The eternal question for those planning a trip to Tennessee: Memphis or Nashville? Which one to visit?

Both cities are jewels in the Volunteer State’s crown, brimming with fun things to do, places to go, and people to meet, but if you only have time for one, it can be hard to pick.

I’ve been to and loved both, so here’s a little information on the difference between Memphis and Nashville to help inform your choice.

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Memphis or Nashville? How To Pick:

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

The first thing you need to do when planning a Tennessee vacation is decide what “genre” your trip will be. Are you going on a buisness trip and looking for fun things to do on the side? A girls trip? A family vacation?

Within those genres, figure out what kinds of things your group is interested in. Boozy brunches? Museum crawls?

Then you’re ready to learn more about each city.

Memphis: Country Foundations and Civil Rights History

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

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Memphis is a place for history lovers. Whether that’s civil rights history or the foundations of country music is up to you.

Highlights in Memphis include the following things:

  • Graceland 

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

The famous estate of the late and great Elvis Presley, now expanded into a small museum compound with exhibits exploring his life, his celebrity, and his impact on country music and the “rock ‘n’ roll” generation. When I went, there were women in their 50s and 60s who were at fangirl level 100000 and were literally wearing blue suede shoes.

It’s probably what I’ll be like when I visit Harry Styles’ house museum when I’m their age. Graceland is also a gateway to a cluster of other museums and recording studios in the city of Memphis that offer glimpses into how country music got rollin’.

  • National Civil Rights Museum

the national civil rights museum loraine motel mlk

The most poignant and thoughtful museum I’ve ever been to. It took me a good three hours to progress through the exhibits and I could’ve easily spent more time there.

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It lays out the journey of African Americans from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to #BlackLivesMatter and should be required viewing for all Americans, especially now. If you choose Memphis in the Memphis or Nashville debate, please, make every effort to visit.

  • Redneck Heaven at the Bass Pro Pyramid 

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

Y’all. Even as a native Texan, I was blown away by the southernness of the Bass Pro Pyramid in Memphis.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what it means to be a good ‘ole country boy who loves huntin’, fishin’, and lovin’ everyday, you gotta take it in. When I say that Memphis offers a glimpse into the foundations of “country,” I definitly don’t mean just the music.

Nashville: Concert Crawls and Modern Music

Nashville is for country music aficionados and people who love to party. It is Nashvegas after all.

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Highlights in Nashville include the following things:

  • Grand Ole’ Opry / Ryman Auditorium 

things to do in nashville with kids opry stage

The Show that Made Country Music Famous! Country lovers should jump at the chance to attend a show (or take a tour!) of this iconic southern stage. All the greats have graced it, including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and even Elvis himself. The show’s original home, the Ryman Auditorium, is also still operational for tours and shows.

If you visit Nashville during the winter, the Opry even does a stint there each year during this time, which is sure to be a treat.

  • Broadway

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

Many people visit Nashville because they like to party. For those who live in NYC, Boston, and even Chicago, Vegas can be too long of a flight for a quick weekend trip, so Nashville is the sweet spot for a good time.

In the Memphis or Nashville debate, when it comes to nightlife, the match up is between Beale Street in Memphis and Broadway in Nashville, and because of it’s authenticity, Nashville comes out on top for people looking to live it up.

Final Thoughts: Memphis or Nashville

things to do in nashville with kids park

Both cities are easy to get to. Both cities are fun. Both cities have infinite things to do.

You honestly can’t go wrong. It just depends on what you are looking for.

If you’re looking to catch the concert of a lifetime and hit the town with your girls, then Nashville is the right choice for you. If you prefer a look into the history of country music and the American South, head to Memphis.

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Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

 

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Looking for things to do in Nashville with kids?

Music City can be very drinking and dancing oriented, so if you are looking for a more family-friendly (or sober!) day in Tennessee’s Capital, here’s what you can do:

3 Things To Do in Nashville with Kids

things to do in nashville with kids squad

My students and I at the Parthenon in Nashville. We’re starting a girl band.

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Take a Tour of the Grand Ole Opry

things to do in nashville with kids opry tour

The Grand Ole’ Opry, the show that made country famous! Even if you aren’t a big country music fan, it’s one of the top things to do in Nashville with kids, even if you are just passing through, because of the immense cultural mark it’s left on the city.

