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A First Timer’s Guide to Franklin

A First Timer’s Guide to Franklin

There are two types of travelers: the planners and the wanderers. Fortunately, whether you’re in town for a day or a week, Franklin is so packed with things to see and do that you can sketch out your visit with these tips, and still find plenty to discover along the way.  

The heart of Franklin is the core of the city, a 16-block grid that includes a number of residential and arts districts and landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places, anchored by Main Street and the Public Square.

Plenty of free parking is available on most streets and in two public garages (on Second and Fourth Avenues). Grab a spot and head to the Visitors Center just off Main Street on Fourth Avenue North.

There, you’ll find a friendly staff with local insights and suggestions, along with the kinds of maps, brochures, and details you’re looking for. And, if you’re one of those Type-A planners, we’d love to send you a free digital Visitor Guide ahead of time!

Be sure to check out our self-guided walking tour as a starting point, which will introduce you to some of Franklin’s most stunning and significant architecture and points of interest.

From the Public Square, you can explore historic neighborhoods full of 19th and early 20th century gems in every direction. But first, spend some time working your way through the dozens of unique shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and other local treasures to be found on Main Street and around corners within the commercial district.

It would be tough to whittle down a shortlist of favorites, but you won’t want to miss Avec MoiBink’s OutfittersThe RegistryWhite’s MercantileTin CottageGallery 202, or Landmark Booksellers.

Early risers will appreciate our breakfast and coffee spots – of course, Starbucks is right there, but Frothy Monkey, the Coffee House at Second & BridgeMeridee’s BreadbasketRuby Sunshine, and Puckett’s Grocery all open early and offer fabulous morning bites and brews—each with their own personality.

One great way to venture out is on a Pedego electric bike! From Fifth Avenue North, you can pedal or cruise under power to just about anywhere around old Franklin.

Head down to Bicentennial Park and ride along the Harpeth River back toward downtown, then out to The Factory (down East Main Street), where you could easily spend a few hours exploring this 1930s-era building now serving as a creative space full of shops and studios, along with restaurants and events such as the Franklin Farmers Market each Saturday.

Just across the street is Franklin’s Central Park, The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, a former Tennessee Walking Horse breeding farm that has been permanently preserved for its natural beauty and historic significance. Trails run throughout the 200-acre property, dotted with picturesque barns, silos, and simple homes awaiting restoration.

If more history is what you’re looking for, the other side of downtown Franklin might be your next destination. Up Columbia Avenue from Five Points, the ca. 1830 Carter House, built in the Federal style from brick, is alone worth seeing for its glimpse into early agrarian life in Franklin.

But this home and the area around it was also Ground Zero for the Battle of Franklin, the bloodiest four hours in the history of America. On November 30, 1864, more than 10,000 casualties fell here, and the Battle of Franklin Trust offers incredible guided tours of the Carter House as well as Carnton, which served as a field hospital for months after the battle.

Both house museums, along with the Confederate cemetery, tell the story of the tragedy here that helped end the Civil War. The gardens at Carnton are equally spectacular, and just adjacent, the 110-acre Eastern Flank Battlefield Park is noteworthy both for its interpretive signage and its wildlife and natural beauty.

After a full day, head back downtown for dinner and a drink. Options range from the upscale steakhouse Cork & Cow and the cocktail-forward Grays on Main (look for the neon pharmacy sign), to the Memphis-to-New Orleans menu at 55 South and several other fast-casual options: The Grilled CheeserieTaziki’s Mediterranean CaféMcCreary’s Irish Pub and many more. For live music, pop into the no-frills Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor or the Mockingbird Theater, both within a short distance of Main Street.

The recently restored Art Deco-style Franklin Theatre also traditionally offers big-name musical acts and classic movies, but check the schedule for its post-Covid reopening plans (hopefully very soon!).

If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay, Franklin’s first downtown hotel of the modern era, the Harpeth, opened in 2019 as a four-star property under the Hilton Curio flag and is an excellent choice for lodging, dining, and entertainment.

The hotel’s landmark restaurant, 1799 Kitchen & Cocktails, is known for its outstanding food, bar, and live music, and other options such as the new Italian spot Culaccino and Franklin Bakehouse are located within the same complex between First and Second Avenues off Main Street. Americana Taphouse is just across Bridge Street, as well.

Of course, you can stay in a restored Victorian home, a Main Street loft, in a cozy log cabin, or a cottage on a horse farm; a number of short-term rental options are available to be found in Franklin.

Beyond the historic core, a range of standard hotel options are also available within a short drive.

Plan your itinerary down to the hour or wing it, whatever your style. We’ll be waiting to welcome you!