On the banks of the Tennessee River lies the historic city of Chattanooga. This Appalachian city grew out of a small settlement called Ross’s Landing, and the name Chattanooga did not exist until 1839, when the town was incorporated into Tennessee. Over time, Chattanooga’s small-town burst into a robust metropolitan city.
Chattanooga is vibrant and wonderfully diverse, and grows more rich every time we visit. Its history is a fascinating web of historical and cultural events built on innovation. Between the dynamic energy of Downtown Chattanooga, the rich history and culture displayed in the city’s museums and galleries, and the countless natural sites and scenes, and a serious craft brew game, you’ll never run out of things to do in Chattanooga.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHATTANOOGA
The Chattanoogan Hotel: Ideal for families and close to downtown
This year marks our family’s third stay at The Chattanoogan, and it gets better every time! New in 2023 the rooms have been updated with new carpet, new headboards, and new mattresses and pillows!
We love the multiple restaurants (including an outdoor lounge), the coffee shop, the spacious rooms, and friendly staff. Yes, it can be a romantic option for couples, but all the amenities make it easy-peasy for families, too… that’s why we love it!
Plus, the hotel’s location is close to downtown and central to everything Chattanooga offers. Plus, it’s a Hilton Curio hotel so you can use your Honors points while still enjoying that boutique feeling!
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN CHATTANOOGA
Downtown Chattanooga is the beating heart of this lively metropolis. You’ll want to set aside time during the day and an evening or two to enjoy all this neighborhood has to offer. Seriously, we visited for three days recently and it was not nearly enough!
By day, downtown is home to a bustling business and shopping scene. At night, the lights of the city shimmer on the Tennessee River, creating a living painting on the water. Along the streets of Downtown Chattanooga reside delicious restaurants, busy boutiques, and a surprising array of museums, sculptures, and art.
You can’t run out of food or drink experiences downtown. At Maple Street Biscuit Company, you’ll find classic American comfort foods like biscuits and gravy with unique twists (like the Sticky Maple, a mouth-watering stack of fried chicken, homemade biscuits, bacon, and maple syrup!). You’ll also want to swing by local-favorite, Urban Stack, where the Asian Q wagyu burger and gouda creamed corn are just two of the gourmet treats on the menu!
Don't miss the Hunter Museum of Art and the Bluff View Arts District. The art district is famous for the historic Bluff View Inn, the River Gallery Sculpture Garden, and the comforting brews of Rembrandt’s Coffee House. My favorite restaurant in the entire city is Tony's Pasta Shop, right up from the sculpture garden. The views are sensational (ask for outdoor seating in warmer weather) and try the linguini alfredo with crawfish. Divine.
It's in this Downtown area that you'll find many of the things we talk about below - the aquarium, rock climbing, Chattanooga Choo Choo and more.... the point is to make time to explore more than just the attractions!
WALK ACROSS WALNUT STREET BRIDGE
Chattanooga is home to a remarkable array of engineering feats, one of which is the Walnut Street Bridge. The bridge is actually one of the oldest and longest truss-style bridges in the United States! The historic bridge crosses the Tennessee River, spanning from Downtown Chattanooga to the historic North Shore neighborhood.
The Walnut Street Bridge served motor vehicles and pedestrian travelers early in its history. In 1978, the bridge closed to motor vehicles and fell into disrepair. However, the last two decades saw the bridge at the center of a revitalization effort in Chattanooga, refurbishing the Walnut Street Bridge into the majestic pedestrian walkway of today.
If you're exploring Downtown, then be sure to take the walk to the other side to visit Coolidge Park. The scenic city park is a favorite among Chattanoogans. It features an antique Dentzel carousel with 52 hand-carved animals decorated in gold leaf (and yes, you can ride it for only $1).
When my kids were younger, we'd spend many a summer in the splash pads here (Parents, you're going to want a coffee from Mean Mug before you get settled.)
Don't miss shopping and dining while you're in the North Shore neighborhood. We love grabbing a snack at Julie Darling Donuts, having a pretzel and beer at Brewhaus, shopping at I Go Tokyo, and taking "virtual" adventures with Adventure Sports Innovation.
Walnut Street Bridge is also the sight of activities like the Wine Over Water Festival, the Riverbend Festival, and the Seven Bridges Marathon, among other activities throughout the year.
CATCH THE VIEW ON THE INCLINE RAILWAY
Welcome to America’s Most Amazing Mile! The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway takes you on a journey up to the top of Lookout Mountain with incredible views.
The adventure to Lookout Mountain begins in St. Elmo Historic District. From the St. Elmo Station, you’ll settle down for a rail ride up up up up the mountain. You’ll catch an unforgettable view of the Chattanooga Valley, the Tennessee River, and the Appalachian Mountains at the Lookout Mountain station.
