If you're looking for a city filled with good food, interesting history, live music, and some good old Southern charm, then you need look no further than Franklin, Tennessee.
This city – located just 20 miles south of Nashville – has it all. Civil War history to rival that of Gettysburg; a charming Main Street lined with independent shops and local restaurants; wineries and distilleries to explore; plus proximity to rolling farmland and even the Natchez Trace.
Some people visit Franklin and the rest of Williamson County as a day trip from Nashville. But if you have the time to spend, it's a city that really begs for you to slow down and stay awhile.
I've looked forward to visiting Franklin for years, and spent a delightful 3 nights there recently. The city was everything it promised to be and more, and I'm excited to share this itinerary with you!
Technically you *could* do a lot of this in one very busy day trip from Nashville, but I really do encourage you to stay a couple nights in Franklin if you can. It's not far at all from Nashville, but feels worlds away from the party atmosphere of Broadway.
A brief history of Franklin, Tennessee
Franklin's history as a city dates back to 1799, when it was founded by Abram Maury and named after Benjamin Franklin. Before this, of course, this part of Middle Tennessee was inhabited by Indigenous peoples – mostly the Cherokee – until President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act forced most of them West.
(Interesting fact: Jackson actually met with representatives of the Chickasaw Nation in Franklin in 1830 to broker that nation's treaty; there's a historical marker commemorating this today.)
Franklin developed along both sides of the Harpeth River, but was pretty agriculturally-focused up until the Civil War. (And when I say agriculturally focused, yes, much of the agricultural work in Middle Tennessee pre-Civil War would have been utilizing the labor of enslaved people.)
During the Civil War, Tennessee was occupied by Union troops, and a major battle took place right in the heart of Franklin in 1864. Franklin was devastated by the Civil War, and wouldn't fully recover economically for over a century.
Today, though, Franklin is a fast-growing city, thanks in part to its proximity to booming Nashville. The city's population is on the rise, and many companies (including Nissan and several healthcare businesses) now have their headquarters there.
Add in a lively music scene and interesting historic sites, and Franklin is now also a tourist destination. And it's one that's worth exploring!
The best things to do in Franklin in 3 days
This short itinerary will hit up all the Franklin area highlights like:
- Civil War history
- Franklin's historic downtown and Main Street
- Great local wineries and distilleries to visit
- Live music options
- Visits to Nolensville and Leiper's Fork
- An adventure on the Natchez Trace Parkway
- And more!
Note: This post is brought to you as part of a partnership with Visit Franklin. But, as always, all my recommendations are based on my own personal experiences!
Day 1 in Franklin
Morning: Historic downtown
Franklin has two distinct “parts” of town: first, the business district, where all those companies have their corporate headquarters; and, second, the historic downtown that oozes small-town charm, which is obviously where I recommend starting your visit!
Franklin's Main Street is lined with historic Victorian buildings housing everything from boutiques to restaurants. This street was designated a “Great American Main Street” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1995, and is part of Franklin's 16-block historic district.
Wandering here is a must! I recommend stopping in to places like White's Mercantile (owned by Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr.) and Landmark Booksellers, along with whatever else catches your eye.
For a morning pick-me-up, stop in to Frothy Monkey or The Coffee House at Second and Bridge for coffee; Merridee's Breadbasket or Triple Crown Bakery for baked goods; or Puckett's Grocery or Biscuit Love for full-on breakfast.
Also make sure to make your way to Public Square, where you can appreciate a unique project that's come to fruition in the last couple of years. In the center of Franklin Public Square (on the site of a former slave market) sits a Confederate monument that was erected in 1899 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Due to state law, the city of Franklin can't really remove the monument without facing potential fines and loss of historic funding, so instead they've opted to tell a “Fuller Story” of the Black experience here in Middle Tennessee. Info boards are set up on and around the square talk about everything from former slave markets to the Battle of Franklin to race riots.
Across from Public Square and in front of the courthouse also sits a statue honoring the United States Colored Troops. It recognizes the 180,000 Black troops who joined the Union Army during the Civil War (some at this very courthouse!), and is the only statue of its kind displayed on a public square in America.
I actually really love this approach to acknowledging and interpreting the past in a meaningful way for visitors, and encourage you to read all the markers!
Want more suggestions for what to see in/around Franklin? The tourism board has put together several themed Digital Passports that you can download for free! Use these to explore everything from dessert shops to historic homes to murals and public art. There's even a fun horse-themed scavenger hunt perfect for kids!
Lunch: Drive to Nolensville
There are plenty of great restaurants in downtown Franklin, but I highly recommend making the 25-minute drive to the smaller town of Nolensville for lunch. This seemingly sleepy town is actually one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States thanks to its proximity to Nashville, so visit before everyone else finds out about it!
