There are so many amazing things to do in Knoxville, TN that you will never be bored! There are a variety of outdoor and indoor things to do, and (of course!) great food. Plus, if you’re looking for adventurous things to do — you won’t be disappointed.
Let’s jump into all the fun your family can have in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Outdoor Adventures in Knoxville
Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center – Located on the downtown waterfront, you’ll find rentals for stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and biking, plus maps and other info. Get there by heading under the awesome bike arch (seen below). Address: 900 Volunteer Landing Ln, Knoxville
Ijams Nature Center – Ijams Nature Center offers 300 acres of natural areas just three miles from downtown Knoxville. There are more than 10 miles of trails with scenic overlooks for outdoor lovers, boardwalks along the Tennessee River, wooded groves and out-of-service marble quarries.
For historical buffs, the Historic Mead’s Quarry (listed on the National Register of Historic Places,) and the historic home site offer plenty to explore. Seasonally, there is the Ijams Beer Garden at Mead’s Quarry.
Children will love Jo’s Grove, a natural playscape designed just for them.
Navitat Canopy Adventures – Located inside Ijams Nature Center, Canopy Adventures allows families with children as young as age 7 to explore more than 60 different adventure elements. There are ziplines, bridges, elevated tunnels and over six different elevated “adventure trails.”
The whole park is choose-your-own-adventure, with both easier trails and more difficult ones too. If family members want to cheer along, there are a series of trails on the ground under/next to the adventure elements, so they can keep up with the aerial adventurers.
Beverly Park Trails – There are two short trails here that are 0.6 miles each for wildflower or birdwatchers to explore. The trails take you through the woods and around the junior golf course.
Visitors can choose their perfect hike — as one features a paved greenway, and the other is a natural surface. Both have slight hills but are comfortable for walkers and hikers at all levels.
Disc Golf at Morningside Park – Morningside Park is home to one of six Disc Golf Club courses in the Knoxville area. The 18-hole course at Morningside Park was updated for tournament standards and is fun for all player levels. Tournaments are held monthly during the season, but the course is open for play and practice all other times.
House Mountain State Park – House Mountain’s 2,100-foot crest is the highest point in Knox County, and is supported by 5.8 miles of moderate to difficult trails. The park is only 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville and offers prime viewing of the Cumberland Mountains to the north, Smoky Mountains to the south, and downtown Knoxville and the Clinch Mountain range in the northeast.
Road cyclists will enjoy the routes along creeks and farmlands, while bird watchers can observe more than 100 species of birds sighted in the mountains.
Riverboats and Trains: Knoxville Historical Tours
Star of Knoxville Riverboat – Star of Knoxville is an authentic paddle wheeler riverboat, hosting cruises down the Tennessee River.
To see Knoxville from a different perspective, try the Knoxville Sightseeing Cruise that takes you from the mouth of First Creek to the site of the Cherokee Indians settlements while passing by some of the area’s most stunning riverfront homes. Themed lunch, brunch and dinner cruises depart year round.
Three Rivers Rambler Train – Guests can seasonally hop on the Three Rivers Rambler excursion train in downtown Knoxville at the University Commons deport to take rides through history.
The Rambler passes historical sites, farmland, the first area settled in Knoxville and the Three Rivers Trestle where the French, Broad and Holston Rivers merge to form the Tennessee River. Discounted rates for toddlers, children, seniors and infants are FREE.
Christmas Lantern Express – Throughout the holiday season, the Three Rivers Rambler train transforms into the Christmas Lantern Express. Guests receive a reading of “The Christmas Lantern” book by Karen C. Bishop on the 2-hour ride. Santa stops to board the train and gives each child a sleigh bell to go with Christmas cookies and refreshments.
Sweet Treats in Knoxville
Knoxville Chocolate Company – The Knoxville Chocolate Company is home to a variety of locally made sweet treats. The company began as Bradley’s Chocolates in 1995 before their purchase of a local candy manufacturer and renaming as the Knoxville Chocolate Company.
Schakolad Chocolate Factory – A chocolate expert, lovingly know as a Schakolatier, will escort you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Factory. During the tour, visitors learn the history of chocolate, the health benefits and cool facts before molding and decorating their own. The tour ends with a full tasting menu of specialty chocolates.
Makers Donuts – Makers Donuts features seasonal and local ingredients and is one of the top Knoxville, TN points of interest. They make unique batches of donuts each Wednesday – Sunday morning. Check their Facebook page for their latest offerings.
Flavors may range from Devil’s Food Cake, Blueberry Bourbon to Milk & Cereal with Fruity Pebbles. Makers was created from the owners’ personal passion of finding the best local donut flavors wherever they traveled. After years of traveling, they decided to open their own best donut shop in Knoxville, TN.