You can explore Point Park while you're at the top, and don't forget to grab a bite of fudge from the gift shop. Back at the bottom, do not even think about skipping out on ice cream from Chubbies!
TALK TO THE ANIMALS AT THE CHATTANOOGA ZOO
Take a walk on the wild side with a visit to the Chattanooga Zoo! Animals from across the globe reside within the zoo’s walls.
During your visit, you’ll encounter giraffes, red pandas, spider monkeys, and other exotic mammals, as well as tortoises, snakes, and alligators (oh my!). From jungles to deserts, your family will love spending an afternoon exploring the creatures that call them home.
You can add extra fun to the zoo trip by taking a ride on the Zoo Choo. Or, go behind the scenes on a wild encounter with a red panda or capybara, feed a giraffe, or even say hello to the fearsome Komodo Dragon!
POSE WITH A BUTTERFLY (AND FISH) AT THE TENNESSEE AQUARIUM
Dive into endless fun with a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium. Playful penguins, rainbow-colored fish, and fluttering butterflies await every visitor! My kids favorite? The touch tanks!
The Tennessee Aquarium is a top-notch family and solo adventure spot. Its exhibits feature a diverse array of animals. For example, in the River Journey exhibits, you’ll meet tortoises, otters, and giant catfish. Over in Ocean Journey, you’ll find Penguins Rock, a butterfly garden, and a tropical cove full of colorful corals and fish.
Remember that the aquarium doesn’t have a food court, though it does offer snacks and refreshments in the gift shop. Instead, I recommend planning a picnic at the Tennessee Riverpark just outside the aquarium. The Riverpark, also known as the Aquarium Plaza, has water play activities for kids. The wading pools, streams, and river overlooks make it the perfect spot for a refreshing picnic on a sunny afternoon.
SEE THE WATERFALL (AND MORE) AT ROCK CITY
Rock City sits 1700 feet above sea level; the craggy rock formations of Rock City are a dazzling sight.
There are many sights you’ll want to take in when you reach Rock City. From its rocky walls falls a 100 ft waterfall that cascades down the mountainside. On the Swing-a-Long bridge, you can snap pictures of Chattanooga Valley from 180ft in the air. At Lover’s Leap lookout, local legend states that you can see seven states.
For families with kids, you’ll definitely want to take time to visit the Fairyland Caverns. Along the paths of the Fairyland Caverns, you’ll find scenes from your favorite fairy tales immortalized in stone. Inside the caverns, you’ll also visit Mother Goose’s village, where the Three Little Pigs, Little Boy Blue, and other nursery rhyme characters greet you.
RIDE THE SOUTHERN BELLE RIVERBOAT
The Tennessee River is integral to the history and beauty of Chattanooga. There’s no better way to take in the city than on the Southern Belle Riverboat cruise. Over 100,000 visitors take in the cruise every year, and it’s not hard to see why!
The Southern Belle Riverboat takes guests on a leisurely cruise past the sights of Chattanooga. You’ll cross beneath bridges, see Lookout Point, and take in the lively sights of the city. Or, for a romantic night on the river, take a sunset cruise. You’ll get to enjoy a riverfront sunset view, watch the shimmering lights of the city on the river, and get to spend quality time making beautiful memories!
CLIMB AT HIGH POINT CLIMBING AND FITNESS
Right near the aquarium in Downtown, High Point Climbing is always bustling with people - locals and tourists alike. Pile in, rent climbing time, shoes and a harness, and you're good to go.
We love the graduating skill levels, the kids' climbing area, and the automatic belay system here. That means Dan and I get to climb at the same time as the kids (though we love to belay them, too.)
GO UNDERGROUND AT RUBY FALLS
Did you know that some waterfalls run underground? One of them is in Chattanooga! Located near the Lookout Mountain station, Ruby Falls is the tallest and deepest waterfall open in the United States.
The goal of your journey is to see the awe-inspiring Ruby Falls that thunder and crash inside the mountain, but getting to the waterfall is also an adventure. To access the falls, you must descend a 260 ft by glass elevator into the ancient rock formations and tunnels of Lookout Mountain. Visitors have the option of a lantern tour, where you receive a personal tour of the falls by lantern light, or you can reserve a gentle walking tour with in-depth historical content.
After visiting the caves and roaring waterfall, stop by the Ruby Falls Plaza. There, you can get a stunning view of the Cumberland Plateau from the Lookout Mountain Tower or the Heron Overlook. The plaza is also home to the Ruby Falls Castle, where a gift shop, cafe, and restaurant offer refreshments to visitors.
