14 Completely Free Things to Do in Nashville
Fun doesn’t have to cost a thing.
There are so many cool things to do in Nashville, but sadly most of them require cold hard cash to experience. Fortunately for you, however, Nashville is also filled with all sorts of cost-free activities ranging from music to art to history tours. Check out the options below any time you’re looking to spend some time without dipping into your savings.
Soak up some culture and knowledge at free museums
The massive Tennessee State Museum in Germantown is always free to explore. (Well, if you pay taxes in Tennessee, you did sorta pay for it, but just a tiny bit.) A combination of permanent and rotating exhibits shows off just a fraction of the museum’s amazing collection of Tennesseebilia, and it’s arranged thematically so you can always check out something new on multiple visits. The Governor’s Residence is another repository of state history that offers gratis tours by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
If you prefer fine art, the 21C Museum Hotel maintains a large collection of modern art that it rotates between multiple properties around the South. The galleries at their Nashville location are open every day at no cost, and docent tours are offered every Thursday at 5:30. The Frist Art Museum doesn’t have a regular schedule of “free museum days,” but they do happen occasionally. Follow their social media to find out when can visit courtesy of generous sponsors.
Listen to some amazing musicians without paying a penny
Not enough people appreciate the fact that Nashville’s downtown honky-tonks don’t charge a cover and feature some of the most talented musicians on the planet playing in various venues up and down Broadway. They intentionally place the stages near the front door facing the back of the building so that you’ll have to enter to actually see the bands, and it’s appropriate to at least buy a drink at the bar if you’re going to listen to a whole set. That’s also why you can’t carry a drink from bar to bar, since you’re expected to consume the equivalent of a cover charge at each venue. But there’s no rule that says you can’t hop from club to club to experience the variety of music coursing through downtown. Just remember to always tip the band.
Take a hike
If the Great Outdoors is calling, opportunities for free trips into nature abound in Music City. A system of greenways offer protected paths for hiking and biking around the city in both urban and natural environments. The city is working to connect many of these paths, so you’ll have even longer routes to travel in the future. Percy Warner and Edwin Warner were two brothers who got back at the bullies who probably taunted their names in the late 1800s by donating the land for two massive parks in West Nashville, contributing more than 2,500 acres of green space filled with miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers along with equestrian paths for the horsey set.
Take a walk through history at Bicentennial Capitol Mall Park
Adjacent to the Nashville Farmers’ Market, Bicentennial Capitol Mall Park is an ingenious physical manifestation of the state’s history and culture. A 95-bell carrillion plays tunes like “Tennessee Waltz” on the hour, with one bell for each Tennessee county. A Pathway of History runs down both sides of the park with chronological panels marking significant events in history. Planters feature native flora, and gushing fountains are fun for kids to play in as they learn about the rivers of the state. Take a photo standing on top of Nashville on the 200-foot granite map of the state for a meta-selfie.
Visit the music biz’s favorite print shop
If you’ve ever seen your favorite band advertising a show using those cool old-school letterpress posters, odds are it came from Hatch Show Print, the iconic print shop that started out making handbills for minstrel shows and circuses. They used to market themselves by saying, “advertising without posters is like fishin’ without worms,” and since 1879, Hatch has designed and created thousands of artistic prints. Now located in the same building as the Country Music Hall of Fame, you can watch them working through large windows and shop for souvenirs at their excellent gift shop. You can also take a tour, but that’ll cost you $20.
Be a part of a gallery crawl
The First Saturday Art Crawl is the chance to drop into multiple galleries around downtown and visit artists at work. No RSVP or admission is required; just show up and bop from place to place while enjoying some of the city’s finest boxed wines. You might even find something to hang over your couch to replace that tapestry from college. The WeHo Art Crawl also takes place on first Saturdays and features a host of galleries, easily walkable within a few blocks of the hip Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.
