Tennessee is filled with so many amazing things to do, that you could spend 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 outdoor activities, indoor attractions, hikes, and adventure courses to explore throughout the state — so buckle up and let’s explore Tennessee’s biggest cities and what to do there!
When you think of Tennessee, you probably think of…Nashville! Nashville is not only the capital of Tennessee, but it’s also considered the country music capital of the world! With lots of bars, a popular downtown area, and live music around every corner — there’s always something to do in Nashville.
This happening town is also a well-known party city, and has been named the TOP bachelorette party destination in the United States. It’s not out of the ordinary to see a drinking wagon ride, or bicycle-bar ride, traveling through downtown with a party on board.
Beyond the party scene, Nashville offers a variety of great family activities — from museums to parks to great ice cream shops and yummy pancakes. They’ve also got fun, Instagram-worthy street art. It really is a great vacation destination for families too!
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 and Museum 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.
The Frist Art Museum hopes to inspire visitors with their high-quality exhibitions, which they do! With exhibitions that change every few months, you’re always guaranteed to find something new. The art work and photography are just beautiful here.
Our kids especially loved the hands-on section, where they were able to paint, draw and do a variety of interactive activities.
You may be in Nashville — but you’ll feel like you’re in Greece when you visit Centennial Park!
You’ll find a replica of the Parthenon at the park, and it’s so magnificent, you’ll feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. Visitors are also allowed inside, so they can see the 42-foot tall recreation of the Athena Statue.
After, make sure you take a walk around the beautiful park and take in the scenery. You may even catch an outdoor concert!
The Music City Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour is a great way to see all the major sites at your own pace.
You’ll hop on (and off!) a trolley that stops at 16 different spots around town that are close to 100 points of interest. You can take as much, or as little, time as you want at the stops.
With stops at places like the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Music Row, and Vanderbilt — you’ll love how easy it is to see all the best spots. One-day and 2-day tickets are available.
Do it for the ‘Gram! If you don’t post a picture with the angel wings at The Gulch, did you even go to Nashville?!
Nashville is an Instagrammers dream. Besides the angel wings (#WhatLiftsYou), there are beautiful, photo-worthy murals throughout the city that are just begging to grace your social media feed.
You can find a comprehensive Nashville mural list here.
If you’re looking for some indoor, family fun time, we recommend the Adventure Science Center.
The center offers exhibits, and hands-on activities for kids of all ages, that focus on science and technology. It’s also home to Sudekum Planetarium.
Touch a tornado, defy gravity, see the universe, or test your astronaut skills! You can climb through the roof of the Tower for 360 degree views inside their glass pyramid, or participate in Nashville’s first large-scale virtual reality experience.
There is so much to do here, you (and your kids) will never want to leave!
You’ve got to see the Gaylord Opryland Resort to believe it! It’s so huge, it feels like it’s its own city.
This large resort has three different atrium areas — the Garden Conservatory, the Cascades, and the Delta River. Within each enclosed, climate-controlled atrium, there are a variety of things to experience — like taking a boat ride down their indoor river, or walking behind a waterfall!
In the summer, guests of the hotel can enjoy SummerFest — which includes a visit to their water park, live music, and adult-only areas too.
And if you get hungry while exploring the resort – they’ve got plenty of restaurants to choose from at every price point.
Walking through the resort is a truly memorable experience.
Cumberland Park is the place to go when your kids need to burn some energy!
Here you’ll find a rock climbing wall, an interactive splash pad, a tandem see-saw for parents and kids, a “cloud bridge” with rain curtains, room for the kids to run, hills to jump around on, a great view of the river, and so much more.
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 John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
This pedestrian bridge connects downtown Nashville with the residential neighborhoods in East Nashville. It was closed to automobile traffic in 1998, and was repurposed into a pedestrian bridge.
For outstanding views of the river, and the skyline, this is the place.
Ten miles east of downtown Nashville, you’ll find The Hermitage — the former home of President Andrew Jackson.
This historical home and museum offers several different tours. Walk through the mansion guided by in-character performers, or try The Hermitage Enslaved: A Wagon Tour, where you’ll tour the property by wagon and learn about what life was like for the families of the enslaved community.
Children 5 and under are free.
Belle Meade Plantation and Winery offers tours that give you insight into the rich history of the area.
The Mansion Tour includes a guided tour of the Greek-Revival mansion and a wine tasting. The Journey to Jubilee Tour explores the experiences and stories of the African-Americans who were brought here, and their journey from enslavement to freedom. For bourbon lovers in the group, the Bourbon at Belle Meade Tour is the perfect choice.
And if you have older teens in your group, a Segway tour is a great way to learn about the grounds for those ages 16 and up.
Where to Eat in Nashville
You could literally come to Nashville just to try all the amazing food! From biscuits to hot chicken, and every dessert you can imagine, Nashville knows good food. (And now you will too!)
We love this unique restaurant in Nashville! It not only has great food, but it also offers a fun dining experience you won’t forget!
The original restaurant is located in an old house, so it makes it easy to feel like you’re at home. Which is great, because at this restaurant — the customers are the cooks!
Each table features a hot griddle in the middle. Once you get your spatula and pancake batter, you can get started making your very own all-you-can-eat pancakes! The best part? You don’t have to do any of the clean-up! Kids totally love this fun restaurant.
And if pancakes aren’t your thing, don’t worry! They also have a menu and will be happy to cook up your order for you.
Rock Bottom Brewery offers a great location and an awesome rooftop where you can look out over the river or down Broadway.
