Nashville is of course the home of country music, but when you’re traveling here and looking for the best things to do in Nashville with the kids, visiting the honkey-tonks downtown probably isn’t your best bet. So as a native Nashvillian, I’m going to give you the inside scoop on best things to do in Nashville with kids.
My Nashville tourist tips leave out the tourist spots with the long lines — unless they’re the ones the locals are willing to wait for too.
And note that I’ve arranged this post by neighborhood, because Nashville is a big, sprawling city. If you pick one of these areas to hit up each day of your trip, you’ll feel like you’ve been to a few different cities by the time you head back home. Which is one of the coolest things about Nashville!
So pack up the kids, and come enjoy some Southern hospitality without the fussiness of the Deep South. (No offense, Deep South.) Bring some water too, because it’s hot and humid down here in the summer. Or wait until fall, and enjoy crisp 60-degree afternoon with beautiful autumn colors on the trees.
And if you see me and my kids around, say hi! We’ll probably be hanging out around these Nashville spots too.
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Downtown Nashville is the heart of the city’s music scene. Broadway is lined with bars playing live music, and you may even spot Taylor Swift singing karaoke. (I did!)
During the evening, you’ll see too many pedal taverns and bachelorette parties to count, but during the day there’s a lot to do in downtown Nashville with kids.
Put the kids in their swimsuits and grab some takeout from the Nashville Farmer’s Market on 8th Avenue — I highly recommend the Korean stall there. Then head over to Bicentennial Mall State Park (it’s walking distance). You can picnic under the shaded pavilion while the kids play in the dancing fountains there. When you’ve finished eating, you can stroll around the park and learn some of Nashville’s history.
Storytime at the Nashville Public Library
If you are traveling with young kids — think, 8 and younger — stop by the main downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library. Parents from all across the city make the trek downtown to visit the impressive children’s reading room and stay for one of the iconic Tom Tichenor puppet shows, which are the source of some of my own favorite memories from childhood. Best of all, it’s all free!
Frist Art Museum
Just a mile or so down the road from the library is The Frist Art Museum, where kids 18 and under are always free. Make sure you visit the upstairs floor, which is dedicated to an interactive art experience for kids. If your kids love art, you could spend hours here, so get ready.
At the end of the night, get some burgers at The Pharmacy or tacos at Mac Tacos Por Favor, then take in a baseball game at the brand new Nashville Sounds Stadium, right across the river from Downtown. If you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian fare, you’ll be happy at The Southern V. And of course, you can’t visit Nashville without getting some Prince’s Hot Chicken. (And yes, you can get it not too hot for the kids.)
Of course, you could watch the Titans play football or the Predators play hockey if it’s off-season, but there’s nothing quite like a minor-league baseball game if you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids when you’re visiting in the summer.
Fanny Mae Dees Park | Photo © Kate Etue for Cool Mom Picks
Nashville’s midtown area is home to Vanderbilt University, and has the cool laid-back vibe you’d expect from a college town. I’d recommend stopping by Rotier’s Restaurant for a cheeseburger on French bread (OMG, so good) with fries and a milkshake while there, then head across the street to Centennial Park.
Bring some loaves of bread to feed the ducks in the pond — a local tradition for younger kids — then head over to the full-size replica of The Parthenon in the park. As in, the one from Greece. Inside, you’ll find a museum and a towering, gold statue of Athena, which your kids will never forget.
The Parthenon replica in Centennial Park
On the other side of Vandy’s campus, you’ll find historic Hillsboro Village. It’s a quarter-mile stretch of cool indie restaurants, hip shopping venues, and colorful murals situated between Vanderbilt, Belmont University, and the end of Music Row.
You should try to get a table at Pancake Pantry as early as possible. It is the best. I highly recommend the banana bread pancakes, or if you have a real sweet tooth, order the Swiss Miss Chocolate Chip pancakes. You can also grab a cup of coffee at Bongo Java, arguably Nashville’s favorite coffee shop. Then, check out an indie movie at the newly renovated Belcourt Theater or go play at the Fanny May Dees Park.
We call it the Dragon Park, due to the massive, mosaic-covered dragons that wind their way through this handicap-accessible playground. You’ll get some great photo ops here.
Not too far from Midtown is Nasvhille’s Adventure Science Center which is a fantastic thing to do in Nashville with kids. Many local parents I know even have season passes, because their kids can run themselves right into a guaranteed nap when they’re through. My own kids love the anti-gravity station, where you can experience the sensation of walking on the moon. And there are rooms and rooms of interactive, educational play that aren’t quite as active as the play tower, too.
