Despite its proximity to Nashville, Franklin has managed to stay chic and discreet. You’d never know this small city oozing with down-home, Southern charm is home to a multitude of celebrities, and that’s just the way they like it. Lush vineyards, live music and an iconic Americana Main Street make Franklin a welcome respite from the hustle of nearby Nashville. Not sure where to start? Here’s a game plan for what to do in Franklin TN.
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How far is Franklin from Nashville?
First up, most folks want to know how far is Franklin from Nashville. Not far at all! From Nashville International Airport, you can reach Franklin in half an hour. Nashville is a city with a lot of spread, but from downtown to downtown you’d be looking at a 25 to 40 minute drive, depending on the time of day.
While Franklin is considered part of the greater Nashville area, it’s outside the city limits. It’s its own municipality with a population of approximately 88,000. If you live in state, Franklin is a fantastic weekend getaway in Tennessee, but it’s also worth flying into (as I did).
What to do in Franklin TN
There’s loads to do in Franklin TN, from exploring its charming, historic downtown to stepping back in time at Civil War sites to sampling some good ole Tennessee whisky at local distilleries. If you’re into live music, what you want to do first in Franklin is swing by the Franklin Theatre to see who’s playing.
This venue apparently has a lighting and sound system just as grand as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. In fact, when they’re not performing at the Opry, you’ll often find big deal artists headlining this 300-seat facility, which morphs into a movie theatre on non-performance nights.
Additionally, there’s live music every night of the week in the downtown core – that’s 30 spots over 16 square blocks. Music on every corner may not sound so impressive, but we’re talking extremely talented musicians. Grammy Award winners play regularly at Puckett’s and the Franklin Theatre.
If you’re into open mic, hit up Kimbro’s Pickin Parlor, a live music venue inside a residential house, a few blocks off downtown. Or, head to Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork (more on that below) on Thursdays. For comedy open mic, swing by The Whisky Room in Cool Springs.
If you’re an early riser or budding photographer, an easy thing to do in Franklin TN, is witness the incredible sunrise viewed from the Natchez Trace Parkway Arches. This double arched bridge is situated about a 15-minute drive from downtown.
What you don’t want to avoid is visiting a distillery. I’m not a huge whisky fan, but you can’t deny one of the obligatory things to do in Tennessee is sip some whisky, now can you?
It’s easy to miss Company Distilling (formerly H Clark Distillery), a shack-like building a 20-minute drive out of Franklin at Thompson Station. But it’s well worth visiting for a tasting. It’s the first legal distillery to open since prohibition. I ended up crushing hard on the coriander and citrus notes in their dry gin. Tip: Download the whisky trail app before heading out.
Arrington Vineyards is another site you won’t want to miss. This drop dead gorgeous winery sports two different music venues (I told you they were crazy about live music here!) and a sweeping hillside picnic area. On weekends you can Frosé All Day, but anytime, there are tours and tastings to tuck into.
Kids activities Franklin TN
What’s great about this town, is that you won’t have to shell out a ton of cash for kids activities in Franklin TN! It’s the kind of family-friendly spot where First Bank (at the intersection of West Main, 5th Ave, and Columbia Ave) noticed kids playing in their fountain. So they added a schwack of rubber duckies to make it even more fun for them. Adorable, right?!
Also in downtown Franklin, you’ll want to stop by the wonderful children’s room at Landmark Booksellers where cozy wingback chairs lure little readers.
A lovely playground can be found at Pinkerton Park and the Saturday Farmer’s Market at The Factory is another wallet-friendly activity.
Burn off energy at Monkey’s Treehouse, an indoor playground for ages up to 8-years. What’s great about this facility (besides exploring the multi-room tree house) is that you can drop off children 18-months and older. Get your shop on solo or take advantage of their co-working space.
For the older set, hit up Soar Adventure, where 110 different climbing elements can be tackled on 4 levels, plus there’s mini golf.
Franklin TN Tours
Some of the biggest attractions in Franklin are centred around the Civil War. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll want to take one of the Franklin TN tours available from either Carnton, Carter or Lotz House.
The Battle of Franklin took place directly behind Carter House, which is now part of downtown Franklin. On the morning of November 30, 1864 (5 months away from end of the Civil War) soldiers took possession of the house so it could be used as headquarters for a Union General. The battle raged around the house, which still stands today. House tours are offered throughout the day – though not on a pre-set schedule.
Carnton is a historic house that became a Confederate Field Hospital during the Battle of Franklin. Built in 1825, by a Nashville mayor, it’s your quintessential plantation with a columned entry and yes, slave’s quarters (you can explore).
During house tours, you’ll learn about the families who occupied this mansion, what life was like for their slaves and of course, how the Battle of Franklin forever changed this property.
Basically, 15 minutes after the battle started, 300 men were inside Carnton. The battle was less than 5 hours long, and said to be the bloodiest of the Civil War, with 9,500 soldiers either killed wounded, captured or missing – 7,000 of those where Confederate.
