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12 Top-Rated Day Trips from Nashville

Written by Bryan Dearsley and Catherine Hawkins
Updated Mar 22, 2022

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Once you've exhausted the many delightful world-class attractions and things to do in Nashville, be sure to allow time to explore the area around Tennessee's famous "Music City." You'll be rewarded with everything from historic homes and perfectly preserved plantations to countless Civil War sites.

Other day trip options include visiting one or more of Tennessee's quaint small towns within an easy drive of Nashville. They include destinations such as picturesque Franklin and Gallatin. Make longer journeys to see popular tourist spots such as Chattanooga and Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smoky Mountains.

Elvis fans must consider making a pilgrimage to explore the sightseeing highlight of Memphis: Graceland, home of The King of Rock 'n Roll. Follow this up with a journey back in time to other music-related points of interest.

Whether you're interested in music, history, or nature, plan your sightseeing excursions and discover the best places to visit with our list of day trips from Nashville.

1. Franklin's Carter House and Carnton Plantation

Carnton Plantation
Carnton Plantation | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Franklin is a community 20 miles south of Nashville with a number of attractions that figured prominently in the Civil War. Two of the most important sites on any day trip to Franklin must include the Carter House and the Carnton Planation. Both were caught up in a desperate struggle between defending Union troops and attacking Confederates that took place on November 30, 1864.

Even today, Carter House bears the scars of more than a thousand bullet holes. Apart from these battle scars, the house is notable for its original period furniture. It also houses a museum of Civil War relics that recount the deadly conflict.

Built in 1826 by Randal McGavock, a former mayor of Nashville, nearby Carnton Plantation was used as a field hospital during the battle. Hundreds of Confederate troops were treated here, including four generals who died of their wounds.

After the battle, more than 1,500 Confederate soldiers were interred in McGavock Confederate Cemetery, two acres of land adjoining Carnton. Plan to spend at least an hour touring each site, plus time to see the cemetery, grounds, and outbuildings. Guided tours shed light on the significant role of these historic homes.

Address: 1140 Columbia Ave, Franklin, Tennessee

Official site: www.boft.org

2. The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson

The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson
The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson

The Hermitage, former home of Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, is an easy day trip only 15 miles east of Nashville. Built in 1819 and rebuilt in 1834 after a fire, this magnificent mansion opened as a museum in 1889. It has been restored to look as it did when Jackson lived here during his retirement (1837-1845).

Highlights of a visit include the informative museum, with displays and artifacts related to Jackson's time in government, as well as his personal life. Guided tours and special themed tours are available, including ghost tours and wagon rides. The on-site restaurant will keep you going.

Address: 4580 Rachels Lane, Hermitage, Tennessee

Official site: www.thehermitage.com

3. Charming Chattanooga and its Famous Train

Chattanooga Choo-Choo train
Chattanooga Choo-Choo train | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Chattanooga, a pretty two-hour drive southwest of Nashville in southeastern Tennessee on the border of Georgia, is well worth a day of exploration.

Chattanooga is best known for the 1941 song Chattanooga Choo-Choo, immortalized by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Relive the experience by hopping aboard the Tennessee Valley Railroad. This heritage railway offers a variety of fun rail adventures, including dinner and lunch packages. Be sure to also visit the original 1909 Terminal Station, where you can arrange accommodation in old carriages.

Another way to experience Chattanooga is from the water. Pick up a paddleboat tour to view the city from the wide Tennessee River. Explore on foot along the trails of the Tennessee RiverPark, a 10-mile greenbelt extending from Chickamauga Dam to the downtown core.

The most important Chattanooga tourist attraction is the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the best of its kind in the country. Featuring more than 10,000 animals, it is organized according to two themes in separate buildings: a River Journey and an Ocean Journey.

Another attraction for travelers with an interest in the Civil War is Lookout Mountain, scene of the battle of Chattanooga.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chattanooga: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains
Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains

No visit to Tennessee is complete without a drive through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, the most visited national park in the US. The place to visit first is the town of Gatlinburg. Although it's located more than three hours east of Nashville, you'll be rewarded with the best scenic routes into the spectacular Smokies.

Expanses of forests and tall mountains, some reaching as high as 6,500 feet, attract outdoors enthusiasts to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hikers and bikers come here, spring to fall, to explore its network of more than 900 miles of trails. When the snow flies, the area is abuzz with skiers. The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains really depends on your interests.

Stop in at one of the many visitor centers to find the best places to enjoy the splendid flora and fauna. Among the native flowering plants you'll see are mountain magnolias and orchids.

Address: 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gatlinburg: Best Areas & Hotels

5. Memphis and Graceland, Home of "The King"

Memphis and Beale Street at dusk
Memphis and Beale Street at dusk

Although it makes for a long day – three hours drive one-way – the trip from Nashville to Memphis is worth considering, especially if Graceland is on your bucket list. Elvis Presley's Memphis includes an audio-guided tour of Graceland Mansion, showcasing a dazzling array of costumes. You can also opt for a tour to view The King's private jets and luxury car collection.

Head next to famous Beale Street in downtown Memphis. Exploring music-related attractions, including the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and WC Handy Home and Museum, are among the top things to do in Memphis. Sun Studio, where Elvis and so many other stars recorded, is more than a mile away on Union Avenue.

One option for those who enjoy letting someone else do the driving and planning is an organized tour. Consider the Nashville to Memphis day trip with Graceland VIP access. It includes transportation, admission fees, a food credit and preferred access.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Memphis: Best Areas & Hotels

6. Stones River National Battlefield

Stones River National Battlefield
Stones River National Battlefield

Stones River National Battlefield commemorates one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. It began on the last day of 1862 and continued until the second day of 1863. Casualties were significant, numbering around 23,000. The battle resulted in the defeat of Confederate soldiers and Union control of the central part of Tennessee.

