The Coolest, Weirdest, and Best Museums in Nashville
From country music to cars, there’s something for everyone.
Just when you think you know everything about Nashville, there’s a surprise waiting around the next corner at one of our local museums. Learn the story of President Andrew Jackson’s duel in downtown at the Tennessee State Museum or discover the hidden history of Jefferson Street as a cultural center in the early 20th century at the Jefferson Street Sound Museum. Or you can just get a little creeped out by Luke Bryan’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds. Just keep repeating to yourself, “He’s not real. He’s not real.”
Jefferson Street has long been a center of music and creativity for Nashville’s Black community, but many residents in other neighborhoods have any idea how central the corridor was to the development of the city as a center of entertainment. The Jefferson Street Sound Museum harkens back to the days when the street was lined with music clubs featuring performances by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald at the Silver Streak, a young Jimi Hendrix playing jazz and blues with his first band, The King Kasuals, and Little Richard was the king of “The Chitlin’ Circuit.” The JSS Museum is filled with stories and memorabilia of those bygone ages that should not be forgotten.
What to know before you go: Museum founder Lorenzo Washington leads tours by appointment, so be sure to book a time before you arrive. He’s totally worth the $15 entrance fee.
Tucked away in a corner of the Bridgestone Arena downtown, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame enshrines a new class of honorees every year, recognizing athletes, coaches, team owners, Olympians, and the like who were either born in the state or who made major impacts playing in Tennessee. Exhibits highlight individual and team achievements through the decades, and both pros and amateurs are highlighted.
What to know before you go: Thanks to a partnership with FedEx, admission is free through the end of 2023.
Originally founded as the Children's Museum of Nashville back in 1945, the Adventure Science Center now caters to visitors of any age who are curious about science and like to flick switches and pull levers on interactive displays. In addition to a popular exhibit called BodyQuest which allows guests to experience all the major systems of the body through larger-than-life representations (picture a slide through the digestive system) the Sudekum Planetarium presents popular star shows about the current night sky as well as laser light shows set to music at night.
What to know before you go: Admission is $22 with discounts available for children, seniors, military personnel and teachers.
Built inside of the Opry Mills shopping center, Madame Tussauds’ Nashville outpost features many of the same remarkably lifelike wax statues that you might encounter in some of the Madame’s museums in other tourist cities, but Nashville’s collection does have a special musical bent to it. Separated into sections like Music Alley, WSM Radio, and The Rock Bar, musicians of many genres have their wax dopplegangers on display for your selfie-taking pleasure. There’s even a Backstage section where you can pose like a real VIP.
What to know before you go: General admission is $25.99 for adults, and you can add a tasting of five wines from Amber Falls for just $8 more.
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 pm on Fridays. Youth admission is $17.95 and $27.95 for adults, but local families can receive free admission through the Community Counts program.
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.
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 1930s, 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.
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.
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.
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 officially affiliated with family members of The Man in Black, so these are family heirlooms being shared with the public, and the museum was recently named “People’s Choice-Best Music Museum in the Country” by USA Today. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, minstrel shows, 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.