13 Free Things to Do on Your Next Trip to Nashville
Over the past five years, Nashville has emerged as a tourist hot spot, and with its burgeoning culinary community, friendly locals, family-oriented attractions, and signature music scene, it's easy to see why. But even with its new-found fame, there are still deals to be had in this Southern city. 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.
1. Head downtown and get your honky tonk on
The honky tonk bars on Lower Broadway offer live music daily, making them a must-see for visitors and locals alike. Favorites like Robert’s Western World, Rippy’s, and Legend’s rarely, if ever, charge a cover.
2. Hike the high trail at Radnor Lake
If it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, it’s good enough for the rest of us. So, tie on some tennies and explore the site's 1,200 acres. If you prefer a more structured day in the park, check the calendar for scheduled canoe floats, wildflower walks, and aviary tours, all free and open to the public.
3. Peek inside Hatch Show Print
Located within the Country Music Hall of Fame, the legendary letterpress studio offers tours for $15 a person, but if you stop by the shop, you can see right into the work space and watch the posters printed, free of charge. Traveling with youngsters? Be sure to take advantage the operation’s free family programming dates, where kids ages 5-18 can learn the basics of relief printmaking, and take home a card or poster of their own creation.
4. Visit the Parthenon
The first winner of the Nashville Scene's annual "You Are So Nashville If..." contest hit it out of the park with her entry: "You think our Parthenon is better because the other one fell apart." Built in 1897 as part of Tennessee's centennial celebration, the structure is an exact copy of the Athenian Parthenon, and while it wasn't meant to be permenant, residents liked it so much that the city decided to keep it. Over 100 years later, it's still a popular attraction, and while the art museum inside requires a $6 admission, the facade alone is worth the trip to Centennial Park.
5. Take in the Bluebird Cafe Early Show
The first of The Bluebird's two daily performances showcases the city's newest songwriting talent, giving listeners a chance to hear tomorrow's number one singles before they hit the radio. Reservations are free (they do require a $7 food and drink minumum), but can be hard to come by, thanks to the venue's recent appearances on ABC's Nashville. Tickets become available online about a week before the show, so check your dates and click quick!
6. Meet your favorite author at Parnassus Books
Ann Patchett's neighborhood bookstore offers a full calendar of free readings, signings (books must be purchased at 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.
7. Make the pilgrimage to CMA Music Fest
A weekend-long celebration of country music's biggest fans, CMA Music Fest offers of a plethora of budget-friendly things to do, from free concerts to meet-and-greets, giveaways, and more. The 2016 event kicks off Thursday, June 9. Watch the website for more details to come.
8. Sun-gaze at Vanderbilt's Dyer Observatory
Yep, that's right, sun-gaze. The Dyer's open-house days (the first Tuesday of every month, from 9 a.m. to noon) offers visitors the chance to try out the site's solar telescope, free of charge. Check the calendar and make a reservation here.
9. Watch the Nashville Predators Play
Want to catch a glimpse of Nashville's professional hockey team without the hefty ticket price? Stop 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.
10. Grab a seat at Live on the Green
Nashville has no shortage of free concerts (see numbers 1 and 7 on this list for starters), but a favorite live music event for locals is always Live on the Green. Put on every summer in Public Square Park, the festival is "is a celebration of Nashville's passion for music and community," and features established performers (past lineups have included Ingrid Michaelson, Alabama Shakes, and Citizen Cope) as well as emerging artists. Check out liveonthegreen.com for more info on this year's September shows.
11. Tour the Tennessee State Museum
With permanent exhibits dedicated to the first Tennesseans, the state during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the "age of Andrew Jackson," set alongside rotating ones (the most current highlights the Tennessee highway patrol), the Tennessee State Museum is a must-see for Southern history buffs. It's open six days a week, and admission is always free.
12. Catch a show at Centennial Park
Whether you love Shakespeare or consider yourself a cinefile, Nashville's Centennial Park has a free entertainment offering for you. This year's in-park interpretation of Henry V is set in Tennessee during the last days of the Civil War and runs through September 13. Admission is free, though a $10 donation is suggested. Prefer a more modern performance? Check out the schedule for movies in the park, an annual summer event, with fun-for-the-whole-family films like The Lego Movie and 101 Dalmations.
13. Celebrate the holidays
Heading to Tennessee for the holdays? Keep your eye on the Nashville government website. In early December, that's where they'll announce the winners of the Ann Chapman Holiday Lights Contest. Use the intel to plan a quick car trip around the city to see the displays.
Caroline Hallemann is the associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @challemann.