Steps away from the house lies McGavock Confederate Cemetery, where nearly 1,500 soldiers are buried. It’s an sobering site, one of the few places in the world I’ve visited where it’s not hard to hear whispers beyond the grave.
Lotz House is another atmospheric Civil War site found downtown. The house was the epicentre of the battle, yet miraculously survived. From blood stained floors to bullet holes, battle scars are still evident at this museum. Head here for civil war tours in addition to candlelight and ghosts tours.
Now if whisky is what you’re after, one of the most comprehensive whisky tours can be found at Leiper’s Fork Distillery. Locally grown corn, rye, wheat and malted barley emit a heavenly scent as you wander through the facility learning about the art of small batch distillation, before finishing off in the tasting room.
Boutiques in Franklin TN
If you’re a shopper, you’re going to love the many boutiques in Franklin TN. Begin your quest on Main Street in the historic downtown district. Here, you’ll find everything from gift shops to home decor to clothing.
The boutique I went back to again and again was Savory Spice Shop. Stocked with over 400 spices, it’s one olfactory delight. You’re encourage to sniff and taste the samples. Whatever you don’t like, you simply drop in the floor! Pick up some Nashville hot fried chicken spice or Smoky Mountain Sprinkle, as I did.
Gift shops and home decor
Tin Cottage is an adorable gift shop I spent far too much time in. One of the staff told me Reese Witherspoon’s mom was in just before me!
Magpies Girl is a heaven for tween girls, as is Rock Paper Scissors with its balloon bar (awesome IG backdrop) and pink champagne lollies.
Personally curated by Holly Williams (daughter of country crooner Hank Williams), White’s Mercantile sells everything you need to live a fabulous life of Southern persuasion. This modern day mercantile is overflowing with Southern charm and covetable goods ranging from Delta cheese straws to GOOP products to local jewelry and preserves.
Next door, you can view China patterns picked out by reputable Southern women in the window at The Registry. Head inside for inspired home decor items.
For fashion trends with a capital T, hit up Jondie or Citizen, a hipster sneaker store by Christian hip hop artist, TobyMac.
Of note is the independent bookstore Landmark Booksellers. Situated in one of the oldest buildings in town, stepping inside is an atmospheric experience with over 1,000 signed titles on display from Twain to Hemingway to Churchill.
If you’re really into shopping though, you need to do a day trip to Leiper’s Fork, a 15-minute drive from downtown. I doubt you’ll find a more quintessentially country village anywhere in the vicinity, plus the boutiques here are off the rails.
Begin at David Arms Gallery, where discerning gentlemen snap up handcrafted bow ties and artisan tobacco pipes.
Tennessee Turquoise has stunning jewelry – either personally owned or curated by Chris Stapleton’s wife. If you’re looking for some killer country chic, Moo Country is as glam as it gets. Lavender tulle chaps, anyone?
Downtown Franklin restaurants
Pretty much all the best downtown Franklin restaurants can be found either directly on Main Street, or steps from it. Franklin has a wide selection of culinary options, but if you only have a few days to explore, you’ll want to hit up these downtown restaurants, cafes and bars.
Gray’s on Main
Historic prescriptions line the walls of Gray’s on Main, a former pharmacy, now one of Franklin’s best restaurants. Nattily dressed wait staff serve up inventive cocktails, whipped up behind a prohibition-style brandy bar.
I’m told any proper Southerner is judged by their pimento cheese and Gray’s fried pimento cheese balls are as beautiful as Nicole Kidman (who lives just outside of Franklin, but I doubt regularly indulges in deep fried cheese).
Gray’s fried chicken with hot honey drizzle is divine, as is the smoked potato salad. Shrimp on gouda grits with a side of collard greens is another drool-worthy option.
Just off Main Street, Cork and Cow, is an elevated steakhouse that grills over hickory and oak wood. It’s also a choice spot for cocktails. It was here I had one of the best margaritas of my life, and they have an enviable whisky selection.
And if whiskey is what you’re after, also check out O’Be Joyful. With over 200 varieties, they sport the largest whisky selection in town.
For a sweet ending to any meal, grab a cone at Kilwins, an old fashioned ice cream parlour and confectionary shop on Main Street. P.S. Miley Cyrus has been spotted here!!
Meat & 3
Outside the historic downtown, but worth the 10-minute drive to Cool Springs, is Bishop’s: Meat & Three Restaurant. This is another sublime spot to get plump and juicy fried chicken.
Counter service typically includes a choice of 4 different meats and a variety of sides from mac n’ cheese to turnip greens to carrot soufflé topped with marshmallow (so good!). Traditional Southern desserts like chess pie and banana pudding are worth the calories, trust.
Hotels downtown Franklin
There’s hardly any hotels in downtown Franklin. THE one you need to know about is The Harpeth, a luxe boutique hotel that opened in December 2019. The pet-friendly property has a lovely terrace, plus a swish lounge and restaurant that dishes out elevated Southern classics.
This post was created in partnership with Visit Franklin. As always, hosts don’t review editorial prior to publication.