Nashville is a rarity among cities of its size–not only does it offer plenty of nightlife and entertainment for adults, but it also serves as a fantastic destination for families.
We know how hard it can be to keep little ones engaged—and it can be even harder to get teens interested—but these kid-friendly Music City stops offer something exciting for the whole family.
Consider this your a la carte menu to a long, restful night.
Adventure Science Center
This nonprofit attraction has been a Nashville staple for 70 years and the science center is all about one thing: igniting curiosity.
While the exhibits and content are specifically geared to engage kids between the ages of 3 and 11, teens and adults can’t help but feel a sense of wonder as information usually obtained through textbooks and articles comes to life—many in gargantuan proportions.
Nearly 200 hands-on exhibits delve into the museum’s six areas of focus: Earth Science, Creativity & Innovation, Sound & Light, Air & Space, Health and Energy.
Highlights include the ultra-interactive Adventure Tower, state-of-the-art Sudekum Planetarium, BodyQuest with its Mini Med Center and real-world ambulance, and the center’s newest addition, 15,000-square-foot Space Chase, an awe-inspiring exploration of the universe and its many wonders.
Bicentennial Capitol Mall
This historic park is family-friendly on multiple counts—it’s free, scenic, rich in history and a great place for a sun-drenched picnic. While this isn’t the most exciting and thrill-enducing stop on our list, it is highly educational and offers many sights throughout its 19 acres.
Here, you’ll find a 200-foot granite map of Tennessee, a World War II memorial and the Pathway of History. A 95-bell carillon represented the state’s 95 counties and plays Tennessee-themed songs hourly.
Pack bathing suits and run through the Rivers of Tennessee Fountains, a favorite playtime activity for young kids. Pick up a meal at the adjacent Nashville Farmer’s Market to enjoy at the park’s picnic tables.
The Bicentennial Capitol Mall also features a gorgeous, 2,000-seat amphitheater with terraced lawns and city views, perfect for storytime, a picnic or family photos. Each fall, the free Tennessee History Festival (Oct. 16-17) features historical interpreters who provide living examples of daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art
This truly spectacular botanical garden is also a haven for contemporary and classical art. A family visit to this natural treasure serves many purposes, including as an introduction to the beautiful flora and fauna that serve important purposes in our daily lives; as an active day outdoors that will tucker out even the most energetic of little ones; and as an exploration of art in its many forms.
Among the many forms are sculptures strewn throughout the gardens elaborate landscaping as seen in the Japanese Garden, and collections of paintings, porcelain and Fabergé on display at the museum.
Be sure to catch the "TRAINS!" exhibit which features over 265 feet of tracks in three roadbeds made from natural materials. The engine’s bells and whistles delight children as the locomotives, including Thomas the Train, travel through cedar “mountains,” across willow bridges and through vegetation.
Additional highlights include the Boxwoods Garden, Woodland Sculpture Trail, Terrace Garden—modeled after the world’s oldest surviving botanical garden—and Herb Garden.
Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
Sure, there’s a lot more to Nashville than boot stomps and banjo licks, but the city’s long and deep-rooted country music history is indisputable—and intriguing. There’s no better starting point for your family’s country-music education than this massive museum, which covers almost every imaginable aspect of the genre.
Adults are entranced by memorabilia that was once the prized possessions of legends like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, while kids are amused by interactive exhibits. The innovative “Discover Your Country” gallery is a crowd favorite with its high-tech songwriting, recording and trivia stations that earn you badges on your road to being “Country Certified.”
Gallery highlights also include a tour bus replica and 40-foot guitar that makes for a great photo opp. Check the website for temporary exhibits like "Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips", "Luke Bryan: Dirt Road Diary" and "Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City".
Frist Center for the Visual Arts
This cultural institution engages the whole family with its wide-ranging and ever-rotating art exhibits that have covered everything from Italian fashion to Viennese postcards to large-scale and color-rich portrait photographs.
Especially engaging for teens and young adults, this family-friendly stop is a veritable feast for the senses as visitors are surrounded by the building’s dramatic angles while exploring a spectrum of masterful, thought-provoking works.
The Frist is a fun and cost-effective way to expose kids to the diversity of art. Considering that the museum houses only temporary exhibitions, there’s always something new to discover.
Allen and Cindy Gentry are the current stewards of the land, and continue their family’s rich traditions of educating and uniting the community through fall events, school field trips, summer camps and other educational programs.
