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Whether you’re traveling with one child, or 150+ musical teens, you’ll find there are plenty of fun things to do in Nashville with kids. From the Johnny Cash Museum to the General Jackson Showboat, the Music City offers Southern charm to everyone. Read on to learn of our favorite fun things to do in Nashville – for all ages!
11 Fun Things to do in Nashville with Kids
Since the 1800s, Nashville, Tennessee has been known as the Music City. Legend has it that the city received this nickname from Queen Victoria. After the Queen of England saw a performance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Nashville’s Fisk University, Her Majesty supposedly responded that these singers must be “from Music City.”
Whether legend or fun revisionist history, it doesn’t really matter. What I can say for certain is that Nashville lives up to the nickname. Music envelopes the streets, the culture, even the economy of the Tennessee state capitol. I learned this firsthand on a recent school trip I took with, appropriately enough, my daughter’s high school music department, which includes members of the marching band and choir. I also learned that there really are a lot of fun things to do in Nashville with kids. (Read this if you’re planning to chaperone a school trip.)
Just a Tag-a-long to the Nashville Fun
Just to clarify, I was not a chaperone on this trip. The band and choir directors and their staff handled everything wonderfully. I was just along for the ride (13 hours on a bus, but that’s a different story) and got to enjoy all the fun things to do in Nashville with kids – in this case, a whole lot of kids!
TravelingMom Tip: If you are chaperoning a trip, we have that covered too – read these survival tips.
The trip was certainly (and purposely) centered on music, from live music performances to historical recording studios to opportunities for our young musicians to create music themselves. Every hands-on experience and guided tour convinced me that Nashville is a lot more than just country music. It’s an immersive experience for anyone who enjoys music – no matter what the genre. From the best things to do and places to go, here are 11 fun things to do in Nashville with kids.
1. The Johnny Cash Museum
Confession – I’m not an avid fan of today’s country music. But, thanks to my father, I was brought up on the Man in Black. Johnny Cash is a modern day legend, and his museum – the largest collection of Cash memorabilia and artifacts in the world – sheds light on this dark, brooding music enigma. From his early honky-tonk days to his TV show and prison tours, Johnny Cash’s life and career are thoroughly explored in this Downtown Nashville museum.
Cash fans – or just the curious – can easily spend a half day or more here exploring the various exhibits in the Johnny Cash Museum, from the stage costumes (including his prison jumpsuit) to the wall of gold and platinum records, and from the school report cards and yearbook pages to Cash’s Air Force uniform and personal Bible. My personal favorites include the film of Johnny Cash appearances in films, on TV and even in cartoons through the years, and the video of Johnny’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt.
The kids enjoyed seeing the different vintage costumes through the years, learning about Johnny’s romance with June Carter Cash, and checking out the guitars and amps used on various recordings. There’s also a green screen you can pose in front of to get your picture with the Man in Black himself.
Johnny Cash Fun Fact
The House of Cash in Hendersonville, Tennessee was the original Johnny Cash Museum, but it closed its doors and fell into a state of disrepair. If you look closely, you can see The House of Cash in the video for Hurt.
2. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar
When friends heard I was going to Nashville, they instructed, “Be sure to go to the Goo Goo Shop!” Although it wasn’t on our itinerary, the kids made time for this nostalgic little store, home of the Goo Goo Cluster and right across the street from the Johnny Cash Museum.
But visitors discover the cute red and white shop is more than just a place to stock up on Goo Goo Clusters. You can also take a selfie by the iconic Goo Goo wall, watch the candies being made by hand, and – if there’s time – enjoy a milkshake or a cupcake at the Dessert Bar. (We didn’t have the time for a snack, unfortunately, but it’s on our list for next time.)
Goo Goo Fun Fact
Goo Goo Clusters are now a Southern tradition, but in the early years, they were hard to order because the founders couldn’t decide on a name. Legend has it the candies are called Goo Goo after a baby’s first words because they’re so good, kids ask for them from birth!
3. The Ryman Auditorium
It all started with a riverboat captain and a revival meeting. But when Thomas Green Ryman decided to look for God over money, he invested in a building which echoes with the sounds of musical dreams to this day. Originally constructed as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the venue opened in 1892. Two years later, John Philip Sousa’s band played there, ushering in a bevy of big names throughout the years.
After Ryman’s death, the temple was renamed the Ryman Auditorium. The 2,362 seat venue hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, as well as a variety of musicians throughout the years. And we’re not just talking country music – I spotted a poster touting a Springsteen show; Ringo Starr played his 72nd birthday concert here, and the Country Music Awards has been taped on the Ryman stage.
