Table of Contents
Things to do in Franklin Tennessee include enjoying a very walkable downtown with a classic Southern town square, upscale lodging and shopping, plenty of enticing dining options, and fascinating US Civil War history.
Franklin TN is a classic, traditional small town with a contemporary and modern vibe. It is very family friendly, surrounded by scenic beauty, with plentiful outdoor activities, and featuring year round great weather.
Famous people love the Franklin area because they can blend in and are not hounded and harassed by the public. Yes, you might see a celeb or several when you visit Franklin Tennessee but please join the crowd in respecting their privacy.
Calling Franklin or nearby home are many country music stars (from Carrie Underwood to Chris Stapleton), professional athletes, actors and actresses, and other celebrities including Kathie Lee Gifford and Justin Timberlake. Franklin is an excellent stop on your Music Lovers road trip.
8 Great Things to Do in Franklin Tennessee
And an astounding SEVEN Hallmark movies have been made about Franklin, Tennessee. Can there be any better testament?
Thank you to Visit Franklin for hosting McCool Travel. Visit them for more detailed information about these and other things to do in Franklin Tennessee.
Where is Franklin Tennessee?
Franklin Tennessee is located 20 miles south of Nashville, the capital of Tennessee. Franklin is surrounded by lush trees snd rolling hills. While visiting Franklin, be sure to enjoy some scenic drives, including along Natchez Trace Parkway.
Visit one of the most fascinating historic buildings in Tennessee and perhaps the entire world.
First some history. Carter House was the family residence on a 300-acre farm along Columbia Pike—between Spring Hill to downtown Franklin and on to Nashville.
Tennessee was the final southern state to secede, and the secession was reluctant and contentious. Many Tennesseans did not want to secede. But the Civil War came to Franklin and the Carter farm was ground zero.
General Jacob Dolson Cox and the Union army used the Carter House as their headquarters. General Cox later served as Ohio’s governor, President of University of Cincinnati, and US Secretary of the Interior (under President Grant).
Fountain Branch Carter (the patriarch), his son Moscow Carter (widowed with 4 children), and family members asked General Cox whether they should leave. The general thought they were well protected—but the fighting snuck up on them.
A two-mile wide Confederate army line arrived late one afternoon from Spring Hill. The CSA punched a 200-yard hole in the Union defense line between the Carter House visitor center to across Columbia Pike.
Both lines would fall into stable positions but there were an estimated 13 to 17 charges by the Confederates. After five hours of action, CSA lost 7,000 of their 20,000 men and the US Army lost 2,500 of 20,000.
While the Carter House guided tour is interesting, the highlight is by far entering the farmhouse office structure. It is the most damaged still-standing Civil War structure and over 1,000 bullet holes (expert verified) have been identified. See my video.
Visiting the Carter House farmhouse office is one of the most fun things to see in Franklin Tennessee.
Two more fascinating Carter House facts are that General Douglas Macarthur’s father was wounded here in the battle and Todd Carter (another son of Fountain) was wounded 500 yds from the house. Todd was shot nine times while riding a horse on a charge. He died in the house a few days later.
McCool Travel note: Also allow time to explore the park area across the street and read the informative history displays.
Remember that two-mile wide line of soldiers mentioned above? Well Carnton was another large farm property in the thick of the Battle of Franklin action.
The original Carnton owner, Randolph McGavock, was friends with two US Presidents—Andrew Jackson and James Polk (both were visitors here). That demonstrates how wealthy and influential he and the Carnton farm were.
The Carnton farm was five times the size of the Carter farm and the family members were exempt from joining the army (because of their economic impact).
A Carnton house tour is strongly recommended because of the wealth of history but also a couple of unforgettable highlights.
Some history learned on the tour includes that Abraham Lincoln only won 40% of the vote in 1860 but he was not even listed on southern states ballots. Seven southern states seceded before Lincoln’s inauguration.
But the house tour highlight (for me) was seeing the original floors. Carnton, as the largest house in the Battle of Franklin area, served as a makeshift hospital. A few floor areas (your tour guide will point them out) are permanently stained with blood from wounds and operations.
And knowing that these floors were covered with thick rugs makes these historic features even more poignant and impressive.
McCool Travel note: Eastern Flank Park and the cemetery next to Carnton are both wonderful areas to spend time in and explore before or after your Carnton tour.
