I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
October 26, 2021
Think you know all there is to know about Franklin, Tennessee? Think again. A new downtown hotel has changed the tourism game here, whether you live nearby and are looking for an easy, fun staycation or you want to add a Southern charm-filled few days to your Nashville vacation.
Dennis and I spent a weekend at the new Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin and we kept our car parked in the hotel lot the entire time. Restaurants, bars, boutiques, antique malls, coffeeshops, bakeries, historic homes, tours, movies, live music, and much more all are in easy walking distance of the hotel, creating a new way for visitors to spend a luxurious and relaxing couple of days in a truly Southern town filled with history, small-town vibes, easy sophistication, and lots and lots of shopping.
Let me tell you all about how to spend a wonderful weekend on foot in Franklin.
Located on 2nd Avenue North in downtown Franklin, the stately Harpeth Hotel has 119 guest rooms, a bar and signature restaurant that’s earning raves from locals and visitors alike, and a casual coffeeshop serving up local coffee, fresh baked pastries, and breakfast and lunch foods. With immaculate, beautifully decorated rooms and indoor and outdoor common areas with plenty of comfortable seating, this is truly the kind of boutique hotel that feels like a luxurious getaway.
If you can, I highly recommend you book a room here with a balcony — They are spacious and comfortable and overlook downtown Franklin. They’re the perfect place to spend an hour reading or enjoying a late afternoon cocktail.
I recommend you start your visit off with a walk to the downtown Franklin Visitor Center, which you’ll find just off Main Street at 4th Avenue. Inside, you’ll find answers to all your questions, as well as a detailed, photo-rich booklet of self-guided walking tours through the downtown area. It’s filled with information on the rich history of the homes and buildings throughout downtown Franklin and well worth the quick stop to pick it up.
Before your stay, be sure and check the events calendar at the historic Franklin Theatre (built in 1937), where on any given night you might find anything on the bill from a classic movie to live music, dance, theater, or even a magic show. We love seeing movies and shows here, both because for its classy, old-fashioned atmosphere and because the tickets tend to be far more affordable than they would be in Nashville.
Now, you’re ready to go shopping — Be sure and bring along a partner who’s willing to help carry all the bags because downtown Franklin has one of the best shopping districts in the South! On and around Main Street, you’ll find trendy boutiques for men and women, home goods, gifts, and Southern-inspired everything. Even better, the shops are all inside Franklin’s incredibly historic downtown homes and buildings (this is where that self-guided tour booklet will really come in handy), which are beautiful to behold inside and out. Be sure and carve out plenty of time for this part of your trip — It’s a true highlight of the downtown Franklin experience.
Whether you’re interested in Civil War history, ghosts, true crime, local food, or a child-friendly overview of the city, Franklin on Foot has got a walking tour for you. Locals and visitors alike book tours with Franklin on Foot to get the inside scoop on the many secrets (and spirits!) that can be found inside downtown Frankin’s historic buildings. Tours are offered most days and if there’s a specific tour that’s not already scheduled, you can reserve it for your group.
Like to read? You’re in luck — One of Tennessee’s most fantastic independent bookstores is located inside a historic downtown Franklin building, which at 213 years old has the distinction of being the oldest commercial building in the city. Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and Sam Houston all visited here back in the day and now you can, as well! Wander through Landmark Bookseller’s cozy book-filled rooms stocked with new releases, old favorites, fascinating rare books, and even some dangerous books — They’re dangerous, owner Joel Tomlin says, because they have the power to change minds. I love everything about this place, especially the children’s room, which has the best collection of vintage children’s books that I’ve ever seen.
Completed in 1834, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the oldest church in Franklin and you have no excuse to visit while you’re downtown, because it’s open to the public 24/7! This church has an amazing Civil War era-history. When Union forces occupied the city, the church didn’t have a rector so it was used as a field hospital and stable. At one point, Union soldiers camped out in the church and reportedly used the pews and altar as firewood! After the war, the church was repaired and in the early 1900s, members donated eight stained glass windows made by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. They are the three windows over the altar, the three windows on the right side of the church facing the altar, and two windows on the left side. The remaining windows had to be made by someone else because when Tiffany died, his glassmaking method died with him.
One way to see more of Franklin without having to drive is to rent electric bicycles from Pedego Electric Bikes on 2nd Avenue downtown. These bikes ride like regular bicycles but offer a little electric help when the going gets rough, allowing you to cover far more ground than you could on an ordinary bike. Rent bikes by the hour or for the day and head out on your own adventure, or sign up for one of Pedego’s tours, which include trips to the Natchez Trace Parkway, Leiper’s Fork, and Franklin’s historic homes. This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon during your time in Franklin!
If you enjoy looking for antique and vintage finds as much as I do, you’ll be pleased as punch to learn that Franklin’s own antique district is practically in spitting distance of the Harpeth Hotel. The Winchester Antique Mall and T. Nesbitt & Co. are right across the street. Turn right out of the hotel and you’ll soon see Riverside Franklin at the corner of 2nd and Bridge. Or, hang a left out of the hotel and it’s a five-minute walk to the Franklin Antique Mall, and JJ Ashley’s Antiques. Each of these shops is beloved by locals and visitors alike.
