Rock out with your entire family in Nashville, the country music capital, where you’ll find something fun for everyone, from toddlers to teens. Grab a guitar and hop onstage at the Grand Ole’ Opry, step into a new pair of cowboy boots, and dig into some finger lickin’ Southern cuisine with a side of honky tonk. Since Nashville is a quick, direct flight from just about every major U.S. city, it makes for a great long weekend travel escape.
Start your visit with a Discover Nashville Grayline guided bus tour: you’ll gain a good overview of the city’s history as you breeze past the State Capitol, Bicentennial Mall, Honky Tonk Row and Studio B, where Elvis recorded most of his records. Kids are encouraged to ask questions and the buses are roomy and comfy. Extreme country music fans won’t want to miss Grayline’s Home of the Stars tour, which will take you to the hidden enclaves of celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks and more. Book your guided tour online at graylinetn.com.
The Ryman Auditorium (116 5th Ave N, Nashville; Tel. 615/458.8700; ryman.com), a.k.a. the “Mother Church of Country Music” has the second best acoustics in the world (after the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Utah). Host to the Grand Ole Opry, this auditorium has welcomed all the legends, from Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash. Try to catch a live show here to hear the amazing acoustics in action (see ryman.com/events for concert listings). Diehard country music fans will want to take the backstage tour, where you’ll also have the chance to hit the stage with a guitar for an unforgettable photo op.
Belle Meade Plantation (5025 Harding Pike; Tel. 615/356.0501, bellemeadeplantation.com), a.k.a. the “Queen of the Tennessee Plantations,” is the ideal place to bring the history of the South to life for your children. Encourage them to imagine life as it was for the families living in the original log cabin, built in 1807, and the slave cabin, built in the 1830’s. The plantation also offers a fine selection of children’s programming, including a crafts program for toddlers. Check the museum’s outreach website for upcoming children’s classes and activities at bellemeadeplantation.com/index.php/Outreach/Outreach/
Housed in a former post office, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (919 Broadway; Tel. 615/244.3340, fristcenter.org) is a stunning art deco gem and host to innovative exhibits and traveling art collections from around the world. Children are welcomed with open arms to this outstanding museum – admission to kids under 18 is free. The Martin Art Quest Gallery invites children to engage with art and become artists themselves: Thirty hands-on stations invite kids to sketch, paint, create prints and collages and explore color, pattern, texture, and perspective.
Trek on over to the east end of town, where you’ll find East Nashville, an eclectic neighborhood of antebellum buildings dating to the 1850’s. You’ll want to spend at least an afternoon exploring the fun, casual dining spots and funky, local boutiques in its 12th South retail district. At Katy K’s Western Wear and Ranch Dressing (2407 12th Avenue South; Tel. 615/297.4242; katyk.com) you’ll find t-shirts, belt buckles, and vintage inspired dresses and accessories. You’ll also find a cute selection of onesies for babies and darling country star styles for your littlest ladies.
Pack a picnic or grab a lunch to-go and head on over to Centennial Park (West End 25th Avenue). The full size replica of the ancient Parthenon within this verdant park will thrill the Percy Jackson fans in your party. Embrace your inner Greek Goddess and snap a photo of yourself hugging one of its Doric columns.
Cap off a day of fun with a cruise down the Cumberland River on the General Jackson Showboat (Tel. 866/567.5225; generaljackson.com): its four massive decks and beautiful two-story Victorian Theater feature live country music and entertainment and fine Southern dining. The Heart of Tennessee: A Musical Road Trip show is especially popular with visitors and showcases music born in Tennessee.
The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Hotel (2800 Opryland Drive; Tel. 615/889-1000; gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-opryland) is Nashville’s largest and best rated hotel: it contains a whopping nine acres of indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls, a 20,000 square foot spa and fitness center and an indoor river with its very own Delta flatboat (be sure to go on a family “river” cruise). Give your kids at least an afternoon to soak up some fun at the huge outdoor and indoor pools.
Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles (2905 12th Ave South; Tel. 615/386.2101) offers a rainbow of handcrafted Mexican-style popsicles with a sweet, salty or spicy twist. Flavours change daily and range from Avocado to Raspberry Lime.
Sloco (2905 12th Ave S Nashville; Tel. 615/499-4793; www.facebook.com/Slocosammies ), also in trendy East Nashville, features a rotating menu of ten “sammies”, a.k.a. sandwiches made with fresh and local ingredients. You’re bound to find proud chef and owner Jeremy Barlow in the front window, slicing up bread. PbJ’s and Grilled Cheese are on always available for picky eaters.
Dine to a tune at Bluebird Café (4104 Hillsboro Pike, Tel. 615/383.1461; bluebirdcafe.com), one of the preeminent performance venues in the U.S. Expect to rub elbows with local and national songwriters, performers, and label scouts. It’s also a restaurant starring down home southern cooking – be sure to order a side of sweet potato fries!