, man­dolin-play­ing, cos­tume design, and more are offered in the Tay­lor Swift Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter (yes, Swifties, you also can find sev­er­al of Tay­lor’s cos­tumes in the muse­um). After explor­ing the Coun­try Music Hall of Fame, walk a cou­ple of blocks over to the Nation­al Muse­um of African Amer­i­can Music. Open­ing in the fall of 2020, this muse­um will trace the evo­lu­tion of Amer­i­can music and the influ­ence of African Amer­i­can tra­di­tions from spir­i­tu­als and the blues to present-day hip-hop and R&B. Can’t get enough of Nashville’s music his­to­ry? You also can vis­it the John­ny Cash Muse­um, the Musi­cians Hall of Fame and Muse­um, and the com­mu­ni­ty-run Jef­fer­son Street Sound Muse­um. If you’re a live music fan, check out Now­Play­ing­Nashville for local shows. While tourist favorites like The Blue­bird Cafe often aren’t suit­able for kids, all-ages shows can be found at area parks, local record stores like Grimey’s, and his­toric venues such as the Ryman Audi­to­ri­um.

 

 

My boys enjoyed look­ing for the shop cats at Hatch Show Print, in the low­er lev­el of the Coun­try Music Hall of Fame and Muse­um. (Yes, Nashvil­lians car­ry their instru­ments around with them every­where.) Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Water Play

 

When it’s time to cool down, hit one of Nashville’s water parks. Nashville Shores is locat­ed about 20 min­utes from down­town and includes water slides, a wave pool, a lake­front beach, and a lazy riv­er. The park also has a ropes course and offers cab­in and RV site rentals. Vis­i­tors stay­ing at the Gay­lord Opry­land Resort have access to the indoor/outdoor Sound­Waves water park for a full day of fam­i­ly fun. Stay­ing at the Opry­land resort is like being on a cruise ship, with restau­rants, shops, and enter­tain­ment with­in easy, indoor walk­ing dis­tance. If you’re plan­ning your trip on a bud­get, then plan on a stop at Wave Coun­try. As a park run by the city, Wave Coun­try offers admis­sion to its giant wave pool, five water slides, and kid­do splash area for only $12 a person.

 

 

Wave Coun­try is a city park offer­ing splash-wor­thy fun at afford­able prices. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

 

Nashville Farmers’ Market and Bicentennial Park

 

For a touch of local Nashville life, head to Bicen­ten­ni­al Mall and the Nashville Farm­ers’ Mar­ket. The sur­round­ing area was hit by Nashville’s recent tor­na­do, but many busi­ness­es are repaired and open for cus­tomers. The indoor food court at the Farm­ers’ Mar­ket offers a taste of Nashville’s var­ied food scene, includ­ing Jamaican, Indi­an, and Kore­an options as well as South­ern bar­beque. In the out­door farm sheds, you can sam­ple and buy local pro­duce, home­made jams, and arti­san goods. The mar­ket is next to Bicen­ten­ni­al Mall, which includes walk­ing paths, splash areas, and a self-guid­ed time­line of Ten­nessee His­to­ry. Con­tin­ue the his­to­ry les­son by strolling to the near­by Ten­nessee State Muse­um, where admis­sion is free. Then top off your after­noon with a stop at the won­der­ful Cup­cake Col­lec­tion in the Ger­man­town neigh­bor­hood. Their sweet pota­to cup­cake is award-win­ning, and they offer veg­an and gluten-free options as well.

 

 

Cup­cake Col­lec­tion is in his­toric Ger­man­town, just a few blocks north of Bicen­ten­ni­al Park. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Adventure Science Center and Fort Negley

 

The Adven­ture Sci­ence Cen­ter is a fun-filled stop for fam­i­lies with young chil­dren. Start with the Sound­Box exhib­it, a music-cen­tric area with plen­ty to keep every­one enter­tained (my kids may have had to drag me out of the karaoke booth). If you have climbers, they’ll head straight for the cen­tral Adven­ture Tow­er, which ris­es 75 feet through the cen­ter of the muse­um. Climb to the very top of the tow­er for a beau­ti­ful view of the Nashville sky­line, then exit on the third floor and find the muse­um’s bee colony. 

 

Pro-tip: Adults can take ele­va­tors and stairs to catch up to their kid­dos at the Adven­ture Sci­ence Center. 