Read More: RUBY FALLS: A BREATHTAKING NATURAL WONDER IN CHATTANOOGA YOU’VE GOT TO SEE
VISIT THE CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO
For some folks, Chattanooga Choo Choo conjures the sound of big band swing music; for others, the so-named comedy film pops up. However, when in Chattanooga, the Choo Choo is a literal train. Originally the terminal station for Chattanooga’s railways, now you'll find all sorts of restaurants and things to do.
On site, you'll also find the amazing Glenn Miller Gardens. The 2-acre gardens are an oasis in the middle of the city, and feature fun family games -- like oversized Jenga and checkers.
Frothy Money is our favorite stop for breakfast, and you'll love STIR for your evening meal. In the warmer months, pull yourself up to the picnic tables at American Draft, where you can pour-your-own beer right inside a train car!
TAKE A TRAIN RIDE OR JUST WALK AMONG THEM
The Tennessee Valley Railroad is a historic railway that takes passengers on a journey back in time, and it's among my favorite train rides in the south. The Missionary Ridge Local is what I recommend you take; it departs from the Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga and takes you on a scenic ride through the beautiful Tennessee countryside. The train features vintage passenger cars and steam locomotives, making you feel like you've stepped into a different era.
During your ride, you'll get to see stunning views of the Tennessee River, historic railroad stations, and even pass through a historic tunnel. The train also offers themed rides throughout the year, including a Christmas-themed ride and a ride featuring a classic murder mystery.
One of my favorite things about the Tennessee Valley Railroad is how immersive the experience is. The train staff are all dressed in period attire and provide interesting commentary throughout the ride, giving you a glimpse into what life was like during the golden age of railroads.
If you want to visit but you don't have time for the ride, then you should still come! A walk through the yard to see all the trains is a kids paradise (have your camera at the ready!)
PS. The TVR has multiple locations, and we LOVE the dome car that you can ride from the Etowah location. 5 TVR ETOWAH DEPOT TRAIN RIDE TIPS FOR A SENSATIONAL DOME CAR ADVENTURE
REMEMBER THE FALLEN AT THE CHATTANOOGA NATIONAL CEMETERY
After the Civil War ended, Major General George Henry Thomas established what became Chattanooga National Cemetery as the final resting place for many of the fallen. In 1867, the cemetery became an official National Cemetery.
Visitors to Chattanooga National Cemetery find themselves in a soothing, calm space in the heart of the city. Monuments dot the peaceful green lawns. Statues, tombstones, and plaques commemorate soldiers from the Civil War to the present day. Notable monuments include the 1868 memorial archway and the Civil War Medal of Honor.
VISIT THE HUNTER MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART
One of Chattanooga’s greatest treasures is its Hunter Museum of American Art. Since 1952, the museum has sought to preserve and provide enriching art to the Chattanooga community.
The museum building is a piece of art unto itself. It represents a century of architectural design between its three buildings. The Faxon-Thomas Mansion's oldest building is a Neoclassical mansion of columns and brickwork designed by Abram Garfield - President Garfield’s son. A minimalist building opened in 1952 to expand the museum, and in 2005, the final glass modernist style building opened its doors.
You’ll discover a vast array of art styles at this phenomenal museum. Outdoor exhibits feature giant geometric shapes, vibrantly colored statues, and twisting metal sculptures in a festival for the eyes. But, don’t stop the fun outside! Inside the Hunter Art Museum, you’ll discover everything from colonial art pieces to modern pottery! It’s worth an entire afternoon to wander the halls of this destination!
BOOK A CAVE TOUR WITH RACCOON MOUNTAIN CAVERNS
The area around Chattanooga conceals many underground wonders. At Raccoon Mountain Caverns, you can experience one of these hidden wonders yourself with a guided tour.
There are two types of tours at Raccoon Mountain Caverns. For thrill-seekers, the Wild Cave Expedition Tour offers a down and dirty exploration of the lesser-known areas of the caves. The Crystal Palace Walking Tour provides a leisurely, well-lit trail through glittering stalagmites for a family-friendly tour.
You don’t have to stop the fun at Raccoon Mountain after your walking tour. Visitors can stay at nearby cabins or campgrounds, pan for gold, and swing by the gift shop to complete their trip.
BRING THE KIDS TO THE CREATIVE DISCOVERY MUSEUM
There’s nothing like watching your kids develop a love of learning, is there? So if you have curious minds in your family, you definitely need to take them to the Creative Discovery Museum!
Chattanooga’s Creative Discovery Museum caters to learners of all age groups. At the Little Yellow House exhibit, toddlers can climb and explore to their heart’s content. The rooftop garden appeals to the young green thumbs of the family, while The Tower exhibit gives kids a bird's eye view of the city!
