Nashville is an energetic city bursting with history and fun, but if you choose to escape the bright lights of Broadway for a day, there are some other places nearby worth discovering.
Here are seven fantastic day trips from the Music City.
1. Lynchburg, Tennessee
Tennessee is almost synonymous with whiskey, and Lynchburg, Tennessee, is the mecca. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery is the main attraction in this small town about an hour and a half south of Nashville. There are three different tours that allow you to see the distillery and taste some of the whiskey. Note that you have to be 21 to go on any of the tasting tours. Minors and those who don’t drink can still tour the distillery for $15.
Just a block away from the distillery is the Lynchburg town square, home to locally owned shops and restaurants housed in restored buildings. The Lynchburg Hardware and General Store is a great place to pick up Jack Daniel’s souvenirs like whiskey-infused mustard, chairs made from whiskey barrels, and T-shirts and glasses. You can discover the town’s history during a stroll through the free Lynchburg Old Jail Museum. Wine lovers can head to Lynchburg Winery in the town square for a taste of local wines made from grapes grown just a few miles from the tasting room. For a sweet treat, pop in to Prince’s Parlor ice cream shop, which serves up Jack Daniel’s flavors in addition to the typical flavors.
2. Tims Ford Lake, Tennessee
Drive a little farther southeast of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, and you’ll reach Tims Ford Lake. Just under 2 hours from Nashville, this lake is a popular weekend spot for Nashville residents. Situated in Tims Ford State Park, the lake has eight public boat ramps along with two marinas offering boat, kayak, and canoe rentals. Once on the water, you can fish, water ski, or just cruise around the 16 miles of lake. The park also has a golf course, cabins for rent, and campgrounds for both tents and RVs.
3. Huntsville, Alabama
Hop on Interstate 65 heading south, cross the border into Alabama, and you’ll end up in Huntsville, Alabama. The gem of Huntsville is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a museum featuring artifacts, rockets, and memorabilia from the nation’s space program. Indoor displays in two separate buildings feature more than a thousand items and interactive displays. The outdoor exhibits include military rockets in Rocket Park and shuttle boosters and jets in Shuttle Park. Fueling up during your visit is convenient at the on-site Mars Grill, and make sure to treat yourself to dessert: freeze-dried ice cream!
Regular admission to the center costs $25, with movies and the planetarium as add-ons. There are senior discounts, but they aren’t available online -- only in person.
Our country’s military history is on display at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum, which features more than 30 military vehicles, aircraft, and watercraft. The museum contains exhibits on the American Revolution, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and modern military engagements. There is a suggested donation of $5 to tour the museum.
After visiting the museums, take an easy and beautiful walk around the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Countless plants and flowers are intertwined with sculptures around the 112-acre garden. The property’s Purdy Butterfly House is the largest open-air butterfly house in the nation and is housed inside the Nature Center with fish, turtles, and frogs. Entrance to the butterfly area is included in the price of admission.
The Huntsville Botanical Garden is open year-round and costs $14. A senior discount is available.
4. Bowling Green, Kentucky
Head north on Interstate 65 into Kentucky, and you’ll hit Bowling Green in about an hour. The southern Kentucky town is home to the National Corvette Museum, which showcases exhibits on the history of the Corvette and has more than 80 Corvettes on display. Admission to the museum costs $12 ($10 for seniors).
Head underground on a tour of the Lost River Cave, the only underground boat tour in the state. On the hour-long tour, you’ll learn about the area’s rock formations and the history of the cave. Tours cost $20. The cave also offers zip-lining.
Less than 30 minutes outside of Bowling Green, you’ll find another underground world at Mammoth Cave National Park. The park has more than 400 miles of underground caves, the most in the world, according to the park’s website. Several daily tours will take you through the caves while teaching you about their history. Some of the tours are harder to navigate than others, so be sure to check the descriptions online before your trip. Aboveground, there are hiking trails and campgrounds.
5. Chattanooga, Tennessee
About 2 hours from Nashville is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Located in the southeastern part of the state near the Georgia border, this town is the fourth largest in Tennessee and offers both indoor and outdoor activities.
A must-visit no matter your age is the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the top-rated aquariums in the nation. It consists of two buildings -- one for freshwater and the other for saltwater creatures -- and has an IMAX theater as well as rotating weekly events. Admission to the aquarium costs $35.
You can see seven states in one day at the scenic overlook in Rock City, located on Lookout Mountain. Take the meandering walking trail past a waterfall and over a suspension bridge. You’ll squeeze through the tiny opening at Fat Man’s Squeeze and experience the wonder of Fairyland Caverns on your way to the Lover’s Leap overlook where, on a clear day, you can see seven states.
The trail is narrow at times, so those with mobility issues may have difficulty navigating it. There is a handicap-accessible trail that leads to the overlook, however.
Two other activities on Lookout Mountain are the Incline Railway and Ruby Falls. The world’s steepest passenger railway, the Incline Railway takes passengers to the top of Lookout Mountain. Ruby Falls is the tallest public underground waterfall. An easy walking tour through caves leads to the underground falls, where a light show illuminates the water for easier viewing. You can buy tickets to each attraction separately or save money by buying a combination ticket.
Pro Tip: Chattanooga is in the Eastern Time Zone, whereas Nashville is in the Central Time Zone, so make sure you plan your time accordingly.
6. Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 444 miles through three states, starting in Nashville and going all the way to Louisiana. The road follows the Old Natchez Trace, a trail first forged by Native Americans and later used by early settlers for trade.
You could spend an entire day on the scenic drive, or you could stop along the way to hike or have a picnic. The famed Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge is just 30 minutes outside of Nashville and one of the many iconic stops along the route. The bridge has two arches and won the Presidential Award for Design Excellence. Travel another 30 minutes on the parkway, and you’ll find a short paved walk to Jackson Falls, which is an excellent spot for a picnic. Biking is allowed on the road if you are feeling more adventurous.
Pro Tip: There are no services along the Natchez Trace Parkway -- no gas, no food, nothing. But there are services in the towns off the road. Be sure to plan out your trip ahead of time so that you don’t get stuck!
7. Day Train Rides
Want all the sights, but none of the driving?
The Tennessee Central Railway Museum offers rides onboard a refurbished 1950s passenger train. And these are not ordinary rides -- each one features some sort of fun twist. One is a murder mystery on wheels; another is a train robbery complete with a shoot-out at the final destination; another features a Civil War reenactment.
How about tasting wines while someone else does the driving? Wine on the Rails offers day trips to DelMonaco Winery east of Nashville. The trip includes wine on the train, live music, and tastings at the winery. Whichever way you choose to experience the train, you are guaranteed a fun time with picturesque views of the rolling hills and countryside of Tennessee. All seats on the train are reserved, but there are different fare classes.