50+ Activities for Kids, Families and Other Fun-Loving Folks
With so many outstanding outings, I’ve grouped your options into categories such as Active Fun, Water Fun, Games and Challenges, and Theatre. For additional ideas, check out Museums and Recreation posts.
Some are geared toward younger kids, some toward teenagers and others could be of interest to anyone, young or old.
For more suggestions, check out Adventure Sports in the Nashville area including kayaking, climbing and ziplines, and Great Ideas for the Great Outdoors which covers hiking, biking, boating and golf.
Wedgewood/Houston. 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 sometimes hosts special events such as laser shows in the planetarium. Adventure Science Center is adjacent to Fort Negley (see below), a major Union fortification against Confederate advances. Free parking.
Downtown. I’ve written about it more extensively under Museums but it’s not commonly known that the Hall of Fame offers family-friendly programming including hands-on activities and a Young Explorer bag that can be reserved to make a tour more engaging for younger children.
Germantown. Adjoining the Bicentennial Mall and Farmer’s Market is our magnificent Tennessee State Museum where you can walk through Tennessee history with a mixture of traditional and multi-media exhibits. Separate galleries feature a variety of rotating exhibits. Younger children may not be fully appreciate their offerings. FREE
Downtown. The link takes you to the Artquest section of their website. It’s a place is where kids (and adults) 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. There’s an ever-changing line-up of special programs and deals so check out their calendar of upcoming events to see what’s planned.
Near SoBro. 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.
Opry Mills. 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 Timberlake, Keith Urban, Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock and Beyonce’.
South 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, a cool carousel and the thrillseeker-friendly option to soar above the trees aboard the Screaming Eagle ride. Somewhat hidden is Grassmere, a mansion built in 1810 with its collection of farm animals on the estate. If you’re a member at an AZA-affiliated (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) park, admission is half-price. Parking is $8.
The zoo also does limited engagement events such Dino-Trek, Night Visions, Boo at the Zoo and Zoolumination.
Germantown. 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. Also see listing above of the Tennessee State Museum at the same location. The 31-fountain splash park is great to cool off on a hot day. FREE
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
Forest Hills. 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 of Ganier Ridge. Tucked deep into the woodlands is a nature center and aviary with eagles, hawks and other raptors. The parking lot will overflow during peak hours such as Saturday mornings and late afternoons but you can park at Strong Tower Church on Granny White Pike. FREE
Midtown. Particularly appealing on rainy days, the Sportsplex complex includes an ice rink, a warm shallow pool and a large pool for laps, tennis courts and a fitness center. Located adjacent to Centennial Park, it’s also a pretty good deal. Admission is $8 or $9, depending on your age. Kids 4 and under are free.
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.
Games and Attractions
East Nashville. 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 45 mph. It is located in an industrial area about a half-mile south of Nissan Stadium. Might be a great choice for older kids.
Germantown. My neighbors gave high praise on their first visit. Yes, it’s a bowling alley but raise your expectations when it comes to the food and bar offerings. There’s also a large event hall with a hefty schedule of concerts and music-oriented events including its popular Taylor Swift nights.
East Nashville. 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. You have 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.
SoBro. 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.
Cool Springs. 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. Although called Defy-Nashville, the quite-cool facility is south of Brentwood.
Old Hickory. This multi-attraction indoor park includes much more than trampolines. There’s a ropes course, climbing walls, Ninja Warrior course, multi-tiered playground, dodgeball, bumper cars, a slam dunk activity, a virtual reality game and Sky Rider, a kids’ version of a zipline. They utilize a multi-level pricing system that tops out at $30.99 for full-access access to every activity.
West Nashville. C’mon, admit it. You’ve watched curling on TV and thought, “How hard could that be?” Here’s your chance to check your chops at Nashville’s only curling venue. There’s also bowling, food, and drink.
Midtown. 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.
South Nashville. Imagine a museum of video games–except everything is hands-on and operational. With more than 250 options in this arcade, you can go nostalgic or introduce the younger generation to a world before XBox. And did I mention “pinball”? When you want to take a break, there’s a patio and along with multiple bars. It’s about two miles southeast of downtown in an industrial district. FREE admission for 21+ because they’re counting on you spending at the bar. Under 21 is $10 until 8pm, then goes 21+ for the rest of the evening. Most games are free; a few require tokens. Private rooms available.
