When it comes to things to do in Tennessee, the options are endless. From spending time in the great outdoors to checking out some of the state’s amazing historical sites, there’s something for everyone in Tennessee.
If you’re looking for a fun road trip destination, this is the place for you! Below are just a few of the many things you can do in Tennessee.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is the most-visited national park in the country. (In fact, I just visited there last week!)
This park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountains. The park features more than 800 miles of trails (more below) and numerous waterfalls. You’ll find great campgrounds (we love Smokemont!), lots of beautiful overlooks, picnic areas, wildlife, history, and more.
Cades Cove is a valley located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The valley was settled by Europeans in the early 1800s and contains many historical structures and buildings from that era.
The cove is now a popular tourist destination, with over two million visitors per year. Visitors can drive through the 11-mile loop road or hike some of the many trails that lead from the cove. The valley is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, black bears, and turkey.
Vehicle-free access along the Cades Cove Loop Road takes place each Wednesday during the summer months. On these days, the 11-mile loop can be enjoyed on foot or bicycle.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A paved path leads to the summit, where there is a visitor center and observation deck. The summit is often covered in clouds, but on clear days there are spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
The Clingmans Dome area is also home to a variety of plants and animals, including black bears, deer, and wild turkey. There are several hiking trails in the area, including the summit trail, which is a steep half-mile climb. The Appalachian Trail also passes near Clingmans Dome. We also love the hike to Andrews Bald from here — it makes a great picnic spot.
Get to this parking lot before lunch, especially in the summer and fall. It fills up fast!
CHIMNEY TOPS HIKE
The Chimney Tops Trail is a moderate hike that takes you to the summit of Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike is 4.4 miles long and has an elevation gain of 1,400 feet.
The hike is part of the Appalachian Trail and begins at the Grotto Falls Parking Area. The hike is not for beginners, as it features steep climbs, but the views are spectacular!
Memphis is located in southwestern Tennessee and is one of the largest cities in the state. Located on the Mississippi River, you’ll find great restaurants, outdoor activities, family-friendly adventures, beautifully redesigned parks, museums, and so much more.
Memphis is known for its music scene, which helped to launch the careers of Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and others.
Graceland is the home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll. It’s no surprise that this is one of the biggest attractions — not only in the state of Tennessee, but also in the country. Make no mistake — this property is huge and offers 120 acres dedicated to the legend himself.
Some of the best things to explore here include the private mansion where The King himself grew up, as well as the Entertainer Career Museum. Here you can check out an interactive experience that makes you feel like he’s right in the midst of his prime years.
Beale Street is the heart and soul of Memphis, and it’s where you can hear live music at a handful of restaurants. What is really interesting is that there are a few record shops where you can really take part in the culture and learn about the history of jazz.
This is a great spot to hang out at night because you are sure to see the locals dancing outside bars and eateries. Blues Hall is certainly a favorite spot, but what makes this place so cool is that it’s connected to Rum Boogie Cafe, giving you the two-for-one experience.
NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
The National Civil Rights Museum is a place of learning, as you get the chance to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement that changed the American political and social landscape.
The museum is currently in The Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and interactive exhibits while exploring the 260 artifacts that tell the story of the movement and its achievements.
The Peabody Hotel is an amazingly beautiful historic hotel that features the famous Peabody Ducks. Here, you can watch the five resident Mallard ducks strut down the red carpet and into the famous fountain that sits in the middle of the hotel lobby at 11am and 5pm. It truly is something to quack up about.
The Peabody opened in 1869 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You’ll find luxurious rooms, an amazing spa, and delicious restaurants and bars onsite.
The Memphis Zoo is a massive compound covering 76 acres, so be sure to pack your walking shoes. With 3,500 animals representing 500 species, there is so much to see and do here.
In addition to all the animals to visit, you’ll also find a farm train and children’s rides, special feeding experiences, dining and concessions, an aquarium, seasonal experiences, and special events.
The zoo is also very historically relevant, as it has been a staple of Overton Park for over a century now. It first opened its doors to the public in 1906, with visitors worldwide coming to see the zoo.
DISCOVERY PARK OF AMERICA
Discovery Park of America is a 510-acre museum, nature park, and agricultural attraction located in Union County, Tennessee, about 2 hours north of Memphis.
The park features a variety of attractions, including an amusement park, a zoo, a botanical garden, and more than 100,000 square feet of museum space.
Nashville is both the capital and most populous city of Tennessee. It is located on the Cumberland River in the north-central part of the state.
Nashville is the state’s center for the music, healthcare, publishing, banking, and transportation industries and is home to numerous colleges and universities. It is also known for its famous music scene, with many country music and rockabilly clubs.