If you want to stay on foot during your downtown Franklin vacation, two of the town’s three historic home tours are an easy ten-minute walk from Main Street. At the Lotz House, you’ll learn how German immigrant Johann Albert Lotz and his young family survived the bloody Battle of Franklin as it played out on their front lawn. Across the street at the Carter House, another family endured the battle and their story is also unforgettable. Tours are offered throughout the day in both locations.
Just beyond Main Street, you’ll find dozens of historic homes — Some have been converted into office buildings and shops and many others are still private homes. You’ll definitely want to make time to stroll down the sidewalks and view the distinctive 1800s-era architecture. I highly recommend you stop by Gallery 202 in particular, where in addition to beautiful fine art, you’ll find a divot in the hallway from a Battle of Franklin cannonball and blood stains still visible on the floorboards from when the home was used as a hospital once the battle was over.
You owe it to yourself to launch your getaway with drinks at one of Franklin’s most popular drink spots — JJ’s Wine Bar. Choose from cocktails or a wide array of wines by the glass, and sit either in one of the cozy rooms inside this former private residence (It’s listed on the National Historic Register!) or on the spacious wraparound porch. If you’re hungry, JJ’s also offers tapas, salads, and desserts. JJ’s is open Tuesdays through Saturdays after 4pm.
We were absolutely wowed by our dinner at Culaccino, a new upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Franklin that’s a quick walk away from the Harpeth Hotel. Once we were seated at the bar, the bartender went through the menu with us with gusto, regaling us with the intimate details of the grilling of the octopus appetizer, the three-day fermentation of the pizza dough, the rolling out of fresh pasta. As our dishes began arriving, we quickly learned why she was so excited about the food — It was absolutely exquisite and rivals any meal I’ve had at Nashville’s culinary hotspots. The octopus in particular was unlike any dish I’ve ever had. While I find most octopus to be unbearably chewy, this octopus was blackened on the outside and deliciously tender within. The pizza dough is indeed spectacular and the ravioli filled with veal shoulder and topped with robiola cheese, butter sauce with a sangiovese reduction, and sorrel, was exquisite and packed with perfectly-balanced flavor. Culaccino is a must if you’re planning a big night out in Franklin — and you’ll definitely want to make reservations ahead of time because the word’s out that this place is special.
Hungry for lunch? It’s hard to beat Gray’s on Main, both for its hearty Southern sandwiches, apps, and salads (Get the bacon wrapped figs. Trust me on this.) and the atmosphere. Housed in an 1876 building that was once a pharmacy, the owners took care to preserve the historic feel of the place, even turning the original floorboards that couldn’t be preserved into dining tables. My favorite secret about this place can be found upstairs in a hallway at the back of the dining room. Here, you’ll find a handwritten timeline on the wall with all the important dates of one of the pharmacy employee’s life, including vacations, the births of his children, and the day a man walked on the moon. Apparently, the man was on his death bed when he got word the building was being renovated. He sent a family member to ask the new owners to preserve his timeline and they agreed. The man was able to pass on in peace, knowing the record of his life would endure after his death.
Named after a slang term Civil War soldiers gave alcoholic beverages, Main Street’s O Be Joyful boasts 150 different varieties of whiskey and a menu featuring classic bar foods like hotdogs, burgers, wings, and nachos. It’s a great place to go for a casual meal or late night drinks.
You have several great breakfast/brunch options to choose from in downtown Franklin, but Biscuit Love is definitely one of my favorites. Located inside the beautiful Corn House, which was rebuilt in 1892 after a fire, the dining experience here includes both a heaping helping of history and some really wonderful breakfast options. I really loved the Bonuts (fried sugar dough tossed in sugar and topped with lemon mascarpone), but I’ll be back for the Princess — an open-faced biscuit topped with hot chicken, pickles, mustard, and honey. I realize this place is famous for its biscuits, but let me tell you, the hot chicken is absolutely fantastic.
55 South has long held a reputation as one of the absolute best restaurants in downtown Franklin, but I’m really just here for these garlic Parmesan crab fries, y’all. Combining four of the best foods in existence, they are the absolute best and should not be missed. In fact, I would like to meet the genius that came up with this unexpectedly delightful flavor sensation and shake their hand. 55 South also has Southern favorites like fried pickles, deviled eggs, fried catfish, and hot chicken, but again. THESE FRIES. That’s it. That’s all you need to know.
No charming downtown is complete without a hyper-local coffee house, and Franklin’s got a great one. You’ll find The Coffee House at Second & Bridge in a historic home right that sits right beside the Harpeth Hotel. In addition to delicious beverages and some of the best coffee shop baked goods I’ve ever eaten (If they happen to have made chess bars while you’re there, SNATCH ONE), The Coffee House serves up sandwiches, salads, and heavenly crepes. The cozy ambience here completes the experience; sit either in one of the house’s many rooms, head out to the swing on the wraparound porch, or opt for a table on the patio and enjoy the weather.