Friday, July 5, 2013

Nashville the perfect summer road trip destination

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

We went to Nashville for Spring Break this year. We took a seven-day road trip that left us wanting to go back — and soon. Since so many people are planning summer vacations, here are some suggestions to help you plan your Nashville vacation.

Nashville is an easy one-day drive, but we broke up the drive going to and from Tennessee. One of the joys of a road trip is the ability to stop and see sights along the way. We spent our first night in Bowling Green, KY with plans to visit Mammoth Cave the next morning. I had fond memories of Mammoth Cave from my childhood road trips to Florida.

It turns out that Mammoth Cave is a big-time tourist attraction now. You really have to plan your trip and buy tickets in advance. It’s hard to walk-up and get tickets if you are on a schedule. We ended up going on the tour at Diamond Caverns, which was a beautiful choice. It’s an easy tour of a truly stunning showcase of nature’s beauty.

After a quick drive, we were in Nashville and ready to tour. We went to several of the city’s top tourist destinations as this was our first trip. Our favorites include:

Belle Meade Plantation is a fun, family destination filled with history and charm. The tour guides are quite knowledgeable and exude Southern charm. We especially liked the race horse history associated with Belle Meade as our girls are horse crazy.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art has the coolest sculpture trail. Our nine-year-old twin daughters rolled their eyes when we said we were going on a sculpture trail, but quickly grabbed the map looking for the art. It was a scavenger hunt for them. I didn’t want to leave the glass bridge. There was something magical about walking on a glass bridge and seeing the gardens through the glass blocks.

The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson was at the top of my must-see list. I am a political junkie so I always want to see these historic places. I have to give The Hermitage staff credit for not trying to backpedal when it came to the slavery issue. The Hermitage is true to what happened during the era without making it the only issue. The grounds and home are stunning. The restoration is full of stories that make the president and his family real people, not just historic figures.

The Grand Ole Opry was the kind of place we figured we had to see because it seemed like you couldn’t leave Nashville without a visit. We didn’t know anyone performing, but we didn’t care. This was the only attraction we planned. We bought tickets about a month before our trip and I’m glad we did. It was a standing room only crowd the night we went in March. What I didn’t realize about the Grand Ole Opry is that it is actually a live radio program. The biggest surprise of the night was how much our girls enjoyed Jesse McReynolds and his band. We don’t listen to a lot of bluegrass music, yet our girls were captivated. At the end of the show I said, “Who was your favorite performer?” Both our girls said, “The old guy on the mandolin. Did you see how fast his hands were moving. Jesse was awesome.”

The next day we were in downtown Nashville at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop when one of our girls started flipping through CDs. She kept looking until she found a Jesse McReynolds CD. She listens to it all the time and even plays it for her friends. I think Jesse created a new bluegrass fan that night.

Nashville was a fun vacation. There are so many more things I could write about from restaurants near Vanderbilt University to the Nashville Farmer’s Market to Music Row. Nashville is a fun family destination for every budget. There are a lot of free things to do to keep a family busy. You can find lots of discounts and coupons on attraction websites and in hotel lobbies.

The Nashville Visitors Bureau has an easy to navigate website to help you with all your planning. Visit http://www.visitmusiccity.com/ for more information.

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