Have a picnic in a vineyard
Arrington Vineyards is the passion project of country music superstar Kix Brooks, and the idyllic rolling hills of the property are a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic lunch that you packed in with you. You can also purchase food from caterers and food trucks and wine from the winery, but they’re cool if you just want to spread out a blanket and nosh on a sandwich while you listen to free music from jazz and bluegrass bands.
Experience the best in public art on a mural walk
You’ve probably seen one of the “I Believe in Nashville” murals on social media somewhere, and you might have even waited in line to get your photo with the angel wings in the Gulch, but Nashville has a lot more to offer in the way of public art. Visit Music City has curated a list of murals and their locations to make it easy to map your own walking “art-inerary.”
Check out a remarkable Egyptian revival church
Since 1814, Presbyterians have been worshiping at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Church Street, even before the streets had those names. The Downtown Presbyterian Church was designed in the mid-1800s by William Strickland, the same architect behind the energy State Capitol. Egyptian archaeological finds were all the rage during that epoch, filling the pages of Western media, so the architect settled on an Egyptian Revival style for the new church. Sanctuary walls and stained glass windows depict scenes of Egyptian life, complete with palm trees in the decidedly non-tropical climes of Nashville, and the exterior features a winged sun disk and lotus columns. The overall effect is striking and a little mind-bending, and guests are welcome to take guided sanctuary tours at noon on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.
Get your exercise at Fort Negley
Fort Negley was the largest inland stone fort constructed during the Civil War, looming above downtown Nashville. Built by the Union as a symbol of conquest after the Battle of Nashville, it is now an outdoor park with walking paths ringing the ruins of the walls of the old fort. Take an easy lap for some of the best panoramas of downtown and then make a stop in the visitors’ center to check out interactive exhibits that share the history of the site.
Get your twinkle on at Gaylord Opryland Resort
The Gaylord Opryland Resort is a sprawling hotel and convention center off of Briley Parkway in Donelson. Divided into several pavilions, the resort offers more than nine acres of open space under glass roofs. Lush landscaping lines walking paths, and an indoor river runs through the complex. Guests are welcome to wander the grounds even if they’re not staying at the property. They really do it up for the holidays with millions of twinkling lights installed all over the grounds, indoors and out. Park at the adjacent Opry Mills mall and walk over to save on the steep parking fee.
Stroll around downtown
Nashvillesites.org offers a wide variety of itineraries for free self-guided walking tours around Nashville, organized by neighborhood or by theme. Lace up your walking boots and discover the city’s key role in the struggle for civil rights or the history of how Tennessee put the 20th amendment over the top to ratification, making women’s suffrage the law of the land. Other available tours share the seedy side of Printers’ Alley and various supposedly haunted sites around downtown. Of course, music is the centerpiece of several tour options while others highlight the city’s architectural marvels.
Visit Nashville’s version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory
The Goo Goo Cluster was America’s first combination candy bar, a melange of chocolate, caramel, marshmallow nougat and peanuts invented back in 1912 by a Nashville confectioner. The company is celebrating 110 years of delighting kids of all ages, and the Goo Goo Candy Shop in SoBro is a whimsical homage to the company’s history. Bright swaths of colors cover the walls while baskets of candy bars pass overhead in baskets on a conveyor belt. Informative exhibits tell the Goo Goo story and the whole place is eminently Instagrammable. If you’re willing to dig in your pocket for a few bucks, you can even design your own custom candy bar as an edible souvenir.
Be a part of the show at the Station Inn
If the Ryman Auditorium is “The Mother Church of Country Music,” the Station Inn in the Gulch is definitely the Tabernacle of Bluegrass, and the greatest pickers on the planet grace the stage nightly. Well, nightly except for Sundays, because that’s when the small club hosts a free weekly bluegrass jam. You’re welcome to just enjoy the old timey music played the way it used to with musicians sitting in a circle of chairs calling out songs one at a time. Or bring your own guitar, fiddle, bass, mandolin or dobro and join in the fun. Even if you only know a few chords, the musicians are always happy to welcome newbies into the bluegrass fraternity.