Magpies Bakery – Magpies Bakery is the can-do bakery, and they bakes pies, cheesecakes, cookies and banana puddings daily. They make everything from scratch with only the finest ingredients. Seasonally, they offer King Cakes, apple stack cakes and other delicious treats.
Unique Places to Eat in Knoxville: Food Tours and Experiences
Knoxville Food Tours – Knoxville Food Tours specializes in touring the hidden treasures you can find in the eateries and specialty shops around Knoxville, while learning the history of the area.
All Knoxville Food Tours include tastings of signature and house specialty dishes, from not only the best new restaurants in the area, but also the iconic restaurants and their history of the city.
Maple Hall Bowling – Maple Hall is a bowling experience with small plates, a full bar, and a live stage and lounge area built on the site of East Tennessee’s first baseball field in the 1800s. The location was even the site of a Union versus Confederate game during the Civil War.
The French Market Creperie – For an authentic crêpe experience in Knoxville, The French Market is the only place to go. They import the key ingredient — flour! — from France to ensure that it’s as close as it can be to a Parisian crêpe.
The menu includes sweet and savory crêpes, sandwiches, soups and salads. They also have a gift shop with French-made products onsite at each restaurant.
The Tomato Head – Tomato Head Restaurant offers an alternative to the chain restaurants, with a menu driven by organic and locally grown salads, sandwiches, pizza and sweets. Everything — including the sandwich bread — is made in-house with the best ingredients.
Tomato Head is also a cultural experience with works by local artists on the wall and live performances of poetry, musical and performance art.
Best Parks and Outdoor Areas in Knoxville
Worlds Fair Park – World’s Fair Park is a public park that celebrates Knoxville as the home of the 1982 World’s Fair. Volunteer Landing is a waterfront destination for families to enjoy the downtown area.
There are also fountains, water geysers and other splash pad features for families to enjoy. Festivals and special events occur on the Performance Lawn, Festival Lawn and the Tennessee Amphitheater, which was also constructed for the World’s Fair.
Sunsphere – The Sunsphere opened in 1982 as a symbol of the 1982 World’s Fair and was renovated in May 2014. It is the current home of an Observation Deck on the 4th level, Primo at the Sphere Italian Restaurant on the 5th level and special event space on the 6th and 8th levels.
The Observation Desk is accessed via double elevators and offers a 360 degree view of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee River, Smoky Mountains and University of Tennessee. FREE admission to the Observation Deck.
Old City – Old City Knoxville is a creative and vibrant downtown experience rich in the history of East Tennessee’s architectural past. Old City is home to culinary traditions ranging from coffee houses and Irish and Scottish pubs, to pizza and Chicago style flat-dogs.
At night, the Old City transforms into East Tennessee’s independent music scene, with live music and dance clubs.
Market Square, Knoxville – Located in downtown Knoxville, Market Square is home to a water play fountain, twice-weekly farmer’s market, seasonal ice rink and other public festivals.
It offers visitors an opportunity to get close to history, with a statue commemorating Tennessee’s role in the fight for women’s suffrage, and a bell from the original Market House that stood on the site located in the end of the square.
Knoxville Attractions for Kids & Families
The Muse Knoxville – Art and Science are joined together at Muse Knoxville, with experiences for all ages at Knoxville’s only children’s science museum. There is a special Kidspace area for preschoolers to touch, listen and create.
The Akima Planetarium welcomes everyone to explore space – the stars, planets and beyond. There are inside and outdoor spaces, with maker spaces and an outdoor science garden. FREE for teachers and military with ID year round.
Zoo Knoxville – Zoo Knoxville is home to 30 different animals — from African Elephants, to the Yellow-backed Duiker — in 10 different habitats. Zoo Knoxville is also involved with conservation work in the field, with award-winning recognition for our efforts to save East Tennessee’s endangered bog turtle and ongoing research with native hellbender and mudpuppy salamanders.
Zoo Knoxville globally supports conversation by traveling to study animals in their native habitats. The “Quarters for Conservation” program gives 25 cents of every zoo ticket sold to on-going conservation programs around the globe. FREE for children 2 and under, and DISCOUNTED admission for children 3 – 12 & seniors.
Knoxville Children’s Theatre – Knoxville Children’s Theatre stages professional plays for children — with children as the stars. Their mission is “to cultivate a love for theatrical arts in East Tennessee through professional production, advanced instruction, and community outreach.”
The children in the company develop skills in creative thinking, public speaking, project management and team work.
Girl Scout Museum – The Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place is located in the Knoxville Service Center and offers guided tours, casual browsing, hands-on exhibits, and memorabilia — including a collection of vintage Girl Scout uniforms. The Archival Library is a collection of Girl Scout-related publications more than a 100 years old, with materials from as early as 1912.
