The Best Tennessee Attractions – Things To Do
Activities in Tennessee can be diverse when you know which places to check out. There are caves waiting to be explored, panoramic landscapes to be viewed, and bluegrass festivals to visit. You can enjoy nature retreats and gorgeous state parks, or balance your dose of nature with plush resorts and restaurants.
You can also absorb the cultural depth of Tennessee. From famous landmarks to little-known diners and roadside attractions, there’s a reason this uniquely Southern state is a go-to destination for thousands of tourists.
Best Tennessee Attractions and Activities
Things To Do in Tennessee by City
Maybe you’re making a bucket list for the distant future or planning an imminent vacation – here are 15 amazing things to do in Tennessee.
Ijams Nature Center
Nature lovers, you won’t want to miss the natural surface trails of the Will Skelton Greenway that offers panoramic views of the great Tennessee River.
This sprawling green space runs for over 12 miles and is filled with endless rock formations and wetlands as far as the eye can see. You can scale the nearly 315-acre space on foot or on a bike, so it offers all kinds of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.
While you’re in the nature center, you can visit Mead’s Quarry Lake to cool off, or even Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, which features a wide range of plants, shrubs, and vines.
You can take your time doing all sorts of activities, like rafting, biking, fishing, hiking, and more. On top of that, there are also many refreshments to rejuvenate and gift shops to collect souvenirs. Tourists can also rent Ijams for weddings, anniversaries, and other events, and is conveniently located near the city of Knoxville.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is one of the most scenic places in the United States. For decades, the mountains, rivers, valleys, and other geographical gems have inspired artists and tourists alike.
Most of the key sights and things to do in Tennessee are conveniently located near the Great Smoky Mountains. The park is enveloped with two massive mountain ranges: the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. You can find a slice of paradise in the national park teeming with exotic wildlife and immense waterfalls.
Take a detour to Cade Cove, which is home to stunning historical artifacts on display, including antiques, fine art, and more.
Don’t miss the Clingmans Dome, an observation tower sitting at the top of the peak, to reach the highest point of Tennessee at a towering 6,643-foot. The sweeping views from the observation top give you a glimpse of Tennessee as a whole. This peak can get very busy during the day, so go early in the morning to beat the crowds.
If you’re visiting Tennessee during the fall months, drop by the Smokies to see some of the most colorful trees in the world. Hiker-friendly trails will take you to higher elevations for panoramic vistas over the park.
You haven’t experienced the culture of Tennessee until you’ve been to Ryman Auditorium. Boasting a seating capacity of 2,362 seats and over 125 years of history, the Ryman could be described as the beating heart of Tennessee’s culture. In its earliest days, the Ryman was Carnegie of the South.
You can gain access to the historic building by purchasing a tour ticket. A self-guided tour takes you through buildings, exhibits, and halls as you get a historical overview of Nashville’s music scene. You could also take a guided tour to gain the most knowledge from a Ryman expert who will explain the site’s historical significance. Don’t forget to take a selfie with a microphone on the popular stage!
Visit the second floor for a chance to see fascinating autographed pictures at the Hatch Show Print Gallery. The Hatch is home to several eye-catching posters made with hand-carved blocks. Towards the end of the stop, you can visit the Ryman Gift Shop to buy memorabilia.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
History buffs will want to add this museum to their checklist. Railway enthusiasts led by Paul Merriman and Robert Soule created the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
It provides a glimpse into the development of railroads in Tennessee and how they connected with the surrounding states. Interestingly enough, the location served as a storage and display center for Western Union but was renovated to become a museum.
More trains were added to the museum when the Southern Railway’s service was decommissioned. The trains here aren’t just for show – you can take a ride through the vintage trains in a historical and interactive environment that adds a new dimension to an authentic setting.
The Titanic Museum
Tennessee is home to the world’s largest Titanic museum with over 400 personal and private artifacts. The structure was built to mimic the Titanic at sea and was built close to Dollywood, probably to make exploration more convenient for tourists to access both sites.
It opened in 2010 and is shaped exactly like the RMS Titanic, but everything is smaller by about 50%.
Visitors would be surprised to note that the colossal structure cost about $25 million – but that should be excepted given the museum’s grandeur with so many artifacts to explore inside. You can book a trip to the museum by purchasing ‘boarding tickets’ just like you would on the real Titanic. Visitors will be grouped into ‘classes’ depending on how much they pay.
You can also assign yourself the position of a random passenger, and explore the museum until you enter the Titanic Memorial Room, which will reveal the passenger’s fate. This is definitely a unique trip that you will fondly remember for years.
Lookout Mountains is a great place to see wildlife and undisturbed nature. It is nestled along the state line in Chattanooga and overlaps the Georgia state line. Its name is said to have been coined by General Andrew Jackson’s troops, but legend has it that it comes from the Cherokee term for “two mountains looking at each other.”
Lookout Mountain is of historical significance to Tennessee. It was the site of the last battle of the Cherokees that took place during the Nickajack Expedition. The battle occurred here during the Civil War of America. Today it is a natural tourist spot with waterfalls and various events occurring during the year.
Bell Witch Cave
Bell Witch Cave is an archeologically significant cave located in Adams, Tennessee. It has a height of around 490 feet and was popularized by the legend of the Bell Witch who haunted the Bell Family – hence the name. As the saying goes, when the Bell Witch fled, she found sanctuary in this cave – and now haunts the cave and those who dare visit it.
There are conflicting narratives about the nature of the witch – whether she’s evil or if she just wants to help. Daredevils with fortitude can explore the cave and test their wits. Legend has it that if you venture too far into the cave, you may hear the ramblings of the old witch as she gives you a lesson in safety before disappearing.
In any case, if you are a horror buff, then the Bell Cave is definitely an interesting place to visit.