Here you can enjoy a filling lunch at the original Martin's BBQ Joint. If you've ever waited in the long line to enjoy their “whole hog”-style smoked pork at their downtown Nashville location, you'll be delighted to know that it's much easier to snag a table here. (My pick would have to be the “Redneck Taco” with a side of their broccoli salad!)
Afterwards, perhaps stop at Mill Creek Brewing Co. to try a flight of their craft beer, or visit the Nolensville Feed Mill Amish Market, which is well over 100 years old.
Late afternoon/early evening: Factory at Franklin
After you make your way back to Franklin from Nolensville, you might want to have a bit of a rest – or maybe linger over another cup of coffee, or perhaps even a glass of wine at a spot like JJ's Wine Bar. There's no need to rush in this itinerary, or in Franklin in general!
In the late afternoon/early evening, head over to the Factory at Franklin, a mixed-use area inside a former stove factory that's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1997. I love when old industrial spaces are renovated and used for new things, so I really enjoyed this spot!
Inside the Factory at Franklin, you'll find everything from boutiques to restaurants to fun performance venues. Get dessert before dinner by grabbing a 100-layer donut from (the original) Five Daughters Bakery, a shave ice from Urban Sips, or a scoop of ice cream from Jeni's.
For dinner, the go-to at the Factory is Mojo's Tacos, which serves up tasty Mexican fare that more than one person recommended I try.
After dinner: Live music
You might associate Nashville with country music and up-and-coming stars being “discovered,” but Franklin is no slouch when it comes to live music. Head back into town to catch a performance to wind down your evening.
Informal music venues in Franklin include:
- Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor – A bar and performance venue inside a former house. Kimbro's has live music 7 nights a week, with some nights being free and others having just a $5-$10 cover. Mondays are jazz nights, and Tuesdays are singer-songwriter nights. More info here.
- Puckett's Grocery – This Tennessee staple is a great place to dine, but also has a small stage inside for regular performances. Some big names have been discovered on this stage in Franklin, including country music star Jimmie Allen. Upcoming show info here.
- GRAY's on Main – Not only is GRAY'S one of the best restaurants in town, but it also has an intimate stage upstairs and usually has live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Day 2 in Franklin
Morning: Civil War history
Franklin was the site of a major battle during the Civil War, generally regarded as one of the worst losses for the Confederate Army. The Battle of Franklin was a fast, furious, and bloody battle that only lasted about 5 hours. It was fought almost entirely at night on November 30, 1864, and resulted in 8,500-10,000 casualties (2,000 dead), with the bulk of them on the Confederate side.
These numbers are pretty staggering (for context, the Confederate charge at Franklin was larger and deadlier than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg), and the whole thing is even more incredible when you realize that this battle took place IN the city of Franklin, around normal homes and buildings.
The Franklin battlefield was not long ago considered one of the worst-preserved battlefields in America, but in recent years has been reclaimed and preserved for history's sake. Today, you can visit several sites tied to the Battle of Franklin like:
- Carnton – Built in 1826 by former Nashville Mayor Randal McGavock, Carnton found itself at the center of the Battle of Franklin. The McGavock house ended up serving as the largest field hospital in the area after the battle, and today is home to the largest private Confederate cemetery in the US. Along with visiting the cemetery, you can also walk parts of the battlefield here, as well as take tours of the Carnton house. They also offer a tour covering slavery and the people enslaved at Carnton. Tour info here.
- Carter House – This brick family farmhouse still bears scars from the Battle of Franklin in the form of thousands of bullet holes. Tours here tell the story of how the Carter family (along with the Lotz family from across the road) hid in the basement while the battle raged around them. Tour options here.
- Lotz House – Across from the Carter House, the Lotz House also suffered damage during the battle. It served as a hospital for wounded soldiers following the battle. Tours also run here daily.
If you don't have time to stay in Franklin (or if maybe you don't have a car during your visit), you can also take this Civil War-focused day tour from Nashville.
Lunch in town
You can spend as much (or as little) time covering Franklin's Civil War history as you want. Afterwards, head back into downtown Franklin for lunch. (Some options for you include Puckett's Grocery, Biscuit Love, Mellow Mushroom, and The Grilled Cheeserie.)
Afternoon: Arrington Vineyards
This afternoon, head just a few minutes outside of town to Arrington Vineyards, a large winery that sprawls across 95 acres. Co-owned by country music artist Kix Brooks, Arrington is THE place to be when the weather is nice.
Picnic tables sprawl across hillsides, and you can enjoy wine tastings of nearly 2 dozen wines. During the summer months (April-November), you can also enjoy food trucks on Fridays and live music on weekends.
This is an easy space to spend a relaxing hour or two. Did you have any idea there were wineries in Tennessee??
