If you’re planning a trip to Nashville, TN, you probably already have a jam-packed itinerary full of the best restaurants, bars, attractions, and nightlife in Nashville. However, if you’re looking for a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, Centennial Park is the perfect destination! 

Centennial Park is one of the premier parks in Nashville and features a lake, walking trails, gardens, a dog park, and even a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Needless to say, there are plenty of things to do in Centennial Park Nashville to keep you busy for an entire day! 

Follow this list of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville to ensure you see all the best this beautiful 132-acre park offers visitors and locals alike! 

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History of Centennial Park Nashville 

Before it was a park, Centennial Park was a farm owned by John & Anne Robertson Cockrill, the brother-in-law and sister of James Robertson, one of the “Fathers of Middle Tennessee.” She acquired the property in 1783 after defending Fort Nashborough during an attack, even while still wounded. Her actions saved several families living in the new settlement. 

After the Civil War, Centennial Park became the fairground for the Tennessee State Fair, and from 1884 to 1895, it was a racetrack known as West Side Park. The park earned its name, “Centennial Park,” in 1897 to honor the 100th anniversary of the state of Tennessee. When the exhibition ended, most of the buildings were demolished, but the Parthenon, Lake Watauga, and grassy area remained. After the Park Board purchased the land in 1902, Centennial Park opened in 1903 as Nashville’s first public park, complete with a swimming pool, flower gardens, and art exhibits inside the Parthenon. 

There have been several improvements made to Centennial Park through the years. Some of the most notable include the addition of the park’s first community center in 1916, the bridge between the Sunken Gardens and Lake Watauga in 1906, and the reconstruction of The Parthenon from 1921 to 1931. When the swimming pool was closed in the 1960s, it became the arts center, which is still operating today! 

The Parthenon Replica is one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville, sitting behind a tree and a lake.

Best Things to Do in Centennial Park Nashville 

There are tons of fun things to do in Centennial Park Nashville. Here are just a few recreational activities, natural landscapes, and cultural experiences you can enjoy at Centennial Park, Nashville. 

1. The Parthenon 

The Parthenon is one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville, and it’s likely the attraction that will draw you here in the first place! This full-scale replica of the original temple built on the Acropolis of Athens between 447 – 448 B.C was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. When threatened with demolition in 1931, the building was restored for one million dollars, and since then, it has remained the centerpiece of Centennial Park. Nashville is referred to as the “Athens of the South” because of the Parthenon.

While the Parthenon is impressive enough from the outside, it’s even more attractive on the inside! Operated by the Nashville Parks System, the Parthenon serves as the city’s art museum. It features permanent and temporary exhibits, including the plaster replicas of the Parthenon Marbles (the originals are housed in the British Museum in London) and the Cowan Collection. In fact, exploring The Parthenon is one of the best things to do in Nashville with teens who enjoy art and history!

However, the most exciting thing to see inside the Parthenon is the massive 42-foot statue of the Greek goddess, Athena, covered in gold leaf. The statue was completed by local sculptor Alan LeQuire, after eight years of work in 1990 and also features Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Medusa, and Nike. Athena is the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western Hemisphere! 

The Parthenon is open from Monday to Thursday from 9 AM – 7 PM, Friday to Saturday from 9 AM to 4:30 PM, and Sunday from 12:30 PM – 4:30 PM. Tickets for adults are $10, tickets for seniors and children (4–17) are $8, and children under four are free. 

A woman wearing cowboy boots, white shorts, and a blue tank top standing in front of The Parthenon in Centennial Park Nashville

2. Historical Monuments 

History buffs—this one is for you! Scouting out all the historical monuments and memorials is one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville. 

You can find tons of historical monuments and wartime memorabilia while walking around Centennial Park, including a portion of the prow from the USS Tennessee (a ship that fought in the Spanish-American War), displays of a historic steam locomotive, cannons from the Civil War, and an Air Force fighter jet from the Korean War.  

In addition to the Athena statue inside the Parthenon, there are other notable statues in Centennial Park. You can see the James Robertson Nashville Founder Statue, John W. Thomas Statue, and Centennial Park World War I Monument in the park, to name a few. 

