The Coolest, Weirdest, and Best Museums in Nashville

From country music to cars, there’s something for everyone.

A great museum should be more than just a fallback option if your day’s plans are ruined by bad weather. Museums can inspire, inform, and entertain, and Nashville is graced with plenty of options that do all three. From music to cars, high art to low brow, history to mystery, Music City museums have something for just about every taste.

SoBro
Nashville’s reputation as a creative hub was built on the back of country music, and this massive downtown museum showcases the genre from its roots in Appalachia to the modern hitmakers of today. The legends of country are enshrined in the hall of fame, and rotating exhibits highlight performers and songwriters through the decades. Whether you’re a fan of country or not, you can’t tell the story of the region without noting the importance of the musical traditions that shaped the history of the South.
What to know before you go: The CMHoF is open seven days a week from 9 am until 5 pm with an extra hour of time for browsing the exhibits until 6:00 on Fridays. Youth admission is $17.95 and $27.95 for adults, but local families can receive free admission through the Community Counts program.

The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum

Capitol Heights
Nashville is a players’ town, and this popular museum in the basement of the Municipal Auditorium pays homage to the musicians who made all those records that live on in history. Focusing on the musicians, engineers, and producers who worked behind the scenes or behind the headliners, exhibits offer fascinating glimpses into the process and equipment that made the stars shine. Priceless artifacts enshrined here include one of Jimi Hendrix’s guitars and the actual stage he performed on in Nashville plus instruments played by luminaries like Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, and Elton John.
What to know before you go: The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is open from 10 am until 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and admission is $28 for adults and $15 for youths.

Frist Art Museum
Frist Art Museum

Downtown
The First is unusual in that it has no permanent collection, depending instead on rotating exhibitions to keep things fresh. The museum attracts some of the most remarkable touring shows from around the globe, sometimes scheduling years in advance. Housed in a former downtown postal office from the 1930’s, the building itself is a work of art, a model of Art Deco and classicism. The museum also offers a robust series of educational programming for children and adults.
What to know before you go: Timed entry reservations are available for admission Thursday through Monday. The museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and admission is $15 for adults and free for visitors 18 and younger.

Murfreesboro Road
Specializing in European cars, motorcycles, and military vehicles, the Lane Motor Museum is unusual because it strives to maintain its entire collection in driving condition. These aren’t just showpieces; they actually run and driving demonstrations are part of the fun, especially when they fire up the 62-foot-long behemoth LARC-LX amphibious vehicle in the back parking lot. They only have room to display a little more than a quarter of the almost 600-vehicle collection of flying cars, floating cars, three-wheelers, bicycles, etc. at one time, so exhibits rotate frequently.
What to know before you go: The Lane Motor Museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and is open from 10 am until 5 pm Thursday through Monday. Admission is $12 for adults with youth and senior discounts available. Tours of the museum’s vault of undisplayed vehicles are offered on weekends for an additional charge of $10.

Eastern Home & Travel
Eastern Home & Travel

Music Row
Operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Studio B has been known as the birthplace of “The Nashville Sound” since it was constructed in 1957. Named “The House of 1000 Hits,” Studio B was the site of historic recording sessions by icons like Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Arnold, and Roy Orbison. With apologies to Memphis, the truth is that Elvis recorded more than 240 songs at Studio B, and today you can still stand on the “x” taped on the floor where The King stood as he crooned “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”
What to know before you go: Historic RCA Studio B is open seven days a week from 10:30 am through 3:30 pm. Tickets are available as add-ons to admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

SoBro
Unlike some celebrity museums that are just cobbled-together collections of memorabilia acquired at auctions and displayed for a profit, the Johnny Cash Museum is run by family members of “The Man in Black,” so these are family heirlooms being shared with the public. The self-guided tour takes visitors through Cash’s historic career in country and popular music and shares his impact on the entire industry. As a bonus, you can buy a separate ticket to the Patsy Cline Museum on the floor above the Cash Museum and learn about another country music icon’s meteoric rise and tragic demise.
What to know before you go: The Johnny Cash Museum is open seven days a week from 9 am until 7 pm with an admission of $23.95 for adults and $19.95 for youths ages 6 - 15.

