The Nashville Zoo is one of the most visited attractions in middle Tennessee and is viewed as one of the top family-friendly places to visit. Additionally, the Zoo boasts more than 300 species and over 3,000 animals, making it an exciting destination for animal enthusiasts of all ages.
We recently had a chance to spend the day there and had a blast seeing the animals out and about. We wanted to share some of the fascinating histories of the Nashville Zoo, highlight our favorite exhibits, and give some general information and tips to help plan your trip.
The Grassmere House at the Nashville Zoo
To understand the Nashville Zoo, one must understand its history, which begins with the Grassmere House, a historic home on the property that dates back to the early 1800s. Moreover, Michael C. Dunn, a colonial during the revolutionary war, purchased the zoo’s land in the late 1700s.
Dunn gifted the house down for generations, eventually ending up with his great-granddaughter Kate. She married a gentleman named William Croft (which is why it is often called the Croft home). They had three daughters that lived there until their passing.
In the 1960s, the Croft sisters could not take care of their historic homes. The sisters decided to strike a deal with the Children’s Museum of Nashville to assist with the upkeep. After their passing, the children’s Museum (now known as the Adventure Science Center) owned the home and surrounding land entirely.
Before their passing, the sisters had one wish: that the property was to be maintained as a study center to educate about animals and the environment. Hence the Nashville Zoo was created. Since 1998, the home has been open for guided or self-guided tours throughout the year.
Fun fact the home is the second oldest residence in Davidson County
Exhibits at the Nashville Zoo
The Nashville Zoo has many exhibits, and the Kangaroo Kickabout exhibit was one of the favorites because of its interactive nature, allowing visitors to walk freely among the kangaroos and even feed them.
A guided walking path allows you to walk next to the Kangaroos. Most of them were sleeping when we went, but some were hopping around and playing.
The keeper commented that they were all born in captivity and were generally calm around people. The kids in the area loved running around and petting the Kangaroos.
Similarly, the Meerkat Exhibit is one of the more popular at the Zoo, designed to mimic the meerkat’s natural South African habitat.
Seeing them pop out of their burrows and pose on the rocks like they were in a photo shoot was amusing.
Unseen New World
Another favorite is the Unseen New World exhibit, a large indoor habitat perfect for visiting in all seasons. Kids especially love this area with all the critters and tanks full of creatures from all across the globe. You can spend a while here looking at all the different species of frogs, fish, snakes, turtles, and more.
Many species are in the “Species Survival Program,” which manages species breeding to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population.
A popular exhibit is the Flamingo Lagoon, man-made for the park’s Caribbean and Chilean flamingos, and was a fun area to observe the Flamingos wading through and interacting with one another.
We met the flamingos early in our visit as a zookeeper, with about ten out to interact with guests.
You could challenge them to who can stand on one leg the longest (they will probably win).
The newly renovated Tiger Crossroads exhibit is a must-visit at the Nashville Zoo, with stunning architecture that feels like an Indonesian Buddhist temple. Additionally, the Sumatra-style roof provides shade to tigers, and the beautiful landscaping with a zig-zagging waterfall adds to the ambiance.
In 2020 the exhibit received top honors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Other fun things
While we highlighted some of our favorite exhibits above, there is plenty more to do and see, such as the spider monkey exhibit, the Zebra and Giraffe area, the Rhinoceroses pen, and many more small animal exhibits.
The Jungle Gym at the Nashville Zoo
The Nashville Zoo offers a 66,000-square-foot area for kids to play in a jungle-themed playground, complete with monkey swings, a giant snake tunnel, a multi-level net area, climbing structures, a small zip-line, and much more. Additionally, Promise Park was just opened, allowing kids with disabilities to play with modified swings, slides, and climbing structures.
As we were leaving, we heard two kids saying, “We could spend hours here!”
Adventure Pass and Rides
The Nashville Zoo also offers a few fun rides for adults and children. The new Adventure 4D theater is a 50-seat, interactive special effects theater that currently shows Ice Age: No Time for Nuts & The Lost World.
Other rides include the Wild Animal Carousel, the Soaring Eagle Zip Line (which looked fun), and the Wilderness Express train. Tickets run around $2 each, but you can also get an unlimited day pass for $11.
Dining at the Nashville Zoo
The food at the Nashville Zoo is similar to the setup at other Zoos and theme parks. You can find various snack stands selling beverages, some even selling beer or margaritas. Be ready to pay theme park prices for a bottle of water.
If you’re looking for a spot for lunch or dinner, you have several options. Quill’s Cafe & Grill serves American fare with burgers, salads, and a kids’ menu. Screaming Gibbon Pizza Kitchen has personal pizzas and a couple of draft beers for the adults. Fat Cow Creamery is a good spot for a mid-afternoon coffee and soft-serve ice cream. Snake Bites offer quick bites to walk with, including Hot Dogs, nachos, and Soft Pretzels. Finally, TN BBQ Depot offers some favorites, including pulled pork sandwiches and BBQ Mac and Cheese.
You can also bring your own food, which we usually recommend, especially water and other beverages, to save money.
Planning your visit to the Nashville Zoo
When planning your trip, it’s important to consider a few things.
Operation Hours: The Zoo’s current hours are 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Parking: Parking is usually $8 and can fill up fast on busy days. If you are a member, you can park for free. They do offer stroller and wheelchair rentals for $11
Tickets & Pricing: Adults & teen tickets usually run from $16-25, with kids (ages 2-12) getting $4 off and kids under 2 getting in free.
Best time to visit: Their website notes that animals are most active first thing in the morning, especially during the summer. If you come in the summer, we recommend bringing plenty of sunscreens and hydrating as it can be very hot. Conversely, winter can get pretty cold, so we recommend dressing warmly.
In conclusion, the Nashville Zoo is a great place to visit on your Nashville trip, especially for families with children who stay with us at our luxury properties. With the arrival of Spring, the weather should be perfect for exploring all the wonders of the animal kingdom.
Perfect for: Families
Have you been to the Nashville zoo? If so, comment below and tell us your favorite exhibits!