Sitting on the Cumberland River and surrounded by rolling green hills, it's no wonder that Nashville is a city full of parks. From historical spaces like Centennial Park – which was created out of a former plantation after the Civil War – to recently renovated green spaces like Riverfront Park, Music City is full of places to play. There are miles on miles of hiking trails, picnicking spots, amphitheaters, and even a serpentine dragon with mosaic scales.
Here's a look at some of the best parks in Nashville.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel and opening hours may vary. Check the latest guidance before planning a trip, and always follow local health advice.
1. Centennial Park
An easy 1-mile trail loops around a lake in this lovely 132-acre park, with the Parthenon anchoring the western horizon. Vast lawns beg for picnics while noisy ducks beg for bread crumbs. The sunken gardens are particularly photogenic in spring. After a stint as a racetrack in the late 1800s, the land here was selected as the sight for the 1897 Centennial Exposition.
2. Fannie Mae Dees Park
A colorful dragon sculpture lurks in the heart of this busy park, luring hordes of small children eager to scramble over its serpentine back. There's also a playground and picnic pavilion. Near Vanderbilt University, this inviting Midtown oasis is a great place to bring your hammock, your lunch and definitely your kids.
3. Cumberland Park
This 6.5-acre park hugs the Cumberland River's eastern bank across from downtown. For kids, there's a climbing wall and an innovative washboard play area. In summer, splash around in the 'sprayground.' For artistic distraction, admire Alice Aycock's graceful Ghost Ballet sculpture or see what's on tap in the amphitheater. The park's 3.5-mile East Bank Greenway rolls north along the river.
Top tip? Save money on downtown parking by using the lot for this park. It's usually free unless there's a scheduled event. Stroll over the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to downtown.
4. Bicentennial Capitol Mall
Downtown Nashville's 19-acre green lung swoops grandly north from the Tennessee State Capitol, giving unparalleled (and much televised) views of its white antebellum columns. It's a fine place for a stroll, especially on a Saturday when the Nashville Farmers Market is in full swing nearby. The park also hosts events, such as the city's New Year's Eve celebration.
Constructed in 1996 to commemorate Tennessee's 200th birthday, the park is decorated with various lessons in the state's history and attractions. Plot a route on the 200ft granite map of Tennessee, complete with rivers, roads and county lines, at the park's southern end, or read about the state's past along the Pathway of History. The centerpiece of the park is the 2000-seat Tennessee Amphitheater.
5. Warner Parks
Opened in 1927 and named after two local park commissioners, Percy (the larger) and Edwin (the smaller) Warner Parks are where Nashvillians come to enjoy the great outdoors. Percy makes a grander first impression, with an impressive flight of steps at the main, northern entrance leading up to trailheads and bike paths. But both have hikes and horse routes over wooded hills that draw visitors here.
Great for kids, the Warner Park Nature Center has educational programs and information about the natural history of the parks. There is also a nature playground and the trails are easy and fun for families. In spring you can hunt for tadpoles in the stream, but watch for falling horse chestnuts in the fall.
6. Bells Bend
This bucolic park sits within a bend in the Cumberland River. Fifteen miles west of downtown, the 808-acre park has a tranquil beauty well suited to those seeking solitude and wildlife. The park is also home to an outdoor center that schedules bird walks, night hikes and kid-friendly nature classes. More than 6 miles of trails, including a 2.3-mile loop trail, can be accessed from the outdoor center. Leashed dogs are permitted.
7. Riverfront Park
This narrow park sits between downtown and the Cumberland River. Take your pooch for a romp in the dog park, have a picnic as you watch the barges from the terraced lawn or catch a show in the new Ascend Amphitheater. Public restrooms are available. Fort Nashborough offers an impression of what Nashville originally looked like, and you can launch a boat from the public dock near the train station.
8. Two Rivers Park
For outdoor recreation near Opryland, head to this 374-acre park beside the Cumberland River. Kids can splash around in Wave Country or roll around the skate park. For greener distractions, toss a Frisbee on the disc golf course or rent a B-Cycle and pedal the 10.2-mile Stones River Greenway, which connects to the 6.4-mile Shelby Bottoms Greenway via the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge. The park also has a campground.
9. The Natchez Trace Parkway
A beautiful day trip or extended road trip from Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway runs for 444 miles through three states until reaching its eponymous Mississippi end. Of the many highlights along the way, the Double Arch Bridge near Franklin, the Fall Hollow and Jackson waterfalls and the Tennessee River stand out, and can easily be visited in a day. It's extremely popular with cyclists, who come from surrounding states to ride the miles of truck-free highway. Remember to share the road.
You may also like:
The best neighborhoods in Nashville
The 8 best day trips from Nashville
The best Nashville hotels for every travel style