National Museum of African American Music
National Museum of African American Music

Downtown
Lots of cities lobbied to be the home to this important museum that showcases the contributions made by black artists to almost every genre of music over the centuries. Why did Nashville get it instead of, say, New York City, Chicago, St. Louis or Memphis? Quite simply, because organizers raised the money and put a shovel in the ground to actually build it in the heart of downtown. Once the project was official, memorabilia flowed in from collectors and musicians across the country. The museum is divided into multiple galleries organized by genre and timeframe, and visitors receive an RFI bracelet where they can save playlists, songs, and videos to download and enjoy again after they get home.
What to know before you go: The NMAAM is open from 10 am until 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday and noon until 5 pm on Sunday and Monday. Admission is $24.95 with youth and senior discounts available.

Music Valley Drive
For fans of the campy 1980s television series The Dukes of Hazzard, a visit to Cooter's Place is basically like a pilgrimage to Mecca. Owned and operated by Ben Jones, the actor who played the amiable auto mechanic who kept the Duke Boys’ car running after multiple jumps over the apparently endless variety of washed-out bridges in Hazzard County, this shrine is filled with memorabilia from the show. Other actors from the series occasionally make appearances at the store/museum, and the walls are covered with photos, props and costumes. Visitors can also have their photos made while sitting in some of the famous vehicles from the show.
What to know before you go: Admission is free, and Cooter’s Place is open from 9 am until 7 pm every day.

Tennessee State Museum
Tennessee State Museum

Germantown
The official museum of the state is a repository of history and artifacts from across the years and across Tennessee. Permanent collections are arranged thematically around important eras of Tennessee history, natural history and even sports memorabilia. Among the collection’s more obscure items are a letter from Andrew Jackson challenging a rival to a duel over a horse race bet (Jackson killed him, by the way,) an Egyptian mummy, a hipbone with a bullet lodged in it from a Civil War battle, a death mask of Napoleon, and the dried-up thumb of a notorious horse thief. Yeah, Tennessee has had some wacky history, for sure.
What to know before you go: The museum is closed on Mondays and open from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday and from noon until 5 pm on Sunday. Admission is free.

Belmont/Hillsboro
Belmont University has long been known for its music program, and among its alumni are famous musicians like Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, and Lee Ann Womack. So it makes sense that the university would curate a remarkable collection of musical instruments as part of an on-campus museum. The Gallery of Iconic Guitars (known colloquially as G.I.G.) features early prototypes of instruments from famous manufacturers like Martin, Gibson, and Fender as well as guitars and mandolins played by famous musicians. The space also includes a small stage for demonstrations, lectures, and performances.
What to know before you go: Admission is $5.00 and the GIG is open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday from 1 pm until 4:30 pm.

Hatch Show Print
Hatch Show Print

SoBro
Another adjunct of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Hatch Show Print is probably the most famous letterpress print shop in the world. Since 1879, the shop has been producing advertising posters for circuses, music acts, and major events using the traditional letterpress method of carving wooden printing plates that are inked by hand and cranking out prints one at a time. The walls of the shop are lined with shelves heaving under the weight of wooden letters of different sizes and styles used to create the script on the posters, and some of the typefaces they use today were carved decades ago. Hatch offers shop tours and hands-on workshops where visitors can actually get a little ink under their fingernails while creating art.
What to know before you go: Tours take place daily from 10 am until 4 pm and are approximately an hour in duration. Admission can be purchased as part of a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the adjoining lobby.

Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of Nashville, where he has lived his entire life -- except for four years in California where he studied liberal arts at Stanford University and learned how to manipulate chopsticks. He is a regular contributor to the Nashville Scene, Nashville Lifestyles, Local Palate, Edible, FoodRepublic.com, and Conde Nast Traveler. He likes beer, bourbon, and bacon but isn’t fanatical about any of them.