The best fun and free things to do in Nashville (according to a local)
Looking for fun and free things to do on your next trip to Nashville? We’ve got you covered!
When people think of Nashville, two common things cross their minds: country music and hot chicken. But we are so much more than that!
When you come visit Music City, you’ll want to do the tourist thing for sure. Don’t let us discourage you from putting on those cowboy boots or eating at Prince’s to burn the taste buds off your tongue.
But once you’ve had your share of Honky Tonks and southern cooking, kick off your boots and enjoy these fun and free things to do to help you experience Nashville like a local!
Explore the Neighborhoods of Nashville
My top recommendation for free things to do in Nashville is get out of the downtown area. This amazing city offers far more than LoBro, or lower Broadway, the rowdy neon strip of honky tonks that have given us the unfortunate moniker of “NashVegas”. Each neighborhood brings a distinct flavor and personality, and all of them offer plenty of murals for you to Instagram. 🙂
The 12th South neighborhood is lovely to walk around. Enjoy the quaint farmer’s market, adorable little shops, and so many places to eat you’ll have a hard time choosing. Plus there’s a dozen Instagrammable murals in the area!
East Nashville has forever been the hipster’s choice due to its diversity, laid-back atmosphere, and the sheer amount of restaurants, coffee shops and bars that keep popping up. You’ll find lots of historic homes, funky boutiques, ice cream and milkshake parlors, tattoo shops, and a wonderful community acupuncture spot as well. Every August, the walkable Five Points area is also home to the locally renowned (and free!) Tomato Art Fest, a wacky family-friendly art festival.
Germantown, once blighted and rundown, is now the hip spot for urban development. It’s home to our (minor league) baseball stadium and the beautiful (and free!) Tennessee State Museum. Germantown is also home to a cute little cat cafe, and tons of shops and restaurants. The neighborhood is also known for hosting Octoberfest.
If you’re looking for upscale eateries and shopping, check out Green Hills or the Gulch. Drive around Belle Meade to see gorgeous homes and imagine living like the other half. If you miss your college days and want a late-night walkable scene, head to Hillsboro Village (home of the beloved Belcourt indie movie theatre). The 8th South district is an emerging neighborhood with shops, culturally diverse family-friendly eateries, a fantastic comedy club, and plenty of shops for antiquing.
Then come on over to our corner of town, the up-and-coming Donelson. We’re home to the Grand Ole Opry; Opry Mills Mall (an easy way to let the kids burn off some energy); the Gaylord Opry Hotel (which rivals any Vegas hotel and is beautiful to walk around); Two Rivers Park (which has a great playground, disc golf course, and skate park); the McCampbell house, the second oldest home in Nashville (which you can’t tour since people live in it, but you can do a quiet drive by; it’s been beautifully renovated); a Music City Star station; and our growing downtown Donelson Plaza is home to some of our favorite local eateries.
Get in touch with Nashville’s nature
If you need some free things to do in Nashville to balance out all of the eating and drinking and partying you’re going to enjoy, get outside and soak up some vitamin D.
Depending on where you stay, you may have nearby access to the 80 miles of greenways, which make for the perfect afternoon walk or run. Here’s a county-wide map showing their span (Donelson actually has one of the longest stretches of greenway).
Lake Radnor is a locals’ favorite hiking spot since it’s close to town, easy to get to and beautiful. Perhaps sitting on a lake beach is more your style, though, in which case you’ll want to hang out at Percy Priest at one of the day-use spots (not free, but the Cook Day Use area is only $5 per car and is the perfect spot to spend an afternoon picnicking and playing by the lake).
If your version of nature is more like ours – less hands on and more sitting on a porch with a glass of wine in hand – then an afternoon picnic at Arrington Vineyard might be more your style. While they encourage you to purchase wine from their vineyard, all of their events are free, and you can bring as large a picnic feast as you can carry.
Visit the Nashville Farmers Market in Germantown
One of my favorite free things to do in Nashville is check out the latest offerings at the Nashville Farmers Market. I usually drag out-of-town friends and family down here to get a taste of the international flavors and support family-run businesses.
