With rolling green hills, white picket fences surrounding palatial estates, a charming town centre and friendly folks always welcoming a leisurely chat, Franklin, Tennessee is as quintessentially deep south as it gets.
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Despite being home to more than 70-thousand people and located just a 20-minute drive from bustling Nashville, the city has somehow managed to stay off the radar of many tourists which makes a visit here even more special.
Think intimate open mic nights with some of the best talent in Tennessee, good ol’ southern cooking, distilleries, cute shops and wide open spaces as far as the eye can see. Yup, it’s pretty much one of my favourite places on the planet.
Franklin is like a more chilled out, adult version of its neighbour to the north, boasting a happening live music scene without the crowds and Mardi Gras-like party scene that’s overtaken Nashville’s Lower Broadway. It’s also a top spot in the state for celeb spotting, as many of country music’s top artists live around here.
From incredible viewpoints to the best honky tonks and watering holes, here are the coolest things to do in Franklin, TN.
Stay in a recording studio
Prepare to have your mind blown, country music lovers.
Franklin is home to the ultimate fan experience: sleeping in the very same recording studio that country royalty like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban have laid down tracks in.
The GATEHOUSE at Dark Horse Recording Estate is found on a nondescript road just outside the city, on a serene 10-acre hideaway which makes it the perfect spot for artists to hunker down away from the spotlight.
Some bands stay in the rooms right under the studio, while the likes of Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Rob Thomas prefer to stay in a more luxurious spot next door called The Cottage. The grand three-bedroom home is available to the public to rent and includes a gourmet kitchen, sitting room and free reign of the property.
Best of all, guests are allowed to tour the studio provided no one is recording, and get a chance to channel their inner Shania.
Watch live music in Leiper’s Fork
Serving up southern cookin’ and songs for decades, performers come from near and far to wow the friendly, supportive crowd every Thursday during open mic night, and you just never know which famous face might show up on stage.
Get there early to secure a table near the front, and prepare to be wowed by the talent as you tuck into finger-lickin’ good BBQ for the next couple hours.
With each act only allowed to play two songs, you’ll get to see a wide variety of musicians, including some hoping to catch the eye of record label scouts who frequent this joint–the last time I was there I saw music execs rush the stage with business cards after a particularly inspiring guitar solo!
It’s worth wandering up and down the main street before showtime to check out unique spots like the Lawnchair Theater, a family-friendly outdoor venue that hosts live music nights and has hosted the likes of Willie Nelson.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for celebs, as Justin Timberlake’s creative studio is just around the corner, songwriter Holly Williams (daughter of the legendary Hank Williams Jr.) opened a B&B which has welcomed A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow, and stars like Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley call the mega-mansions in the surrounding countryside home.
Just don’t ask the locals to point them out, as they’ve been known to send starstruck tourists on a wild goose chase to protect their famous friends’ privacy!
Enjoy the sunrise from the Natchez Trace Parkway
Photographers will want to wake up bright and early to get to one the most of one of the area’s most scenic spots in time for sunrise: the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The historic 400-mile roadway winds through the states of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, and is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. It’s also a popular bike trail, complete with cyclist-only campgrounds and viewpoints galore.
A gargantuan double-arch bridge marks the parkway’s point near Franklin, and visitors can soak in breathtaking views of Tennessee’s green rolling hills from an observation area below or from on top of the bridge itself.
The best time to visit is at dawn when rose-hued, cotton candy clouds frame the tapestry of the countryside below, and it’s a great inclusion for a Tennessee road trip.
A fun way to explore the parkway is by renting an e-bike from Pedago in downtown Franklin, which offers tours to the area as well as self-guided options to spots like the Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway.
Sip Tennessee whiskey
No visit to Franklin is complete without downing some world-famous Tennessee whiskey, and some of the state’s top distilleries are just a short drive from town along the Masters & Makers Trail.
Start off at Company Distilling at Thompson’s Station (formerly known as H Clark Distillery) which was founded by a lawyer (his legal office is beside the tasting room) who got a bill passed by the state senate allowing his operation to become the first legal distillery in Williamson County since prohibition nearly a century earlier.
Doors officially opened in August 2014, and since then about 40 distilleries have popped up around the state, up from just three previously.
Another notable spot along the Masters & Makers Trail is Leiper’s Fork Distillery, which offers excellent guided tours through their operations area, complete with samples in their cozy, log cabin tasting room looking out toward the gorgeous property.
Leiper’s Fork is also setting up a tasting room in Franklin, just a few doors down from Stable Reserve Spirits. Stable is the first distillery on Main Street since prohibition, serving cocktails made with their own gin, vodka, bourbon and liqueurs the rest of the day.
Try something other than whiskey
If drinking straight whiskey just isn’t your thing, then there are a few other options.
