While Nashville has plenty to see and do at any given time of the year, it is also home to a number of great annual events, any one of which is worth planning a visit around. If you're thinking about visiting the Music City sometime in the near future, here are some of the best and biggest events that take place on a yearly basis.
St. Jude's Rock 'N' Roll Marathon (April)
Active travelers looking to add a marathon to their athletic resumes may want to plan a visit to Nashville in April. That's when the St. Jude's Rock 'N' Roll Marathon takes place, drawing more than 20,000 runners on an annual basis. With a full- and half-marathon available, there is a distance for just about everyone. Of course, this being Nashville the event isn't just about covering all of those miles however. Music stages are set up throughout the course to keep spectators and runners entertained, while post-race parties allow the athletes to soothe their tired, aching bodies while enjoying plenty of local Southern hospitality.
Iroquois Steeplechase (May)
For more than 75 years the Iroquois Steeplechase has been in institution in Nashville. This horse race draws more than 25,000 spectators on an annual basis, delivering on all of the pageantry and prestige that you'd find at a Triple Crown event, but on a smaller, more manageable scale. Steeplechase racers from around the world travel to Nashville to take part in the race, with proceeds being donated to local charities as part of a fundraiser. The action is fast and furious and incredibly fun, making this a can't-miss event for anyone visiting the Music City in May.
Tennessee Renaissance Festival (May)
Every weekend in May, Nashville is host to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, which provides plenty of opportunities for locals and visitors alike to explore their medieval side. The event is actually held just outside of town in a rustic, rural setting that comes complete with its own castle. Inside the "ren fest" visitors will discover dozens of merchants hawking their wares, plenty of good food and drinks to sample, and an array of entertainment ranging from falconry displays to knights jousting in the arena. Of course, there is music, actors, and court jesters too, making this not only an escape from city for awhile, but an escape from the 21st century too.
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (June)
One of the biggest and most exciting music festivals in the entire country is located just down the road from Nashville in a small town called Manchester. That's where the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has been drawing some of the biggest acts in the music industry since 2002. That means it's also been drawing some massive crowds on an annual basis too, with many traveling in from out of town to catch their favorite band. Today, more than 80,000 people descend on the 650 acre outdoor venue each June to watch a seemingly never-ending parade of big name musicians and bands. If you love music, this is one event you won't want to miss.
CMA Music Fest (June)
Bonnaroo isn't the only major music-centric event to take place in Nashville during the month of June. In fact, the Country Music Awards Music Festival — aka CMA Fest — is also extremely popular and has the advantage of taking place right in the heart of downtown too. The festival is a chance for some of the biggest names in country music, not to mention some talented up-and-comers, to put on a show in front of an enthusiastic audience. The four-day event is mainly held at Nissan Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans. But there are often smaller stages nearby as well, and many local venues hold free shows throughout the weekend too.
Let Freedom Sing! Music City July 4th (July)
In Nashville, the Fourth of July is always celebrated in style. Large sections of the downtown area around Broadway are blocked off to traffic and to make room for a big stage where some of country's top acts perform throughout the day. The atmosphere is family friendly and features good food to go along with the good music. After dark, the celebration cranks it up to a new level with one of the biggest fireworks displays in the entire country. The Let Freedom Sing event has become one of the most popular traditions in Nashville, drawing thousand of locals and visitors alike.
What was once a small, eccentric little festival held in trendy East Nashville has grown into a massive event held each year in August. More than 60,000 people attend the Tomato Art Festival on an annual basis, soaking up not only the creative works on display, but the music, food, and drinks that are available there as well. Attendees are encouraged to show up on costume and celebrate the event's titular food. Many of the events at Tomato Fest are humorous and tongue-in-cheek, which only endears it to the locals all the more. The two-day event is kid, dog, and family-friendly.
Nashville Film Festival (October)
While Nashville is obviously best known for its outstanding music, the city is also home to a thriving filmmaking community as well. In fact, each year, more than 40,000 people come to town just to attend the Nashville Film Festival, which has been named one of the best film festivals in the entire U.S. The NFF got its start back in 1969 and has continued uninterrupted for 50 years, spotlighting amazing documentaries, indie films, and studio releases alike. Local directors, writers, and producers also show off their creations at the event, making it a great place to discover hidden talents amongst Nashville's extremely creative residents.
Southern Festival of Books (October)
Founded back in 1989, the Southern Festival of Books has grown into a weekend-long celebration of the written word. Each year, it brings more than 300 writers together with over 30,000 fans, both old and new, to discuss their works, passions, and interests. The festival is held each year at the Nashville Main Public Library and the War Memorial Plaza. Best of all, the entire event is completely free, making it a great option for book lovers looking for a chance to meet their favorite authors or discover something completely new.
New Year's Eve (December 31)
As you can probably imagine, New Year's Eve brings quite a celebration to Nashville. In fact, the city shuts down Broadway Street to vehicle traffic and erects a massive stage to host live performances from some of the biggest names in country music. The local honky tonks and bars that line Broadway offer up food and drinks all night long, helping to keep the raucous party going. Tens of thousands of people make their way downtown to join the celebration, which usually lasts well into the wee hours of the morning. There is even a countdown to the arrival of the New Year complete with a massive guitar drop that mimics the iconic ball that is found in New York's Times Square.