While traveling the Southern States on our sabbatical, we have discovered that we can see many places for free. At our table, we will tell you how you can see three cities in Tennessee for free or on a budget.
I have had many friends ask me in the past month, what to see and do in Tennessee. There are many activities, events and places to go. Since we are traveling on a limited budget for 130 days we needed to find things to do for free. In fact, we spent a whole day visiting downtown Nashville and only purchased a coffee.
Sleeping and Eating
I wish I could say that the eating and sleeping part was free, but then you know it isn’t. We have stayed at Airbnb’s so we can stay for a lower price than a hotel and cook our own food in a kitchen. We pack our lunches out each day so we don’t have to spend money at restaurants. We tend to spend our eating out money at coffee shops and a few restaurants when we travel.
You can enjoy your time downtown and you don’t have to spend money. When we first drove into Nashville, we were struggling to find a parking spot at the visitor center. The visitor center is in the Bridgestone Arena where they play Hockey and we did not want to pay $20 to park. My husband dropped me off at the visitor center and I asked for things to do and how to park for free.
We were advised to park for free at the Nissan Stadium because there was no football game. This was a great way to see the stadium and the city and we walked over five miles that day. We walked over the Cumberland River on the pedestrian bridge and started our adventure with sights marked on our downtown map.
Honky Tonk Area. The visitor center worker told me we should walk on this street to see Honky Tonk. My reply was, “I am from the north, what is that?” “You know country music and bars,” she said. She said, “you can go into the bars for free and just watch if you want.” We didn’t bother because the music could be heard outside the doors at 11 a.m. and that plus a few pics was enough experience for me.
We took pics with the Elvis statue and pics outside Ryman auditorium. We walked to the Nashville Public Library, which was very stately.
We also went to the Hermitage Hotel to take a few pictures. This hotel is known for woman’s suffrage meetings and also for their famous men’s bathroom where many meetings were held and deals were signed. Movies have been shot in this bathroom.
We walked to the capitol. Tours are given from Monday to Friday. We walked to the farmers market and sampled some free foods. In the same area are granite walls next to the Capitol Park that have the history of Tennessee inscribed on them for over a few blocks. This is a great way to learn Tennessee history. There are green spaces and splash pads and flags at this park.
Beyond that is The Tennessee Museum. This museum walks you through the history of Tennessee. It has just opened and is free to the public. We learned about the Tennessee government, music, food, jobs, settling of people, Civil War and etc. I was very impressed by it. We are nerdier than you thought.
We went to the Walk of Fame Park for the musicians that have been awarded a star on the walk of fame. We took pics of our favorites, like Dolly Parton and Amy Grant.
Our walking tour ended and we drove to the Parthenon and the park next to it to take some pics. We also drove by the famous Gulch shopping neighborhood and the Belle Mead Estate neighborhood to see the old plantation homes from the car.
Grand Ole Opry Area
On another day we parked for free at the Ole Mill, which is a mall, and walked to the Grand Ole Opry for outside pics and checked out the gift shop. Sometimes just seeing the outside of something is all you need. From there we walked to the Grand Ole Opry Hotel and toured each segment of the hotel. Very beautiful conservatories and new water park.
Franklin and Leiper’s Fork
In the Franklin area, we visited “The Factory” which is a historic shopping building and an old farm called The Park at Harlinsdale Farm. We watched the kids prepare for a polo competition for the next weekend. We drove to the Franklin old historic downtown and walked the streets, went into the stores and took pics.
We also drove to Leiper’s Fork which is a historic area and took pics of the places and things we enjoyed. We did eat a BBQ sandwich as Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant.
We drove back to Franklin on part of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This parkway starts in Nashville and ends in Natchez, Mississippi and is 444 miles in length.
You can hike all you want because the Smoky Mountains National Park has a free entrance to everyone. All Tennessee State parks are also free. If you want more information on state parks we went to and hikes see my blog on Hiking the southern states.
There are two things we did not do because they were closed. If we would have gone there would have been a cost. Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge and opens in March. Oak Ridge National Lab Tour for the secret city in the 40s was also closed until March. This is one tour my husband wished we could have gone on since he loves history and engineering.
When you drive into Knoxville, head to the visitor center downtown. You can park for free in the evenings and weekends or only pay around $1 for parking other times. They have a free trolly/bus you can take around downtown to all of the sections of the city, including the University of Tennessee. You will be able to see the old 1982 World’s Fair site here too.
On our tour of the city we walked part of the area near the old fair site and market square which is a restaurant and shopping area with outdoor seating and a park across the street. We took the bus/trolly and then it started to rain. It was nice we didn’t have to walk to see the rest of the downtown and University of Tennessee campus.
Another place to visit free is the LJAMs Nature Center in Knoxville. This has some great hiking near the river and on a lake.
Once again head to the Visitor Center for information. It is trickier to find reduced price parking nearby. Once you find a parking spot you are happy with, in a lot or on the street, you can take the free electric buses around the different parts of town.
We took the bus to the north side of the Tennessee River and walked back to the heart of downtown across the Pedestrian Bridge. On the north side are city parks near the river as well as shops. There is an art museum and an Aquarium downtown but you have to pay to see them. We just enjoyed walking around downtown and near the river getting a feel for the area and enjoying the sunny day.
The area again boasts free state parks and lots of hiking. Signal Mountain and Lookout Mountain are their own communities on top of mountains nearby. There are many spots to hike in these mountains with views. Again, see the hiking blog for the details.
I would also visit one of the Reservoirs nearby to see it or hike. These include Harrison Bay State Park on the Chickamauga Reservoir or Raccoon Mountain which is a major on demand hydro power generation site for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The Chickamauga – Chattanooga National War museum is also free. You can watch a video in the museum and see a large collection of war artifacts and then venture outdoors to view battlefields and monuments.
It was raining a few days in Chattanooga, so we chose to pay around $20 with a coupon to see Ruby’s Falls. If you have never been in a cave it’s worth it. If this is your fourth time in a cave, like me, you may not want to see this attraction and just watch the video. It’s a matter of perspective and priorities.
Chattanooga also has many free concerts and events downtown in the summer. The city has worked to make the area a fun place to vacation in the summer.
That is what you can see for free in Tennessee. If you like the outdoors and the weather is good, you can stay busy for days outside. If not, you will need to pay to see some indoor activities in these cities.
Plan your traveling ahead and stick to your budget or the entrance fees may cost you more than you thought. Enjoy the state as you see it for free or on a budget.
What are things you have done in Tennessee for free? Share in the comments below so others will know.
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