Pro tip: the center of the building is a three-story playscape, so keep a close eye on your kids. In fact, I wouldn’t want to take more than just two or three kids on my own, because this playground is huge.
Historic Franklin, TN
Take a short 30-minute drive south of downtown Nashville, and you’ll find charming, historic Franklin,Tennessee. The small-town downtown area has hip shopping boutiques, amazing restaurants from fine dining to casual Southern fare, as well as historic Civil War landmarks like the Carter House.
Stroll down the main street and stop in the shops along the way — including an family-owned toy shop that’s been around for generations. Or, hop on one of the historic trolleys and take a 90-minute tour of the area.
History buffs, or parents just wanting to incorporate some educational aspects to the trip for their kids, should definitely check out the self-guided Civil War driving tour. There are dozens of Civil War era homes still standing in the area, and you can imagine the battlefields lined with soldiers as you drive.
Or if you’re wanting something a little more…creep, sign up for the Haunted Franklin Ghost Tour, where you’re guaranteed to meet the ghosts of a Civil War spy, among others.
If you’re traveling with older kids and want something fun to do, order a meat-and-three dinner at Puckett’s Grocery (a legend around here), then go see a Broadway-style show at Studio Tenn, which is currently running Grease, y’all! Two NYC-based Broadway vets returned home to Nashville start this little theater company that’s garnered rave reviews for their big-city talent level in a quaint, small-town theater.
If live theater isn’t your thing, you can always catch a movie at the historic Franklin Theater right on Main Street.
Arrington Vineyards, just out side of Franklin
Travel another 15 minutes or so past Franklin, and you’ll find Arrington Vineyards. Families frequently pack up a picnic dinner and enjoy the stunning views of the winery and vineyards, while their kids dance to the live music playing on the lawn.
It’s a relaxing change of pace from the hustle-and-bustle that family vacations tend to take on, and the award-winning wines are a nice touch for parents at the end of a busy day too.
Other can’t-miss family-friendly spots around Nashville
The Conservatories at the Opryland Hotel
For some of the best things to do in Nashville with kids, I highly recommend you venture beyond the areas I’ve already mentioned because there’s really so much more.
A huge tourist destination — because it’s a massive hotel and convention center — is Opryland Hotel. Even though it’s slightly outside of town, closer to the airport, it’s a place many locals trek to. Their massive indoor conservatories feature waterfalls, indoor rivers with boat rides, and more. (That picture above is inside the hotel!)
I’ve taken my kids to spend the night here for a fun in-town getaway, and they still talk about it years later. Pro tip: conservatory-view rooms have amazing views but can be noisy.
And if you’ve got an infant or toddler, definitely opt for a baby carrier over a stroller. Getting through these gardens on wheels isn’t convenient — at all.
Lemurs at the Nashville Zoo | Photo: Gayla Feachen
Another surefire hit with kids traveling to Nashville is the zoo. The Nashville Zoo has grown over the years to become quite the impressive park, with more than 375 species on site. You can pet kangaroos and feed lorikeets, visit the cougars, leopards, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and more in their habitats, or ride a carousel, the wilderness train, or zip line while you’re there. Not to mention, a stop in the amazing playground.
While you’re on that side of town, head over to Plaza Mariachi for an authentic Hispanic shopping and dining experience. And I mean, experience — from acrobats to mariachi bands, this place is a marvel.
Nashville’s sprawling Warner Parks are 3,100 acres of hiking trails with a fantastic nature center. They offer week-night firefly hikes and weekend “full moon picking parties,” where you can listen to bluegrass music under the stars.
One of the main entrances to the parks is right at the end of Belle Meade Boulevard, in Nashville’s wealthiest zip code. Drive slowly, because you’ll want to get a good look at those homes — but also because the police are notorious for giving speeding tickets on this street.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens
Around the corner from Warner Parks is Cheekwood, a historic Nashville estate turned art museum and botanical garden. Every summer they have amazing interactive exhibits across their massive grounds, from cool treehouses to bonsai gardens, to the blown glass art of Dale Chihuly. Kids are free to roam and explore. One of my own kids’ favorites there has been the trains exhibit (shown above), complete with tunnels that kids can crawl through alongside the trains, walking bridges, and tiny worlds hidden in the tree-like structure housing the tracks. (Note: Inside the museum, no strollers are allowed. No exceptions. So plan accordingly!)
Well, that should certainly keep you busy! But if you have any other questions about the best things to do in Nashville with kids, leave them in comments. This local mom is happy to help.
Photo at top: Joshua Ness on Unsplash