Mill Creek Brewing Co. serves up samples of their hand-crafted beers, and wine lovers will want to drop into Arrington Vineyards which is a 20-minute drive from Franklin, and co-founded by Kix Brooks from the legendary country duo Brooks & Dunn.
Proof that you can’t get too far in this town without some musical connection!
Explore Franklin’s historic downtown
As a key site of the American Civil War (tours are available for history buffs), Franklin has a long history that’s been well preserved in the charming downtown area.
There, vintage movie theatres and century-old buildings blend seamlessly with hip boutiques and eateries, making its main street the perfect place to go for a sunny stroll–especially if you have a four-legged friend with you, as all merchants are pet-friendly.
Folks around here love dropping into White’s Mercantile which coins itself as a “general store for the modern tastemaker” (also owned by Holly Williams who seems to always be on point), and Landmark Booksellers which the bestselling book and movie The Bridge was based on.
Green thumbs will want to stop by the highly-Instagrammable Franklin’s Little Plant Shop (also known as Rooted from Yarrow Acres), while newcomer The Green Room satisfies the boho vibes with its chilled-out decor and gifts.
Hang out at The Factory at Franklin
The Factory was formerly an industrial building on the outskirts of downtown, and has been undergoing a major transformation over the years to transform into a mixed retail, office and events space complete with boutiques, restaurants, cafes and a farmer’s market every Saturday.
One of the newest additions is the Skylight Bar, serving as a popular happy hour spot and a great place to wait for your table, with half a dozen restaurants just steps away.
Go to a concert
You didn’t think you’d have to head back into Nashville for a good show, didya?
Festivals, songwriters nights, buskers and jam sessions are all found here on the regular, whether its someone strumming a guitar at a wine bar or on a street corner downtown, or Chris Stapleton putting on a show for tens of thousands of people under bright stage lights.
The Pilgrimage Music Festival is an annual two-day event held on a horse farm just a short walk from downtown Franklin, and past headliners includ Justin Timberlake, Kasey Musgraves, Keith Urban and Lionel Richie.
A newer venue attracting top talent is the FirstBank Amphitheatre in Thompson’s Station, which was transformed from an abandoned rock quarry into 7,500 seat concert space.
It’s hosted acts like Miranda Lambert, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Jonas Brothers, and the surrounding natural stone walls make the venue feel intimate.
See a show at the Franklin Theatre
Another one of Franklin’s top music venues is the Franklin Theatre, and its marquee is considered the crown jewel of Main Street and was first lit up back in 1937.
While movies are occasionally shown here (including fun theme nights), the 300-seat venue is more often used as a performance venue. and has hosted Art Garfunkel, Don McLean, Sheryl Crow, Travis Tritt and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band just to name a few.
Even comedian Steve Martin showed up once, to wow the crowd with his banjo!
Dine at the top Franklin restaurants
Their fried pimento cheese balls are life-changing, and the Anthym Spirit cocktail crafted with chai bitters, apricot brandy and rye is the perfect prescription to kickstart a fun night out.
Head next door to O Be Joyful for a nightcap, and choose from a selection of over one hundred whiskeys to toast to an incredible stay in Franklin, Tennessee.
Where to stay in Franklin TN
The Harpeth Hotel is the newest and most luxurious hotel in Franklin, with a fantastic location right along the historic main street. There are more than one hundred stylish guest rooms and suites, including some with private balconies, a separate living area and soaker tubs.
The real highlight is the gorgeous entry area which features an outdoor courtyard, live music and a library curated by its neighbour, Landmark Booksellers.
Their 1799 bar is a standout spot thanks to its seasonal menu and extensive cocktail list, and McGavock’s Coffee Bar is a great brunch spot. Click here to book
Southall Farm & Inn: This luxurious resort is nestled in the rolling Tennessee hillside on 325 acres of farmland, about 10 minutes from historic Franklin near Leiper’s Fork.
Nearly all of the ingredients for the on-site restaurant are grown on the property, and guests can learn about farming practices like harvesting the orchards, seed saving and making honey (there are four million honeybees on property!).
Most of the gorgeous rooms and suites boast four-poster beds, fireplaces, soaker tubs and a separate seating area, and there are also cabins and tree-house inspired cottages with screened-in porches and day beds.
Guests can relax at the outdoor pool or spa, book an activity like fly fishing, paddleboarding or exploring the 13 miles of hiking trails.
Other options for Franklin accommodations include:
- Residence Inn by Marriott– There’s plenty of space to spread out here, with some units boasting multiple bedrooms and full kitchens. Guests love the big breakfast, and there’s also a pool and hot tub on site. Click here to book
- Hampton Inn & Suites– Located just off the I-65 which makes it easy to get around, this property gets top marks for its friendly staff and large, quiet, modern rooms. Click here to book
- Home2Suites– This pet-friendly property has everything you need for a longer stay, including laundry facilities, a full gym and kitchenettes in the modern, spacious suites. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Franklin as a guest of Visit Franklin. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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