You’ve always been an east coast kind of family, but you want to broaden your children’s horizons and show them more of the world. You’re thinking a trip to Music City or Nashville is in order. What do you need to know before you go?
Driving from Philadelphia to Nashville will take you approximately 12 hours as you traverse 806 miles. During your travels, you’ll cross through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina before reaching Tennessee.
It’s not the shortest road trip, but your cross-country tour of the United States will surely delight the kids to no end. Keep reading to plan an efficient route and add some sights and destinations to your itinerary along the way!
The best route from Philadelphia to Nashville
The multi-state trek that is your road trip from Philadelphia to Nashville is sure to be full of wondrous sights that will keep the kids on the edge of their seats in the car.
As I mentioned in the intro, you’ll get to drive through Maryland, most of Virginia, a good portion of North Carolina, and then through Tennessee before you get to Nashville.
This road trip is best broken up into at least several days, with a few overnight stays at hotels or lodges that you find on your travels.
Let’s take a look at how to get to Nashville from Philly.
Philadelphia to Baltimore
From Philadelphia, you’ll drive southwest for about an hour and a half past Norristown, Reading, Lebanon, Harrisburg, and Lancaster.
Your destination is Baltimore, the only Maryland stop on the route.
Baltimore is one of those cities that hardly needs an introduction. The seaside city and seaport is most known forta Inner Harbor.
This bustling area features the USS Constellation, a warship from the Civil War, as well as Fort McHenry. For the history lovers reading this, Fort McHenry is where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned.
Besides the historical aspects, Inner Harbor boasts the National Aquarium, shops, and plenty of restaurants, especially crab shacks!
Baltimore to Charlottesville
You and the kids can spend hours in Baltimore, and if you wish to, then don’t let me stop you! Eventually, you’ll be ready to hit the road again.
The next part of your route will take you from Maryland to Virginia. You’ll drive to Charlottesville, which will take you about three hours if you don’t run into traffic.
You’ll cross through most of Virginia by driving diagonally southwest from Baltimore, including Winchester and Fredericksburg but stopping before you reach Richmond.
Charlottesville is home to the Monticello plantation atop Jefferson Mountain and the University of Virginia. Shenandoah National Park is within reach as well.
You can take your time exploring the depths of Charlottesville. You’ve driven almost five hours today already, so I’d suggest finding a place for you and the kids to stay so you can refresh until morning.
Charlottesville to Roanoke
After snoozing off the road fatigue, you’ll continue your drive through Virginia on Day Two of your road trip.
Your next stop is Roanoke, which is reachable from Charlottesville in about two hours without traffic. You’ll again continue driving southwest diagonally from your starting point.
Situated along the Blue Ridge Mountains, the southwestern city of Roanoke has many wonders for families to behold.
If you stroll through the popular downtown, you can visit the Taubman Museum of Art full of American works. Mill Mountain Zoo will enchant the kids.
Don’t miss the Mill Mountain Star aka the Roanoke Star, an electric illuminated landmark near Mill Mountain.
Roanoke to Galax
You’re still not done crossing through Virginia yet, although you’re close. The final Virginia destination on your route is Galax.
You’ll drive for about an hour and a half from Roanoke without heavy traffic. Your route should again be southwest on a diagonal.
This southwestern Virginia city welcomes travelers with an assortment of attractions.
You can grab a bite to eat at the many great restaurants throughout, enjoy live entertainment at the Blue Ridge Music Group, check out museums, or see live entertainment at a cinema or theater.
Once you reach Galax, this is as good a place as any to take an overnight break. You’ll cross over from Virginia to Tennessee tomorrow, so you’ll need your energy to continue road tripping to Nashville.
Galax to Johnson City
Now that you’re refreshed and rejuvenated, you can leave Virginia and enter Tennessee via Johnson City.
It should take you about two and a half hours to get there if you can avoid major congestion. Your route is still southwest but cuts straighter than diagonally.
Johnson City has a wealth of outdoor activities for families to enjoy the temperate Tennessee weather. You can explore Buffalo Mountain Park, play golf, or go boating at Winged Deer Park.
If you’d rather stick to indoor activities, Johnson City also offers the Gray Fossil Site and Museum, which does indeed display real dinosaur fossils!
Johnson City to Gatlinburg
From Johnson City, you’ll drive deeper into Tennessee on your way to Nashville, passing through Gatlinburg first.
You’ll reach Gatlinburg in about two hours without traffic by driving southwest. Your route once again takes a diagonal trajectory from Johnson City.
The eastern mountain town of Gatlinburg is within proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which offers 520,000 acres of natural, breathtaking beauty.
