With so many outstanding outings for kids, I’ve grouped your options into categories such as Water Fun, Museums, History, Games and Challenges, and Theatre. I’ve noted if they’re FREE in purple.
Some are geared toward teenagers while others cater to younger kids. The list includes everything from water parks and hiking trails to museums and puppet shows.
Many attractions are featured as buy-one, get-one-free offers in the Nashville CitySaver and Entertainment Book-Nashville as well as on Groupon/Nashville.
Watch the gibbons performing acrobatics in the trees. Catch the Andean bears prowling their massive habitat. Get a close-up view of rare clouded leopards. In addition to diverse animals on display, there’s a huge animal-themed playground for children, a couple of animal shows, a decent restaurant and the teenager-friendly option to soar above the trees aboard the Screaming Eagle ride. Don’t miss a tour of the Grassmere mansion built in 1810 and visit the farm animals on the estate; it’s just beyond the old-fashioned carousel. If you’re a member at an AZA-affiliated (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) park, admission is half-price.
Officially it’s the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. At just 19 acres, it is our smallest state park but there’s a bunch of interesting stuff there. Take a walk through Tennessee history, trace the rivers of the state, listen to the 95-bell carillon play “The Tennessee Waltz” on the hour and a portion on the quarter-hour and stand on a 200-ft. granite map of the state.
Next door is Nashville Farmer’s Market with more than a dozen merchants and eateries as well as seasonal crops fresh from the fields. On Saturdays during growing season, festivals are frequently held. FREE
Particularly appealing on rainy days, the Sportsplex complex includes an ice rink, a warm shallow pool and a large pool for laps and diving, tennis courts and a fitness center. Located adjacent to Centennial Park, it’s also a pretty good deal. Skating costs $7 for those 13 and above, $6 for kids 5-12 years old and seniors; younger kids and spectators get in free. Skate rental is just $2. On the aquatic end of things, prices top out at $8 for adults. Birthday parties can be scheduled for both the rink and the pool.
We’re blessed with parks, greenways, nature centers, golf courses, bike and hiking trails, picnic shelters all over the county. Click above for an overview menu.
Particularly from spring through fall, Metro Parks hosts a number of special events ranging from music performances to guided hikes. To find out what they got up their sleeves, visit the special events calendar.
For those seeking immersion in nature, Radnor Lake (pictured above) is among the most popular destinations. Take the Lake Loop for a flat trail or break a sweat on the steep slopes. Tucked deep into the woodlands is a nature center and aviary with eagles, hawks and other predators. The parking lot will overflow during peak hours such as Saturday mornings and late afternoons. FREE
Since the demise of our beloved Opryland theme park in 1997, there aren’t many multi-faceted entertainment complexes for the whole family. This place near Opryland Hotel offers a pretty nifty (and hilly) trio of courses and a zippy go-cart track. With circular bumper cars, now you can experience what it must feel like to be the steel ball in a pinball machine.
The last time I visited this humongous warehouse, it was a textile recycling facility. Now it’s out with the threads, in with the treads. The course is almost a quarter-mile where electric karts can travel up to 40 mph in head-to-head racing. Need a slower pace? There’s an indoor 18-hole black-light golf course. Trippy! MCIK is located in an industrial area about a half-mile south of Nissan Stadium. Might be a great choice for older kids.
Just across the Cumberland from downtown on the north side of town, you’ll see a structure that could possibly house pterodactyls. In fact, those nets keep in golf balls launched by the heavy hitters at this immaculately groomed driving range. There are a range of options but ideally you’ve got a group who likes to hang together to hit a few balls, play some other games and enjoy the equivalent of cabana service at your tee.
Founded in 1994 by Contemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith, it opened as a teen club in Franklin, TN. It still strives to be a safe environment for teenagers but over the years, it’s moved to Nashville and gone through some changes to keep pace with the community. Today its mammoth facility at 601 4th Avenue S. (six blocks south of Broadway) is home to Sixth Avenue Skatepark (a huge indoor facility) with its own skate shop, concerts aimed at teenagers and young adults, and a coffee bar. They’re also big into outreach, offering faith-focused meetings as well as a variety of classes and workshops designed to cultivate the arts among young people.
Whether your kids just wanna jump or participate in a game of hoops or dodgeball, these folks are happy to let you bounce like Tigger. There’s even a super-size foam pit for the more timid folks. A great fall-back plan if you were counting on being outdoors but the weather isn’t cooperating.