 

After your time at the muse­um, walk down the hill to Fort Neg­ley, the remains of a civ­il-war era fort that was built in 1862 by Black men, women, and chil­dren who were pressed into ser­vice. High atop St. Cloud Hill, the stone for­ti­fi­ca­tions offer a stun­ning view of the city and a glimpse into Nashville’s com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry. The Fort Neg­ley Vis­i­tors Cen­ter offers maps and exhibits, along with an out­door fos­sil pit where any­one can sort through rocks from a near­by quar­ry and dis­cov­er fos­sils to take home. If you need a quick pick-me-up after all the his­to­ry and sci­ence, head to near­by Gab­by’s Burg­ers for a shake or some sweet pota­to fries.

 

 

Adven­ture Sci­ence Cen­ter’s Sound­Box exhib­it is a fit­ting trib­ute to Music City. We had a blast adding effects to voice sam­ples and hear­ing the results. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere

 

The Nashville Zoo at Grass­mere is one of our reg­u­lar stops through­out the year. With tree lined walk­ways and plen­ty of out­door spaces, the zoo is a beau­ti­ful place to expe­ri­ence close-up looks at remark­able ani­mals. The tiger and Andean bear exhibits are par­tic­u­lar­ly thrilling stops — the bears are known for swim­ming up to the view­ing area and jump­ing and danc­ing with delight­ed kids. The tigers, on the oth­er hand, tend to nap right by their exhib­it win­dow, often with a giant paw pressed against the glass. The zoo has a state-of-the-art vet­eri­nary cen­ter that allows vis­i­tors to view baby ani­mals in the nurs­ery and even observe minor med­ical pro­ce­dures. After vis­it­ing the ani­mals, dri­ve one mile to Plaza Mari­achi for a beau­ti­ful indoor food court filled with world cui­sine and live music. When my kids are hot and tired after spend­ing hours at the zoo, pale­tas or chur­ros from Plaza Mari­achi are just what we need to fin­ish out a fun day. 

 

 

Cloud­ed leop­ards are some of our fam­i­ly favorites at the Nashville Zoo at Grass­mere. The zoo is known for its cloud­ed leop­ard con­ser­va­tion work. Pho­to © Paul Nicholson.

 

 

Local Parks

 

Mid­town’s Cen­ten­ni­al Park is one of Nashville’s most icon­ic loca­tions thanks to play­grounds, amphithe­aters, and a full-size repli­ca of the Parthenon. A cou­ple of miles away, Fan­nie Mae Dees Park (a.k.a. “Drag­on Park”) offers an ADA-acces­si­ble play­ground and is home to a remark­able mosa­ic drag­on sculp­ture that is per­fect for a game of hide and seek. Ready for a qui­eter pace? Vis­it Rad­nor Lake or Bea­man Park to hike for­est trails and watch for local wildlife. If you’re look­ing for more out­door adven­ture, try Mont­gomery Bell State Park and Cedars of Lebanon State Park, which offer sites for RV and tent camp­ing as well as cabins. 

 

 

When the weath­er is nice, you’ll find half of Nashville on the trails at Rad­nor Lake State Park. Pho­to © Paul Nicholson.

 

When You Go

 

 

Nashville Inter­na­tion­al Air­port (BNA) is about 15 min­utes from down­town and offers ser­vice with mul­ti­ple nation­al and inter­na­tion­al air­lines, includ­ing South­west, Amer­i­can, and British Air­ways.

For lodg­ing, there are a wide vari­ety of hotels in the down­town and mid­town areas of the city. For a local expe­ri­ence, try a vaca­tion rental in the East Nashville or 12 South neigh­bor­hoods. 

Plan on rent­ing a car or using rideshare ser­vices. Pub­lic trans­porta­tion is lim­it­ed. (Shoutout to the girls’ trip that I fer­ried to the car rental place after they dis­cov­ered the bus did not go any­where near their Airbnb.)

Now that I’ve shared a few of my favorite spots, you’re set to begin your Nashville trip plan­ning. And all this? Just a taste of what my city has to offer. See you soon! 

 

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Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. Despite being an intro­vert, she has trav­eled exten­sive­ly with her extend­ed fam­i­ly, includ­ing a mem­o­rable overnight train ride with an infant. When at home, she spends her days read­ing, writ­ing at Any-Worth.com, and wran­gling two boys.