The Nashville Farmers Market is an institution around here. Open 362 days a year, and spanning 12 acres, the open-air farm sheds house 150 local merchants. The indoor Market House has 20 locally-owned shops and restaurants (pizza, gyros, Jamaican jerk, Korean bibimbap, ice cream…. It’s all here!) You may end up spending a bunch of money when you get there — it’s hard to resist all of that lovely produce, the international dining options, and locally made treats! — but it’s free to visit.
A nice bonus of hanging out at the Farmers Market is that you’re right next to the Tennessee State Museum, a beautiful free museum, and Bicentennial Mall State Park, where you can picnic with your delicious farmer’s market find and enjoy a nice view of the capitol building.
Visit the Tennessee State Museum.
The always free Tennessee State Museum re-opened in Germantown in October 2018. The museum is touted as “part museum, part virtual reality experience, part time machine”. It boasts interactive exhibits and constantly rotating themes. The permanent exhibits take you through the Tennessee Time Tunnel, from the first indigenous peoples of the area, through the revolution and Civil War, up through the Civil Rights era. The temporary exhibits are always a lot of fun, bringing in art and media to tell more Tennessee-centric stories. Past exhibits include a centennial reflection on the Great War; a statewide elementary art exhibition; the originals and evolution of Tennessee food; a deep dive into the state’s musical heritage; a look into women’s suffrage; and the art of the Smokies. This museum is definitely one of my top free (and air-conditioned!) activities in Nashville.
Take in some of Nashville’s art and culture.
One of the best, simplest, and cheapest ways to explore a city is by walking. And our downtown offers a lot of fun stuff to see. Walking around the lower Broadway area of downtown will let you find several murals and lovely pieces of street art (new ones seem to pop up every few months). Meander down to the riverfront to explore Fort Nashborough and the “roller coaster statue” across the river.
Printer’s Alley offers a unique, vibrant music city experience. Once the seedy underbelly of the city known for its nightlife, Printer’s Alley dates back to the 19th century when it was the center of the printing industry. Now, the alley offers boutique hotels, burlesque and karaoke, and historic backdrops for great photos.
Explore the arts district of fifth avenue aka John Lewis Blvd. Wander the numerous art galleries and meandering through Arcade Alley. Stop by Woolworth’s theatre, which was the sit of a historic civil rights sit-in during the 1960s. Now, it’s a theatre, home to the first-of-its-kind experience Shiners.
Another favorite free local pastime is partaking in the First Saturday Art Crawl downtown. Who says no to free wine and snacks while also getting a little culture? 🙂 Over 20 venues participate every month, and you’ll be treated to every style and genre of art. This is a great opportunity to mingle with local artists. You can expose the kids to art, check out all of the downtown murals, and enjoy an inexpensive night on the town.
Pro tip: Use my handy map of Nashville to guide your adventures!
Browse some books at Nashville’s best literary venues
Take a break from all of the music and history and nature, and immerse yourself in the written word. Brick and mortar bookstores might soon be a thing of the past, but for now Nashville has a few literary havens which make for wonderful free entertainment.
The downtown branch of the library also hosts tons of awesome events, such as story time for kids, interviews with authors through Salon@615, puppet shows, even lunchtime yoga. It is a beautiful building to stop in when you’re wandering around downtown. Be sure to stop in the Civil Rights Room, a permanent exhibit dedicated to Nashville’s civil rights history.
If visiting in October, make some time to attend the Southern Festival of Books. This free celebration of the written word features talks and workshops by local authors, book signings, vendor tents, musical performances, photo opps, and more! It usually happens in the heart of downtown, so it’s a great way to get in some steps, enjoy the sunshine, and see some historical buildings too.
Drive down to Green Hills to visit a locals’ favorite: Parnassus. Owned by author Anne Patchett, Parnassus is an idyllic escape for readers. The shop lovingly supports local authors, hosting many signings and readings and other fun events almost every night of the week. Their staff is kind and knowledgeable, and their children’s section is unrivaled.
