Like its famous hot chicken, Music City knows how to bring the heat. Even with its big-city vibe, Nashville retains the charm and gentility of a small Southern town.
Despite the city’s growing popularity, it’s possible to explore on a budget. From the wild honky-tonks on Broadway to the scenic hiking trails along Radnor Lake, here are the top free things to do in Nashville.
1. Nostalgia fans should head to Cooter’s Place Museum
Fans of the Dukes of Hazzard make the pilgrimage to Nashville for Cooter’s Place Museum, a collection of memorabilia from the hit ’80s television series. The museum, which is owned by Cooter himself (real name: Ben Jones), is filled with photos, costumes and props like Daisy Duke’s jeep and the iconic General Lee. Admission is always free.
Local tip: If you were born this century, you may not have experienced the Dukes of Hazzard, an action comedy series that aired from 1979 to 1985. It was also responsible for a generation of children trying to get into their family car via the windows. For $10, you can get your own photo op in the window of one of the iconic prop cars.
2. Explore the Civil War-era Fort Negley
Built by the Union army during the Civil War, Fort Negley was the biggest stone fortification in North America at the time, a formidable structure that was made to withstand the Confederate army’s advances into Nashville. Today, you can take a free self-guided tour of the grounds with education panels along the route, as well as videos and interactive exhibits.
3. Hit Broadway’s honky-tonks
One of the best ways to get a taste of quintessential Nashville is to hit up the honky-tonks on Broadway. Robert’s Western World, Layla’s and the venerable Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge rarely charge a cover and showcase some electric live country performances with a side of stellar people watching.
4. Listen to music ‘Live on the Green’
After returning in 2022, Live on the Green will take over Public Square Park in Downtown Nashville on Thursdays from August to September. Locals pack the two-acre park with picnic blankets, chairs and pets to catch a star-powered lineup of live – and free – musical performances.
5. Jam at the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree at the Texas Troubadour Center
Every Saturday, Nashville’s night owls flock to the Texas Troubadour Center at midnight for the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree. As the second-longest-running radio show in the country, the Jamboree provides up-close-and-personal performances from country stars past and present – all without charging a dime.
Planning tip: Although it’s free, you can pre-book a ticket via Eventbrite to guarantee entry.
6. Go to the open mic night at Bluebird Cafe
Located in an unassuming strip mall, the legendary Bluebird Cafe has hosted performances from trailblazing songwriters like Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks. Catch a rising star at one of their free 6pm Monday night Open Mic sessions, no reservations required.
7. Watch the Nashville Predators ice hockey team practice for free
You’d be hard-pressed to find a US city that loves its ice hockey team as much as Nashvillians love their Preds. And with good reason – the team consistently ranks high on the NHL leaderboard. The team’s practice sessions at the Centennial Sportsplex and the Ford Ice Center are open to the public and free to watch.
Local tip: The Predators began in 1998 as one of the four expansion teams that joined the NHL that year. After an initial losing streak in its first five seasons, they’ve since gone on to make Nashville proud. So expect to meet some uber-passionate Preds fans.
8. Go on a self-guided tour of the Tennessee State Capitol
Built from local limestone and marble in the Greek Revival style and opened in 1859, the Tennessee State Capitol is one of the oldest working capitols in the nation. Statues and tombs of presidents past can be found on the site, along with the governor’s office. Take a free self-guided tour of the site, or check if guided tours are available.
9. Stroll Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park
After wrapping up your Capitol tour, take a stroll along the adjacent Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, where 200 years of state history and geography are displayed on granite slabs and stones.
Local tip: The resident fountains – 31 in total – keep things cool for little ones and make sneaking in a geography lesson a snap.
10. Learn local history at Tennessee State Museum
The area around Bicentennial Park really offers the most bang for your proverbial (albeit unnecessary) dollar. Here, you’ll also find the Tennessee State Museum, which provides a balanced walk-through of the state’s contentious past.