3. Lake Watauga 

Lake Watauga, like the Parthenon, was created for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. Named after the first settlers of Tennessee known as the “Watauga” or “Cumberland” settlers, this lake features native gondoliers from Venice, Italy, during the Centennial Exposition! 

Today, you won’t find any gondolas in Lake Watauga, but you will find ducks, geese, fish, and a picture-perfect view of the Parthenon when you walk, bike, or run around the one-mile multipurpose trail around the lake. There is also an island in the center of the lake filled with beehives, and the bees help pollinate the plants and flowers in Centennial Park. You can purchase honey from the bees at the gift shop in the Parthenon! 

Colorful pink flowers, trees, and blue water from the lake in Centennial Park Nashville

4. Centennial Dog Park 

Your furry friends will love spending time with you at Centennial Park, especially if you take them to the Centennial Dog Park! 

Located on the southwest corner of the park, past the volleyball courts and Centennial Park Event Center Pavillion, Centennial Dog Park features two gated sections for small and big dogs, grassy areas, and benches. The dog park is open daily from 6 AM to 8 PM. 

5. Sunken Garden 

Taking a leisurely stroll around the Sunken Garden is one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville for nature lovers and flower enthusiasts. 

Centennial Park’s Sunken Garden is a small yet beautifully maintained space. From 1922 to 1949, the garden was a Japanese Water Garden, filled with aquatic plants, called Lilly Lake (hence why it’s “sunken”). Now, you’ll find the garden bursting with flowers, plants, bees, and butterflies, especially during the warm spring and summer months! 

A monarch butterfly sitting on a purple flower and green leaves in Centennial Park Nashville

6. Centennial Art Center 

The Centennial Art Center (CAC) is one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville. This historic building was initially built as a swimming complex in 1932 but was renovated and reopened in 1971. 

Now, the Centennial Art Center is open to the public from 9 AM – 5 PM on Monday through Thursday. At the CAC, you can walk through the art gallery or attend fun classes and workshops where you can learn painting, pottery, and other types of artistry!  

7. Musicians Corner 

If you’re visiting Centennial Pak in May, June, or September, you must visit Musicians Corner, where you can listen to well-known artists, like Emmylou Harris, Chris Stapleton, and Vince Gill, as well as up-and-coming artists, perform for free!

8. Centennial Park Bandshell 

Built in 1928 and rebuilt in 1963, the Centennial Park Bandshell has hosted various concerts throughout the years, including the Nashville Symphony and performances by Bruce Springsteen, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Jimmy Buffet, and more.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival also takes place at the Centennial Park Bandshell. These shows are one of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville, so if there is one happening during your trip to Nashville, be sure to grab a ticket!

More Fun Things to Do in Centennial Park Nashville 

There are many more fun things to do in Centennial Park Nashville! You can attend the “Big Band Dances” and other fun events at the Events Shelter, watch your kids play on the Playground, attend a theater, music, or dance program at the Centennial Performing Arts Studio, play tennis, swim, or even go ice skating at the Sportsplex, or play sand volleyball at the Volleyball Courts. 

Couples, families, or friends can also enjoy a picnic on the Great Lawn or rent out The Pavillion for a large gathering. Centennial Park is also home to fun events, like the Earth Day Celebration and Tennessee Craft Fair, throughout the year. 

If you’re only visiting Nashville for a short time, you can also take a Nashville Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour throughout the city to see Centennial Park and other famous attractions, like Broadway Street, the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and more.

Best Things to Do Near Centennial Park Nashville 

Although there are plenty of things to do in Centennial Park Nashville to keep you busy all day, there are tons of other fun things to do near Centennial Park you can check out before or after a day at the park! 

Vanderbilt University 

  • Distance from Centennial Park: 0.4 miles 

Vanderbilt University is a beautiful campus worth walking around if you have some spare time after enjoying these fun things to do in Centennial Park Nashville! They’ve preserved nearly 200 shrubs, trees, and plants on campus, so when you walk on campus, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped into a lush garden! 

You can also see several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places at Vanderbilt University, including the Mechanical Engineering Hall, Old Gymnasium, Peabody College of Education, and other facilities across campus. 