You might see Gatlinburg from its own Space Needle or ride a cable car called the Sky Lift. The bustling downtown is a must-see as well.
You should have time for it all, as I’d suggest stopping over for the night in Gatlinburg.
I know, you’re already in Tennessee, but you still have a ways to go before reaching Nashville. You will definitely get there tomorrow, but you need rest first.
Gatlinburg to Crossville
It will be a lot easier to drive the two hours from Gatlinburg to Crossville after you’ve had a full night’s sleep. You’ll cross directly west from Gatlinburg.
Crossville is called the Golf Capital of Tennessee, but even if you and the family aren’t so much into golfing, I promise, you won’t be bored here.
You can always visit Fall Creek Falls State Park, shop at the antique mall, or do some museum hopping.
Crossville to Nashville
When everyone is back in the car, you’ll drive for about two hours west (without traffic) to Nashville. You’re finally in Music City!
How long does it take to reach Nashville from Philadelphia?
You’re ready to plan your road trip with the kids to Nashville as soon as you can. How long will it be until you get there when leaving from Philly?
Driving from Philadelphia to Nashville takes approximately 12 hours and six minutes. You’ll drive over 800 miles.
That drivetime does assume that you don’t stop. It also doesn’t consider traffic, which is an inevitable part of the traveling experience.
Also, to drive the whole way from Philadelphia to Nashville without making a single stop along the way is a huge wasted opportunity. You’re missing out on so many fun activities that you can do with the family.
Don’t believe me? Check out this next section!
Fun family destinations on the road to Nashville
Whether you enjoy parks, amusements, museums, history, aquariums, zoos, or something else entirely, there’s something for everyone on this list of attractions between Philadelphia and Nashville.
I hope you see as many of these destinations as time allows!
- Port Discovery Children’s Museum
In the Fish Market building–which is historic in its own right–is the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, a nonprofit that invites children to play, explore, and imagine.
The open play areas include spaces for infants and babies, toddlers, and kids ages five through 10.
On the first floor is the Sky Climber, the toddler’s play area known as Chessie’s Grotto, the BGE Studio Workshop, Kick it Up!, and the Royal Farms Convenience Store & Fill’er Up Station.
As you and the kids move up to the second floor, the children can enjoy play areas like The Oasis, Adventure Expeditions, Tot Trails, and The Overlook.
Continuing onto the third floor are exhibits The Port, Tiny’s Diner, Wonders of Water, and Here We Grow.
- The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
Baltimore has its fair share of animals, that’s for sure! You and the children can see the land animals at The Maryland Zoo Baltimore.
Spread across 135 acres in the Druid Hill Park area (another historic part of Baltimore) are animal habitats such as Maryland Wilderness, Animal Ambassadors, Northern Passage, and African Journey.
To make the day an even more memorable one, the Maryland Zoo has a slew of attractions and rides for families to enjoy after seeing the animals.
The kiddos can ride an old-fashioned carousel or hop aboard the Jones Fall Zephyr for a 10-minute trip across the Jones Falls Watershed.
Face painting is available so the kids will be in the mood to unleash their wild sides.
You can also opt for zoo experiences like training otters or okapis, getting up close to penguins, or feeding tortoises.
All rides and attractions cost an additional fee besides the entry fee.
- National Aquarium
By far one of the biggest attractions in Baltimore, bar none, is the National Aquarium.
Now that the kids saw all the land animals at the zoo, the aquarium is a nice bookend to their time in Baltimore.
The aquarium is home to nearly every aquatic species imaginable, from anemones to horseshoe crabs, bottlenose dolphins, jellyfish, pig-nosed turtles, sandbar sharks, clownfish, nurse sharks, and so much more.
Not every creature at the National Aquarium lives under the sea, though! You can also see birds and some land mammals here.
To make the experience even more special, you can sign the kids up for an early access tour, a dolphin training session, a behind-the-scenes tour to see sharks, or a 4D experience on dolphins, sharks, or octopi.
These experiences cost separate from your admission price.
- Black Cherry Puppet Theater
For a real taste of Baltimore’s culture, visit the Black Cherry Puppet Theater.
The theater hosts marionette shows as well as live-action entertainment, including puppet slams.
Kids who visit can make their very own paper tube puppets to take home as exceptional souvenirs!
- Virginia Discovery Museum
Across 6,000 square feet are 15 educational and hands-on exhibits for children at the Virginia Discovery Museum.
In the Front Gallery, kids can engage in exhibits such as Light Bright, Sensory Studio, Construction Zone, Literacy Lounge, STEM Lab: Magnet Wall, STEM Lab: Automoblox, STEM Lab: Flight Lab, and STEM Lab: Amazing Airways.
