Tennessee welcomes visitors with a variety of activities for all tastes. Its cities offer a selection of museums, cultural attractions, and events, including great cities like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and more. Outdoors, Tennessee offers great activities for active visitors, including hiking, paddling, cycling, and horseback riding, all against a backdrop of mountain plateaus, waterfalls, and rivers. Here are the best places to visit in Tennessee.
Nashville is famous as the birthplace of Country Music and showcases an excellent variety of musical and arty cultural attractions. Music lovers can visit the Bridgestone Arena, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the TPAC, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, to hear some of the best music in the state.
Visual arts are equally well represented at several wonderful art centers and there are no less than four art crawls that you can join for a feast of art. History buffs can visit the Andrew Jackson Hermitage and several other historic sites and homes. Families can explore dozens of attractions, including the Adventure Science Center and the Nashville Zoo, and for foodies the Music City Food and Wine Festival in September is a must.
Located in downtown Nashville, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park provides a lasting tribute to Tennessee’s bicentennial celebration, which was held in 1996. In addition to providing a beautiful green space for locals and visitors to enjoy, the park offers a great view of the State Capitol building and is full of interesting historic markers. You can do a self-guided walk along an easy paved trail that visits all the important features of the park, or go on a free ranger-led tour on Wednesdays, where you will learn all about the historical, cultural, and natural resources of the park and the State of Tennessee.
In Memphis, you can delve into the city’s famous musical heritage by visiting attractions such as Sun Studios, Graceland, and the Memphis Rock ‘n Soul Museum, where the spirit of Elvis “The King” lives on. If you enjoy history, you can visit the Cotton Museum, the Victorian Village, and the Davies Manor Plantation for a glimpse of life during the 1800s. Art lovers will enjoy visiting the Dixon Gallery, the Belz Museum of Art, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Outdoor enthusiasts can visit the Memphis Botanical Garden or Shelby Farms Park, or go jogging and cycling in Overton Park. Families can enjoy hours of educational fun at the Children’s Museum of Memphis, the Fire Museum of Memphis, or the Lichterman Nature Center.
Knoxville is one of Tennessee’s best-kept secrets, offering a perfect blend of outdoor attractions, culture, music, shopping, and impressive cuisine. You can start your visit by learning some Knoxville history on a Historic Downtown Knoxville Walking Tour featuring over 60 historic buildings, or learn about the city’s musical background on a Cradle of Country Music Tour. There is a variety of great museums for all ages, including the American Museum of Science and Energy, the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge and The Muse hands-on science center. The Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville Botanical Gardens, and the Knoxville Zoo are other must-do activities, and foodies will relish a Knoxville Food Tour.
Chattanooga is chock-full of exciting and unusual attractions for the whole family, including the enormous Lookout Mountain Cave and the extraordinary Ruby Falls, America’s largest underground waterfall. You can ride to the top of Lookout Mountain on the Incline Railway and try a zip line adventure while you are there. The 90-minute Chattanooga Sidewalk Tour is great for getting your bearings and learning some history, while a visit to the Hunter Museum of American Art in the Bluff View Art District will delight all art lovers. Families can take the children to Creative Discovery, the Railroad Museum, the Tennessee Aquarium, and the Chattanooga Zoo for hours of fun and entertainment. At the Tennessee Riverpark you can view the Walnut St. Bridge and go walking, boating, and hiking.
Gatlinburg is one of America’s most popular mountain resort towns, nestled at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can get your bearings by strolling down the Downtown Parkway, which runs the length of the town and is filled with interesting attractions. Art enthusiasts can lose themselves along the amazing eight-mile Route 321 loop through the Gatlinburg Arts Community – you can drive the loop or take a historical trolley. You can take the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway from downtown to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park, which offers year-round family fun. Other family-friendly attractions include Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, and the Guinness World Records Museum. The adjacent Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers limitless outdoor activities all year round.
Columbia is situated just 45 miles south of Nashville, offering a great base from which to explore the heart of Middle Tennessee. Historic Columbia Square is home to over 90 buildings that have already celebrated their 100th birthday – you can take a walking tour along the quaint cobbled streets to soak up the atmosphere and shop in the many unique stores. A few of the must-see historical buildings to add to your itinerary include Historic Elm Springs, the Athenaeum Rectory, and the gracious Rippavilla Plantation. Outdoor activities include hiking or biking in Natchez Trace Parkway or fishing, paddling, and wildlife watching in Duck River Blueway. To really embrace the music and atmosphere of Columbia you should visit during the annual six day Mule Day Festival in March.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There is no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than by visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you can pursue a variety of activities against the stunning backdrop of the Smoky Mountains. You can do some great wildlife spotting in Cades Cove, either by driving the scenic loop road or by exploring by bicycle or on foot. Hiking is the main activity and there are trails to suit all abilities, including gentle family-friendly hiking trails and daunting backcountry backpacking excursions. Every season brings its own charm and you can explore beautiful wildflower meadows, see the fall colors, go fishing and camping, join a fascinating ranger-led program, or visit some of the 90 historical log cabins, barns, houses, and other structures in the park.
If you think the Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful, you will be astounded by the beauty that lies hidden below the surface. The Tuckaleechee Caverns, located in Townsend just 18 miles from Pigeon Forge, offer visitors a unique glimpse of nature and geological forces in action. You can explore the series of caves on a guided tour along a mile-long passageway that takes you past giant stalactite and stalagmite formations, narrow walkways, grand rooms, underground rivers, and the impressive 200-foot Silver Falls. The tour culminates in the impressive Big Room, which is more than 400 feet long and 300 feet across. The caves are believed to be between 20 and 30 million years old – a true wonder of nature.
