Things to do with kids that are “music to our ears” in Music City
Nashville is a town filled with family-friendly fun. Whether you're exploring the area's history and music, expanding your mind or challenging your body, the problem will be deciding what to do in the limited time that you have available. Here are a few ideas to help your family make lasting memories on your trip to Music City.
With a two-story display of every gold and platinum record to ever hit the country charts, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates stars from Patsy Cline to Blake Shelton. But at its heart, it highlights the contributions of those who worked outside the spotlight: songwriters, engineers, and managers. If your kids are diehard country fans, splurge on the platinum admission package, which includes an audio tour as well as a guided tour of the historic RCA Studio B, a short bus ride away. Otherwise, with younger kids, expect to zip through many of the exhibits, though my 4-year-old lingered over the cars while I would’ve rather looked at the costumes. The middle floor is more kid-friendly, especially the mock recording studio, but the top floor has the Taylor Swift Education Center with ever-changing activities and a lot of memorabilia that Swifties will love. (She’s also known to drop by when she’s in town!) Be sure to check out the concert schedule when you enter; most are free with museum admission, but you’ll need to grab a program pass to get in. While at the Hall of Fame, stop by the Hatch Show Print in the 5th Avenue lobby (224 5th Ave. South). Since 1879, this historic letterpress has been designing and printing promotional posters for acts from Elvis Presley to the Goo Goo Dolls. Take a tour of the print shop or sign up for its family program, where you can design your own letterpress art (one Sunday/month). Hall of Fame cost: Youth (6-12) $14.95; Adult $24.95; Platinum Package cost: Youth $29.95, Adult $39.95; Hatch Show Print Cost: Youth (6-12) $10; Adults $15.
2/Johnny Cash Museum
119 Third Ave. South
For a more intimate look at the life of a country music icon, visit the Johnny Cash Museum. Opened in 2013 and endorsed by the Cash family, the small space is packed with the largest and most comprehensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the “Man in Black’s” amazing life. Items include instruments, costumes, artwork, and handwritten lyrics, but the most touching part of the collection has to be the family photos and personal letters, especially those from Johnny to his wife, June. Kids will enjoy the interactive iPad stations that allow them to listen to six decades of music and watch old TV shows and videos. Cost: Youth (6-15) $14 (with adult admission); Adults $18.
Within walking distance of the Johnny Cash Museum and over the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, you’ll findCumberland Park (592 South First St.). It’s best when the spraygrounds are open (roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day). On a hot day, there are several ways to get wet, including a wading pool, splash pad, and “cloud bridge” that drops curtains of rain. If you need to stay dry, play in The Hollow or The Gorge, an adventure play experience that includes an undulating washboard, sand pit with buried fossils, bouncing pad, stone climbing wall, ropes and nets course, and four-person-wide embankment slide. Explore the riverfront by renting a bike at the Nashville B Cycle station at the end of the pedestrian bridge (sorry, no kiddie bikes). You do need to BYOH (bring your own helmet), if you want to ride. Park cost: Free.
3/Grand Ole Opry
2804 Opryland Dr.
The Grand Ole Opry, often called the home of American music, is an entertainment phenomenon that started over 90 years ago. First hitting the airwaves in 1925, it’s the longest-running live radio program, currently heard worldwide on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. The Opry has near nightly shows to attend, mixing country legends, chart-topping stars, upcoming new talent, and often a surprise guest. And don't forget the backstage tour (post-concert, daytime tours, and VIP tours) that let you walk in the footsteps of country stars ranging from Minnie Pearl to Carrie Underwood. If you want to delve deeper into Opry history, opt for the two-for-one tour deal, where you take a self-guided tour of the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s original home. Daytime tour cost: Youth (4-11) $19; Adults $24. Ryman combo tour cost: Child $34; Adult $40. Post-show & VIP tours require a show ticket and start at $55 for children and $69 for adults.
4129 White's Creek Pike, Fontanel & 1300 Narrows of the Warpath Rd., Kingston Springs
Adventureworks will have you ziplining through the treetops at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour! Two area locations offer slightly different experiences. At the Nashville West location, nine separate ziplines cover 1-1/2-miles of terrain. For those looking for a bigger thrill, try the Aerial Challenge Course, a 25-element series of cables, ropes, and logs that take you progressively higher. At Fontanel, eight different ziplines will have you soaring through the forest up to 85 feet high. Needless to say, this isn't an activity for those with extreme fear of heights, but it's a great way to stretch your comfort zone and will appeal to tweens and teens. The ziplines are recommended for those 8 years old and up who weigh at least 60 pounds, while the Aerial Challenge Course is for those 12 and up; all users must weigh less than 275 pounds. Athletic attire is recommended, and sturdy, closed toed shoes are required. Nashville West zip tour cost: Youth $48; Adult $56; aerial challenge: $45; Fontanel zip tour cost: Youth $48; Adult $59.