The Battle of Franklin history is intense but also important. After visiting the above two Franklin Civil War sites, you deserve some Downtown Franklin therapy.
As mentioned earlier, seven Hallmark movies have featured downtown Franklin. See why!
Most of the downtown Franklin commerce is along Main Street. And most of the Main Street action is in a half-mile stretch between the Harpeth River and 5th Avenue.
Downtown Franklin is very walkable and you will want to walk up and down Main Street several times during every visit. If you want to stay in town overnight, check out our favorite Franklin TN hotel.
Franklin’s Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it also received the coveted Great American Main Street designation.
The Franklin Public Square—which is surrounded by a traffic circle—is the center of activity in downtown Franklin.
In addition to the fantastic Franklin restaurants and drinking places listed below, be sure to visit downtown Franklin businesses like Landmark Booksellers, The Heirloom Shop, and the renovated Franklin Theatre.
Keep strolling past 5th Avenue and Hincheyville Historic District‘s varied residential architectural styles. Hincheyville—along Main Street and Fair Street between 7th and 11th Avenues—is especially fun to visit during Halloween and Christmas seasons.
And just a touch further along Main Street but less than a mile from Franklin Town Square is the impressively quirky Mercantile 1858. Perhaps my favorite store in Franklin TN, Mercantile 1858 is a combination antique shop, flea market, and surplus/salvage outlet center. You never know what you will find here!
Franklin Tennessee Restaurants
A variety of restaurants in Franklin will entice and delight. Many Franklin restaurants offer live music and some have private dining areas so that those celebs can enter and exit under the radar.
Some suggestions for downtown Franklin TN restaurants:
Puckett’s Grocery started as a small grocery stand in Leiper’s Fork but now has seven restaurant locations (including in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Pigeon Forge). Enjoy live music at Puckett’s Franklin every night and incredible food anytime. Suggested items include Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast, a Meat and Three for lunch, and the phenomenal Shrimp and Grits for dinner.
Try Culaccino Italian for authentic Italian cuisine with fresh artisanal ingredients, craft cocktails, and wines from around the world. The wood fired oven pizzas are magnificent—much like those from Yada on Franklin (in Clarksville). Enjoy this relaxed luxury spot food superb food and drink but also for people watching (perhaps even a celeb sighting).
Some suggested downtown Franklin TN casual food options include Franklin Bakehouse, Taziki’s Mediterranean, and Sweet Haven ice cream—love the flavor name Exhausted Parent but definitely try the Salted Caramel Cashew.
Recommended places to drink in Franklin include Hop House (30 Tennessee craft beers on draft) and O’ Be Joyful (lively dive bar lined with historic newspapers, next to Gray’s). Wines are 25% off during happy hours at JJ’s Wine Bar.
Find several other Franklin places to eat, drink, and shop in The Factory at Franklin—including the very popular Franklin Juice Company and Five Daughters Bakery.
When near the Harpeth River kayak launch in Greer Park launch try Miss Daisy’s Kitchen (Southern deli items like Pimento cheese sandwich, carrot cake, banana pudding, key lime pie) and Stroud’s Barbeque (pork is their specialty).
For great whiskey tasting experiences near Franklin, visit Leiper’s Fork Distillery (see below) and Company Distilling in Thompson’s Station. Jeff Arnett has been Company Distilling’s master distiller from day one. He was master distiller at Jack Daniels for two decades and left to create something exceptional here. Judge for yourself!
Franklin Tennessee Walking Tours
A memorable way to see downtown Franklin is on a walking tour. On any given day or evening you may see several walking tours so join one!
Franklin Walking Tours offers several walking tours including their iconic Grim and Ghostly every night. Their tours depart from the Landmark Booksellers.
Sample several of Franklin’s amazing restaurants on the Taste of Franklin Walking Tour.
Other ways to explore Franklin:
The Franklin Hop is a fully-narrated hop-on, hop-off trolley tour making four stops around Franklin: downtown, The Factory, Carter House, Carnton.
Rent an electric bike from Harpeth Hotel and cruise around town. Or join one of their two guided tours—historic homes of Franklin and Natchez Trace.
Besides walking around downtown Franklin and Hincheyville, enjoy the Harpeth River Trail (and Bicentennial Park) and nearby cemeteries. Country music pioneer Minnie Pearl is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Adjacent Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes burials of African Americans as early as 1869.