Defying gravity is a common theme among the activities including a ninja obstacle course, trampolines, trapeze, aerial silks, air dunk, extreme dodgeball, foam pits and more. The quite-cool facility is in the Cool Springs, south of Brentwood. (Photo above: AboveAll)
Also in Brentwood, there are two rooms filled with inflatables including obstacles, slides and freeform games. I recommend you call ahead to make sure the rooms aren’t reserved for private parties. The crowd skews a bit younger than SkyHigh.
Some are free. Some charge admission. All give you a break from the summer heat.
Located right on Percy Priest Lake, the water park capitalizes on both the lake and its own manmade attractions. Highlights include a huge pool, wave pool, lazy river, kids’ water playground (see above), a variety of slides and other activities. This year they’ve introduced Aqua Park, a floating obstacle course on Percy Priest Lake. Cost for a full day is $37-39 plus tax for everyone 48″ and taller. The kids’ price is $30. Parking adds $9. For additional charges, you can rent a jet ski, pontoon boat or ride on a banana boat. The last time I checked, they didn’t allow outside food or drinks.
Not nearly as much to do as Nashville Shores but also not nearly the price. ($10 for children 3-12, $12 for 12yo and up, free parking). Here you’ll find a slightly larger wave pool, a pair of tame curvy slides and a pair of terror-inducing thrill slides–very tall, very vertical, very much had my fill after one ride. Not much shade here so bring your sunscreen. Some people spend the whole day there. I’d take a picnic lunch and stay three to four hours max.
Percy Priest and Old Hickory Lakes
Whether you’re into camping, boating, swimming or fishing, we have a couple of great big lakes to explore. You’ll find marinas that rent canoes, pontoon boats, fishing boats and jet skis on both. Here are additional links to learn the specifics about Percy Priest Lake and Old Hickory Lake. There’s a nominal fee for admission to some of the beaches.
Bicentennial Mall State Park
During warm months, there’s a bonus to the historical walking tour of Tennessee’s smallest state park: 31 fountains for splashworthy fun. The splashfest occurs next to the train overpass at the southern end of the park. Mercifully, restrooms and shade are closeby. FREE
As you reach the east bank of the Cumberland River on the Pedestrian Bridge, look down. That’s Cumberland Park, a great place to let children whoop and holler. There’s a green maze, interactive splash pad, a stepping-stone path, climbing wall and miniature rolling hills to scale. You might hit it lucky when there is a performance on the stage. FREE
This commemorative stockade and its four cabins recall the life of the white settlers, originally built in the 1780s. Although smaller than the original enclosure and a few blocks down the hill from its original location, it is a reminder of how important the Cumberland River was to the city’s formation. FREE
Our beautiful capitol building is home to more than political drama and minutiae. The venerable building, completed in 1859, managed to remain unscathed as Union and Confederate forces fought for control of the city. In addition to touring the structure, the grounds are a treasure trove of history including a number of tributes to famous Tennesseans including our U.S. presidents (Jackson, Polk, Johnson), WWI hero Alvin C. York and others. FREE
If there is a single structure that symbolizes Nashville’s place in the Civil War, it is arguably Fort Negley. When Union forces captured the city in 1862, Union hierarchy wanted to assert its dominance by building the largest fortification outside of Washington, D.C. Constructed of stone, timber and earth in the last five months of that year, the primary labor force was 2,771 African-Americans–soldiers, free men and freed slaves. The visitor center showcases artifacts and presents three short films. A paved pathway leads up to the summit where you can see the remains of the fort and get a grand view of the city. FREE
Kidsville at the Parthenon
Created as a side attraction for our popular Musicians Corner concert series at Centennial Park, it’s taken on a life of its own under the guidance of The Conservancy. Designed for preschool- and elementary-aged kids, it meets in the Parthenon from 11:00am-11:45am Saturdays for a time of art projects and stories themed around Greek mythology. FREE
Yeah, you were wondering if this would be on the list. If your kids would get a kick out of live country music, most honky tonks allow visitors under the age of 21 until 6 pm. Margaritaville has an all-ages policy all the time. Rippy’s Bar & Grill, Ole Red, FGL House and Acme are primarily restaurants–not just bars–so the atmosphere is a little more family-friendly. Of particular interest, Wildhorse Saloon offers a daily schedule of free half-hour line dancing lessons for all ages. Here is a guide to every honky tonk on Lower Broadway. FREE admission unless a venue is reserved for a private party or a special ticketed show is scheduled.
