Tennessee is filled with so many amazing things to do that you could spent weeks driving around the state exploring everything from underground waterfalls to the Country Music Hall of Fame! Below I share the top 6 cities to visit and a list of things to do in Tennessee.
There are so many great nature attractions, indoor attractions, hikes, and adventure courses to explore throughout the state so buckle up and let’s explore Tennessee’s biggest metro cities and what to do there!
Of course we have to start the list off with Nashville. It is the capital of Tennessee and also the Country Music capital of the world! Yes, Nashville is a party city and has been termed the TOP bachelorette party destination in the US.
May have to do with the drinking wagon ride you can take through downtown or the bicycle/bar ride you can take. Not to mention bar after bar with live country music from morning until night!
Beyond the party scene Nashville offers a variety of great family activities from museums to parks to great ice cream shops and yummy pancakes. Not to mention their fun Instagram worthy street art. It really is a great vacation destination for families and there is so much that you can do with kids!
When you go to Nashville if you want to start the trip getting into the country music mindset you will want to plan a trip to the Opry for a backstage tour and show. The show gives you a great background into Nashville and you leave feeling you better understand Nashville and how they become a country music capital.
Plus the music is awesome and you and your family will be dancing in your seat as you listen to artist after artist come up on the famous stage to sing and play their guitars and other instruments!
Of course you want to learn about Country Music while you are here and the Country Music Hall of Fame does not disappoint! And never fear there are things for kids to do too. When you first go in you can pick up a scavenger hunt game and work on that with your kids.
I think my husband had more fun with it then the kids! Then make sure to make your way down to the recording studio where you can record yourself singing a song. So much fun! Oh yeah and there is lots of great history to read about and see too.
Say what? Yup there is an Art Museum in Nashville and it is worth a visit. Inside the art work and photography are beautiful but of course our kids flew by all of that. And instead we spent the majority of our time in the hands on section where we were able to paint, draw and do a variety of hands on activities.
I can never say this word right but in the park there is a Parthenon – which is a replica of the one in Greece! It is a really cool structure and you can go inside of it to check out the large 42 foot recreation of the Athena statue and huge doors. Then you can walk around the park and hopefully catch an outdoor concert going on.
I am such a fan of these when you visit a city. They give you an amazing overview of the city and then you can decide from there which sections you want to go back to and explore more.
If you are into Instagram or any kind of social media you will want to head down here to take some insta worthy pictures of the angel wings (#WhatLiftsYou) and some other really cool street art. Learn more about all the murals around town here.
Plus this is where you will find Biscuit Love (expect a line) and a few other great restaurants! We heard (on the hop on hop off buss) this is quite the up and coming area of Nashville.
If it is rainy, hot, or cold outside we recommend the Science Center. It offers a great opportunity for hands on activities for the kids and you could spend a whole day here exploring and playing in the museum.
Another great spot for when it is rainy, cold, or hot is the Gaylord Opryland Resort. This humongous resort has 3 different atrium areas – garden conservatory, the cascades, and the delta river. Within each atrium there are a variety of things you can do from a boat ride to walking behind a waterfall.
It really is quite the experience to walk through this resort. There are also a ton of restaurants – just be sure to check prices as some of them were CRAZY expensive.
A great rock climbing wall, room for the kids to run, hills to jump around on and a good view of the river. When the kids need to burn energy come here. We have also heard that you can park for free in the football stadium lot – which is close to the park – when they don’t have a game or special events going on.
For an outstanding view of the city you will want to head out onto the pedestrian bridge for a walk at sunrise, sunset, or really any time during the day to get a nice view of Nashville.
If you are looking to check out a planation Belle Meade is a great route to go. It was a horse planation back in the day and after doing the tour you will have a chance to walk around the grounds and check everything out. After you complete the tour you get to go sample wine – I call that a win, win!
You could literally come to Nashville just to try all the amazing food! From biscuits to hot chicken to ice cream or pancakes Nashville is filled with delicious food options!
We love this unique restaurant in Nashville. Surprisingly it didn’t come up on a lot of the blog posts we found about best food in Nashville. But we personally think it should be on there for the flavor and experience.
The original restaurant is located in an old house and the ambiance is perfect. Then at each table there is a hot griddle and everyone gets a spatula and pancake batter to make all you can eat pancakes!
You can also opt to get toppings or if you chose you can get a regular breakfast (made for you). You can also get what you need to make things like French toast and a few other options. Yes it is a little extra work for Mom and Dad but the kids love helping and the pancakes are really good!
A great location with an awesome rooftop where you can look out over the river or down Broadway. The food is good and so is the beer!