The Back Gallery includes amazing exhibits like the Creation Station, Little C’Ville: Discover Outdoors, Little C’Ville: Discovery Farm, Little C’Ville: Bakery & Café, Little C’Ville: Children’s Hospital, Little C’Ville: Financial Fundamentals, Little C’Ville: Post Office, Sound & Music Studio, and ABC Hallway.
- Skyline Drive
Within Shenandoah National Park is Skyline Drive, an in-car piece of heaven that’s 105 beautiful miles long.
The route takes you along the Blue Ridge Mountains crest.
Set aside three hours to complete the entire route, which is open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. It’s best seen by day than night!
- Greenleaf Park
If the kids still have some energy after visiting the Virginia Discovery Museum, then treat them to an hour or two at Greenleaf Park.
This aptly-named park has plenty of greenery, from grass to trees. You’ll also find trails, a spray ground (for the summertime) a playground, picnic shelters, and a basketball court to enjoy.
- Splash Valley
If you’re road-tripping to Nashville during the summer, you and the kids can cool down in Roanoke at Splash Valley.
This seasonal outdoor park has two water slides, a lazy river, and a spray area for children.
- Virginia Museum of Transportation
In picturesque Downtown Roanoke is the Virginia Museum of Transportation, a 58-acre museum that teaches visitors all about the history of transportation in this town.
The collection of electric, diesel, and steam trains and rail cars is sure to impress, as are the model trains, buggies, and even a Jupiter Rocket!
- Blue Ridge Parkway
See the Blue Ridge Mountains from a whole new vantage point by coasting across the Blue Ridge Parkway by car.
During your route, you’ll pass through the Shenandoah Region, Ridge Region, Plateau Region, Highlands Region, Pisgah Region, and Great Smoky Mountains Region.
Driving across the entire parkway takes between three and three and a half hours, so budget your time accordingly. I recommend a slow drive through this beautiful region of Virginia.
- Explore Park
Explore Park is sure to put a smile on the kids’ faces! The 1,100-acre park near the Blue Ridge Parkway is a place for all sorts of outdoor activities.
Try the Treetop Quest to see who’s got the most mettle, go mountain biking, hike trails, play disc golf, or go canoeing.
Overnight camping is available if you and the kids tire yourselves out too much from the challenge obstacles and ziplining!
- Mill Mountain Zoo
For a cozy but fun experience with animals, the Mill Mountain Zoo is a must-see.
The range of animals on display here includes everything from mammals to birds and reptiles. The zoo has 130 animals that represent 35 unique species.
Seasonal programs and events are available as well, including a film festival, a spring break camp, and Halloween festivities.
- Rex Theatre
Since it first opened its doors in 1940, the Rex Theatre has become a staple in Galax’s downtown area, which is full of more historical monuments still.
Showcasing local and regional musical artists, the Rex Theatre also plays host to Blue Ridge Backroads Live.
Check the event calendar here and make sure to see a show with the kids. You’ll witness a piece of Galax’s history.
- The Blue Ridge Music Center
Another excellent place for witnessing live bluegrass is at The Blue Ridge Music Center, which also isn’t that far from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The onsite museum is open seasonally from May until October. The Music Center also has an interpretive center indoors and an amphitheater outdoors that hosts a summer concert series every Saturday from late May until early September.
The Midday Mountain Music event happens every day the Music Center is in operation between the hours of noon and 4 p.m.
Milepost Music is a traveling concert that will come to the Music Center from time to time, usually between June and September.
The Blue Ridge Music Center even has hiking trails with a kids’ trail.
- R.J.’s Pizza & Subs
All that traveling can sure work up one’s appetite, right? R.J.’s Pizza & Subs is an excellent place to stop and fuel up for the road ahead.
The pizzeria serves antipasto, chicken fingers, fried calamari, garlic knots, mozzarella sticks, and mussels marinara for appetizers among other menu offerings.
For the main course, choose from soups, salads, strombolis, calzones, cold subs, hot subs, wraps, paninis, veal, chicken, wings, pasta, seafood, and pizza!
Nearly every type of pizza you can think of is available here, including buffalo, barbeque, grilled, Hawaiian, and margarita.
Johnson City Destinations
- Gray Fossil Site
In nearby Washington County is the Gray Fossil Site, which showcases fossils that are anywhere from 4.5 to 4.9 million years old from the Early Pliocene Era.
The fossils here were uncovered in 2000 and became available to the public for viewing in 2007.
