Think Nashville and country music comes to mind. But, that’s not all the city has to shout about – the Athens of the South is rich in culture. From historic buildings to contemporary art, there’s much to explore at the many different museums. For the most comprehensive experience of the city, check out these top Nashville museums from our local insiders.
Willie Nelson and Friends Museum
Willie Nelson is as synonymous with Nashville as biscuits. This historical homage to Nelson and country music’s best is a must for music buffs. Featuring memorabilia from Willie himself and more than 30 country music pioneers the museum presents the biographies of legends such as Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Patsy Cline. Displays of guitars, iconic outfits and albums grace the walls and you’ll leave inspired and informed. Grab yourself a souvenir from the huge gift store.
Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
Located inside Bridgestone Arena, you’ll find this dedication to Tennessee’s sporting heroes. Featuring sportspeople of football, basketball, baseball, golf and more. The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame celebrates not just athletes, but coaches, writers and administrators that have made an impact. Kids will love dressing up as a football or hockey player in the dress-up area.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
With exhibits from legends such as Johnny Cash, as well as displays honoring modern artists such as Carrie Underwood, the Country Music Hall of Fame is sure to have something for all fans of country music. This spot is well known in Nashville and the museum hosts several rotating events suitable for the family, including innovative programs and songwriting camps. The Taylor Swift Education Center has several educational programs available that allow children to experience the museum hands-on.
Dukes of Hazzard fans unite and get yourself to Cooter’s Nashville. This large tribute to all things Hazzard County features props, pictures, costumes and memorabilia from one of America’s favorite TV shows. Uber-fans can sit in the iconic 1969 Dodge Charger, Daisy’s jeep, Cooter’s tow truck and Rosco’s patrol car for a photo to stick on the fridge. This is a perfect place to take a trip down memory lane.
Frist Art Museum
This Art Deco space showcases rotating exhibitions from the art world’s prestigious collections. Expect a varied showcase whenever you visit, from vintage automobiles to Japanese relics – you’re bound to learn something new here. The Martin ArtQuest Gallery is perfect for little ones with interactive exhibitions and colorful stations to create your own watercolor paintings, prints and sculptures. The Frist Center Café serves soups, salads and sandwiches. Take a stroll through the gift shop on the way out for a small memento.
Lane Motor Museum
Started in 2002 by Jeff Lane, the Lane Motor Museum is home to the largest European collection of cars and motorcycles in the US. Lane’s personal car collection started it all, and the museum is now home to 150 vehicles dating from the 1920s all the way up to modern day. The vehicles on display hail from Europe, Asia, North America and South America. Some cars are in showroom condition, while others represent typical aging, but efforts are made to restore each vehicle to near-original specifications. Cars include microcars, amphibious vehicles, military vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, prototypes, one-of-a-kind vehicles and motorcycles.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art
For those interested in the arts and nature, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art has plenty to offer. With gardens full of lush greenery, foliage and exhibits that showcase the talents of Middle Tennessee State University students, Cheekwood is a visual masterpiece. The museum also has an outdoor exhibition called Trains! that is made entirely out of materials found in nature. Families with children can sign up for the museum’s workshops and programs, as well as summer camp. Cheekwood is a welcomed escape from the city.
Located at Centennial Park, Nashville’s Parthenon museum is a replica of the Athenian landmark in Greece with a beautiful hiking path surrounding it. Originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, it serves as a monument to classical architecture. Inside is a collection of 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century artists donated by James M. Cowan, alongside temporary exhibits and shows hosted throughout the year.
Tennessee State Museum
Three floors of art exhibits make up the Tennessee State Museum: a veritable treasure trove of the state’s history. Some of the displays include Tennessee-made furniture, silver, weapons and quilts. There are also reproductions of an 18th-century print shop, pioneer cabin and antebellum parlor. One of the original paintings from 1817 can still be viewed today. The Military Branch Museum, located across the street in the War Memorial Building, showcases America’s overseas conflicts, from the Spanish-American War through to World War II.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
Take a journey through the life of one of America’s most famous figures. With a walking trip and home tour, you can learn about the life of the “People’s President” Andrew Jackson from his early years as an orphan, then as a lawyer, general and latterly statesperson. The historic mansion, once owned by Jackson, still retains the original wallpaper, furniture and some of the family’s possessions including his tomb, which is on the grounds next to the tomb of Rachel, his beloved wife.
Tennessee Central Railway Museum
The Tennessee Central Railway Museum has been running since 1989. Its current Middle Tennessee train ride destinations include Lebanon, Watertown, Cookeville and Monterey. Enjoy a preserved collection of passenger cars, cabooses, freight cars and locomotives. Visitors are able to ride through Middle Tennessee on a 1950s vintage train, typically consisting of air-conditioned coaches with refreshments and souvenirs available onboard. Many trains also include deluxe accommodations available at extra cost. Be sure to stop by the Hobby Shop and check out some model trains.
Adventure Science Center
The family-friendly Adventure Science Center is a great place to expand on science knowledge. There are six scientific concept areas throughout the museum: Earth Science, Creativity & Innovation, Sound & Light, Air & Space, Health and Energy. One place children are able to experience a little bit of each of these is the Adventure Tower, a play area designed to ignite children’s curiosity about scientific concepts. There’s also the BodyQuest exhibit, which goes through the various parts and functions of the human body with hands-on displays. While exploring the museum, enjoy a full dome show at the Sudekum Planetarium, which has an optical projector that can produce 6.5m stars.
Belle Meade Plantation
John Harding established the Belle Meade (beautiful meadow) Plantation in 1807. Thanks to his son William, the property quickly evolved from a single log cabin and 250 acres (101 hectares) into a 5,400 acre (2,185 hectares) thoroughbred horse farm. Take a tour with a costumed guide through the plantation’s beautiful Greek-Revival mansion. The property maintains 34 acres (13.75 hectares) of its original buildings, including the mansion and homestead. Visitors have access to many historic buildings on the grounds, including a dairy, stable, carriage house, gardens and a log cabin. Finish the tour with a free wine-tasting at the winery.
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