The Opry is also the place to work for those looking to break into the country music scene. Think about it: does your day job give you access to your creative industry’s greats?

Be sure to share a smile with everyone: the ticket sellers, the tour guides, and even the security guards, because you never know, you might be singing along to their music soon.

things to do in nashville with kids opry stage

The security guard who checked my purse had the smoothest, radio-perfect DJ voice I’ve ever heard. Turns out, he spins for a local station at night! Dierks Bentley also used to work on the grounds, but got kicked out for crashing too many parties! He got the last laugh though, when he was inducted into the Opry in 2005.

Your best bet is to take the daytime tour, which begins with a video introduction from Opry-member and hitmaker Blake Shelton. The video started when I was still around the corner, so I definitly felt disappointed when I saw that it wasn’t really him.

things to do in nashville with kids opry dressing room

One of the dressing rooms at the Opry.

Our tour lasted just under an hour and took us through the ornate dressing rooms, the loading docks, recording studios, and even onto the stage itself. As we walked around the corner and out onto the Famous Ryman Circle, I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to imagine what it would be like as an artist experiencing this hallowed stage for the very first time.

I teared up as I stood where Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis, and even Carrie Underwood have performed…and I can’t even sing! I imagine it to be an even more special experience for aspiring musicians.

things to do in nashville with kids opry stage

Singing in the famous circle.

Essential Info:

  • You can reserve tours up four weeks in advance. Book ASAP as they tend to sell out — especially during the summer.
  • The website for Grand Ole Opry Tour Reservations is here.
  • Tickets are $27 for 12+ and $22 for 4-11. Children under 4 are free.

Explore the Parthenon and Centennial Park

Can’t make it to Greece? No problem! Nashville has a full-size model of the Parthenon. Having been to both, I can confidently say that the one in Nashville is actually quite a bit cooler because it’s not in ruins.

things to do in nashville with kids park

While the Parthenon in Athens is cool because it’s where the history actually happened, the Parthenon in Nashville is one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids because it allows you to step into history and really get an idea of just how amazing the original was in all of its glory.

In addition to all the splendor of the Greek temple, the Parthenon in Nashville offers visitors a look into the history of Nashville and the 1897 Centennial Exposition for which it was constructed. The building also serves as Nashville’s art museum.

things to do in nashville with kids the pharmacy

After you visit, be sure to wander around Centennial Park, as there’s great landscaping and places to sit and relax. You also never know who you might meet! My group ran into WWII vet. When one of my students noticed the man’s Air Force cap and thanked him for his service, he told us the riveting story of how he cheated death.

He had been working around the clock training pilots on an aircraft carrier and was essentially a dead man walking due to exhaustion. His commander broke protocol and had mercy on him, sending him to rest instead of fly the next drill. The plane he would have been on was shot down. He was so emotional when he told the story that I cried, my student cried, and pretty much everyone standing in the lobby of the Parthenon cried.

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Essential Info:

  • Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 9AM to 4:30PM, Sunday, 12:30PM to 4:30PM, Closed Monday.
  • Tickets are $4 for 4 – 17 & 62+ and $6 for 18-61. Children under 4 are free.
  • Plan to spend about 60 – 90 minutes exploring the Parthenon and the park.

Relax with an Orange Soda at the Pharmacy

things to do in nashville with kids the pharmacy

I honestly still dream about the orange soda I got at the Pharmacy. It was like drinking a creamsicle cloud.

If you want to grab a tasty burger, sausage, or sandwich at a cute shop with a fun outdoor eating area, don’t miss the Pharmacy while you’re in Nashville!

Essential Info:

  • Located at 731 McFerrin Avenue Nashville, Tennessee 37206
  • Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11AM to 10PM and Friday through Saturday, 11AM to 11PM.

Bonus: Spend the Day Volunteering

Volunteering in Nashville Habitat for Humanity

Some of my team at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville.

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The reason for my trip to Nashville was on a week-long service trip with some teenagers from my church. We spent a week pouring love and acts of service into the city of Nashville.

Although Nashville is a fun, upbeat place, there are still overwhelming amounts of unmeet needs throughout the city. Volunteering as a family is great one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids because it’s a way to make a small impact in the lives of Nashville’s vulnerable populations as well as your own.

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Interested in Volunteering in Nashville? Music City is a great place to give back.

I spent a week in Nashville partnering with local organizations that serve the city’s vulnerable populations, which showed me that there are a lot of unmet needs in Nashville.