Come join the locals at McKay’s Used Books on the west side of town. It’s a bit of drive to get out there, but book lovers will rejoice (and drop their jaws) when they step through the doors. They’ve expanded their collection to include all media (movies, TV, records, CDs, games, electronics, board games, even legos!) so even non-readers will be able to wile away some time.
Follow in some historic footsteps
History buffs, this one’s for you! A fantastic free thing to do in Nashville is immersing yourself in the history of the area.
There are several trails of historic locations for you to explore. Civil war locales and battlegrounds, famous manors, cemeteries, and churches, monuments, and more await! Walk in the footsteps of our original settlers, Civil War heroes, music legends, and more! Following one of these trails is a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
If you’re more into recent history, this walking and driving Civil Rights tour may be of more interest. Follow in the footsteps of the university students who took part in the Nashville sit-ins and other non-violent protests.
Visit the downtown branch of the library, home to an art gallery, an amazing children’s section, a lovely courtyard, the Votes for Women room, and the Civil Rights Room, a small but impactful museum that tells the story of Nashville’s civil rights movement.
Don’t forget about Centennial Park, home to our beloved Parthenon. The park spans 132 acres and features walking trails, open spaces, gardens, and several notable landmarks, including a lake, a bandshell, and a replica of the Parthenon. This full-scale replica of the original Parthenon was built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition as a temporary exhibit. But it was so popular that it was later reconstructed as a permanent building! Today, the Parthenon serves as an art museum and cultural center, showcasing a range of art exhibitions, events, and educational programs. Visitors can also enjoy the park’s many other attractions, including the walking trails, gardens, and events at the bandshell. The Parthenon is one of my favorite landmarks in this city. The park is such a peaceful place to take a little breather, soak up some sunshine, and watch the lake animals.
Attend a festival, fair, or fest
If you have the time, leisurely spend a day at an outdoor celebration. Nashville has plenty of fests and festivals for you to choose from throughout the year. Many are free, most include music and kid-friendly entertainment.
The Live On the Green concert series runs every weekend in August.
Movies in the Park in early summer and the local Shakespeare Festival provides free Shakespearean entertainment year-round.
The Tennessee Craft Fair in Centennial Park every May and October.
The second weekend in October features the totally awesome Southern Festival of Books, where you can go to panels and talks and book signings galore.
Just look up what’s happening the month you visit, and there will be something free and fun to attend.
Get a good shot of the skyline.
Perhaps I’m biased, but Nashville has a beautiful skyline that I never quite tire of seeing. Luckily, one of the free things to do in Nashville is visit the many great spots around the city to capture its beauty from various vantage points.
Love Circle, a tiny hidden hill of a park in midtown often thought of as Music City’s lover’s lane, offers stunning 360 degree views of the city and surrounding areas. The views are best in the winter when you can see through all of the trees. Note: parking is limited.
The Music City Center, our new convention center, is an impressive example of a sustainable building with a green roof, solar panels, and bee hives. That’s right, over 100,000 bees lives on the roof, producing honey that the center’s kitchen use. You can spot the bees through a window on the top floor. While you’re up there, step out onto one of two balconies for a lovely view of the city. (And yes, you can enter the convention center without needing tickets to attend an event. Take the escalator in the lobby to find the balconies.)
While you’re walking from the Music City Center to the courthouse, walk up the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. (Most of us simply call it “the pedestrian bridge” if you’re asking for directions.) The angle is steep so pace yourself, but you’ll be rewarded with everyone’s favorite view of the city. The entrance is on 3rd avenue, across from the symphony building.
Downtown, on the other side of Broadway, make your way to front of the municipal courthouse. Take the stairs or elevator to the top of the seemingly short City Square Observation Deck. It’s only a couple stories tall, but the view is still worth the detour.
On your way to the courthouse, stop at either the Bobby or Noelle hotel. Both are on 4th avenue, and both offer great views from their rooftop bars. (The Noelle is a stunning historic building worth a visit, anyway. Ask the concierge for the building’s history; they’re more than happy to dish.)
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this list of fun and free things that you can do to explore Music City. These can help you get to know the real Nashville, as recommended by a local! If you take any of our recommendations, tell us about it! Tag us in a photo on Instagram @no.place.like.anywhere and say howdy!