Nashville has plenty of animal interactions to experience if you know where to look. We've taken all of the guesswork out of it for you: follow us on a tour of these seven unforgettable animal encounters.
The Gentle Barn
A special horse named Dudley is the inspiration behind The Gentle Barn. Dudley (who is now deceased), lost a hoof and after many surgeries received a prosthetic foot; he was a poster animal for the emotional support animal movement.
The Gentle Barn helps people reconnect to animals and aims to open people's minds to what is happening in the world around them. Once a week, it opens its gates for the public so people can hug, play with and feed cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and horses. It is also available for private tours, field trips and visits for those with special needs.
Lucky Ladd's Petting Zoo
Home to a petting zoo, pony rides and a full slate of special events including its annual pumpkin patch, Lucky Ladd Farms is a 60-acre farmstead owned by the Ladd family. After inviting numerous school and church groups out to visit their animals, the Ladds expanded; their facility is now home to hundreds of friendly farm animals and exotic livestock.
Visitors will see cows, goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas and peafowl among them. For the smallest visitors (under four feet tall and less than 75 pounds), pony rides are available‚ for only $5 a ride. Ever wanted to milk a cow? You can do that, too.
Mewsic Kitty Cafe
Tennessee's first cat cafe, Mewsic Kitty Cafe is home to healthy, happy kitties that are all available for adoption through the Nashville Cat Rescue. Kick back with a cuppa joe, a snack and take a lesson from these friendly felines on how to relax. Reservations are recommended, particularly on weekends.
If you're mad about cat cafes and willing to make the hour and 20 minute drive south, you can also visit Catfeine cat cafe in Murfreesboro.
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
The ninth largest zoo in the United States by land mass, the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere has developed only 86 of its 188 acres—so new exhibits are continually on the horizon. Among the newest is the Tiger Crossroads, which features four-year-old female Sumatran tigers and an interactive training window that gives guests the closest possible view of these majestic animals.
For additional unforgettable interactions, the zoo's Backstage Pass (additional purchase required) lets you interact with giraffes and giant anteaters. Early birds can meet the zoo's four rhinos before it opens for the day at the "Rise and Shine with Rhinos" experience.
Radnor Lake State Park
Nature enthusiasts will fall in love with Radnor Lake State Park. This 1,400-acre protected park is the area's hottest spot for birding, with more than 200 bird species reported—barred owls, wild turkeys and great blue herons among them. It also teems with numerous species of amphibians, reptiles and mammals such as mink and otters.
Private boats or rentals are not allowed at the lake, so you're guaranteed a peaceful experience. Optimal wildlife viewing times are sunrise and sunset.
Shenanigoats' Goat Yoga
Did you know that goats are highly sociable animals? This makes them perfect for group activities, such as goat yoga. And Shenanigoats obliges. Take part in a goat yoga session and the animals will frolic around or even on you.
Science has proven that interactions with animals release dopamine and oxytocin and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. So in addition to feeding your soul, you're also doing your body good.
Tennessee Safari Park
Located about two hours west of Nashville, drive through the Tennessee Safari Park to see exotic animals such as bison, giraffes, tapir and wildebeasts. There's also a walk-through zoo, where you'll come across lemurs, tamarins, wallabies, servals and Nigerian dwarf goats. In all, there are more than 80 exotic animals to view, and many available to feed (separate purchase required). Cash only.