Connect your kids with the beauty and importance of farming by visiting the farm during its “open” season every fall. Gentry’s opens to the public every weekend during the fall to celebrate autumn’s bounty with pre-picked pumpkins for sale, pick-your-own pumpkin patches, an intricate, four-acre corn field maze, hayrides and a slew of kid-friendly activities, including a pretend farmers market, farm animal petting zoo, tire swings, and much more.
Nashville Children’s Theatre
This longstanding children's theater was founded in 1931 with the belief that all children deserve a cultural heritage. We couldn’t agree more, which is why this wonderful arts organization is one of our favorite Music City stops for families.
Talented actors dedicate themselves fully to their roles, resulting in plays worthy of admiration from both younger and more mature audience members.
The new black box theater and facilities, built from a hugely successful capital campaign, has significantly improved the guest experience with impressive amenities like a "Comfort Room", where parents can take crying or antsy children while keeping an eye on older siblings and on-stage action play, as well as ample bathrooms and comfortable, well-spaced seating.
Past performances include “Holes,” “You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Go, Dog, Go!” and “A Wrinkle in Time.” Ticket prices for each production are usually $15 for youth and $20 for adults.
Nashville Shores Waterpark & Treetop Adventure Park
The 385-acre Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort is home to two of the most thrilling family activities on our list: Nashville Shores Waterpark and Treetop Adventure Park.
Aquatically inclined families can choose the waterpark, open only during warm-weather months, for over 1 million lakefront gallons of exhilarating splashes, spills and slides, including a wave pool, eight slides, Kowabunga Beach, massive water treehouse, lazy river and playground.
Aerially inclined families, on the other hand, can fly through the canopies at Treetop Adventure Park, which features children’s, junior and adult courses to suit every age and skill level. This sky-high course overs 100 adrenaline-pumping obstacles, including suspended bridges, giant zip lines, cargo nets, Tarzan swings, and more.
Waterpark tickets: $19.99-$36.99. Treetop tickets: adult course $49.99, junior course $34.99, kid’s course (ages 7-11) $24.99. Ticket prices do not include tax.
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
Both kids and adults can appreciate the diversity of earth’s creatures at the Nashville Zoo, which is home to a whopping 6,000 animals and 339 species. This is one of Nashville’s most popular tourist attractions for good reason—the 200 acres includes a stunning array of wildlife while also being home to a historic 19th-century plantation house that alone merits a visit.
The zoo’s most popular exhibits are also its most interactive: kids can brush a goat at Critter Encounters, feed a vibrant lorikeet at Lorikeet Landing and and pet a kangaroo at Kangaroo Kickabout.
Zoo highlights also include the Wilderness Express Train, Wild Animal Carousel and Jungle Gym, which is the nation’s largest community-built playground.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Homes, the Grassmere Historic Home was built in 1810. A walking tour of the home unveils the property’s long history through stories, family relics and original artifacts.
This is perhaps the most all-encompassing stop on our list. The 186-acre Fontanel property, and more specifically a 27,000-square-foot log cabin, was once home to country music star Barbara Mandrell.
This former estate has been transformed into a sprawling entertainment, dining and attractions complex that’s almost unprecedented in its diversity of offerings. On Mandrell’s former stomping grounds, the whole family can learn about the singer’s life at the luxurious mansion, hike and explore nature at the Trails and Greenway, catch a show at the Carl Black Woods Amphitheater, get a dose of adrenaline at Music City Ziplines and indulge in delicious fare at Café Fontanella or Whites Creek Bistro.
What’s more, a stay at the luxurious Inn at Fontanel makes exploring the estate even easier. After the kids have gone to bed, parents can enjoy some adult-oriented activities like wine tastings at the Natchez Hills Vineyard and a tour of Prichard’s Distillery—both on estate grounds.
This outrageously fun candy store personifies the old adage “like a kid in a candy store.” It’s likely you’ve already heard of this ultra-popular national chain thanks to either its wacky reputation or its episode of CBS’s “Undercover Boss.”
Either way, this is a must for families who allow sugar consumption. Almost every square inch of the Nashville store is lined with rare candies, strangely flavored sodas and novelty items.
According to president and co-founder Rob Powells, the company was born after he bought and sold 10,000 units of—wait for it—fake dog poo. Rocket Fizz was founded from the profit of those sales, and the “Dog Dirt” is still sold on its shelves. Peruse over 2,000 vintage candies, 500 retro bottled sodas made with pure cane sugar and 100 flavors of salt water taffy, among many other over-the-top items.