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Accessible Nashville

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Pink sky over Nashville, USA

With Kids

Music City! The home of country music… maybe the home of all music? I’m actually not a big fan of country (shhh! Please don’t tell this beautiful city!), but I enjoyed every moment of our time in Nashville and I learned so much! In fact, I think I gained so much more by taking in things that were outside of my realm of prior knowledge.

Oh, I also didn’t know it’s referred to as “Nashvegas” and that parts of the city, especially after dusk, are not particularly kid-themed… or kid-appropriate. So, in light of all of the above, here’s everything you need to know for a fantabulous (musicians can make up words) trip to music city with the family. As always, all suggestions are family friendly and wheelchair accessible!

Getting There

I’m tapping out of the argument over driving vs. flying. I can tell you that the Nashville airport is conveniently located just outside of the city and that it’s surrounded by excellent lodging options. I can also tell you that if you’re coming from the north the drive down 81 is breath-taking. The drive along the base of the mountains is incredible, but we amped up the breathlessness even more by driving through Skyline Drive National Park on our way down. With views from 3,680 ft above sea level, it was worth the detour. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it would be in autumn. There is only one fully wheelchair accessible trail (in Skyland) and it was closed for the season. We weren’t too disappointed, though. All of the best views were visible from the car. Since we went on an exceptionally cold and windy day, we preferred these views, anyway!

Check out these helpful tips for the long drive or flight

Getting Around

Hey friends with a handicap parking pass, parking is free throughout the city! In metered spaces, obviously, not just wherever you feel like ditching the car. There’s no real train system at this point (there’s going to be a vote on putting one in), but the city buses are all wheelchair accessible. We drove… and cheated with the Old Town Trolley Tour to canvas the city (more on that in “What to Do”). The only downside of driving is that some areas of the city don’t have street parking. Use an app like spotangels to plan ahead for where you want to leave your vehicle.

Where to Stay

This may be the first city where I’ve opted not to stay downtown. I could say that I was sparing my children the party scene and the possible risks involved, but the greater reality is pricing. A basic downtown hotel starts at about $300 a night. I would suggest staying just south of downtown in the Vanderbilt area ($150-$200) or near the airport. We opted for the airport area. It’s only 11 minutes from downtown (depending on traffic) and we had a very nice room for just over $100.

Oh! I also went against my standard of having breakfast included. Most of the food places I wanted to try in Nashville were breakfast joints, so I didn’t think breakfast at the hotel was necessary.

What to Do

Alright! Now we’re to the real fun! If you’ve read anything that says Nashville’s not for kids, it’s a lie. I have kids. I took them to Nashville. They loved it. So…

There are actually about a million things to do with kids in the city, but I hate when you search things to do and you come up with a huge list. I don’t need options: I want to know the best options. Here are my top picks for a long weekend:

Nashville Zoo

The zoo is not a typical city highlight because, well, most major cities have them. That being said, there is no major city that has this zoo, and it needs to be on your list. With the best restroom in the nation (think live tamarins), an open kangaroo petting area, complete wheelchair accessibility, up-close tiger encounters, and a set-up that’s reminiscent of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it’s a unique experience that everyone will love.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Ok, this swings back to seeing what the city is known for. I almost didn’t do this… because I’m not into country music… but that would’ve been a mistake. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was a great learning experience for all of us, and it provided the most hands-on activities my kids had all weekend. In addition to exploring the displays and reading about a history that has impacted all types of music, the kids designed instruments and costumes, came up with ideas for new songs, and painted their own velvet Elvis. Every Saturday they have scheduled music or art workshops for kids. Sundays they have drop-in art workshops. I was worried that my kids would get bored, but they had kid-stations dispersed perfectly throughout the museum to keep them engaged. There were also scavenger hunts (with prizes!) to keep them moving forward eagerly.

Old Town Trolley Tour

This was so great for so many reasons! First of all, the Old Town Trolley Tour gives a comprehensive tour of the history, culture, and current events of the city. Second, it was warm and dry on a cold and very wet day. Ok, so hopefully that one won’t apply to you. Third, it’s a great way to get around the city. With 16 stops, across all main areas of the city, you have the option to get on and off as you please. This felt like such a hack to me. I didn’t buy metro tickets – you can use the trolley as transportation and learn about the city as you drive through it! Oh, and the ticket includes admission to two other attractions. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other tours like this whenever we explore a new city. Every other trolley has a wheelchair lift, so time your stops accordingly.

