Nashville is synonymous with music. A visit to Tennessee’s capital city almost must include at least a drive-by of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman—the original home of the Grand Ole Opry—and a host of concerts and museums dedicated to country music. But the city has more to offer than just great music.
The foodie scene is thriving—go to Prince’s to try the original Nashville Hot Chicken—while the history is fascinating and shopping is stellar. Many of the best known attractions can cost $20 or more per ticket, so here are our suggestions for things to do around Nashville for free or cheap.
A small, 90-seat venue tucked into a strip mall, the Bluebird Cafè was already enjoying success and popularity as a singer/songwriter showcase when the ABC television show “Nashville” used it as a key location. The venue launched the careers of Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift. Brooks returned often looking for songs to record, and found some of his biggest hits on the small stage. You never know who you’ll see—LeAnn Rimes, Jojo Herman of Widespread Panic and Phil Vassar, among others, regularly appear as guests. It’s an all-ages venue, with a full menu, but guests must be 21 to sit at the bar. Plan ahead though. Reservations are needed two to three weeks in advance and while there isn't a cover charge, there is a $10 food and drink minimum per person.
Honky Tonk Highway
Lower Broadway, called the Honky Tonk Highway, is exactly what you think of when you think of Nashville’s music scene: blocks of honky tonks, dives and bars, offering everything from bluegrass to rock ‘n’ roll—and yes, country—from 10 am til 3 am every single day. Leave the little ones at home and two-step from one to the next all night long, without paying a cover.
You can’t have a plethora of musicians without a plethora of music festivals. Some can be pricey, but if you know where to look, there are plenty of opportunities to catch outdoor shows, and often for free. The Nashville Symphony holds free performances in parks around town during the summer. Musicians Corner is a family-friendly event held every Saturday afternoon in the spring and fall at Centennial Park. Tickets to the evening concerts during the CMA Music Festival can set you back a few Benjamins, but during the day all activities and concerts are free. At Live on the Green, concerts are free every Thursday in August.
Music City Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame Park is located on the lawn of the Hilton Nashville Downtown. It is directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and features stainless steel and terrazzo stars, recognizing each honoree for their contribution to and achievements in the music industry. Induction ceremonies are free and open to the public. Recent inductees include Jack White of the White Stripes and Loretta Lynn. Look for stars honoring superstars like Trace Adkins, Garth Brooks, Steven Curtis Chapman, Charlie Daniels and Reba McEntire.
Tennessee State Museum
Tennessee has given the world more than great music; For instance, President Andrew Jackson called Nashville home. The Tennessee State Museum outlines his contributions to both the state and the nation as one of its permanent exhibits. Other exhibits tell the story of Tennessee from prehistoric times through the 1920s. Changing exhibits currently explore World War I and the history of Tennessee’s War Memorial. Admission to the museum is free.
Tennessee Agricultural Museum
The Tennessee Agricultural Museum, located at the 207-acre Ellington Agricultural Center, was once a family farm. It features a renovated horse barn, farm equipment, household items, textiles and other artifacts dating from the 1800s. There are log cabins from the 1800s that depict settlement in the area, a school, a farmhouse and a pavilion with a tractor exhibit. On the third weekend in October, a sorghum cook demonstrates making sorghum molasses, with a sorghum mill powered by a mule. Self guided tours are free.
In 1897, the city built an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, for the United States’ centennial celebration. It served as a monument to classical architecture and was intended to be a temporary exhibit. It became so beloved that it was built with permanent materials in the 1920s and now serves as the city’s art museum. Inside stands a gold-gilded 42-foot-tall statue of Athena, the largest indoor sculpture in the world. It is the centerpiece of Centennial Park.
No Pacman here. This arcade is actually a two-story covered mall modeled after a shopping center in Milan. It was the first covered shopping center in Nashville. Browse among its nearly 20 shops and restaurants on the first floor, and galleries and art businesses on the second level. Stop in at the Peanut Shop while you’re there—they’ve been roasting nuts since 1927.
Nashville Flea Market and Farmer's Market
If you’re visiting the last weekend of the month and have some extra room in your suitcase, search for new and new-to-you treasures at the Nashville Flea Market. It’s held at the Nashville Fairgrounds and features more than 2,000 booths with vendors from 30 states. For fresh foods, stop at the farmer’s market offering produce, meats, cheeses and baked goods from more than 150 farmers and merchants during peak season. The market also boasts 14 locally owned restaurants and shops offering dishes from around the world. It’s open 365 days a year.
Cooter's Place Museum
For a little southern kitsch, fans of the Dukes of Hazzard will want to stop by Cooter’s Place. The store and museum commemorating the popular show is owned by Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport, and in the 1990s represented Georgia’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visitors can have their pictures taken with the General Lee, Cooter’s tow truck, Rosco’s police car, or Daisy’s Jeep Wrangler.