So what kinds of fossils are on display? Everything from fish to amphibians like frogs and salamanders to birds, reptiles such as turtles and alligators, rodents, bats, and many, many mammals.
They include Perissodactyls and Artiodactyls, which are both hoofed mammals, red pandas, wolverines, bone-crushing dogs, short-faced bears, and early rabbits.
- Buffalo Mountain Park
The natural resource area known as Buffalo Mountain Park is a perfect retreat for peace and serenity.
Expanding 725 immersive acres, the park is open from March 14th through November 7th for the summer and then November 7th through March 13th for the winter.
The rural area is full of panoramic overlooks, stunning waterfalls, winding hiking trails surrounded by forests, and dog-friendly paths.
- Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park
About 20 minutes from Johnson City in Elizabethton is Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, a 70-acre park near the Watauga River and Sycamore Shoals.
As a designated National Historic Landmark, the state park is an ideal locale for hiking or bird-watching.
You and the kids should also visit Carter Mansion, a home built in the late 1770s on the park grounds that’s still standing today. It’s the oldest house of its kind with its frame construction.
- Moonshine Mountain Coaster
Even though there haven’t been any amusement parks on the route, the Moonshine Mountain Coaster will more than make up for that.
Riders can coast alone or with another person down a mountain on a silent track. You can brake at any time to enjoy the scenery or maintain a moderate pace and have a fun ride!
- Ripley’s Moving Theater
As part of a slew of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!-themed attractions in Gatlinburg is the Ripley’s Moving Theater, a 5D theater with full immersion that includes an advanced motion simulator, 3D effects, and surround sound.
The two attractions at Ripley’s Moving Theater are Aladdin the Ride and Red Beard’s Rapids.
- Wild Bear Falls Water Park
Tennessee more than has its fair share of warm days. Now you have a reliable means of beating the heat. All you have to do is visit Wild Bear Falls Water Park.
The park is over 60,000 square feet and can douse riders in over 300,000 gallons of water.
The park attractions and rides include Little Pigeon River, Moonshine Hollow, The Swimming Hole, Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, Laurel Falls, and Ramsey Cascade.
Cabanas are available for rent as well!
- Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze
Another Ripley’s-themed attraction is the Marvelous Mirror Maze, which truly lives up to its name.
This illuminated labyrinth is covered in LED lighting and gives off reflections to make escape a little more difficult than you’d expect.
- Cumberland Mountain State Park
One of Crossville’s crown jewels is undoubtedly Cumberland Mountain State Park, a 1,720-acre park near Byrd Lake.
Enjoy a Bear Trace golf course with 18 holes, paddle boating and fishing in Byrd Lake, volleyball, badminton, basketball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, tennis, playgrounds, pavilions, and a swimming pool that’s Olympic-sized!
Hiking trails take you across the park’s rolling hills and flowing waters.
I most recommend the five-mile trail known as Pioneer Trail. It’s not too challenging for the little ones and offers exceptional views of Byrd Lake.
- Antique Village Mall
For a different kind of shopping experience, there’s the Antique Village Mall.
The wares here are from a different era. What’s available is always changing, which gives you an excuse to plan a return trip!
What to do with the kids in Nashville
Have you finally arrived in Nashville and you’re wondering what to do? Well, worry not, as I have some phenomenal activities to add to your itinerary ASAP.
Lane Motor Museum
Your first Nashville stop should be the Lane Motor Museum, a showcase of automobiles across time.
The vehicles on display are mostly European with a few American models thrown in.
Bicycles, floating vehicles, flying machines, motorcycles: even if it’s not on wheels, you can still see it displayed at Lane Motor Museum!
Percy Priest Lake
The J. Percy Priest Dam feeds into and also inspires the namesake of the Percy Priest Lake, one of the premier lakes in Nashville.
What can you do here? The better question is, what can’t you do?
Plan a relaxing day of fishing with the kiddos or use a marina for launching a kayak, canoe, or fishing boat.
Overnight camping is available as well at the Seven Points Campground, Poole Knobs Campground, and Anderson Road Campground.
Walk of Fame Park
See the stars no matter the time of day at the Walk of Fame Park in Nashville!
This tribute to the musical greats features so many stars.
I can’t possibly name them all (you’ll have to visit for yourself to see), but some of the standout names include Trace Adkins, Chet Atkins, Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Ben Folds, Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Faith Hill, Jimi Hendrix, and the list truly goes on and on!
Planning a road trip from Philadelphia to Nashville might be the best decision you make for your family this year!
You and the kids can immerse yourselves in new sights and enjoy incredible attractions along the way. I hope you make the most of it!