Museums for Any Interest

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)

Music Museums

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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.

National Museum of African American Music

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.

Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum

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.

The GIG at Belmont University

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.

Johnny Cash Museum

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.

Patsy Cline Museum

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.

Glen Campbell Museum & Rhinestone Stage

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.

RCA Studio B

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.

Ryman Auditorium

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.

Grand Ole Opry House

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

Music City Walk of Fame

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

Jefferson Street Sound Museum

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.

Willie Nelson and Friends Museum

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.

Cooter’s Place “Dukes of Hazzard” Museum

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

Frist Art Museum

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.

Tennessee State Museum

This spectacular showplace is adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall and Farmers Market. Permanent collections regard the prehistoric era, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Women’s Suffrage movement. Traveling and changing exhibitions have highlighted support of WWI, the Civil Rights movement, Tennessee’s African-American musical heritage and the whimsical art of nationally recognized but locally raised artist Red Grooms. Closed Mondays. Free admission. (Photo credits: TN State Museum)

Hatch Show Print

Shop the store, take a tour, or even make your own very hip, very retro poster. In business since 1879, these iconic wonders of typography are just about as Nashville as it gets. It’s housed in the corridor that connects Omni Hotel to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Tennessee Agricultural Museum

Located at Ellington Agricultural Center, it’s the opportunity to take a leap back in time to discover farm life with a priceless collection of artifacts from the early 1800s through the 1930s including a collection of antique tractors. Also on the grounds are a one-room schoolhouse, log cabins and sorghum cookshed. The museum offers classes, day camps and special events designed to showcase pioneer life. Free admission.

Lane Motor Museum

If you’re into rare cars, motorcycles, bicycles and more, you’re going to love this collection. Even folks who aren’t “car people” love the curious collection of vehicles on display. The place is huge with 40,000 sq. ft. of showroom floor to show off approximately 150 vehicles including the largest assemblage of European cars in the U.S. Free parking.

Fort Negley

After taking the city of Nashville from the Confederacy, Union forces set about making the most fortified city outside of Washington, D.C. On a hill roughly a mile south of downtown stands the remnants of this impressive fort constructed of stone, wood and earth with African-Americans conscripted as the primary labor force. Fort Negley boasts a visitors center, three short films and a self-guided tour of the fort. FREE

Tennessee State Capitol

It’s not technically a historic museum but history has been made there. Constructed in 1859 atop the tallest hill in the business district, the impressive limestone structure has witnessed the Civil War and in 1920 was the battleground for the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. Both guided and self-guided tours are available Monday-Friday. FREE

Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

Honoring athletes, coaches, sportswriters and sports administrators, the museum is entered through the visitors’ center in Bridgestone Arena. Peyton Manning, the TSU Tiger Belles and Coach Pat Summitt are among those heralded in the FREE exhibition.

Mansions and Estates

The Hermitage

Step back in history when you visit the home of Andrew Jackson’s, our nation’s 7th president. The Greek Revival-inspired mansion is the centerpiece of the 1,120-acre estate which also features a garden and grounds. Though it was once overlooked, the historical society also presents the stories of the enslaved people who lived at The Hermitage.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art

The grande dame of Nashville galleries, art is displayed in a royal 36-room mansion completed in 1932. In recent years, the grounds have captured the community’s attention with an intriguing array of installations from whimsical treehouses to the mesmerizing glass sculptures of Chihuly. Springtime brings a riot of color as the meticulously maintained gardens come alive.

Belle Meade Plantation

Once famous for its prized thoroughbreds including 11 Triple Crown winners, the mansion and grounds capture the grandeur of the well-heeled from 170 years ago. Also on the property are the Belle Meade Meat & Three restaurant, a wine shop and a gift shop.

Belmont Mansion

Atop the hill on Belmont University’s primary campus stands Belmont Mansion, the home of Adelicia and Joseph Acklen. Constructed between 1849 and 1860, it was the largest house constructed in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. The estate boasted meticulously maintained gardens and a zoo. A visit is a reflection upon the lives of the uber-wealthy from 170 years ago.

Travellers Rest

Built in 1799, the former home of Judge John Overton is six miles south of Nashville. Once a sprawling plantation of 2,300 acres, the home seems modest when compared to the Belmont Mansion. This historical site also pays tribute to the indigenous people of the area and the enslaved workers who labored on the estate.

City of Franklin

Twenty-two miles south of Nashville, the city of Franklin makes an interesting daytrip. Here you’ll find Civil War sites including the Carnton mansion where stories of the Battle of Franklin are recounted, a well-preserved downtown that feels a little like walking into “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and an abundance of shopping opportunities.