Nashville is not only known these days for its country music scene, though that is certainly thriving, but as a growing, creative city which is an exciting destination beyond music. For families, there is a whole plethora of things to do including shopping, art, outdoor activities as well as enjoying live country music.
The Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum, Tennessee State Museum and George Jones Museum (offering spectacular views of the Cumberland River from the top floor) are just a few of the attractions worth a visit. All along Honky Tonk Highway are places to eat and drink while virtually every venue will have installed a live country music performer. When packing for a trip to Nashville, it is important to consider the weather of a location in the South of the U.S. and in the north central part of Tennessee. It is often fiercely hot in the summer punctuated by storms with torrential rain. However, during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, the temperature is pleasant though storms are still likely to occur.
The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville’s downtown is the only Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond rated hotel in the state of Tennessee. In close proximity to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Honky Tonk Highway and Tennessee’s state capitol building, it is the perfect location for exploring the city. This Beaux-Arts building was constructed in 1910 to house the hotel and is certainly a throwback to another era. As far as décor, the Hermitage could pass for an antebellum plantation home The expansive lobby has stained glass ceilings and an elegant ambience, possibly one of the most attractive I have seen. Downstairs the wood panelled Capitol Grille Restaurant is frequented by the state legislators for power lunches.
Our room was a Deluxe King & Queen – 490 sq ft – with large bathroom, Molton Brown toiletries and separate shower. The closet is large and storage generous – a big plus for families. There is a Nespresso coffee machine and a selection of different pillow types. Importantly, the Hermitage offers up to two complimentary roll-away beds for any family staying at the hotel. Unlike regular roll-away beds, these are fitted with a twin-size Hypnos mattress..
Shopping in Nashville, particularly for children’s fashion, is something truly special for trendy kids. There are shops with great clothes as well as toys in a variety of locations, so it should be fairly easy to squeeze in a visit.
On the north-west side of town is Magpies, specialising in girl’s and baby clothing. Decorated with enormous pastel dream catchers, there are also skateboards, stationery, hand-made stuffed animal heads and jewellery through-out the shop. The brands featured include ban.do, Malibu design group, Smiling Button, SplendidLA and Haute Affaires while staff on hand are eager to engage with children and parents. I saw a youngster having the time of her life trying on clothes.
Also on the north-west side of town is a very large children’s gift and clothing shop named Plaid Rabbit. The amount of baby clothes is vast and there are lovely clothes for boys as well. Musturd Pie, Eland, Sarah Louise and Dondolo and Delaney are some of the brands they offer.
Closer to downtown, in an older section of the city near Vanderbilt University, you will find Arcade at 2106 Acklen Ave, Nashville, 37212. The shop is entertainingly decorated with solar system and nautical displays so children could spend hours here without getting bored. Oeuf (a Peruvian brand), Bass et Bass, Goat Milk and Skylar Luna are just a few of brands they have in store.
Jennifer Kite, creator of Scout-baby.com, feels that personal service is one of the USPs of Nashville’s current crop of clothing sellers. She personally delivers to all her local clients. She also says,
It was around 2012 that Nashville started to see more clothing lines developed here and, importantly, those producers stayed in town. These are smaller, more intimate designers that use fair trade certified fabrics and materials and hold to those standards.
To get an overview of the city, take the Gray Line’s Music City Trolley & Double Decker Hop. These double decker, open air buses take families to all the top music and historic locations in Nashville; cost is $10pp for an all-day pass. Honky Tonk Highway (Broadway Ave.) is full of eateries, saloons, boot emporiums and music. The neon lights alone are worth having a look at but at night this part of town does get extremely crowded and has a decidedly adult feel about it. Don’t miss the top music attractions including the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry began many decades ago.
I discovered there were lots of children attending performances at the Grand Ole Opry, located about a half hour drive from the city centre. Billed as a family show, it is actually a radio broadcast with artists only ever performing two songs at the most. There are silly competitions thrown to mix things up and children are unlikely to get bored.
The Country Music Hall of Fame has an enormous amount of multi-media exhibits (film, clothing and instrument archives for instance) which were clearly of interest to older children. The current temporary exhibit is all about Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and their influence on the music scene locally. The Taylor Swift Education Center and Songwriting Lab are hugely popular with kids as are the weekend family programmes. These programmes provide hands-on opportunities and children not only get to interact with professional musicians but can even learn to play the guitar.
A visit to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located in the renovated former main US Post Office, is all about kids as there is an entire floor of activities awaiting children. Interactive fun starts on the second floor and includes: watercolour painting, creating animated film clips, using a digitised Kaleidoscope and learning how to print with a real printing press.
There are a number of outdoor activities near the town centre such as boat rentals and kayaking on the Cumberland River. Not far out of town is the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, set in 55 acres, and also the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere which can be a nice break from the city should you need it. Tree top walks and zip-lining are just some of the activities at Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort but reservations are recommended.
There are a good many reasonably priced restaurants in Nashville and several have live entertainment after 8pm. For very small children this might not always be a positive thing so remember to book an early time slot for dinner. Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant is a local favourite and features old fashioned country cooking. We had a scrumptious dinner of shrimp n’ grits and southern fried chicken.
We also had Sunday Brunch at Puckett’s and choose the outdoor seating (on the street but still pleasant). It is worth splashing out for one meal at the Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel. They have their own farm which grows and raises produce and livestock so guests know the exact provenance of virtually everything on their plate. Breakfast is a less expensive option and the service is always impeccable. My Eggs Florentine was probably the best I have ever had. Another upscale option serving good old-fashioned southern food is Prime 108.
Avoid the touristy eateries next to the music attractions if possible. This is simply because the prices are very high and service a bit inconsistent. The café at the Frist Visual Arts Centre is a reasonably priced option for lunch with a good selection of sandwiches including a delicious vegetarian panini. Panera Bread on 5th Ave is good value and Nashville Street Tacos on 2nd Ave have catfish tacos that are very tasty and you select the toppings. Nashville offers a unique American experience and is a cultural insight into the history of, not only country music, but also the people of Nashville. It is family friendly during the day and only ‘over 21 bars’ are going to be off limits to children at night. If going to Nashville in the summer, do remember to be ready for the heat and bring hats and plenty of sunscreen.
For spring 2017, The Hermitage Hotel, 231 Sixth Ave. North, Nashville, TN 37219 has Deluxe Queen accommodation (up to 5 guests with two queen beds and a roll away) for four nights ranging from $1,396 – $1916. To book, please visit thehermitagehotel.com or dial reservations: 888-888-9414 or call the hotel direct: 615-244-3121.
Delta airline return flights cost £685.81 – Main Cabin and £2,541.85 – Delta One. Both are inclusive of all taxes and charges. To book visit: delta.com