Local tip: Highlights include offbeat artifacts like President Andrew Jackson’s hat and a hands-on children’s museum.
11. Spot wildlife in Radnor Lake State Park
Built in the early 1900s by L&N Railroad, Radnor Lake State Park now stands as a 1368-acre natural preserve, teeming with owls, otters, deer and other creatures. You can explore this rich wildlife sanctuary via six miles of open trails. Just be sure to leave any pets at home.
Planning tip: The Dam Trail is marked ADA Accessible and takes in excellent views of the lake, as well as the opportunity to spy spring wildflowers and local wildlife.
12. Check out the free programs at Warner Park Nature Center
Sitting within Edwin and Percy Warner Parks, the Nature Center is a living laboratory that kids and grown-ups love to explore. Along with its natural history museum and working organic garden, the center provides free programming throughout the year. Check the schedule to see what’s happening.
13. Cool off in a swimming hole at Montgomery Bell State Park
One of the best ways to cool off during the summer months is to take advantage of Tennessee’s many swimming holes. Some charge an entry fee, but Montgomery Bell State Park’s Lake Acorn – located 40 minutes outside of Nashville – has a free swimming beach that’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend.
Planning tip: There’s also a year-round campground with sites equipped with water and electricity in the park. Back-country camping is also possible with a permit.
14. Get inspired at the Downtown Nashville open house art crawl
On the first Saturday of the month, the art galleries in Downtown Nashville open their doors to the public for an evening of new exhibitions, street performances and interactive art activities for the whole family. There’s a trolley that takes you along the route, and you can also enjoy the complimentary glasses of wine offered by the galleries along the way.
15. Hear live jazz and bluegrass at Arrington Vineyards
Head 30 minutes south of Nashville to Arrington Vineyards, home to a sprawling countryside of vines, hills and the occasional strum of banjos. Co-owned by Kix Brooks from the much-loved musical duo Brooks & Dunn, this place has a fantastic atmosphere. On Saturday and Sunday nights, April through October, the winery hosts its “Music in the Vines” series featuring live jazz and bluegrass under the stars. You’ll have to pony up for the wine, but the entrance and musical performances are free.
Planning tip: Check out the vineyard’s events calendar for live music dates and their popular Food Truck Fridays.
16. Star gaze at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory
Anyone can spend a night stargazing. But at the Dyer Observatory, you can take your celestial surveillance to the next level during one of their Open House sessions. Keep an eye on the website to see when guided tours are running – free tickets are available one month before the event and should be reserved in advance.
17. Admire the artisan produces at Nashville Farmers’ Market
Conveniently located next to the capitol grounds, the Nashville Farmers’ Market puts all of Tennessee’s natural bounty on display. Depending on the season, you’ll find more than 150 farmers and artisans selling fruit and veggies along with freshly-made cheese and bread. Enjoy a free wander around before buying a smorgasbord lunch from the globally diverse eats found within the Market House.
Planning tip: While the market is open daily from 8am to 6pm (closed on the occasional national holiday), stall holders hours vary.
18. Admire the botanic gardens of Gaylord Opryland Hotel
Next to the Grand Ole Opry is the largest non-casino resort in the US – Gaylord Opryland Resort. Whether you’re staying on the property or not, you’re welcome to wander the nine acres of botanical gardens filled with waterfalls and more than 50,000 tropical plants, which require a staff of 20 horticulturalists to maintain.
19. See the printing presses of the iconic Hatch Show Print
The posters produced at Hatch Show Print are iconic pieces of Americana in their own right. This design and letterpress shop has been printing posters that define Americana since 1879. While you’ll have to buy a ticket to tour this venerable letterpress print shop, you can pop in and watch their printing presses at work for free.
20. Sneak a peak of Nashville’s Parthenon
Nashville’s Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the architectural wonder in Athens, Greece. You’ll have to pay admission to get inside, but the views from the outside inspire just as much awe. Pack a picnic lunch, spread a blanket out on the Parthenon’s greens and watch the resident wild geese roam the field.