13 Free Things to Do on Your Next Trip to Nashville

From honky tonks with no cover charge to a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, here’s how to explore Music City for a song.

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Nashville is nirvana for lovers of live music, line dancing, and barbecue. With the bars on Broadway charging up to $10 a beer on top of a cover charge, though, visitors are at risk of racking up quite the bill before they even make it to the museums or to Biscuit Love for the obligatory morning-after brunch.

Fortunately, there are bountiful free things to do in Music City, ranging from concerts and festivals to tours and gorgeous Tennessean hiking trails. That museum you still aren't sure is worth the lofty admission fee? You can probably see it for free, too.

Here are the 13 best things to do in Nashville that won't cost you.

1. Head downtown and get your honky tonk on.

Bar signs along Broadway in Nashville lit up at dusk

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The honky tonk bars on Lower Broadway offer live music daily, making them a must-see for anyone keen to immerse themselves in Nashville's world-famous country music scene. A lot of them charge a cover, but some local favorites — Robert's Western World, Rippy's, and Legends Corner, for instance — never or rarely do. You can dip into these bars and hit the dance floor for free, although doing so without buying a drink might be frowned upon.

2. Explore the trails at Radnor Lake.

Autumnal trees framing Radnor Lake at sunset

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If it's good enough for Taylor Swift, it's good enough for the rest of us. The pop star has said she loves walking around the 1,368-acre Radnor Lake State Park on a fall day. And while autumn might indeed be the most colorful season in the park, you can visit any time of year for wildflower walks in the spring or canoe floats in the summer. Check the calendar for birding events, holiday programming, kids' craft and nature workshops, and more. All are free and open to the public.

3. Peek inside Hatch Show Print.

Antique printing equipment at Hatch Show Print

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Located within the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print is a legendary letterpress studio packed with antique printing equipment from the 1800s, when the shop first opened. You can see them in action on a tour for $20 per person, but for free, you can enter the print shop and see right into the work space, where the posters are printed. You can also see some of the earliest works that came from Hatch Show Print in its gallery space, also free to visit.

4. Visit the Parthenon.

Nashville Parthenon surrounded by park and lake

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Built in 1897 as part of Tennessee's centennial celebration, Nashville's Parthenon is an exact replica of the Athenian Parthenon, and while it wasn't meant to be permanent, residents liked it so much that the city decided to keep it. More than 100 years later, the structure remains a popular attraction, and while the art museum inside it requires a $10 admission, the facade alone is free to see from the outside and worth the trip to Centennial Park.

5. Peruse a famous author's neighborhood bookstore.

Parnassus Books is run by the famous author Ann Patchett of "Bel Canto," "Commonwealth," and "The Dutch House." The neighborhood bookstore offers a full calendar of free readings, signings (books must be purchased from the shop), and children's storytime events. In the market to spend? Stop by the shop's Local Author table for a selection of stories penned by Nashvillians.

6. Dance in the streets at CMA Music Fest.

Old Dominion playing on the CMA Fest stage

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A weekend-long celebration of country music's biggest fans, CMA Music Fest — held by the Country Music Association each June — offers a plethora of budget-friendly things to do, from free concerts to meet-and-greets, giveaways, and more. During the festival, all of downtown Nashville becomes one big country music-loving street party, attracting tens of thousands fans per day.

7. Sun-gaze at Vanderbilt's Dyer Observatory.

Yep, that's right, sun-gaze. Free 60- to 90-minute tours of Vanderbilt University's Dyer Observatory take place during the day, so you won't see many stars, but you'll be able to look directly at the sun using a solar telescope. You'll also learn all about astronomy, this historic museum, and the observatory's decidedly massive Seyfert Telescope, which you'll get the chance to look out of. Tour dates are listed on their calendar, and while they're free, donations are appreciated. Note that the observatory is closed between December and February.

8. Watch the Nashville Predators Play.

Nashville Predators player during hockey game

All-Pro Reels/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

People go to Nashville for the music, the dancing, the biscuits and gravy, maybe, but rarely do they go for the hockey. If you go during the fall or winter, though, you'd be remiss to not see the Nashville Predators, the city's professional hockey team, in action. Avoid the hefty ticket price by stopping by a practice at the Centennial Sportsplex. The sessions are always open to the public, and scheduling updates can be found on the Predators' website.

9. Grab a seat at Live on the Green.

Nashville has no shortage of free concerts, but a favorite live music event for locals is always Live on the Green. Put on at Public Square Park in late summer, the festival is a marrying of Nashville's passion for music and community. It features established performers (past lineups have included Sheryl Crow, Alabama Shakes, and Citizen Cope) as well as emerging artists.

10. Tour the Tennessee State Museum.

Artifacts on display at the Tennessee State Museum

Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

With permanent exhibits dedicated to the First People of Tennessee, the state during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the "age of Andrew Jackson," all set alongside rotating ones, the Tennessee State Museum is a must-see for history buffs — especially those interested in the South. It's open six days a week, and admission is always free.

11. Catch a show at Centennial Park.

From live bands to opera, movies, and yoga, Nashville's Centennial Park Conservancy has a free entertainment offering for just about every interest. It is a regular host of cultural festivals, craft fairs, and food markets alike. Regardless of the event, admission is always free, so check out the schedule for the most updated programming.

12. Participate in the monthly art crawl.

Person admiring art hung in a gallery

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On the first Saturday of every month, year round, downtown Nashville shares its boozy music scene with the art community, opening the doors of its galleries for open-to-the-public receptions. Only slightly different to a pub crawl, the First Saturday Art Crawl typically takes over about a dozen venues, from studios to hotels and churches. Much of it is concentrated in the Arts District, unsurprisingly, but some events take place in Sobro and The Arcade. Many include light refreshments. None require admission fees or reservations.

13. Make your own street art tour.

Rarely does one leave Nashville without snapping a photo in front of a famous wall mural — be it one with the familiar angel wings or some music-themed variation. The city is full of them; the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp lists more than 70, and that's not even all of them. You'll find these external works — as simple as a blue-and-white-striped wall or as complex as a postcard-style ode to aviation — all over, from 12 South to Hillsboro Village to The Gulch and beyond. Have your camera handy as you wander the neighborhoods looking for them.

Caroline Hallemann is the associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @challemann.

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