Rest Haven Cemetery and Franklin City Cemetery are also both listed on the National Register of Historic Places and include Battle of Franklin soldiers. Captain Tod Carter (see Carter House above) is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.
Enjoy the Downtown Franklin Art Crawl from 6-9pm every first Friday.
Plenty of scenic nature opportunities are near Franklin. The Garrison Creek hiking trail system along the Natchez Trace Parkway is only 12 miles from downtown Franklin.
While Franklin Tennessee is the quintessential Southern small town, well then, Leiper’s Fork is the lesser known, yet more desirable hidden gem that everyone wants to visit but keeps quiet so that it remains quaint and charming.
Leiper’s Fork is about 17 minutes from downtown Franklin and less than one mile from the Natchez Trace scenic drive. On a typical weekend day, you will see (and hear) tons of motorcyclists, bicyclists, and performance car drivers in town and nearby.
Add in a mix of live music fans, day trippers from Nashville and Franklin (like you and me!), shoppers, and various others to create a unique Tennessee rural experience and vibe.
Some suggested places to visit in Leiper’s Fork include:
- Wines in the Fork. Enjoy sampling Tennessee craft wines in their cozy tasting room cabin. But the highlight is savoring a glass of wine next to the creek. Or, hear me out, IN the creek.
- Props. Quirky fun shop with antiques, odd candy flavors (like craft beer and pretzels), and unique gifts, souvenirs, and crafts. If you want to splurge on a gift for me, I will take the 1949 Jukebox for sale there.
- Red Byrd Coffee Shop. In a trailer next to Leiper’s Fork Market about one mile from town. Features local specialty Ellie’s old fashioned donuts along with caffeinated drinks. A popular stop for cyclists and motorcycles.
- Fox & Locke. Popular live music venue (tickets required at night) in an old gas station, serving great Southern food and desserts. Every Thursday night is their iconic Open Mic Night. This is the original location of Puckett’s Grocery.
- Lawnchair Theater. Behind Leiper’s Creek Gallery. Enjoy Friday night family-friendly movies and other events.
- Leiper’s Fork Distillery. Learn about the throwback lost art of small batch Tennessee whiskey on a tour of Leiper’s Fork Distillery. But try not to think about the old time bootleggers and prohibition while sampling the product in the 200-year-old cabin.
The Factory at Franklin
An exciting major capital improvement project currently underway just across the river from downtown Franklin is The Factory at Franklin. The former Allen Manufacturing Company stove works factory is being repurposed into a fantastic mixed use space, including shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Dozens of restaurants and shops are already open and The Factory is a favorite Franklin gathering space. For breakfast meetings, mom/kids play group, or featuring goodies from Five Daughters Bakery, Franklin Juice Company, Mojo’s Tacos, Hattie B’s, or many other hot spots. The Saturday morning farmers market is a Franklin must do.
Upcoming additions at The Factory at Franklin include a classic carousel, skylight bar, and a theater featuring live music and Broadway shows.
The Park at Harlinsdale Farm
Also in development but still currently accessible and usable is the wonderful The Park at Harlinsdale Farm. The 200-acre historic farm is located across the street from The Factory at Franklin.
Harlinsdale Farm was the home of Midnight Sun, the most famous Tennessee Walking Horse and first repeat world champion. The farm was sold to the City of Franklin to preserve the 200 acres, honor the Tennessee Walking Horse heritage and history, and provide public recreation space to Franklin’s residents and visitors.
The Park at Harlinsdale Farm features a fishing pond (catch and release only), popular dog park, multi-use trails through the rolling hills (some for equestrian use), a Harpeth River kayak/canoe launch spot, and an upcoming pedestrian bridge to connect to the Harpeth River Trail.
The barn is being refurbished and modernized and will serve as the visitor center and Tennessee state horse museum. The Harlin/Hayes House is also being refreshed.
Where to Stay in Franklin Tennessee
The best downtown Franklin TN hotel choice is The Harpeth (a Hilton Curio Collection property). Many rooms have a balcony which is a relaxing spot to refresh after a busy day enjoying downtown Franklin.
Several chain hotels are located a few miles from downtown Franklin and in Cool Springs. Check best rates at some of those Franklin TN hotels.
Hope you enjoy our look at fun things to do in Franklin Tennessee.