Working with folks on the ground who have volunteer “shift work” ready to go is an ethical and easy way to help out. They know what the needs are, but just need some extra pairs of hands — yours!

So, whether you’re just in town for the music or you’re ready to call it your home, here are three places that you can make a big impact!

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Nashville Rescue Mission

Volunteering in Nashville Nashville Rescue Mission

Some of my students making kool aid before we served lunch to the Mission’s clients.

Nashville Rescue Mission is one of the best places to do volunteering in Nashville simply because the scope of its impact. Its plan is to bring hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity to the people of Nashville.

You can partner with the mission to provide a hot meal, clothing, and place to rest to Nashville residents, as well as invest in their brighter future.

The Mission says that, “we assess each individual’s situation and develop a plan specifically for them that will take them out of the situation they are now in and help them make plans for a better tomorrow.”

We worked at different organizations around Nashville for the week we were there, and my students literally begged me to assign them to a second shift at Nashville Rescue Mission. It’s a great place!

Women’s Campus

1716 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37208

Men’s Campus

639 Lafayette Street, Nashville, TN 37203

  • Notes:

The minimum volunteer age is 10 years old. Volunteers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

To sign up for a shift, please click here. If you plan to bring a big group, you should email or call first. Here’s the info: volunteer@nashvillerescuemission.org | 615-312-1544

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Second Harvest Food Bank Middle Tennessee

Volunteering in Nashville Second Harvest Food Bank

The team at the food bank knows how to get things done! Instructions were very clear, so my team ran like a well-oiled machine after only 5 minutes of instructions.

Donating food, and assessing and sorting previous donations is a highly effective way of volunteering in Nashville. You can make a huge impact to stamp out hunger in Middle Tennessee in only a few hours.

There is always a need for more hands on deck, so you can look through the volunteering opportunities on the calendar here.

  • Notes:

Be sure to bring a jacket in case you are assigned to work in the 40-degree cooler.

You’ll need to create a Volunteer Hub account to register for your first shift.

The minimum age for volunteers is 12, except for Family Night on Thursday when the minimum age is 6. Volunteers under age 18 must have a youth volunteer waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian.

Habitat of Humanity of Greater Nashville

Volunteering in Nashville Habitat for Humanity

My team helped set up the “Restore” for its grand re-opening. We built the shelves you see behind us — rows and rows of them! I’ve never felt more handy.

There are so many opportunities to serve with Habitat for Humanity, so it’s one of the best places to go if you are interested in volunteering in Nashville.

If you live in the area and are confident with tools, registering here to help with a potential build is a great way to get involved. Habitat teams build 32-50 houses a year in Davidson, Wilson, Dickson, and Cheatham counties.

If you will be in Nashville for a short trip, or don’t feel comfortable on a construction site, then you can register to help in the “Restore” with opportunities to help customers, stock shelves, and sort donations Monday through Saturday, from 9AM – 5:30pM.

When I was there, the Restore had just moved into its awesome new location. My team and I had the opportunity to help set up and merchandise it. Over our three day stay, we were really able to see the impact every little bit of help makes, as the store went from an empty warehouse to a real store!

Sign up here!

  • Notes:

Restore Address 

414 Harding Place
Suite 110
Nashville, TN 37211

Three Tips for Volunteering in Nashville

Tattoos in nashville

The manager of the Restore honestly had the coolest tattoos known to man. And let us listen to classic rock while we worked! Win win.

  • Dress to work!

You should always wear closed-toed, sensible shoes when volunteering in Nashville (or anywhere!). The places I partnered with during my visit would not allow you to work if you were not dressed appropriately, due to safety concerns.

It’s also a good idea to bring a hat and jacket in case you need to work outside or keep your hair out of you face.

  • Be early. 

I can’t stress this enough. Even if you are giving your time for free to an organization, the work you came to do still deserves your respect. Show up 15 minutes early, ready to work and listen to instructions.

  • Publicize it! 

Did you have a great time partnering with your organization? Do you really believe in its mission and wish others knew about it, too? An easy way to get the word out is to post a quick video on your Instagram stories (during your break!) letting your followers know where you are and how to get involved, or run a fundraiser on your Facebook once you get home.

Both are easy, high-impact ways to spread the word. Just make sure that the work is the focus, not you!

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Volunteering in Nashville

 

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