GRAND OLE OPRY
The Grand Ole Opry is a live music venue and museum. It’s the longest-running radio show in U.S. history and has been staging country music shows since 1925.
Visitors can take guided tours of the historic building and see memorabilia from some of country music’s biggest stars. There’s also a shop and cafe on site. Live music is performed every night, and tickets are available for shows ranging from traditional country to gospel and bluegrass.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is located in downtown Nashville. It is dedicated to the history and preservation of country music.
It features exhibits on the history of country music, including displays of instruments, costumes, and memorabilia. The museum also offers educational programs for school groups and adults.
The Ryman Auditorium originally served as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The Ryman Auditorium is renowned for its acoustic quality, which is due in part to the building’s construction materials and design.
Today, the Ryman Auditorium is a popular concert and event venue, hosting performers such as The Avett Brothers, Willie Nelson, and Jack White. The auditorium also plays host to a variety of special events, including the CMA Awards and the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards.
The Hermitage is a historical presidential museum and site. The Hermitage allows visitors to walk through President Andrew Jackson’s life and home, a beautiful historic farm and is an important piece of American history.
The museum has won awards for its exhibit on Andrew Jackson and is rated one of the best presidential sites in the nation by USA TODAY. They offer virtual visits as well, with mansion tours and behind-the-glass discussions.
BELLE MEADE HISTORIC SITE & WINERY
Belle Meade Mansion is a historic mansion that was home to the prominent Harding family. The Belle Meade Plantation was a working plantation that produced thoroughbred horses and other livestock.
It is now a historic site open to the public, with a winery on the grounds.
Centennial Park is home to the Nashville Parthenon, a full-sized replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The Parthenon was built as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897 and has been a popular tourist attraction ever since. The structure is made from limestone and features beautiful hand-carved details. Inside, you’ll find a large statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge is a picturesque town that offers something for everyone.
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking and biking trails, fishing in the river, and exploring the majestic mountains. Families will love spending time at Dollywood, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and The Island in Pigeon Forge. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy in the town.
Read More: Top 9 Things To Do in Pigeon Forge with Kids
Dolly Parton is known as one of the most successful female country singers of all time, and she is also the founder of Dollywood, a theme park located in Pigeon Forge.
Dollywood is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tennessee, and it offers a variety of rides, shows, and attractions.
Dolly Parton has said that her goal in creating Dollywood was to create jobs and bring economic development to the area. Dollywood employs over 3,000 people, and it generates more than $500 million in annual tourism revenue for Tennessee.
THE ISLAND IN PIGEON FORGE
The Island in Pigeon Forge is a popular tourist destination in eastern Tennessee and is an amazing entertainment district.
Located at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Island in Pigeon Forge is 23 acres of fun. With more than 80 shops, restaurants, and attractions — you can find something for everyone in your group here.
Take a ride on the 200-foot Observation Wheel, and then catch the Island Show Fountains — which perform light and music shows year-round. The Island in Pigeon Forge area is open year-round and has free parking.
The Titanic Museum houses many artifacts from the wreckage of the RMS Titanic, including a section of the hull and numerous pieces of furniture and equipment.
The museum also features exhibits on the history of the Titanic, her sinking, and the subsequent disaster investigation.
Chattanooga is a city located in southeastern Tennessee. The city is known for its scenic mountain backdrop and riverfront location.
Chattanooga has a rich history dating back to the early 1800s and is home to a variety of cultural attractions.
The Tennessee Aquarium contains more than 10,000 fish and other aquatic animals from more than 500 different species. Some of the aquarium’s most popular exhibits include the Ocean Journey, River Journey, Tennessee Wing of the aquarium, and the IMAX theater.
CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is a historic train depot and tourist attraction in Chattanooga.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo features a hotel, restaurants, shops, and exhibits on the history of railroads. The train station is also home to the Southern Belle, a historic luxury train car.
TENNESSEE VALLEY RAILROAD
The Tennessee Valley Railroad is a heritage railroad operating in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area. The railroad began operations in 1982 and operates over 15 miles of trackage, including a 7.5-mile-long line that once served the Alstom Plant in Chattanooga.
The TVRR operates passenger excursions as well as freight service. The railroad is owned by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which also operates the Southern Railway locomotive No. 630 and other exhibits.
The Incline Railway is a funicular railway that operates alongside the Tennessee River. The railway consists of two cars that travel up and down a steep hill, carrying passengers between the riverfront and Lookout Mountain.
The railway is open year-round and offers stunning views of the river and mountains.
RUBY FALLS AND ROCK CITY
Looking for some beautiful scenery and amazing photo opportunities? Head to Ruby Falls and Rock City, located on Lookout Mountain. These two attractions offer visitors stunning views and plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained.