Maybe it won’t be the best place to go with kids at night but during the day it is perfect! They have music playing and sometimes line dancing with a big dance floor where you and the kids can go out and dance. The food and drinks are good too. We recommend the fried pickles!
We were so surprised by Chattanooga and how much we liked it! You can tell it is a city that is working hard on being a top destination for people to visit. From parks to attractions it has a lot to offer.
This is a great park to head to with your family. It is located on the river with a cool bridge, large grass area and our favorite part – the splash pad/fountain area. That yes the kids can run and play in. Along with climbing on the statues that surround it.
Ever visited a waterfall in a cave?! That is exactly what Ruby Falls is. You take an elevator down into a cave and then walk less then a mile to get to Ruby Falls. Yes it is commercialized with a light show at the falls. But even with that it is a really beautiful and cool thing to see and the cave is amazing as well.
We almost didn’t go here and we are so glad that we did. There are trails to walk on and a really cool fairytale caverns and a suspension bridge that the kids will love. Plus you can stand in one spot and look out over 7 state at one time!
You go straight up the side of a mountain to get to Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. The views are amazing and the tickets for this come in a bundle with Ruby Falls and Rock City so it is worth it to get them and do all 3!
Julia Darling Donuts
These rank up there with my favorite donuts of all time. They really are that good! If you have a sweet tooth and like donuts make a stop here.
There was this awesome indoor rock climbing area and we decided after dinner at Mellow Mushrooms that we would check it out. It was great! They had a special area just for kids so all of the climbing things were geared towards littler hands and feet. It was well worth the stop and if we lived near here we would be going all the time.
Looking for some amusement park fun?! Just jump back over into Georgia and head to Lake Winnie. They have an amusement park and a water park. They have a great collection or rides for the little ones and rides that your older kid (over 48 inches tall) will enjoy too!
This is one awesome aquarium! From the amazing sea creatures to the secret reef camera this place has it all. You can also explore the Lemur Forest, Alligator Bayou, and learn from all the great talks and shows that the staff puts on. When you are in Chattanooga you don’t want to miss the aquarium!
There are a lot of great food options in the city and some really great family friendly choices! Check out our post: 10+ Awesome Chattanooga Restaurants for Kids
Gatlinburg is such an interesting town. On one had you have the beautiful Smoky Mountain National Park and on the other you have a total tourist town. Don’t get me wrong both things are a lot of fun but they definitely have a different vibe to them. Here is the list of things to do in Gatlinburg and around the surrounding area:
This should definitely be your first stop when you visit Gatlinburg. The visitor centers are filled with great information and is always an awesome place to stop, pick up a map, and learn about what they are currently recommending that you do. Here is what I recommend doing when you are in the Smoky’s:
Looking to hike with your kids? I recommend the Sugarland trail. It is a short distance to a nice small waterfall. My kids also had fun climbing over the tree bridge (a fallen down tree over a small creek) and just playing in the stream next to the trail.
The drive up is beautiful and be prepared it takes a little while to get up there and will probably be a LOT colder up at the top. When you reach the top you park and get out to take the ½ mile or so hike to the top and if the sky is clear you can climb up to the lookout tower for a magnificent view of the Smoky Mountains.
A 11 mile one way loop circles the cove and you can drive it, bike it, or walk it – there are times when cars are not allowed. There is always a good chance of seeing wildlife and there is a lot of history found on the loop. Just be patient as the drive can take 2 – 4 hours during the busy season since people drive slow and pull off to stop a lot.
This only happens for 2 weeks every June – but it may be worth planning a whole trip to the Smoky’s just for this. However be aware it is a lottery system so you may not even get a chance to see them . . .
The fireflies literally do a synchronized light display. It is quite an amazing thing to see in person! You can learn more about the phenomenon here.
Ripley’s Believe it Or Not
In town head over the Ripley’s to see some truly out of this world things The place is filled with optical illusions and crazy facts and pictures. Be warned my younger kids were a little freaked out about what they saw in there!
The aquarium isn’t huge but it has some fun things to do like sticking your head up in the middle of a fish tank. Or eating lunch while you watch the sting rays swim around right in front of you. Plus it is always cool to see penguins!
Remember I mentioned touristy . . . you can get an adventure pass thing and do a handful of the attractions at a discounted price. If you are looking for that sort of thing the 5D movie was a hit with our 3 older kids.
Yup you read that right! If you want to try some of the famous Moonshine you can saddle up to the sample bar and join in a round of Moonshine sampling! I actually opted to avoid that and instead found a winery where I could do some wine sampling but Craig enjoyed the Moonshine.