Kids under four ride free, which is half of my party. Definitely purchase your tickets online in advance – they’re typically more than half off. If you chat with the online help, they’re likely to offer you an additional discount code. If all of this still isn’t enough, and you’re traveling on a budget, this may be the worthwhile “splurge” item.

Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum is the one place I’m really sorry that we didn’t get to explore! They pride themselves on both wheelchair accessibility and kid-friendliness. They loan out both wheelchairs and strollers – free of charge! Also, kids under 18 are free! They even had an Eric Carle exhibit the week we were there. Sigh. This is at the top of my list for our next visit.

Broadway

This is the main strip. It’s filled with honky-tonks, boot shops, candy stores, and questionable establishments. My college-aged brother-in-law who lives in Nashville had the great idea to drive it at night. We drove slowly with the windows down for the experience of the lights and music without having to worry about any of the potential hassles or hazards of the crowds. We also walked it in the morning… no one is out in the morning. All of the intersections where wheelchair accessible. I read somewhere that Robert’s Western World is a pretty kid-friendly honky-tonk, but we ran out of time to check it out!

Tennessee State Museum

The state spent over 1 million dollars to build this museum – but it’s totally free to enter! While there are rotating exhibits on Tennessee history and culture, there is a big focus on the Civil War. We didn’t make this a highlight of our trip because the three-year-olds wouldn’t be into it, but my seven-year-old could’ve easily spent a day here!

Adventure Science Center

I know, I know, another thing you can find in most cities; butAdventure Science Center in Nashville is included in Museums4All. That means if you’re using your ACCESS card you can get it for $2 per person… which makes this better than most cities’ science centers.

The Parks

We had rainy weather, so we didn’t end up spending much time playing outside, but Nashville has some beautiful parks to please all ages in your family group. Check out the Parthenon… or at least its full size replica… at Centennial Park.

Bicentennial Park is designed after D.C.’s Mall. It doesn’t have play equipment, but there’s plenty of space to run.

Fannie Mae Dees is a smaller park, but it has play equipment (not inclusive) and a splash pad in the summer.

All the Rest

Assuming you’re touring during the day, you can absolutely take your kids through any other part of town that has attracted your attention. The Gulch has become a trending place to explore and shop. We didn’t spend much time there because shopping itself isn’t kid-friendly for my crew. There’s plenty to see in each of the neighborhoods of Nashville.

What to Eat

The Goo Goo Shop

Not only is the Goo Goo delicious, but it’s America’s first ever combination candy bar! It’s educational: let the kids have some candy.

Biscuit Love

It’s a small chain, and I wasn’t totally sold on the idea, but it came highly recommended… by every person I asked. Biscuit Love is known for… ummm… can you guess? Biscuits! Oh, and you can get them deep fried and covered in sugar and cinnamon. They have all the other southern breakfast staples, too. As far as I can tell, it’s all delicious. The lines have been known to stretch for blocks. They have coolers and cups outside to hydrate the waiting crowds. We went at 7 AM. There was no line. I guess that’s the perk of early risers (code for kids who don’t sleep)?

Southern Traditions

There are endless good options for places to eat, but make sure you try the staple foods. Barbecue, fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread, baked beans, collard greens, potato salad, fried green tomatoes, and banana pudding are among the traditional favorites. My seven year old was thrilled to learn that the locals consider mac and cheese a vegetable.

Nashville Farmer’s Market

I think a local market is always a great way to get a taste for the culture of a place. The tastes here go beyond Nashville with samplings from around the world.

Things You Need to Know

The city doesn’t open until 10

I don’t know if that’s good or bad for you, but it’s good to know. We loved seeing the sights before the crowds arrived. My kids were all up and ready by 6 AM (somebody tell them about time zones…), so we traversed half the city before most people were out of bed. The streets were eerily empty. The downside is, nothing’s open… except for the occasional Starbucks.

Accessibility

We had great experiences with accessibility. Per usual, some places had a secondary entrance to the fancy staircase entry, but there was nowhere we couldn’t go. The public transportation is accessible. Also, it’s called “southern hospitality” for a reason. The people are kind and helpful and will assist in any way they can.

Music City is for music lovers of all varieties

I thought I was going to the home of country music, which isn’t untrue, but Nashville is the backdrop for music scenes in every genre. It really is a place for music lovers – all of them.

**Looking for ways to give back while you travel? Check out this voluntourism itinerary!**

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