Nashville Museums For Practically Any Interest
Chances are good that you know some of our best-publicized museums but, by my count, we have more than two dozen in the immediate area. Here’s a quick tour of some of the most prominent. (Photo credit: TN State Museum website)
It may come as a surprise that you don’t have to be a hard-core country fan to enjoy it. I like how they trace country music from its roots, giving you a framework of American music–not just country. Hearing the stories behind the songs is a cool multimedia exhibit. These days they maintain a rotation balancing the historic with contemporary “American Currents.” Check their calendar for special events. TIP for parents: If you have a child ages 2-7, reserve in advance a Young Explorers bag designed to engage young visitors. TIP for all: you’re more likely to find fewer visitors 9-11am and 3-5pm weekdays.
This landmark museum features sections celebrating 50 music genres and subgenres. Take in the film that provides an overview, then roam through room after room of multimedia and interactive exhibits. NMAAM hosts special events in its performance hall and maintains a research library. We spent 2.5 hours and could easily have enjoyed at least an hour more. TIP: The museum has luggage lockers–very handy to store your bag and tour the museum while awaiting your check-in time for your lodging.
Are you that person who reads album credits? If so, you’re going to love this place which includes iconic instruments and memorabilia of both the big names and the big talent that sometimes doesn’t get its due including studio greats the Funk Brothers, the A Team and the Wrecking Crew. Inside this museum is another museum: the Grammy Museum Gallery which gives you both history and an insider’s view of the awards. Heck, there’s even a rehearsal hall and performance area you can book. Note: it’s seven blocks north of Broadway so it’s sometimes overlooked by folks looking for things to do.
That’s short for “Gallery of Iconic Guitars” where the instruments themselves take centerstage. Some are rare, some are revered for their near-sacred sounds and some were once owned by famous folks.
Bill Miller has a passion for all things Cash and he delights in sharing his extensive collection with those who are enamored with The Man in Black. It’s all here–the good, the bad and the ugly. Reckless sinner, bruised saint. Voted #1 Music Museum in America by USA Today in 2023. Two doors down is the Johnny Cash Bar and BBQ which features live music.
If you’re a Patsy fan, you’d be “crazy” not to visit this tribute to an iconic artist whose life was tragically cut short in a plane crash. Always stylish, always sophisticated in both music and fashion, this museum nods to that legacy with elegant displays. It’s above the Johnny Cash Museum so it couldn’t be more convenient for the longtime country fan.
This latest artist-driven museum celebrates Glen’s career as an ace guitarist and artist as well as a TV host and actor. For $20.50 (senior rate is $18.50), you can take the self-guided tour among exhibits including instruments, stage attire, photos and personal letters from four U.S. presidents. At night, the Rhinestone Stage functions as a performance venue. Corner of 2nd Avenue and Broadway.
Yes, it’s where Elvis recorded many of his hits but he’s one of many well-known artists who struck gold there. It’s been pretty preserved how it was in its glory days. You tour it ala carte or make it part of a Country Music Hall of Fame package.
Two options: the self-guided tour or the VIP tour. My All-Things-Opry authority recommends the VIP tour which takes you backstage and provides a deeper history of the Mother Church of Country Music. You can also purchase the Country Duos Tour which bundles a tour of the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry House. New is the Rock Hall, an exhibit representing a collaboration between the Ryman and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Betcha didn’t know that more than 100 of the 351 artists inducted have performed at the Ryman including Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, James Brown and Joni Mitchell.
The 50-minute tour takes you backstage to learn the story of the Opry, its iconic performers and the hall itself. Also, offered for those 21+ is the Women of Country tour which focuses on the leading ladies of country music and includes mimosas and petit fours.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
“It all begins with a song.” That’s a local credo and, in tribute to those who labor behind the scenes, there’s a small exhibit space on the second floor of the Music City Center. It’s actually more of a wall than a hall. You’ll find handwritten lyrics (complete with scratch-outs) to big hits along with fun bits of trivia. Ten minutes is all you need to absorb what’s there. FREE
Directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a park with placards celebrating the works of nearly 100 artists with Nashville connections. Yes, you’ll find the expected icons including Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire and Kenny Rogers. But the roster is expansive: Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Keb Mo’, Steve Winwood, Jack White, Kid Rock, Kirk Whalum. FREE
For decades, Jefferson Street was Main Street for live music performed by African American artists. Tragically the construction of I-40 in the ’70s cut the community in half. Eventually the vibrant clubs which hosted Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Little Richie, Jimi Hendrix and many others closed and were demolished–except for one building which has not be restored to its glory days.
It’s only open limited hours but this scruffy little museum is loaded with memorabilia of a bygone era. For a glimpse of JSS’s partnership with Vanderbilt University, watch this video.
While there, drive a few blocks west; the columns of the I-40 overpass have been turned into an outdoor retrospective of the community’s many contributions to music, education, government, sports, science and health.
If you don’t have enough of the Redheaded Stranger’s artifacts to fill a museum, you expand your horizons with items from Porter Wagoner, Ronnie Milsap, Faron Young and other famous friends. The general store offers all-things-Willie including t-shirts, hats, shot glasses, mugs and more. Save $2 off the $9.95 admission by buying your tickets online.
Okay, it’s not a music museum but it kinda defies my established categories. if you loved the TV show, you’ll experience a variety of artifacts that the Duke Boys left behind. They’ve been scooped up by Ben Jones who played Cooter on the series. It’s conveniently located next to Willie’s Museum in the Opryland area. Here’s a surprise…it’s FREE. But they’d love for you to buy a souvenir or two.
Cultural and Historic Museums
In addition to permanent exhibits, our world-class museum has played host to Masterworks by Michelangelo, Monet, van Gogh and many others, antique Italian automobiles, tapestries of ancient civilizations and an array of contemporary art. Visit the website for its current collections. The Frist also hosts activities for children, films and lectures. Adults: $15, Children under 18: Free.