The tram takes you 2 miles up to a ski resort. Where even if there isn’t snow there are plenty of things to do – including ice skating, a park, and a ski lift. Please note the ice skating rental require socks and there are restrictions for a one on one kid/parent ratio with certain kids ages . . . we couldn’t do it.
On the plus side kids 5 and under ride the tram for free!
Where To Eat
Smoky Mountain Brewery is a great location to stop for food and the prices are right! In a tourist town I would have expected the prices to be higher so it was nice to find a place that didn’t over charge. They are located at the end of the strip so you can either walk there or park your car in their lot.
There are a variety of other restaurants located up and down the strip.
Close by Gatlinburg and worth a visit
Looking to stay in a small town while visiting the Smokey’s then check out Sevierville. You can check out the zoo, stay at an indoor waterpark, or head over to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to experience everything they have to offer.
A short drive from Gatlinburg you will find Pigeon Forge and everything Dolly Parton! Another very popular tourist area it has it’s own attractions and restaurants. We enjoyed walking through the town, getting ice cream, and actually ended up watching a random pottery making workshop.
They also have a variety of different live shows that you can watch from comedy to a dinner show to the Dixie Stampede. Pigeon Forge is definitely a destination all in itself!
A resort, waterpark, theme park plus the Dixie stampede show! They also have a spa. Now this is a resort you can relax at in between exploring the Smokey Mountains.
Looking for some white water rafting fun! This is the place for you. Nantahala Outdoor Center offers a variety of levels of rafting adventures starting at 3 years old – with the scenic float. Be sure to check their site for more information.
You can’t go to Memphis and not visit Graceland so we will put that down first on the list. Here you can explore Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion along with a museum about Elvis and Presley Motors Automobile Museum where you can see some of his favorite cars.
Head over to Go Ape for 5 different treetop obstacle courses – think ropes course, ziplining, etc. If you are looking for some action this is the place to come!
Want to watch a bunch of ducks come down to the lobby of a fancy hotel and walk the red carpet to reach the fountain where they will hang out for the day before being ushered across the red carpet back up to the roof. Don’t laugh this is a BIG DEAL. A lot of famous people have been part of this process and then ducks have shown up on The Tonight Show, Seseame Street, and more.
I bet now you want to go see this fun and crazy tradition don’t you?!
Crystal Shrine Grotto
The Grotto is located inside the Memorial Park Cemetery. It is a stone cropping with a pond and cave, perfect for kids to stretch their legs. It is a perfect place to take your kids to let them run and burn some energy.
Another great place to bring the kids and let them check out the fire trucks, climb on several emergency equipment vehicles and play a fire safety game in a makeshift home.
If your kids are like mine they always enjoy visiting a museum that was made just for kids. With lots of great hands on exhibits and programs the Children’s Museum of Memphis is ideal for kids!
For an amazing ropes course tree-based adventure check out Navitat. The structures they have in place are amazing and is a challenging and fun way to spend the afternoon.
So much more then just a zoo! You can also ride a train, play in the splash pad, camel rides, carousel rides and multiple shows and animal encounters that you can do. Plus they offer behind the scenes tours.
Curious to learn more about Girl Scouts or have a scout in your family who wants to see vintage uniforms or take part in the hands on exhibits? The Girl Scout Museum is the place for you! If you have a girl scout in your group this museum should be on your list.
The Sunsphere offers an observation deck with a 360 degree view of the 1982 World’s Fair site which is now called World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville. You can also see the river, University, and the Smokey Mountains from the tower.
It is always worth a walk through the World’s Fair Park and be sure to check the calendar to see if there are any events going on that you want to see. You will also find the Tennessee Amphitheater here.
Be prepared before you venture out to The Body Farm. Yup it is just that real dead human body’s that are being researched and observed to see how they decay. . . It is great research for helping forensic scientist and researches learn how the body decays. We will leave it up to you if it would be something your family would be interested in seeing.
An awesome music and cultural festival. If you are a fan of live music you want to be at this festival. They have a variety of big names and a great venue to have it at!
When visiting Tennessee you should be sure to see multiple plantations it is such a big part of the states history. The Carnton Planation offers an hour-long guided tour of the building, the grounds and its outbuildings.
Franklin offers a great farmers market on Saturday mornings and is filled with farm fresh products along with jewelry and more. Definitely a great way to start your Saturday morning!
Looking to get out in nature, do some hiking, and just enjoy being outside this is the place for you.
Tennessee likes its rope courses an Soar doesn’t disappoint with four levels and more then 100 climbing elements. Plus small kids can play at the base of the tower.
Another great place to check out in Tennessee that may not be on your radar is Carter County!
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