The venue remains one of America’s premier music venues and is a great place to listen to any type of music. Our group attended a taping of the Opry Country Classics show, hosted by Larry Gatlin. The kids enjoyed the covers of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton songs as well as the honky-tonk humor of the host.
Ryman Auditorium Fun Fact
A circle of the Ryman stage was cut out and melded into the ground at the Grand Ole Opry’s new home in Opry Mills in order to allow everyone to stand where country music legends have stood.
4. RCA Studio B
This little recording studio may have been my favorite stop on our tour. Known as the home of a thousand hits, RCA Studio B was the favorite of many notable musicians, including Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. But the Studio’s real claim to fame is that it was the home base for Elvis Presley at the height of his career. The King recorded over 200 songs at Studio B.
Although the venue is small (a tight squeeze when you’re with an entire marching band), the guides were extremely knowledgeable and the musical timeline was fascinating. Read more about Studio B.
RCA Studio B Fun Fact
Elvis Presley was an insomniac, so he would show up at all hours to record. He also liked to have “mood lighting” when he sang – including red and green lights for Christmas Songs. His biggest Studio B hit, Are You Lonesome Tonight? was recorded in total darkness.
5. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Okay, this was a personal favorite of everyone on our tour, because our band performed on the steps of the Country Music Hall of Fame and our choir sang in its lobby. Still, even if you aren’t performing there, you’ll want to make a stop at the HOF. After all, country music is central to most things Nashville!
The Country Music Hall of Fame is designed very much like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (or maybe it’s vice versa?). A timeline of country music plays out through the fashion, the memorabilia and the recordings of such stars as Emmylou Harris, the Judds, Garth Brooks and many others. Numerous gold records (and even cassettes!) are on display. My favorite exhibit was probably Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring 70s, which celebrates the melding of Nashville with Texas to create a distinctive, yet wholly American, sound on Music Row.
Another popular exhibit is the Hall of Fame Rotunda, where you can find plaques commemorating every musician inducted into the Country Hall of Fame. A museum showpiece is the Taylor Swift Education Center, where the kids enjoyed interactive exhibits, crafted their own instruments and added to a mosaic about the meaning of music in their lives.
6. Farmers’ Market
When you’re planning lunch for a crowd of 200, you’ll have a hard time pleasing everyone – unless you head to the Farmers’ Market, where farmers, artisans and local vendors offer a variety of tasty treats, from hot chicken to Southern BBQ and from pizza to burgers. Just about anything a high school kid could ask for is being made fresh at the Farmers’ Market.
My daughter and I both chose wood-fire pizza for lunch at Bella Nashville (independently; it’s so not cool to sit with mom). These are individually hand made to order, which means the process was slow (painstakingly so when surrounded by hungry high school students!). Other stand-out lunch choices included the bubble tea at Bubble Love and sweet and sour chicken at Green Asia. But the “Most Popular” vote went to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, with flavors like Gooey Butter Cake, Fluffernutter and Darkest Chocolate. Good thing we had so many walking tours!
7. Musicians Hall of Fame
Hey, wait a minute – didn’t we already see the Hall of Fame? Well, yes, but the Musicians Hall of Fame is totally different from the Country Music Hall of Fame. First, it recognizes achievement in all types of music, not just country. And second, it shines light on the session players, those unnamed unsung heroes that create the sounds we have been listening to, dancing to and singing to for centuries.
Right in the heart of Music City, the Musicians Hall of Fame includes exhibits of the instruments played by some of our favorite musicians (Springsteen, again, but also Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and others). Our tour guide – himself a session musician – told behind-the-scenes stories and shared tidbits about making it in the music industry. I found his banter fascinating, but I think the kids preferred something a little more hands-on.
The Grammy Museum Gallery fits the bill. This interactive gallery allowed the kids to sing karaoke with Ray Charles, play electric drums, write the next big hit single or produce a new album. There was even a rehearsal room!
Remember how Glen Campbell claimed to “know every crack in these lonesome sidewalks on Broadway” in his hit Rhinestone Cowboy? Was I the only one who wondered what the cowboy was doing in New York?
Well, Glen was probably singing about a different Broadway, one right in downtown Nashville. The thoroughfare is a popular entertainment, shopping and foodie attraction for visitors to Music City.
