Best Museums in Nashville

Music City offers history and charm

Visiting a museum is always a unique experience, as each one has its own distinct characteristics, style, and of course, content. Museum subjects vary greatly from city to city, and can range from firefighter's museums to fine art, to sports. If you need help making a selection, our 10Best list highlights the top spots to visit in Nashville.


Belle Meade Plantation is one of the premier plantations in Nashville. Stately, elegant, and pristine, this antebellum mansion rests on 30 acres of land just south of Nashville in upscale Belle Meade. Charming and authentic, the quaint grounds are impossible to turn down for a stroll, while the columns of the house still bear bullet scars from the Civil War. The plantation includes eight historic buildings, including Dunham Station's cabin, which dates from 1790. The Victorian-style manor home, completed in 1853, is now a museum dedicated to preserving the Harding family's rich legacy. History is preserved and brought back to life for the thousands that discover and return to Belle Meade mansion every year.

Local Expert tip: Wear walking shoes and bring your camera - this gorgeous plantation calls for photos and lots of strolling.

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Everything you ever wanted to know about Tennessee and more! The complete history if the state is traced from the original Native American inhabitants through the first European settlers and on through the Civil War and Antebellum period, culminating with displays of contemporary art and artifacts. Highlights include a collection of over 200 quilts, dating from 1808 to the present, a collection of over 500 flags and banners, and prehistoric artifacts from around the state.

Local Expert tip: A great spot to pick up mementos for the whole family.

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History buffs will strike gold here. The building, dating from the Civil War era, has been restored to its original glory. Visitors are invited to tour the House and Senate Chambers and fill their minds with American trivia. The grounds, site of the graves of former Tennessee governor and US President (1845-49) James K. Polk and his wife, offer inviting shaded areas as well as several small garden areas.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to take your camera! The capitol offers excellent shots of the city.

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A unique Nashville experience, the Frist brings culture, the arts, and history alive. More than just a museum, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts has become a magnet for Nashville's rapidly expanding visual arts scene. With new exhibitions arriving every 6 to 8 weeks, no matter how often you visit, there is always something extraordinary to see. Conceived as a family-friendly atmosphere, the Frist's innovative Martin ArtQuest Gallery that showcases and teaches children the joy of learning through making art. The painting isn't simply on the walls or in the cases. It's alive in every person, and at Frist the focus is in helping everyone create their own masterpiece.

Local Expert tip: Call ahead, especially on the weekend, sometimes they offer half-price ticket days! (And bring the kids - they offer the best activities for young budding artists.)

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One of the few museums in the U.S. to specialize in European cars, Lane Motor Museum is a working museum. Some of the cars are in showroom condition, while others represent typical aging. A well-known Music City landmark, this unique collection of cars will have collectors drooling and turn visitors into aficionados after one visit.

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Dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee's railroad heritage, the Tennessee Central Railway Museum invites visitors to ride one of their historic passenger trains and experience the joys of rail travel. With a growing collection of historic equipment, theTCRM is much more than a static museum. Their specialty is operating historic trains, providing a unique opportunity to ride a 1950's vintage train through beautiful Middle Tennessee. Buy a ticket, take a ride - a ride on one of the historic trains is journey you won't soon forget.

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Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery
Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery

One of a kind, this historical art collection serves the needs of students and the wider community, as well as showcasing great works of art. Offering a diverse collection, the gallery has sought to increase its holdings of works by internationally recognized contemporary artists. The Fine Arts Collection is used for the development of temporary exhibitions as well as for student study and research. A slice of campus life meets gorgeous artistic creations here at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery.

Local Expert tip: Head over to Fido's after visiting the museum for a quick bite and some of the best coffee in town!

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The Carl Van Vechten Gallery features a permanent installation of The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art (named after Georgia O'Keeffe's husband) on its main floor. This includes works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Auguste-Pierre Renoir, Henri deToulouse-Lautrec, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Arthur Dove. The lower level of the Van Vechten Gallery houses a changing schedule of traveling exhibitions and temporary installations from Fisk University's permanent art collections. Often hailed as world class art in an intimate setting, the paintings housed at the Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery promise to delight and inspire all art aficionados.

Local Expert tip: Take your time. This gallery is well worth savoring over.

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Parthenon in Centennial Park
Photo courtesy of iStock / Wesley Stivers

A tribute to classical architecture, the Parthenon in Centennial Park houses one of the premier museums in the area. The permanent collection not only boasts notable works from 19th- and 20th-century American artists, including Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church and Thomas Moran, but also contemporary pieces crafted by up and coming Nashville artists. Athenian sculptures created from direct casts of originals that once adorned the ancient Greek ruins are also on display.

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An iconic landmark for country music fanatics, artists and critics, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum chronicles the stardom of the genre's famous favorites. "Sing Me Back Home: The Journey Begins, Folk Roots to the 1960's" conjures childhood nostalgia as does the exhibit's second installment, "Dreaming My Dreams: The Journey Continues, 1960's to the Present." Listen and learn from greats like Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.

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Paige Crutcher is a writer, author interviewer, book reviewer, and storyteller. When her nose isn’t between the pages of a well-worn book, she’s working on articles, traveling, or researching a...  More About Paige