5/Adventure Science Center
800 Fort Negley Blvd.
Whether you're looking to escape the heat or get out of the rain, the Adventure Science Center is a fun way to learn about everything from technology to ecology. Check out Space Chase with a moonwalk simulating 1/6th gravity, an extra-vehicular experience of “working” in zero gravity, and a star walk through an imaginary galaxy. Climb Adventure Tower, seven levels of science (lift a real car with your body weight, play a piano with you feet) that lead to one of the best views of Nashville. Younger kids get a kick out of the BodyQuest Gallery, which lets you walk through the human body (from eating to elimination!) and navigate the five senses. The state-of-the-art Sudekum Planetarium brings the wonders of the cosmos to life for an additional fee. Cost: Toddlers (under 2), Free; Youth (2-12) $10.95; Adults/Teens (13+): $14.95
KidTripster Tip: If you’re a member of a science center or museum participating in the ASTC Travel Passport Program, you can get free general admission to the Adventure Science Center.
6/Discovery Center at Murfree Spring
502 SE Broad Street, Murfreesboro
If you want to avoid the crowds, head south to the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring. We went on a Sunday afternoon and had the place nearly to ourselves for the first hour. Elementary school-aged kids and younger will be thrilled with the interactive exhibits: pump, pour, and pipe on the huge water table, climb aboard a 1954 Oren fire truck, shop the Farmers Market, whip up a work of art at the Creation Station, zip down the 2-½-story super slide or get up close to turtles, snakes, and other native creatures. There’s also a special area just for infants and crawlers. Head outside and take a walk along the Wetlands Boardwalk and spy tadpoles, river otters, blue herons, and muskrats! Cost: $8.
3777 Nolensville Pike
Nashville Zoo, sprawling across 200 acres, is home to over 2,000 animals. While you won’t see lions or elephants (expansion plans do call for them in the future), there are plenty of other headliners from tigers to giraffes. My kids’ favorite is Unseen New World, an indoor exhibit of reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish. I enjoy the air-conditioning! But what sets Nashville Zoo apart are the interactive animal exhibits. Kangaroo Kickabout lets you walk a path through the ‘roo enclosure and touch one; kangaroo fur is surprisingly soft. At Shell Station, walk among tortoises and touch their shells; contrary to the popular story, these guys are fast! And at Lorikeet Landing, hand-feed the curious birds nectar and don’t be surprised if they land on your head! Nashville Zoo is also home to the Jungle Gym, a massive, multi-level playground, as well as a zipline, carousel, and train. Cost: Youth (2-12) $11; Adults $16; Parking $5.
KidTripster Tip: You’ll need to buy tokens to feed the lorikeets and tortoises and to ride the zipline, carousel, and train. You can purchase tokens at kiosks around the zoo, but avoid lines and purchase at the entrance with your entry admission.
8/Belle Meade Plantation
5025 Harding Rd.
Belle Meade Plantation takes you back to life during 1800s. The historic mansion sits on 30 acres that also includes ten outbuildings, among them the original 1790s frontier cabin, dairy, carriage house, stable, mausoleum, and reconstructed slave quarters. Belle Meade was the site of a Civil War skirmish and damage from bullets is still visible on the stone columns of the mansion. In its heyday, the plantation was renowned for breeding Thoroughbred race horses, and some bloodlines still dominate racing today. Admission includes a guided tour of the mansion with great stories of the people who lived and worked at Belle Meade. We left with a greater appreciation for indoor plumbing and modern medicine. Cost: Youth (6-12) $10; Student (13-18) $12; Adult $20; Family $60 (includes 2 adults & up to 4 kids ages 6-18).
At first glance, Cheekwood Art and Gardens may not seem like a great place for kids, but trust me, it is! The historic estate was built by the family behind Maxwell House Coffee; the mansion now houses a museum. But it’s what’s happening outside that made it a favorite for my kids. Be sure to see the impressive outdoor model trains, where young conductors can watch Thomas and Friends zip around the track. Over the summer, artistic playhouses that you can climb and explore dot the grounds. The garden displays change seasonally with spring bringing Cheekwood in Bloom; for fall, there’s the Harvest Festival. And the year wraps up with impressive holiday festivities, including twinkling lights, live reindeer, and s’mores pits. Closed on Mondays. Cost: Youth (3-17) $9; Adults $16; Parking $5.
10/Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort
4001 Bell Rd., Hermitage
Nashville Shores is filled with one-million gallons of waterpark fun! Adventurous kids and adults can brave the wave pool, plunge down eight thrilling water slides or splash around at Kowabunga Beach, a four-story-tall water playground. For those kids who like fewer thrills, float the lazy river, wade around Wacky Pond or just soak up some sun on the beach. Crowds increase as the temperature rises, so get there early to claim a piece of poolside real estate. Admission to the waterpark also includes a 30-minute Shoreliner cruise on Percy Priest Lake. Cost: Youth (under 52”) $28.99; Adult (52” & taller) $36.99; check website for online only specials.
Leslie Martin is a journalist, who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two sons. The only thing she loves more than writing is reading, especially the latest from Gillian Flynn. She believes caramel is a legitimate food group. She also knows how to change the oil in her car and jump a dead battery.