If the name “Nashville” conjures up thoughts of 10-gallon hats and soap opera-worthy intrigue, well, you’re not alone (thanks, ABC). The truth is, Tennessee’s capital city is growing by leaps and bounds, attracting young families at a remarkable rate. But you don’t have to become a Southerner to enjoy the benefits of a revitalized Nashville. With an easy flight from Chicago (or a seven-hour drive), Nashville is the perfect spot for a family getaway accented with
Johnny Cash Museum
a little Southern twang.
Southern fare gets a good name for a reason, and you can discover it while you’re in Nashville. Nosh on sophisticated versions of classics at The Southern or go for good old-fashioned BBQ at Peg Leg Porker, named one of the country’s hottest BBQ joints. For biscuits and gravy (or biscuits and eggs, biscuits and chicken, plain biscuits…), Biscuit Love is a must. And before you leave, treat yourself to some hot Nashville chicken at Hattie B’s. We dare you to try the “Shut the Cluck Up!!” variety (you will be chugging water for a week). If you or the kids have a sweet tooth, be sure to pick up some Goo Goo Clusters for Nashville’s homegrown treat.
There are tons of great hotel options in Nashville, but we were blown away by our accommodations at the granddaddy of them all, the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Navigating the massive facility is an adventure in and of itself, complete with getting lost (bonus: you’ll get all your steps in for the day!). The lavish hotel has 17 restaurants with a variety of food options, two outdoor pools and one indoor pool, and a stunning atrium complete with exotic flowers, fountain shows and even a river boat tour. If there wasn’t so much else to explore in Nashville, we’re pretty sure you could spend your whole vacay holed up in this lovely spot.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see. Even if you’re not country music diehards, there’s a thrill in seeing Elvis’ gold piano or Dolly’s costumes, not to mention artifacts from hundreds of country stars. Fun worksheets keep kids engaged throughout the museum. A highlight is the Gretsch Family Gallery, where kids can record and mix their own songs in a replica of Taylor Swift’s bus, pose in a giant guitar and see costumes from popular performers. Family programs are also presented most Saturdays in the Taylor Swift Education Center.
If you’re craving some “wide open spaces,” head to Cheekwood Gardens, Nashville’s 55-acre botanical garden. Instead of dragging kids into the on-site art museum, you’ll do well to stay outside and explore the gardens or check out the garden scale railroad made from natural materials. Family programs, including Family Nights Out and seasonal events, take place throughout the year.
As Yankees, we may not give much thought to the Civil War anymore, but our country’s most devastating conflict had massive effects in Nashville.
See that at Belle Meade Plantation, a former thoroughbred horse farm. Take a guided tour through the plantation and learn about its history. Parents can indulge in an on-site complimentary wine tasting at Nashville’s only winery (be sure to try the Blackberry wine). Ask for a Family Scavenger Hunt so kids can get a fun, age-appropriate guide to the property—and make sure they’re really paying attention.
For more sneaky education, head to Adventure Science Center, Nashville’s answer to hands-on science education. Kids will love the BodyQuest exhibit, where they can go inside a giant brain and slide down an “intestine” (complete with rude noises). Or, go for a moonwalk, be the pilot of a fighter jet or enjoy a space show. There’s also a preschool area for younger visitors to get their wiggles out.
There’s a reason Nashville is called Music City: from the moment you step into the airport, music is everywhere. The city has been the de facto home of country’s biggest stars for generations, and you never know when you’ll see the latest up-and-comer busking on a street corner.
For the true country music experience, there’s no better spot than The Grand Ole Opry, where you can sit through a live radio broadcast that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, even if the performers are modern. Kids will enjoy seeing the “On Air” sign light up, the live commercial breaks and the variety of performances.
If mom and dad want to get some time away from the kids, The Bluebird Café (featured on ABC’s hit show) is a great choice. The unique setting and chance to see performers up close make for an unforgettable outing. Since it’s such an intimate venue, tickets can be hard to come by, so reserve them online. Or, take an afternoon or evening to hit the honky tonks on Broadway for a toe-tapping good time (be aware: they’re often overrun by boisterous bachelor and bachelorette parties).
For a combination of music and sightseeing, consider the General Jackson Showboat. You’ll enjoy dinner and a trip down the Cumberland River (with stunning views of downtown Nashville), in addition to a high-energy stage show that gives an excellent overview (or refresher course) of country music.
And if you’re more interested in the history of country music’s most famous acts, there’s the Johnny Cash Museum, George Jones Museum and, of course, the “Mother Church of Country Music,” The Ryman Auditorium.