Mud Island River Park
Tourists in Tennessee often overlook the Mud Island River Park, but the place is definitely worth a trip because it gives you a look into the world’s fourth-longest river in a matter of hours. The river is a replica of the real Mississippi River. Every 30 inches of the river walk represents about one mile of the real river.
You will get to learn about historical events and the geographical features of the river as they walk through the museum. And if you’re done taking history lessons for the day, you could cap off the trip with a boat ride over the 1.3 million gallon pool of water.
This trail stretches over 2,2000 miles from Maine to Georgia and is the preferred hiking trail of tourists on the east coast. It also passes through the Cherokee National Forest between Virginia, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Damascus.
Covering the entire Appalachian Trip in one trip requires a lot of careful planning and months of preparation. Thousands of hikers attempt to cover the trail by foot, but only one in four will succeed. This journey will take nearly 5 to 7 months to complete. So you may have to take an extended vacation to make this journey happen.
The good news is that the Appalachian Trail is free for all visitors to enjoy. There are no memberships, fees, or permits required to walk the trail.
Dollywood is one of the most popular amusement parks in Tennessee, located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and offers a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.
What truly makes this amusement park one of the best places to visit in Tennessee is that it was modeled after Parton’s experiences as a famous singer, and incorporates various elements from his life. The trip could be viewed as a glimpse into the life and times of Parton himself.
You can take part in various activities, outside of enjoying the rides. Examples include the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, which offers you the opportunity to admire the majestic eagles. The variety spans across 30,000 square foot and boasts one of the largest populations of captive bald eagles that cannot be re-released back into the wild.
Or you could burn off some steam by visiting the kid’s playground. The play area includes the Hidden Hollow at Wildwood Grove or Fun Yard at Wilderness Pass. These playgrounds are designed to help both kids and adults relax and unwind.
Tennessee isn’t all about mountains and trails; they’ve got aquariums throughout the state just waiting for you to explore. The best of these is Ripley’s Aquarium.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies offers a variety of ways for visitors to view and learn about diverse marine life thanks to its state of the art facilities and over 10,000 exotic sea creatures spread out across 10 themed galleries. Ripley’s Aquarium was named as one of the top 10 aquariums in the world, just ahead of Tennessee Aquarium which was named eighth best.
There are many fascinating species here that visitors can observe from one of the longest underground tunnels, providing a view of sharks and rays among other majestic aquatic species that call this aquarium home.
This intimate aquarium experience is made even better by the stunning interior design all around and the betray of the Smokies around it. This is a special local aquarium that you don’t want to miss out on. The aquarium experience of a lifetime for the whole family is finally here.
Shelby Farms Park
Topping the list of family-friendly things to do in Tennessee is Shelby Farms Parks which introduces you to one of the most beautiful places in the US.
Shelby Farms Park occupies a stretch of land that covers more than 4,500 acres. The park’s most distinguishing feature is its varied landscape, including twenty bodies of water and forty miles of trails. Visitors can cover the entire area by foot, boat, or bicycle.
There are many outdoor activities available here. From disc golf to hiking and fishing. You can also bring your four-legged friends here to free-roam the 120 acres of land. Kids can enjoy the great outdoors at the Woodland Discovery Park in a safe, environment.
Make sure to visit Shelby Farm Greenline, a trail that connects Memphis to Cordova. Travelers can rest here after having completed their nearly ten-kilometer journey.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
The aptly named Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is the perfect getaway for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts due to its stunning scenery. It is home to a wide range of vistas and landscapes that visitors can explore on foot or cycle through the wetlands and forests.
The vast stretches of shimmering shoreline will provide ample opportunities for swimming, water sport, boating, and camping overnight. Make sure to rent an energy campground to get the most out of your trip here. The average nightly rate starts at around $16 and goes up depending on the features you want.
There are vast swathes of untouched and undeveloped forests here that are teeming with life and waiting to be explored.
Tennessee’s Civil War Heritage
A list of Tennessee attractions isn’t complete without mentioning its violent, grim history.
In fact, a lot of fighting took place in Tennessee because it was right next to the Union state of Kentucky. As such, the state has an extensive history of war. This is also where the name “Volunteer State’ comes from because Tennessee provided many troops for both sides of the war.
Many battles took place here, with many of these being commemorated by museums and memorials. Of these. the most memorable is Fort Donelson National Battlefield which was a site for the first strategic Union victory in the Civil War. The losses of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry were major upsets for the Confederacy and turned the tide of the battle. Visits to these memorials will serve as a sobering reminder of the grim relativities of war.
The Shiloh National Military Park is home to over 3,500 Union graves and signifies the loss of human life as a result of the battles.
Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness
Put on your hiking boots and enjoy this little slice of heaven that covers 1,157 acres of area. It is sculpted by an underground stream that exits from a cave and plummets over 110 feet before entering into another cave at the lower end of the sink. This unique geographical arrangement allows for special geological features and many waterfalls.
Visitors can plan hiking trips to Virgin Falls and choose different trails depending on their preferences. The average duration for hiking trails is between five to eight hours. There are several camping spots nearby where visitors can stay within hearing distance of the roaring waterfalls.
Figuring out how to navigate Tennessee can be challenging, not because of a lack of things to do, but because there is so much to explore.
Our guide on the best attractions in Tennessee is just the tip of the iceberg for what you can do in this state. Visitors keep coming to Tennessee to experience the amazing hospitality and see the attractions. If you’re working on planning a trip to Tennessee, you can make your trip more worthwhile by taking advantage of the activities we’ve mentioned above.
Whatever your preferred area of interest is, you are sure to find some intriguing, interesting, and enchanting places to see. Hopefully, our list of the best things to do in Tennessee will help you find your perfect destination.