The site includes a 600-acre battlefield and the Stones River National Cemetery with 6,000 Confederate graves. The Hazen Brigade Monument is reputed to be the oldest monument of the Civil War still standing. Stones River National Battlefield is managed by the National Parks Service.

Address: 3501 Old Nashville Hwy., Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Official site: www.nps.gov/stri/planyourvisit/index.htm

7. Rock Island State Park

Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park
Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Rock Island State Park is so ruggedly beautiful and dangerous, you're asked to read a safety brochure before you go off exploring. Visitors are cautioned about sirens that signal a sudden rise in water levels. Rocks are slick, and currents are swift. Wildness is part of the appeal of 916-acre Rock Island State Park. It's also close enough to Nashville to get here in just over 90 minutes.

Rock Island is located at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake and the confluence of three rivers: Caney Fork, Collins and Rocky. Dramatic Caney Fork gorge is below the Great Falls Dam, a cascade of more than 30 feet. If you visit, get ready for scenic overload–overlooks, Twin Falls, the Blue Hole, limestone paths, and a natural sand beach.

Day-trippers can hike the trails and launch a boat. There's a visitor center and the remains of an old cotton mill. If you want to extend your day trip, cabins and a campground are available.

Address: 82 Beach Road, Rock Island, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/rock-island

8. Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park

Waterfalls at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
Waterfalls at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

One of Tennessee's two archaeological parks, Old Stone Fort is 64 miles southeast of Nashville – approximately a one-hour drive.

Original settlers didn't know what they were looking at and misnamed it an old stone fort. The riverside rock walls and mounds are now identified as a 50-acre "hilltop enclosure" used as a gathering place and ceremonial site for Native Americans, dating back 2,000 years. You will also see remains of a grist mill and paper mill from the 19th century.

Among the scenic features are waterfalls along the Duck River and Little Duck River. Thirty-foot Big Falls is the tallest; Bluehole Falls plunges into an aquamarine pool; Step Falls is a multi-tiered cascade. The cliffs are dramatic – beware of steep drop-offs!

The trails are mostly rated easy. Access 1.4-mile Enclosure Trail from the stone museum. Signage directs you to historical and archaeological features. All the waterfalls and several deep gorges can be seen from this scenic trail. Should you want more time to explore the park, stay over at the 50-site campground.

Address: 732 Stone Fort Drive, Manchester, Tennessee

Official site: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/old-stone-fort

9. The City of Gallatin

Trousdale Place in Gallatin
Trousdale Place in Gallatin | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

An easy 40-minute drive northeast of Nashville, Gallatin was founded in 1802 and named after Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury to Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In addition to its quaint central square and many pleasant tree-lined streets, Gallatin is home to Trousdale Place, the city's oldest mansion.

Although open only for tours by appointment, this fine two-story brick home is worth a visit. Built in 1813, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. One of the best features of the mansion is its fine period furniture. The library has a collection of books and documents related to the Confederacy.

On the same property, visit the Sumner County Museum. It features Native American and African American displays and more than 250,000 artifacts. These objects include fossils, antique toys, tools, and relics from pioneer days.

Address: 183 W. Main Street, Gallatin, Tennessee

Official site: www.sumnercountymuseum.org

10. Historic Knoxville

Knoxville's iconic Sunsphere Tower
Knoxville's iconic Sunsphere Tower | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Less than three hours from Nashville, historic Knoxville is famous as the home of the University of Tennessee. Founded in 1794, the establishment is worth visiting for its splendid gardens (UT Gardens), open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset. Guided tours are available.

It's easy to explore the rest of downtown Knoxville from the university. Topping the highlights is the iconic Sunsphere Tower, with superb observation deck views. Confederate Memorial Hall (aka Bleak House) was Confederate headquarters during the Union siege of the city in 1863.

Other things to do in Knoxville include visiting the Museum of East Tennessee with its displays and documents, and Market Square. Established in 1854, the square is home to a farmers market, shopping, and live entertainment.

Address: 2518 Jacob Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Knoxville

11. The Pioneers of Murfreesboro

Murfreesboro
Murfreesboro

Murfreesboro, an easy 40-minute drive southwest of Nashville, was the state capital of Tennessee from 1818 to 1826, when it lost its status by a single vote. Highlights of a tour of this historic city include the Rutherford County Courthouse, notable as the site of an attack by Confederate troops on Union soldiers who were camped nearby.

Oaklands Historic House Museum is a restored Italianate-style plantation built in 1815. Both Union and Confederate forces occupied this former plantation during the Civil War. It was later the site of the surrender of Murfreesboro.

Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village is a reconstructed Southern pioneer settlement that includes a blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, general store, grist mill, and chapel. This fun family attraction hosts popular pioneer days and Christmas festivals.

Address: 900 North Maney Avenue, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

12. Historic Sam Davis Home & Plantation

Historic Sam Davis Home & Plantation
Historic Sam Davis Home & Plantation

Sam Davis is the boy hero of the Southern Confederate Army who was captured by the Northern Union Army and executed as a spy at the age of 21. Take a tour of his restored mid-19th-century home located in Smyrna, an easy 40-minute day trip southwest of Nashville. The 168-acre property includes two historic homes, period gardens, slave quarters, a smokehouse and kitchen, and the family cemetery.

More than 100 artifacts are on display that will take you back in time. Ghost tours and Easter egg hunts are among the popular activities that take place on the property. You are welcome to enjoy a creekside picnic and walk the nature trail.

Address: 1399 Sam Davis Road, Smyrna, Tennessee

Official site: www.samdavishome.org

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