Visitors who make an advance reservation can try on one of the 500 vintage uniforms and present a fashion show for their group. The Museum even has a permanent loan of the Mabel Pain doll, that once was part of the Smithsonian Museum exhibits along with the book, The Girl Scout Triumph, which details the doll’s history.
Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame – In 1999, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame opened in Knoxville to, “honor the past, celebrate the present and promote the future,” of women’s basketball. The Hall of Honor is the formal section where all the inductees are recognized for their accomplishments.
There are also sections to test visitors skills on three courts, a timed dribbling course, a passing skills area and even a photo area to see yourself as a player throughout history. The centerpiece of the Hall of Fame is the 17-foot bronze Eastman statue in the center of the rotunda, but the World’s Largest Basketball — the Baden Ball — also makes for a great photo opportunity. FREE for children under age 5.
Museums in Knoxville and East Tennessee
Knoxville Museum of Art – The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates the art and artists of East Tennessee. Two of its major permanent exhibits, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee and Currents: Recent Art from East Tennessee and Beyond, are focused on the Southern Appalachians as inspiration for the visual artists of the region.
The Museum is also home to the largest figural glass installation in the world!
Children are always welcome in the Creative Corner, an interactive play area with hands-on materials. Families will enjoy the bi-annual Family Fun Day with special entertainment and artist demonstrations for the youngest visitors. FREE Admission daily for all visitors.
Museum of East Tennessee History – Located in the East Tennessee History Center, the Museum invites visitors to learn more about the people, places and events that have shaped the region. Guest will learn about atomic energy facilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority as well as other events through the more than 13,000 artifacts in the permanent collections.
Rotating exhibits throughout the year focus on a unique aspect of East Tennessee. FREE Admission for children, adults and seniors on Sunday. Children 16 and under always FREE.
McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture – The McClung Museum efforts began as early as 1937, when the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology began collecting artifacts of the prehistoric Indian groups of early Tennessee. Today, the museum is home to eight permanent exhibits that, “advance understanding and appreciation of the earth and its peoples through the collection, preservation, study, interpretation, and exhibition of objects and data.”
The exhibits feature not only Tennessee, but also Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. The museum often hosts speakers and other special events like their monthly Family Fun Days. FREE admission and parking.
James White’s Fort – The Fort celebrates the frontier lifestyle of James White, the founder of Knoxville, in a hands-on interactive museum experience. The Fort has a preserved frontier life with a focus on the period from 1776 – 1800 with artifacts from the era and demonstrations of open hearth cooking, blacksmithing and spinning.
Tours are offered daily with ongoing special events and educational programs that align with the mission of the fort. James White’s Fort is closed during UT home football games due to parking and traffic congestion.
Blount Mansion – Blount Mansion was the home of U.S. Constitution signer William Blount and his family, circa 1792. Blount was appointed by President George Washington to govern the Southwest Territory, and he worked to get Tennessee into the union as the sixteenth state in the United States. Thus, this mansion is known as the “Birthplace of Tennessee.”
The Blount Mansion is Tennessee’s only National Historic Landmark and the city’s oldest operating museum, opening in 1926! Visit the family home, see historical exhibits, and visit the art gallery they have here too.
Where to Stay in Knoxville, TN
There are some great places to stay during your visit to Knoxville. Here are some of our favorites.
Knoxville Hotel Options
Best Luxury Hotel: Just 3 blocks away from the fine dining, local shops and entertainment of downtown Knoxville, The Tennessean hotel offers traditional southern hospitality with contemporary amenities, including an on-site restaurant and bar.
Best Unique Hotel: Prepare to be inspired at Graduate Knoxville! This stylish hotel is attractively set in the Downtown Knoxville district of Knoxville, and is located less than 0.6 mi from University of Tennessee Neyland Stadium, a 14-minute walk from Frank H McClung Museum and 0.9 mi from Knoxville Convention Center. You won’t be able to stop taking pictures here!
Best Tried and True Hotel: A 10-minute walk from the University of Tennessee and the Knoxville Convention Center, The Crowne Plaza Knoxville (an IHG hotel) features an on-site bar, indoor pool, and free in-room Wi-Fi. The Knoxville Zoo is only 3 miles from this one.
Our favorite campground is about 20 miles away from Knoxville in nearby Sevierville, TN. As one of the best resorts near Pigeon Forge and Knoxville, Sun Outdoors offers an outstanding location near exciting local attractions, plus wonderful accommodations and amenities to complete your getaway to the great outdoors.
Looking for more information on Knoxville? Make sure to make a stop by one of the best visitor centers — the Knoxville Visitor Center at the corner of Summit and Gay.
With detailed maps, attraction brochures, locally sourced products, and live entertainment, visitors and locals alike love this place! With so much to do, it’s a great place to get started.
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