HIKE THE REFLECTION RIDING ARBORETUM & NATURE CENTER
At the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, visitors reconnect with the serenity and importance of the natural world. The 300-acre campus features a greenhouse, a lake creek, a wolf sanctuary, and plenty of hiking trails.
To get the most out of your trip to the Arboretum, schedule a nature experience. Visitors have the chance to meet Red Wolves up close or take a hike with a hawk, among other options. The park also has a three-mile gravel loop that passes through flowery meadows, tree-lined groves, and wetland habitats perfect for exploring.
TOUR COKER MUSEUM
Gearheads and airplane enthusiasts have got to see the Coker Museum while in Chattanooga. The Coker Museum is an exceptional piece of Chattanooga history. It features over 100 vintage cars, trucks, buses, and three vintage airplanes, among other fascinating automotive vehicles.
If you have a family event in Chattanooga, you can even host it at the museum. The museum doubles as an event hall, with weddings, banquets, and parties often hosted on the grounds surrounded by classic vehicles. Of course, if you just want a tour of the automotive beauties, give the museum a call; they’ll be happy to arrange it!
SHOP THE CHATTANOOGA MARKET
Get a taste of local Chattanooga crops and products at the Chattanooga Market! Named one of the Top Ten Public Markets in America, the market brings over 150 vendors together for Chattanoogans to enjoy.
Your visit to the Chattanooga Market is a one-of-a-kind experience. Live music plays most days to entertain shoppers, while vendors sell everything from handmade soaps to freshly picked tomatoes.
Throughout the year, the Chattanooga Market hosts a variety of festivals. In September, the Beast Feast BBQ Festival brings cold beer, music, and (you guessed it!) delicious BBQ. The Five Star Food Fight brings Chattanooga’s best chefs together for a head-to-head cooking challenge in July. Make sure to check out the market’s website to see if your visit coincides with one of their exciting festivals so you can plan your visit accordingly!
SMACK THE PLUNGER AT THE CLASSIC ARCADE PINBALL MUSEUM
Okay, I know what you’re thinking - a pinball arcade? Yes, you will definitely want to visit the Classic Arcade Pinball Museum! The museum contains dozens of collector’s edition pinball machines, but you can play with the exhibits, unlike most museums!
Visitors to the Classic Arcade Pinball Museum should plan on spending at least an hour enjoying all it has to offer. You’ll find machines featuring the likes of Star Wars, the rock band KISS, Dungeons and Dragons, and even the Twilight Zone. The machines date as far back as 1972 (though the museum also has newer machines), but don’t let their age fool you. Every one of them is an absolute blast to play!
FLY TANDEM WITH LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN FLIGHT PARK
Fly with the birds and soar over Chattanooga at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park! The park offers both hang gliding and paragliding lessons, with options for all skill levels. You’ll feel as light as a feather and free as a bird after an afternoon with the experts at Lookout Mountain Flight Park.
You don’t need to feel nervous about flying through the skies at the Flight School. Visitors without experience glide in tandem, with an expert instructor taking the reins (or wings, if you will) while you get to sit back and enjoy the views. You can even make the experience a family affair! Children from the age of ten and up are welcome to take on the adventure, too.
Read More: KIDS SOAR ON A LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN HANG GLIDING ADVENTURE
GET SPOOKED ON A CHATTANOOGA GHOST TOUR
Chattanooga has a long and turbulent history. A ghost tour of the city takes you through those secret, dark, and exciting histories - all while looking for the things that go bump in the night!
The city of Chattanooga has several ghost tours available to visitors. Most explore the cemeteries, while many stop by the haunted University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus, where the woman in white haunts Patten Chapel. Other sights include the Read House, a former Civil War hospital; the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel; and areas beneath the city itself! So prepare yourself for some chills and thrills!
DAY TRIP TO JACK DANIEL'S DISTILLERY
There’s nothing more iconic to Tennessee than Jack Daniels whiskey. If you’re in Chattanooga, you’re in luck - the city is a mere hour and a half away from the Jack Daniel's Distillery.
Now, keep in mind that the distillery is a 21+ tour. Visitors get to explore the process of making Jack Daniels, the historic grounds of the distillery, and yes - you get to try the goods, too!
While you are in town, check out Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, where Mr. Daniel is said to have enjoyed a meal or two back in the day. Then, before returning to Chattanooga, snag a souvenir from the Lynchburg Hardware General Store to remember the trip by.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO TENNESSEE
- YOUR TENNESSEE VACATION
- RESORTS: 24 Best Hotels & Resorts In Tennessee You'll Love
- JACKSON: 14 Things To Do In Jackson TN You're Gonna Love
- FRANKLIN: 18 Things To Do In Franklin TN You're Gonna Love
- MEMPHIS: 34 Amazing Things To Do In Memphis You’ll Love
WHERE TO STAY IN CHATTANOOGA
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