Very hands-on learning experiences for children and youth throughout this exploration of science and biology. ASC also boasts an out-of-this-world planetarium. Conceived for active children, there’s lots to do from experiencing a gravity-defying moonwalk to playing (safely) with electricity. It frequently hosts after-hours special events such as laser shows (including tributes to Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and others) in the planetarium–quite cool. Its location provides a dandy view of the Nashville skyline. Adventure Science Center is adjacent to Fort Negley (see below), a major Union fortification against Confederate advances. Free parking.
The link takes you to the Artquest section of their website. It’s a place is where kids are encouraged to create their own art. This isn’t a crayon-and-coloring-pages kind of place. Young artists can participate in interactive art, stop-motion videography, print-making and lots more. The museum is FREE for everyone under 18 so your adult admission will buy you a lot of engaging entertainment. On Family Mondays, an entire family gets in for the price of one admission. Military personnel and their family receive free admission from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There’s free live music on Thursday and Friday evenings in the cafe and an ever-changing line-up of special programs and deals so check out their calendar of upcoming events.
Our family spent many hours there when our son was young. It’s was cool back then–now it’s amazing. There are climbing walls, playscapes inspired by iconic buildings including the Ryman Auditorium, storytelling sessions and art activities. Oh, yeah…and books.
The crown jewel is Wishing Chair Productions. Its puppet shows are masterful, award-winning and frequently cited among the Top 5 in the country. And the theatre itself is pretty cool. The website will lead you to their performance schedule.
The main library is also home to Studio NPL, a youth-focused maker lab where students can take on small projects such as 3-D printing or participating in audio and video production. Geared more toward on-going projects by residents, the amiable staff probably have something engaging for drop-in visitors.
TIP: The library has the cheapest parking in town and the first 1.25 hrs. are free if you have your ticket validated at the front desk. (Top photo credit: Nashville Public Library) FREE
Their collection is modest but this is THE place to see retired engines and coaches on display. The real spark is that TCRM is Grand Central Station for all excursion trains departing from Nashville including Thomas The Tank Engine’s annual visit, fall foliage trips and such. For more details and a current schedule, visit the website. Free onsite parking.
It’s currently closed in preparation for its move from downtown to property adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall in Fall 2018. The link will show you what lies ahead–a giant leap over its previous offerings.
In addition to guided hikes, the nature center is a fascinating place both indoors and out. The building is a natural history museum featuring exhibits about wildlife and flora. The grounds of the center include a small pond, an organic garden and wildflower garden. The center offers a variety of learning sessions including craft projects for children. FREE
They call it an attraction–not a museum–but, since I don’t have that subhead, here it be. No velvet ropes so you can get up close and personal for your selfies with representations of famous folks. And not just country legends including Reba, George Jones and Johnny Cash. The museum features clones of Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberland, Keith Urban Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock and Beyonce’. In Opry Mills.
Click for a more comprehensive guide to Nashville museums.
Since 1931, children have experienced wide-eyed wonder at NCT productions. Originally an all-volunteer production company, today it boasts casts that include some of Nashville’s best-loved actors and actresses. They love a good fairytale or musical but they aren’t afraid to tackle tough topics for older audiences. Located about 8 blocks south of Broadway in a state-of-the-art facility, it’s a mesmerizing way to spend an hour or two. Free onsite parking. (Top photo from “Goodnight Moon” shot by Colin Peterson, courtesy of NCT.)
This talented theatre company has a knack for putting fresh spins on time-honored tales like Puss’N’Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. They also know how amuse parents without getting snarky. The company doesn’t seem to keep its Facebook page up to date so the link takes you to the website of the Belcourt Theatre, its Saturday morning home.
A training ground for young people drawn to the performing arts, the company offers both instruction and performances. Their annual offerings include a Shakespeare production, issue-oriented plays on topics such bullying and disabilities, and music presentations. The link will take you to their upcoming programs.
Okay, it’s a theater, not a theatre but it’s a great spot on cold, hot or rainy days. Or if you want to see the latest blockbuster film supersized. Don’t like your films that big? Nineteen other theaters await you.
GAMES AND CHALLENGES
Located at 501 Union Street in downtown Nashville, current games are titled C-Block, The Inheritance and Vaccine. Although younger kids are admitted with parental supervision, games are designed for participants 12 and up. You can go it solo but the creators think a group of four to eight increases your chances of winning your freedom.
Not exactly the most physically active but definitely among the mentally challenging. They currently have two locations: downtown (163 3rd Ave. N) and 510 E. Iris Dr., Unit D (Berry Hill). At the Berry Hill location, the experiences are Special Ops, Mission: Mars, Playground, Nashville, Prison Break and The Heist while the downtown location hosts the last three games plus Gold Rush.