You can definitely take your time at Arrington, and maybe pick up a bottle or two of their award-winning wine to take home or enjoy in your hotel room later.
Head back into downtown Franklin tonight for dinner, where you have no shortage of options. Some restaurants I'd recommend include:
- GRAY'S on Main (and try their Anthym Spirit, which was voted the best whiskey cocktail in the South)
- Culaccino Italian Restaurant + Bar
- 55 South (the Double Burger is really good)
- Red Pony
- 1799 Kitchen & Cocktails
Day 3 in Franklin
Today is actually going to mostly take you OUT of Franklin, because there are some really cool things to do nearby that you shouldn't miss.
Morning: Natchez Trace Parkway
At one point, the Indigenous peoples of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez nations used a trading route that stretched for hundreds of miles through forested land in present-day Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Now known as the Old Natchez Trace, this route was eventually also used by European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and others to move goods and people.
Today, this old route has been converted into a drive-able parkway managed by the National Park Service. The 2-lane Natchez Trace Parkway stretches for 444 scenic miles, connecting the cities of Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi.
You obviously won't have time to drive the entire Trace in just one morning, but you can visit parts of it easily from Franklin, including the iconic Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. This bridge is more than 1500 feet long and 145 feet high, and is definitely worth seeing!
If you want a real adventure, you can even book a bike tour that will take you on parts of the Natchez Trace Parkway. I booked a morning e-bike tour with Pedego in Franklin, and had a fantastic time riding 35 miles through Franklin's rural farmland and across the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge.
(And while 35 miles seems like a lot, it's super easy on an electric bike and can be done in less than 4 hours! You can book the same tour I did here.)
Afternoon: Leiper's Fork
After your bike or driving tour of the Natchez Trace, it won't take you long to get to the little town of Leiper's Fork (in fact, it's along the Natchez Trace Parkway!). This tiny town of roughly 650 boasts some big claims to fame – many celebrities and country music stars have second homes out here.
Take a short stroll down the main stretch of town, and you'll maybe get a sense of why so many people fall in love with this place. It oozes creativity through art galleries and antique shops, and the front porches on every building invite you to pull up a chair and stay for a while.
While in Leiper's Fork, you can grab a meal at Fox & Locke, which also is a popular live music venue (it's not uncommon to run into celebrities here, especially with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton owning homes nearby!).
I'd also recommend visiting art galleries like Leiper's Creek Gallery, The Copper Fox, and the David Arms Gallery. You can also shop for antiques at spots like Serenite Maison.
And if you want a little taste of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, stop in for a tour and tasting at Leiper's Fork Distillery. This small-batch whiskey distillery is in a beautiful spot, with a tasting room located inside an old 1800s cabin.
You can either stay in Leiper's Fork for dinner (Country Boy, Fox & Locke, and 1892 Restaurant are all good options), or make the short drive back to Franklin.
Other things to do in Franklin
Depending on where your interests lie, there are also more things to do in Franklin! Some are seasonally-specific, while others can be enjoyed year-round.
Some more Franklin ideas include:
- Go on a walking tour – If you'd like to learn more about Franklin's history, there are two main companies offering walking tours: Franklin Walking Tours and Franklin on Foot. Both companies offer historic tours and ghost tours, with Franklin on Foot also offering a food tour option.
- See a show at the Franklin Theatre – This art deco theater from 1937 serves as both a movie theater and live music venue. You can often find some big names playing shows here!
- Attend the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival – Speaking of live music, Franklin hosts the Pilgrimage Music Festival each September.
- Dickens of a Christmas – Another fun annual event is Franklin's “Dickens of a Christmas,” when the historic center of the city is transformed Charles Dickens-style with musicians, vendors, and Dickens characters roaming the streets.
There really is no shortage of things to do in Franklin, Tennessee!
Where to stay in Franklin
If I've convinced you that you need to stay at least a couple of nights in Franklin, then my top hotel recommendation is the Harpeth Hotel.
This luxurious hotel is part of Hilton's Curio Collection, and is located right in Franklin's historic district, within easy walking distance to Main Street and all the best places to eat and drink. The hotel also has a restaurant and coffee shop, and is super spacious and comfortable.
If the Harpeth is a bit outside your budget, other hotels outside of the center of Franklin to consider include the Hampton Inn & Suites Franklin Berry Farms and Hyatt House Nashville / Franklin – Cool Springs.
Did you like this itinerary? Then you might also enjoy:
- The Best Things to do in Lexington, KY: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary
- How to Love Nashville Even if You Don’t Love Country Music
- 10 Awesome Things to Do in New River Gorge National Park
I hope I've convinced you to give Franklin a try. It's the sort of place that's almost impossible not to fall in love with, with all its history and charm.
Who's ready to plan a trip to Franklin?