Though the bar scene, rowdy honky tonks and late night loud music may remind you of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Broadway was also quite popular with the teens, some of whom spent their entire vacation savings on the cowboy hats, pointed-toe boots and shiny belt buckles on sale at places like the Boot Barn and Boutique on Broadway. If you’re on an adult-only trip, you can check out the live music and libations at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Tequila Cowboy, Robert’s Western World and other establishments specializing in country music and BBQ.
9. Belle Meade Plantation
Okay, shopping was high on the kids’ list of fun things to do in Nashville. Still, this was an educational trip, so a visit to Belle Meade Plantation was definitely in order. The 30-acre estate is what remains of a once 5,400-acre plantation dating back to the 1820s.
Our guided tour led us through the fascinating story of the Harding family, the owners of the plantation for most of its history. On the outskirts of the Cumberland River, the rich soil and green grass of Belle Mead once played an important role in the boarding and breeding of thoroughbred racehorses in the United States and even worldwide. At the time of the Civil War, the estate was maintained by 136 slaves owned by the family, and their story is also brought to life during the tour.
While on the premises, you can enjoy the house tour or – if you’re over 21 – visit the winery, where complimentary wine tasting is part of the free tour. The younger set will enjoy a visit to the meadows to visit the last remaining horses of Belle Meade’s celebrated stables.
TravelingMom Tip: Ask for a scavenger hunt at the Visitors Center. They can give you a hunt appropriate for the age of your kids, from preschool to teens. Kids also love checking out the toys of the era during the Mansion tour.
10. The Hermitage
The plantation home of our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, the Hermitage was a favorite stop on our itinerary. Now a state park under the direction of the National Park Services, the Hermitage allowed us to walk in Jackson’s footsteps through his mansion and the surrounding grounds, ending with a visit to the tomb where Jackson and his wife Rachel are buried.
Of course, Jackson was known for his duels. He actually fought in three of them during his lifetime and survived all three. At the Hermitage, actors dressed in period clothing demonstrate the rules and protocol surrounding duels. The actors even used volunteers from the audience as their “seconds,” which was a big hit with the kids. Make sure to raise your hand to get in on the action.
11. General Jackson Showboat
Our trip to Nashville was certainly fun and amazing. And on our final night, we waved goodbye to the city from aboard a riverboat paddling down the Cumberland River. The General Jackson Showboat is part entertainment venue, part restaurant, part dance hall and part boat ride. It all adds up to a total night of fun.
Okay, let’s start with the obvious – the food. The kids raved about the menu and why not? I mean, let’s face it – prime rib isn’t regular class trip cuisine! Other choices included peach glazed pork chops (featuring Tennessee whiskey), a garlic and cheddar mac and cheese, seasonal veggies and whipped mashed potatoes. After dinner, you’re encouraged to tour the boat, grab a drink on the deck and watch as you cruise by downtown and East Nashville – all while your server clears the table. Then you’re invited back inside to enjoy your dessert (who doesn’t like cheesecake?) and watch the show.
On With The Show…
But for me, the real show was outside, up and down the banks of the Cumberland River. I saw the Tennessee Titan’s Coliseum, Riverfront Park, the Wildhorse Saloon, Ryman Auditorium, and other sights, and got a terrific picture of the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge before returning inside for the live music show.
There are several different shows performed on the General Jackson. We saw a performance of Music City Nights. This show featured a cast of singers performing not only country music, but some soul, rock and even rockabilly favorites. Songs by Dolly Parton, Elvis, the Everly Brothers and others had us singing, dancing and clapping. It was just like we were in a downtown Nashville honky-tonk but on the Cumberland River! I’d love to come back for their Christmas show. I’m sure it would be chilly, but live music with a southern flair could warm things up.
General Jackson Showboat Fun Fact
The General Jackson Showboat was originally an attraction at the Opryland USA theme park, which closed in 1997. The boat remains in commission, docked near the Grand Ole Opry House. According to legend, its original captain was Captain E.A. Poe.
What We Missed
Like in any extended road trip, things don’t always go as planned. We had a couple of bus issues, so we didn’t get to see everything we had planned. Most notably, we did not tour the Grand Ole Opry, so that’s high on my list for next time. Other sites kids might enjoy include Adventure Science Center, the Parthenon, Nashville Zoo and Centennial Park. They’re all on my list for next visit!
Honestly, there were so many fun things to do in Nashville we just couldn’t fit it all in. Don’t worry, though. I know I plan to make my way back to Music City. And I’m sure a lot of the kids feel the same!