Burgess Falls State Park
The Burgess Falls State Park lies roughly halfway between Nashville and Knoxville and protects a series of beautiful waterfalls along the Falling Water River. You will need to be fit to hike the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail Loop, which will take you past four impressive waterfalls that vary in height between 20 feet and 136 feet, but you will be rewarded with great views of the falls. You can skip the last section of the loop trail, which descends into the gorge and is very strenuous indeed. You can enjoy picnicking and fishing in the park, however camping is not allowed. Before you leave, spend some time in the Butterfly Garden adjacent to the main parking area to observe beautiful wildflowers, butterflies, and dragonflies.
Take time to tour all that the Volunteer State has to offer, and discover treasures woven in-between these top Tennessee destinations. Tennessee will surely have you longing to visit again and again.
More Tennessee Destinations to Tour
Gaylord Opryland Resort
This 40-year-old favorite has lush, tropical gardens and a quarter-mile river ride - indoors. It is as if Las Vegas transported one of its mega resorts in the heart of Middle Tennessee and enclosed to for year round perfect temperatures. This resort is huge, and offers families and visitors a chance to relax and hit the spa. Want to shop? Take the complimentary shuttle over to next door, Opry Mills Shopping Outlet. A luxe $90 million indoor/outdoor water park just opened adjacent to the resort! gaylordhotels.com
Tour, shop, dine, and relax in this vibrant Southern community located just southeast of Nashville — in the exact center of Tennessee. Discover many Civil War historic sites like the Oakland’s mansion, or spend the day at Cannonsburgh Village, a reconstructed Southern village. Shopping and good eats can be found everywhere in Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Eagleville. The Murfreesboro/Rutherford County Center for the Arts — an Italian Renaissance building — provides opportunities to experience the performing arts. readysetrutherford.com
Beautiful Claiborne County is located in northeast Tennessee along the border of Kentucky and Virginia and is comprised of four breathtaking cities: New Tazewell, Tazewell, Harrogate, and Cumberland Gap. Here is where you can explore part of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, along with a great many hiking trails, lakes for fishing and canoeing, and rivers for kayaking. The county is also widely known for the White Lightening Trail Festival, The Powell River Kayak, and the Canoe Regatta. claibornepartnership.com
Knoxville for the Holidays
The Elf on the Shelf® is a Christmas tradition celebrated in households around the world. This November, Santa will send some of these magical Scout Elves from the North Pole to Knoxville, Tennessee to be adopted by 25+ downtown Knoxville businesses. Families can explore downtown and find where the Scout Elves have landed each night in a fun-filled scavenger hunt November 23 - January 6. For a list of citywide holiday events, visit elf. visitknoxville.com
BUSH’S® Visitor Center
There is so much to see and do at BUSH’S® Visitor Center! See the BUSH’S® Theater, featuring a short film which includes a welcome from Jay and Duke, and an overview of the Bush family history and a glimpse of the modern methods of processing and canning beans. Take a walk through a giant replica can of BUSH’S®Baked Beans showing the bean’s journey from beginning to end. BUSH’S® Family Cafe is known for their sweet desserts. Enjoy homemade dishes and Southern specialties. bushbeans.com
Cragfont State Historic Site
This historic limestone home, completed in 1802, belonged to General James Winchester. Visitors will discover original stenciling on the parlor walls, original woodwork, and a second floor ballroom— the first in Tennessee. Artisans were brought from Maryland — where the General was from — and it still holds many antique furnishings from that era. The gardens have also been intricately reconstructed to mirror the original garden. December 3, the home will host an open house free to the public. cragfont.net
A Holiday Destination
This Middle Tennessee community attracts visitors to its historic downtown year-round. However, in winter the town creates an event that you don’t want to miss. For the 26th year, the Host of Christmas Past will transform downtown into a Norman Rockwell-style festival for three days. Delight in a place where Victorian costumed characters spread holiday greetings (or a few Bah Humbugs from Scrooge); enjoy shopping, great food, historic tours, visits with Santa, and even snow! Visit November 9-11. fayettevillelincolncountychamber.com
Morristown’s National Register Historic District is the home of the only overhead sidewalk system in the United States! On the street level, you can discover a multitude of antique, specialty and clothing boutiques in addition to outstanding eateries. The Morristown farmers market is located within the district and is one of the few markets operating six days a week, March through December. For in-depth local history, visit the Crockett Tavern Museum or General Longstreet’s Headquarters Museum. visitmorristowntn.com
Eclectic shops, inviting eateries, stunning historical sites and welcoming smiles line the streets of Goodlettsville. Take some time to enjoy all of the sights, sounds, and tastes this charming city has to offer. Located within a twelve-minute drive to downtown Nashville, there are plenty of parks and trails to enjoy Tennessee beautiful weather. Moss-Wright Park consists of 150 acres and includes walking trails, historic sites, a dog park, playgrounds, and numerous picnic areas, and sporting venues. visitgoodlettsville.com
Buford Pusser Home and Museum
This law enforcement museum stands as a tribute to the life of Sheriff Buford Pusser, whose motto was “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are.” The movie “Walking Tall” was about his life and the museum, which was his modest brick home, is a time capsule of his everyday life. McNairy County is very proud of this legacy and they do a fantastic job shining a light on this hometown hero. bufordpussermuseum.com
Lake Tansi Golf Course
There is no better way to experience the beauty of Tennessee than to play a round of golf. Golf Advisor rates the Lake Tansi Golf Course as one of the top 10 courses in Tennessee. As winner of the 2016 Readers Choice award for Best Golf Course in Cumberland County, it is meticulously maintained and boasts lush playing conditions all year long. This course puts a premium on well-placed shots and has consistently quick greens with challenging undulating surfaces. The layout is player-friendly and challenging to all levels of play. laketansigolf.com