Ruby Falls is a 145-foot waterfall that is open year-round for visitors to enjoy. Rock City is a park that is also located on Lookout Mountain and is home to massive rock formations, gardens, and a swinging bridge.
The Caverns is a popular tourist destination located in Lookout Mountain. The caves were discovered by accident in 1812 when workers quarrying limestone for use in the construction of Lookout Mountain spotted a hole in the ground and began exploring it.
The Caverns are open to the public year-round and offer guided tours of the caves. It’s also a world renowned destination for live music!
Knoxville is home to the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee. You’ll find outdoor adventure, historic sites, great restaurants, family-friendly activities, museums, and more.
LOST SEA ADVENTURE
Located about an hour from Knoxville, the Lost Sea Adventure is a super unique attraction. At Lost Sea Adventure, you can take a boat tour…underground!
During your tour, you’ll start with a guided tour of the caverns, walking the 3/4 round-trip path on sloping pathways. Then, you get to take a boat ride on The Lost Sea, America’s largest underground lake. Along the way, you’ll learn about the cave formations, the history of the caves, and more.
MUSEUM OF APPALACHIA
The Museum of Appalachia is a Knoxville institution dedicated to the history and culture of the Appalachian region. The museum features permanent and rotating exhibitions on topics such as traditional crafts, music, and farming, as well as interactive displays that allow visitors to experience life in Appalachia firsthand.
HISTORIC BRUSHY MOUNTAIN STATE PENITENTIARY
Located in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is a former prison that is now open to the public as a museum. The prison was in operation from 1896 until 2009, and during that time, it housed some of the most notorious criminals in Tennessee history.
Today, visitors can explore cell blocks, watch prison documentaries, and learn about the history of crime and punishment in the United States.
Market Square is a historic public square located in downtown Knoxville. You’ll find entertainment, dining, shopping, festivals, and more.
The Square features two water play fountains and is adjacent to the scenic Krutch Park.
IJAMS NATURE CENTER
IJAMS Nature Center is a 300-acre nature preserve. The center offers environmental education programs for school groups and the general public, as well as recreational activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, and canoeing.
WORLD’S FAIR PARK AND SUNSPHERE
World’s Fair Park is a 96-acre park located in downtown Knoxville.
The centerpiece of the park is the Sunsphere, a 266-foot tall steel tower that was built for the 1982 World’s Fair. The Sunsphere offers visitors views of Knoxville from its observation deck and also houses a gift shop and restaurant.
World’s Fair Park also features a variety of sculptures and other art, as well as a lake and walking trails. The park is a popular spot for concerts, festivals, and other events.
MCCLUNG MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY & CULTURE
The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is affiliated with the University of Tennessee. The museum’s collections focus on the natural and cultural history of East Tennessee, but it also has collections on Native American culture, archaeology, and earth sciences.
Gatlinburg is a mountain town located in eastern Tennessee. The town is known for its scenic views, its entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and its many tourist attractions. Gatlinburg is a popular destination for vacationers and offers a wide variety of activities and attractions, including hiking, fishing, skiing, tubing, and golfing.
Ober Gatlinburg is a resort in Gatlinburg, TN, featuring skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. There is also an amusement park on the premises with various rides and attractions.
Ober Gatlinburg is open year-round, making it an excellent destination for tourists any time of the year.
Anakeesta is an award-winning mountaintop adventure park located above, and in the heart of, downtown Gatlinburg. You’ll find activities, events, dining, adventures, ziplining, amazing views, and more at this outdoor theme park.
Take a ride on the Chondola, dine at one of their amazing restaurants, let the kids play at the Adventure Area, take a ride on the mountain coaster, explore Astra Lumina at night, or attend one of their special events.
Skylift Park is a great place for visitors of all ages to visit. It features a chairlift ride that takes visitors up to the top of Crockett Mountain, where they can enjoy beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains.
There is also a playground, hiking trails, and picnic areas at the park.
TENNESSEE WHISKEY TRAIL
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail is a scenic route that takes visitors to some of the most famous whiskey distilleries in the state. The trail starts in Nashville and winds its way through the rolling hills and backcountry roads of Middle Tennessee, ending in Chattanooga.
Along the way, visitors can visit distilleries like Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel, and Prichard’s.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO TENNESSEE
- YOUR TENNESSEE VACATION
- WATER PARKS: 7+ Water Parks In Tennessee Your Family Needs To Visit Now
- GLAMPING: Glamping in Tennessee: 21+ Perfect Places To Relax & Unwind
- CHRISTMAS: Christmas in Tennessee: 23+ Can’t Miss Events You’ll Love
- WATERFALLS: 13 Amazing Waterfalls in Tennessee You Should Chase
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