The same opportunity to have a panic attack with games entitled Asylum, Alcatraz and Capone. Difficult? Well, only 35% of the groups seem to escape the Asylum in the one-hour time allotment. And by the way, that’s the one of the three that’s wheelchair-accessible. The building actually backs up to I-65 South, near the Harding Place exit.
Just off I-65 in Franklin, this brain-testing ground also offers three missions–Knight Sky, Picari and Origins. Recommended for ages 14 and up. Teams range from 3-10 players. Open Wed-Sat and on Tuesday by appointment.
Got grumpy teenagers? Drop into the Rabbit Hole at 1706B Church Street (near St. Thomas Midtown Hospital). They’ll land in the otherworldly virtual reality of games as they fight battles or accept challenges in an age-appropriate way. Adults who act like kids are welcome too.
Your ten-year-old is probably better at this than I am. So let him or her or anyone else, load up for a high-tech version of hide-and-seek. I hear it serves as a great release of tension after too much time in seminars and meetings.
How’s this for a concept? Your server brings you a wide assortment of toppings, a pitcher of pancake batter and you play chef on a tableside griddle. What would you like? Chocolate chips, banana slices, granola? They can set you up. They can also cook for you with a breakfast menu that includes French toast and eggs–but that could just as easily happen at Waffle House. Their lunch menu includes salads, wraps and sandwiches. Located in the Berry Hill neighborhood about four miles south of downtown.
The German Chocolate milkshake I slurped one hot summer day is a glorious memory. The flavors include both the crowd-pleasers and more eccentric selections. How would you like that–a cone, a sundae, shake or malt? They also get all barista-like with a selection of coffee drinks. It’s across the street from the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue North. TIP: Mike’s is a cheap stop for breakfast with muffins and such for under $2.
Fun fact: the Goo Goo was the first mass-produced combination candy bar in America. Translation: they construct confectionary masterpieces of marshmallow nougat, peanuts and caramel encased in chocolate. Their shop at 116 Third Avenue, S. is a dessert bar, mini-manufacturing operation and museum, all in one. What’s more, they offer hands-on classes on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Costs range from $40-75 per person.
Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
The Lower Broadway outpost of a chain, it’ll have children as happy as kids in a cand–you get the point. Here sugar is transformed into pralines, ice cream, gelato, candied apples (they’re healthy, right?), brownies, muffins, cakes and every kind of candy imaginable.
This place is filled to overflowing with merchandise–both edible and inedible.. How large is their selection of exotic soda flavors? They stock multiple flavors of bacon soda. And of course there’s apple pie, carrot cake, and chocolate-infused gourmet sodas. I’m guess about a half-ton of candy, plus gift baskets and novelties. It’s a little off the beaten path so here’s the address: 201 2nd Ave. N.
Located in the Mall at Opry Mill, it’s probably more of a thrill for younger kids than middle schoolers. They have a few animatronic animals and a very jungle-y interior. Lines can get long, especially on weekends, so I’d recommend you make a reservation. The website allows you to do that online.
No one wants to live in a fishbowl but you might want to dine in one. This concept restaurant features huge aquariums of colorful fish built right into the walls. Kids love the place and you might enjoy the calming sensation of stepping away from retail-mania. When you see fish and chips priced at $17.99, remind yourself that you’re paying for the atmosphere–not just the food.
SPECIAL MENTION: PHILLIPS TOY MART
We’re all kids when we step inside Phillips Toy Mart, a classic, old-school toy store absolutely packed with items you won’t find at Target or Wal-mart. Nashville’s largest independently owned toy store, they stock toys, trikes, books, games, science experiments, craft kits, puzzles, a forest of stuffed animals and much more. Train-lovers will grin at the sight of Lionel engines chugging along. Their collection of realistic baby dolls is great for little girls (and a little unnerving for me). For the four weeks prior to Easter, they set up a bunny playground with young rabbits hopping about to delight kids. Amazon can’t compete with that. Use this Google Earth link to virtually tour the store: https://email@example.com,-86.8696971,156.99289788a,833.99570463d,35y,0h,45t,0r/data=ClYaVBJMCiUweDg4NjQ2MjUwMmJhZTBhMGY6MHg3MTkzOWY1YzdkOGMzNGZhGR-QOvAgDUJAIUR7Bh6pt1XAKhFQaGlsbGlwcyBUb3kgTWFydBgCIAEoAigC