12 Top Free Nashville Festivals for Young Families

Nashville is such a great place to raise a young family, and there’s always something to do. When the weather’s nice, you’ll find a plethora of free festivals to check out. Since these are free, plan to spend a morning or afternoon there, so little ones don’t melt down at nap-time.

Here are some of the most well-known and established (and personal favorite) annual free Nashville Festivals that are ideal for families with younger children. We have two children under 10, and several of these are highlights of the year.

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Free Nashville Festivals for Young Families

April

Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival

Next dates: April 2017
Location: Nashville Public Square
Cost: Free

My older girl is really into Japanese art and culture, so she enjoyed this festival. I’ll admit I didn’t have such a great time. It was hot, the lines to the food trucks were miserably long and we didn’t plan our visit around specific performances, so I was a little disappointed. Still, it’s worth checking out if the weather is nice. Park in the underground public parking garage at Nashville Public Square.

July

Music City July 4th

Next dates: July 4, 2016
Location: Riverfront Park
Cost: Free

Nashville was voted as having the best 4th of July Fireworks display in the country, which is mind-boggling, but awesome. Because of the recent notoriety, this celebration has exploded in popularity. My advice? Don’t join the crowd with small kids. Park off-site and enjoy with a group (lots of families camp out in East Park, but last year there was so much smoke it was hard to actually see the fireworks!) My little one was sick last year, so I actually stayed home and watched it on the internet. Poor Martina McBride sang her heart out in the pouring rain. This year there’s a new location: the concert moves to two stages at Ascend Amphitheater and The Green at Riverfront Park. And the free concert features the one and only Sheryl Crow.

August

Tomato Art Fest

Next dates: Aug. 12-13, 2016
Location: 5 Points, East Nashville
Cost: Free

This was the first festival we attended when we moved back to Nashville in 2012, and it was a great event. It’s exploded in popularity, so expect crowds during peak times. There’s plenty for kids to do at KIDFEST hosted by East End Methodist Church, but plan out your visit beforehand around those activities. Your child can submit tomato-themed artwork before the festival, and they’ll be judged and awarded prizes during the festival. There’s a YMCA-sponsored Fun Run that Saturday morning, and a local church provides a great childcare area with inflatables. There’s music, face-painting, food, vendors and lots of wacky, fun people in a parade.

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August-September

Live on the Green

Next dates: Aug. 11, 18, 25; Sept. 2-3, 2016
Location: Public Square Park
Cost: Free

This festival isn’t designed with kids in mind, and attracts a lot of younger (i.e. single) folks and there is quite a bit of alcoholic beverage consumption BUT if your family are music fans, this can be a great afternoon or evening spent hearing some great music in the beautiful outdoors in downtown Nashville. I brought my then-7 year old to hear an artist she really enjoyed listening to on Lightning 100, and we had a great time. Bring something to sit on, whether it be a blanket or chairs, and bring a snack and drink.

September

Dragon Boat Festival

Next dates: Sept. 10, 2016
Location: Riverfront Park
Cost: Free

Although I grew up in Nashville, moved away for 11 years and moved back 4 years ago, this one-day festival was completely new to me. This is a day of boat races down the Cumberland River, and anyone can join in by pre-registering. My husband works for a local school, and they have had teams compete in this the past couple of years. On the riverbank there are vendors and food and you enjoy a great day of cheering on your favorite teams.

Nashville Greek Festival

Next dates: Sept. 9-11, 2016
Location: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
Cost: Free

We have dear friends who attend this church, so it’s always a blast to visit and see their kids do traditional Greek dance and eat the yummy food. There are lots of games for kids, vendors, face painting, and a highlight is to tour the gorgeous church. Park offsite and ride the shuttle in. Oh – and there are tons of authentic Greek baked goods for sale. We always buy a sampler, and it’s gone by Monday!

Italian Lights Festival

Next dates: Sept. 9-11, 2016
Location: Bicentennial Mall State Park
Cost: Free

This festival is on our family bucket list, and the only reason we haven’t been to it yet is that it’s the same weekend as the Greek Festival! Some of our friends hit up to 3 festivals this weekend alone (Oktoberfest is the same weekend!). More power to them! There’s grape-stomping, music and of course, tons of food. The Kids’ Zone features inflatables, face painting and performances. Lots of fun for the whole family. (Regular admission is $3, Free Admission for Children 12 and under and all Military, Police, and Fire Personel (with ID). Admission tickets are valid for the entire weekend).

Tennessee State Fair

Next dates: Sept. 9-18, 2016
Location: Tennessee State Fairgrounds
Cost: Free

The Tennessee State Fair has probably seen better days in terms of its popularity, but it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon. There are plenty of rides, music and fair food, and a host of agricultural and craft exhibits. There’s a milking parlor, petting zoo for farm animals and an Interactive Farming Exhibition. There’s actually a dodgeball tournament, too!

October

Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival

Next dates: Oct. 1, 2016 – 10am – 6pm
Location: Centennial Park
Cost: Free

Several friends attend this festival each year, and it’s another one on our festival bucket list. This festival celebrates the wonderfully diverse cultures that make up our city. It features a world market, performances and global village and a kids’ area with storytelling, puppet shows, hands-on art.

Southern Festival of Books

Next dates: Oct. 14-16, 2016
Location: Legislative Plaza
Cost: Free

If you come with small children, make sure to plan your visit around the children’s activities. This festival isn’t a lot of fun to just walk around and experience. But there are plenty of things for kids to do if you know when and where to go. And if you do just show up, visit the children’s booth first and get a scavenger hunt card — if your kid checks off all the items, they’ll be entered to win a prize.

Tennessee History Festival

Next dates: Oct. 14-15, 2016 – 10am-4pm
Location: Bicentennial Capitol Mall
Cost: Free

My kids and I happened upon this festival by accident one year, and we were blown away. It’s a small festival, but there are tons of hands-on activities and costumed historical figures. Lots of learning and fun. We met Abraham Lincoln, helped make stew over an open fire, and learned about Tennessee history.

Dickens of a Christmas

Next dates: Dec. 10, 10am-5pm; Dec. 11, 11am-5pm
Location: Franklin, TN’s Main St.
Cost: Free

This festival has exploded in popularity in the past several years, and while the quaintness of the Victorian costumed characters are still part of it, a major part of it are booths and wares for sell (last year included 60+ vendors). So temper your expectations before you go and you’ll have a good time. There are performances, petting zoo, town sing of carols and “snow.” Prepare for major crowds during peak times, though. (Park off-site at Church of the City (828 Murfreesboro Road) and Harlinsdale Farm (239 Franklin Road) and ride the $1 shuttle.)

Other Events to Check Out

Here are some other free Nashville festivals and events we’ve enjoyed visiting as a family:

Musicians Corner in Centennial Park Saturdays 3 to 6 p.m. Saturdays May – Oct.
East Side Hootenanny Saturdays 4 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays May – June
Shakespeare in the Park Thursday-Sunday/Labor Day August 14-September 14, $10 suggested donation, at Centennial Park Bandshell
Nashville Symphony Free Day of Music September Usually the last Saturday in September at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center but in 2016 it was Oct. 22!
Veterans Day Parade Wednesday Nov. 11
A Merry Music City Christmas 2nd Wed-Sat. in December Crosspoint.tv Nashville campus, outdoor event opens at 6 p.m. with the concert at 7 PM
(Saturday event opens at 3 p.m. with concerts at 4 & 7 p.m.)

Which Nashville Festivals and free events are your favorites? Add them in the comments below.

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