The Gulch. Foosball, pinball, bocce, duckpin and pinball–name your game and order your beverage of choice. Located at 1102 Grundy Street, good times will be had by all. Happy hour specials Monday-Friday until 7pm. On Sundays until 8pm, kids bowl free and get a free soda.
East Nashville. Looking for low-key indoor entertainment? Enter Game Point, a side venture of Bongo East. Choose from 400 classic games–Ants in the Pants, Boggle, Scrabble, Sorry–as well as more niche-y games. Trivia Pursuit: Harry Potter, anyone? Settle in with a coffee, beer or a sandwich. Whether you’re a parent with young children or a strategizing brainiac, you’ll find something to capture your imagination.
Some are free. Some charge admission. All give you a break from the summer heat.
Hermitage. 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, floating obstacle course, on-water obstacle course, kids’ water playground (see above), a variety of slides and other activities. Check their website for discounts including online purchase and After-4pm admission. 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.
Donelson. (Awaiting update for 2023 season) Not nearly as much to do as Nashville Shores but also not nearly the price. ($10 for children 3-12, $12 for 13yo 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
East of town. 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.
East Nashville. 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
Its lofty name is “The Rivers of Tennessee Fountains” but your kids probably won’t be impressed. What will delight them is the 31 miniature geysers that intermittently erupt with sprays of cooling waters on a steamy day. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s pretty entertaining to watch this squealfest.
Downtown. 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
Downtown. 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
Wedgewood/Houston. 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
West End. 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 free half-hour line dancing lessons for all ages. To consider all your options, consult this 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.
Downtown. 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.
For your teenagers, you might like to investigate the Civil Rights Room or the frequently-changing gallery on the second floor. FREE
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.
West Nashville. 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
Germantown. It doesn’t fit the category but it looks like a great way to spend a Saturday morning with kids. Their description: “Jazz AM, a series of free Saturday morning programs offers a fun, interactive jazz concert for young people featuring music, puppets, improvisation, rhythm, and movement!”
SoBro. 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.)
East Nashville. 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.
Opry Mills. 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 or documentary supersized. Don’t like your films that big? Nineteen other theaters await you.
Downtown. 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.
Multiple locations. Not exactly the most physically active but definitely among the mentally challenging. They currently have three locations: downtown (163 3rd Ave. N), 510 E. Iris Dr., Unit D (Berry Hill) and The Mall at Opry Mills. The games change occasionally so returnees may find something new to challenge them.
South Nashville. The same opportunity to have a panic attack with games entitled Asylum, Alcatraz, Apocalypse and Haunted Cabin. Difficult? Well, only 35% of the groups seem to escape the Asylum in the one-hour time allotment. Last time I checked that one is wheelchair-accessible.
Sugar alert. You’ve been warned in case you have hyper-ish kiddos.
Downtown. 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.
Downtown. 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.
Downtown. Looking for cookies, ice cream and fudge in one convenient location? Come right in for an indulgence of your choosing. They’re not so hot on updating their FB page but their goodies are good. @123 2nd Ave. N.
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. TIP: Mike’s is a cheap stop for breakfast with muffins and such for under $2. @129 2nd Ave. N.
Downtown. I grew up on milkshakes at the drugstore soda fountain and the Dairy Queen. What you’ll find here here are more like frozen sculptures. Yes, there’s a glass but you’ve add-ons galore. You’ll find cookies, marshmallows, syrup and such adorning each of their creations. @171 3rd Ave. N.
Berry Hill. 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.
12South. Welcome to Cereal City. Well, actually it’s a cafe that boasts a wide array of cereals, add-ons, and (why not?) milkshakes. Out back are picnic tables, cornhole, and a large photogenic fiberglass cow.
Opry Mills. Definitely for the elementary and below level kids, this gift shop posing as a restaurant has a few animatronic animals and a faux 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.
Opry Mills. 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 $21.99, remind yourself that you’re paying for the atmosphere–not just the food.