Hillsboro Village 

  • Distance from Centennial Park: 1.2 miles 

Hillsboro Village is an adorable neighborhood with charming boutiques, local restaurants, and other fun attractions. Grab a bite at one of the most fun places to eat in Nashville, like The Pancake Pantry, Biscuit Love, or The Grilled Cheeserie, get an ice cream cone at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams or snap a photo in front of the “Drippy Lips” or “Hillsboro Village” murals. 

Music Row 

  • Distance from Centennial Park: 1.1 miles 

Want to see where some of the top names in country music produce their albums? Head down to Music Row, where you’ll see well-known record labels, like Omnisound Studios, Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studios, and The Parlor Studio, where Taylor Swift, Faith Hill, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, and others have recorded music.

Or, consider taking this Nashville: RCA Studio B & Country Music Hall of Fame Combo Tour to go behind the scenes at one of the most famous recording studios in the history of country music, followed by admission into the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum!

12 South Nashville 

  • Distance from Centennial Park: 2.5 miles 

12 South Nashville is another cute neighborhood in Nashville, TN, just a short distance from Centennial Park. Here, you’ll find tons of quaint boutiques, fabulous restaurants, including Bartaco, Frothy Monkey, and Five Daughters Bakery, and some of the best murals in Nashville, including the “I Believe in Nashville,” “Looking Pretty, Music City,” and “Flowers” murals. 

Centennial Park Hours & Directions 

Though the attractions’ hours may vary, Centennial Park is open from 6 AM to 8 PM. Admission to the park is free, and the entrance is at 2598 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203. The park offers free parking and public restrooms.

Remember to bring plenty of water, especially if you’re visiting during the hot, humid summer months. Spring and fall tend to be the best times to visit, and if you’re visiting during winter, remember there won’t be as many activities available, especially in cold, snowy weather. 

Where to Stay Near Centennial Park Nashville 

Looking for a beautiful place to stay that’s within a few miles of all the fun things to do in Centennial Park Nashville? Check out these top-rated hotels: 

  • Union Station Nashville Yards, Autograph Collection—Located in a restored train station, Union Station Nashville Yards is a gorgeous luxury hotel with a fitness center, terrace, on-site dining at Carter’s Bar and Restaurant, and a stunning lobby with charming historic appeal. This hotel is ideal for couples searching for a romantic getaway!
  • Graduate Nashville—Graduate Nashville is right down the street from Centennial Park and features a hip coffee shop, Poindexter Coffee, in the lobby, and a popular rooftop pool and bar, White Limozeen. The rooms are also chic with adorable designs. This is the perfect hotel for a girls’ trip or bachlorette party!
  • Kimpton Aerston Hotel—Kimpton Aerston Hotel is also a short drive away from Centennial Park and features an upscale rooftop pool and bar, terrace dining, spa, fitness room, and brasserie called The Henley. This upscale hotel is perfect for any traveler!

FAQ: Centennial Park Nashville

Is there free parking at Centennial Park Nashville?

Yes, there is free parking at Centennial Park Nashville. Most of the free parking spots in Centennial Park are untimed, but there are some free, timed parking spots with a three-hour limit near the major gates in Centennial Park. 

Can you picnic at Centennial Park Nashville?

Yes, you can picnic at Centennial Park Nashville, and in the spring or fall, it’s a great place to enjoy a meal with family or friends! You can use the designated “picnic area” with a small barbecue grill, sink, serving table, and eight picnic tables on the east side of Centennial Park or spread out a large blanket on the Great Lawn. 

What statues are in Centennial Park, Nashville? 

Centennial Park, Nashville, has several statues on display, but the most notable statue is the re-creation of the 42-foot statue of Athena (the Greek goddess) inside the Parthenon. The building and statue are both full-scale replicas of the originals, and the Athena statue is the largest indoor statue in the Western Hemisphere!

Enjoy a Relaxing Day with These Fun Things to Do in Centennial Park Nashville, TN 

Does Centennial Park sound like somewhere you’d want to spend a day? 

Whether you’d like to check out the historical statues, stroll around the lake, or enjoy a picnic with friends before attending a concert, there is no doubt this list of the best things to do in Centennial Park Nashville, offers something for everyone! 

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Brit! I'm a writer from Phoenix, AZ who loves coffee, golden retriever puppies, and obviously, travel! I help ordinary women (like me!) dream, plan, and do extraordinary travel experiences.