August 16, 2019
Already well known as one of the South’s favorite small towns, Franklin, a 30-minute drive south of Nashville, offers up one of Tennessee’s foremost Christmas festivals: Dickens of a Christmas. The streets are peopled by characters in full Charles Dickens costumes - including the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ebenezer Scrooge and others from the classic A Christmas Carol. Combined with approximately 200 performers of all kinds playing accordions and singing Christmas carols, as well as vendors offering everything from hand crafted ornaments to warm cider, you will find all you need in downtown Franklin to keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
The city is also a year-round destination filled with historic homes and battlefield tours, a craft whiskey distillery, incredible dining experiences and a local brewery. If you haven’t spent a weekend in Franklin, Tennessee, you are truly missing out on “America’s Favorite Main Street”. Here’s your guide to spending 48 hours of the holiday season in Franklin:
Any visit to Historic Franklin begins in its meticulously preserved downtown, and any trip downtown begins at Frothy Monkey. Originally a 12South Nashville staple, Frothy Monkey opened its downtown Franklin location and quickly became a local favorite. With a menu that will satisfy even the most restricted diet, and seasonal coffee blends that are roasted in Nashville, it’s easy to see why, for so many living in and visiting Franklin, Frothy Monkey is the first-stop fuel up spot for work or play.
Dickens of a Christmas
Christmastime in Franklin is a December-long event, with Dickens of a Christmas as its centerpiece. The preserved Victorian architecture provides a perfect stage for an event which features many folks dressed as characters in Charles Dickens’ novels. A massive Christmas tree, taller than the Civil War monument in downtown’s circle, towers over the festivities. Vendors of all kinds line the streets for blocks in every direction, offering handmade Christmas decorations and delicious food truck offerings of every variety. Additionally, you will not go far without seeing a live Christmas music performance - a minstrel quartet, a violinist, even a rock band.
While in town, be sure to pay attention to the beautiful Franklin Theatre’s lineup of holiday movies running through the entire month of December, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Santa Clause, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and more. This iconic theater first opened in 1937, and after an extensive renovation orchestrated by the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, the Franklin Theatre of today remains as much a centerpiece of the historic downtown as it was in its pre-World War II heyday. Local tip: concerts, regularly held in the evenings, can be a hot ticket due to the limited seating and intimate setting of the theater. Look well ahead of your arrival to town for tickets to ensure yourself a seat.
This time of the year, the only thing that can be better than sitting next to the warmth of a fire is if someone is also baking a fresh, made-to-order pizza right there in the same flame. Cozy up in the dining room at Gina’s Stonefired Italian and that winter dream becomes a reality. Joe and Gina Stellino offer their guests a menu filled with time-honored, thoughtfully-sourced family recipes. The aroma of the stone fired oven and the simmering garlic and olive oil will make you forget the brisk Tennessee winter outside.
Anyone who’s traveled the Tennessee Whiskey Trail through Middle Tennessee knows that Leiper’s Fork Distillery is a crown jewel in the state’s incredible whiskey history and heritage. This true, family-owned small batch distillery may have only opened a few years ago, but walking through their distillery and learning to “chew” whiskey in their tasting room, visitors get the distinct feeling that this distillery is part of something much older than the barrel aged spirits in the bottle. Maybe it’s because the namesake of their Hunter’s Select rode with Andrew Jackson to fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Or maybe it’s because their signature bourbon and Tennessee whiskey is aging as we speak, and in a few years will undergo the Lincoln County process, that most distinct and defining step in making a true Tennessee whiskey.
Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade
As if Dickens of a Christmas wasn’t enough to keep the Christmas Spirit alive in Franklin, the Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade takes it to another level. Held in this charmingly rustic village that is distinct from the rest of Franklin, the Christmas Parade is generally regarded as the eccentric Christmas parade anywhere. Everything from vintage trucks and potbelly pigs to mounted cowboys and old farm equipment are fair game as floats here. And be on the lookout for Mike Wolfe, star of History Channel’s American Pickers, who often attends and occasionally participates in the parade.
Fine dining becomes “Sophisticated Southern” at Red Pony Restaurant, one of Franklin’s premier upscale establishments -which is impressive, considering what fine company and competition they have in the historic downtown district alone. Featuring a menu that is said to change as many as six times a year with the growing and harvesting seasons, you will recognize the names of the dishes, but have never eaten them in the dynamic way owner and Chef Jason McConnell’s kitchen prepares them. Local tip: Red Pony is only open for dinner, so be sure to come hungry as early as 5 p.m., but no sooner, unless you’d like to snag a stool at the bar for a cocktail beginning at 4 p.m.
Any understanding of Franklin’s identity as a city and its place in American history begins on the Franklin battlefield. In late 1864, toward the end of the Civil War, this quaint Southern town became the scene for a battle that went down in many of the participants’ minds as one of the most stunningly violent of affairs in an already-violent war. The city, the Battle of Franklin Trust and many other partners have begun a reclamation project to protect and preserve as much of the battlefield as possible. At the Carter House, learn the harrowing story of the Carter family, whose home and farm became the battle’s grisly epicenter. At Carnton, an exquisite antebellum mansion whose grounds served as the Confederate right flank, learn about the wounded soldiers who were cared for inside the home’s walls, their blood permanently staining the wooden floors, and who are buried in the cemetery outside.
How can you visit any town in the Greater Nashville area without seeking out some live music? Situated just two short blocks off Franklin’s Main Street and definitely within walking distance of downtown, Kimbros Pickin’ Parlor is an historic home turned music venue that you will not want to miss. Attending a show there is more like an intimate house concert than anything else, like being a guest at a friend’s place who happens to know people like John Prine, Leo “Bud” Welch and Rodney Crowell.
Anyone who has strolled Main Street in Franklin will recognize Gray’s on Main’s iconic neon sign. Formerly the Gray Drug Co., a pharmacy that operated in this building for nearly 100 years, in 2013 it became an instant staple on Franklin’s restaurant and mixology-cocktail scene. The menu features regionally-sourced Southern cuisine, and the cocktail menu pays homage to brandy, the dominant refined Southern spirit of the late 1800s. Local tip: If you are unsure about what to order from their unique drink selection, begin with the Anthym Spirit, the undeniable classic at Gray’s.