How to Have an Amazing Time in Nashville Without Spending Any Money
Fun doesn’t have to cost a thing.
With so many cool things to do in Nashville, you can run up quite a tab trying to cram them all in during a visit. 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.
Free Cultural Things to Do in Nashville
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.
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.
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 $22.
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.
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.
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 Tennessee 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 fourth Fridays of the month.
Downtown honky tonks
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.
Free Outdoor Things to Do in Nashville
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 in many different neighborhoods. Visit Music City has curated a list of murals and their locations by neighborhood to make it easy to map your own walking “art-inerary.”
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.
Directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame is Walk of Fame Park, a plaza filled with inlaid stars commemorating the contributors who put the music in Music City. From pioneers of country music like DeFord Bailey and Ernest Tubb to local modern-day rockers who keep the music pumping such as Kings of Leon and Jack White, a walk through the stars is like taking a trip through history. Other stars recognize unexpected Nashville connections like Jimi Hendrix who played jazz in local clubs with his first band, the King Kasuals while he was a soldier at nearby Ft. Campbell, and Little Richard who played R&B shows at many of those same clubs and spent the later portion of his life living in the Hilton on the other side of the park so he could overlook his star.
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 2500 acres of green space filled with miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers along with equestrian paths for the horsey set.
Radnor Lake State Park features almost eight miles of different trails ringing the peaceful suburban lake, but check the trail map before you set off on a hike, because some of them are much more strenuous than others.
Since medieval times, persons seeking a little inner peace have taken walks in or on labyrinths where the winding trails are meant to track the progression of life and where you might meet someone on a different path along the way. At Scarritt Bennett Center, a seven-circuit path winds its way around a tranquil courtyard that is the perfect place to clear your cluttered mind.
Originally constructed out of plaster to commemorate Tennessee’s Centennial in 1897 and to recognize Nashville’s place as “The Athens of the South,” this full-scale model of the historic Parthenon was reconstructed out of sturdier materials in the 1920s. The centerpiece of Centennial Park, Nashville’s Parthenon is an amazing replica of the Greek temple, and some might even say ours is better because it still has a roof. It’s free to visit the outside of the building, but you’ll have to pay a nominal charge to enter the hall to see the 42-foot-tall statue of Athena, the patron goddess of ancient Athens.
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.
John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
If you were a fan of the ABC nighttime soap “Nashville,” you probably recognize the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge as the spot where the fictional characters on the show always seemed to meet to cheat on their spouses or discuss conspiracies. In truth, we locals use the bridge mainly as the easiest path to Nissan Stadium on the East Bank of the Cumberland River for Titans games or concerts. However, the sweeping view of the downtown skyline from the top of the bridge is striking, especially at night when the neon rainbow of Lower Broad reflects off the river. There’s not much of a need to go all the way across the bridge at night, though, unless you’re a fan of big empty parking lots.
Nashvillesites.org offers a wide variety of itineraries for free self-guided walking tours around Nashville, organized by neighborhood or by theme and narrated by local history experts. 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 19th 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.