The food is good and so is the beer!
The Wild Horse Saloon is the place to be for music lovers — and they have good food too!
This famously huge venue is not only a place where some of the most well-known musical talents perform, they offer all sorts of delicious eats too. You should definitely try their fried pickles and hot chicken!
And although it’s maybe not the most kid-friendly place at night — during the day it’s perfect!
During the daylight hours, they have music playing and sometimes line dancing. Get out on the big dance floor with your kids and dance the day away!
We were so surprised by Chattanooga! This is one city that’s been working hard on being a top vacation destination — and it’s paying off.
Coolidge Park is a great, family-friendly park. It’s located right on the river with the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in the background, a large grassy area to play on, and our favorite part – the splash pad and fountain area.
You’ll also find a beautifully restored 100-year-old carousel here. For $1, you can take a spin on the carousel while riding on a hand-carved animal, with a calliope band organ piping out music.
Have you ever wanted to see a waterfall in a cave? It’s your lucky day, because that’s exactly what you’ll find at Ruby Falls!
Once you buy your ticket, you’ll take an elevator down 260-feet into the cave. Your tour guide will lead you along the paved trail to the falls. And it’s an amazing sight to see!
The falls will light up with colored lights, and the result is spectacular. Once the falls are lit, you’re allowed to walk behind it. How cool is that?!
Confession time: We almost didn’t “See Rock City,” but we’re so glad we did!
Even though Rock City is technically in Georgia, it’s so close to Chattanooga, it’s considered their attraction.
Rock City is filled with trails to explore, and so many things to see. Their Fairyland Caverns are amazing, and truly memorable. There’s also a suspension bridge, that kids (and adults!) will love. (But you can go around if it’s not your thing.)
And everyone must “See 7 States” from atop the mountain. It’s super cool!
The Incline Railway takes you right up the side of Lookout Mountain for spectacular views!
The trolley-like cars take you up, up, up — straight up — and you can enjoy the views of the mountains and valleys along the way. Once at the top, you can see even more from their observation tower.
At the top of the mountain, there are several great places to visit that are of Civil War interest, including Point Park and the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.
Consider buying a combination ticket for all of the Lookout Mountain attractions — it’s a great way to save!
Pancakes and Bacon Donut anyone?
The doughnuts at Julia Darling Donuts rank up there with my favorite donuts of all time. They really are that good!
They have delicious classic doughnuts, but they also offer really fun flavors too — like the Banana Split Filled Donut, or the Samoa Donut.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ve got to make a stop here!
If you’re looking for an awesome indoor rock climbing location — the High Point Climbing and Fitness Kid Zone fits the bill.
We found this place after dinner one night and decided to check it out — and we’re so glad we did!
High Point has a special area just for kids, so the climbing experience was geared toward littler hands and feet. For adults, they offer so much — from sport climbing, to bouldering, to speed climbing, and they even have an outdoor wall!
It was well worth the stop, and if we lived closer we’d be going all the time.
Looking for some amusement park fun? Just jump back over into Georgia and head to Lake Winnie.
At Lake Winnie you’ll find an amusement park and a water park. The park will remind you of a simpler time — it’s a cross between a boardwalk and a county fair. You’ll love it!
They have a great collection of rides for the little ones and rides that your older kids (over 48 inches tall) will enjoy too!
The water park debuted in 2013, and includes a lazy river, water slides, and a spray ground. It’s the perfect place to cool off after a long day of rides.
The Tennessee Aquarium is one awesome aquarium!
You’ll see and learn all about so many amazing sea creatures — from ones you can find in your backyard, to ones from remote locations. You can also explore the Lemur Forest, Alligator Bayou, and learn about the animals from the staff.
Two buildings make up this aquarium — River Journey and Ocean Journey — so you’ll learn about every type of underwater animal.
The Tennessee Aquarium is impressive, and a must-do experience.
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 a truly unique town with so much to see and do! The town itself is full of fun activities and interesting experiences. And when you’re ready to get away from all the city lights, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is right next door! No matter what type of vacation you’re looking for, Gatlinburg will fit the bill.
A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an absolute must-do! There are trails for every type of hiker — whether you’re an experienced backpacker, or you’re just looking for a short walk through nature.
There are two visitor centers, but the one closest to Gatlinburg is the Sugarlands Visitor Center. You’ll want to stop here to pick up a map, visit the museum, and learn more about this park before heading out!
Here are our favorite things to do at GSMNP.
Looking to hike with your kids? I recommend the Fighting Creek Nature Trail that leads to Cataract Falls. The trail starts just behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and is only a 0.7-mile hike to the 40-foot falls.
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.
This hike is one of the most well-known in all of the park — and it’s for good reason. The views from the observation tower are amazing!
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You’ll hike a 0.5-mile paved trail up to the tower. That doesn’t sound difficult does it? But it is very steep — so it’s definitely a workout!
Once you’re at the top of the tower, you can enjoy spectacular views of the Smokies. It’s amazing, and well-worth the hike up.
Tip: Be prepared for the temps to be significantly cooler at Clingmans Dome than they are at the visitor centers!
Exploring Cades Cove is a wonderful way to see the wildlife in the area in their natural habitat.
Cades Cove features an 11-mile, one-way loop that circles the cove so drivers can explore the valley at their own pace. If you’d rather walk or bike the loop — you’re in luck! It’s only open to bike and foot traffic before 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through September.
There are plenty of places to pull off and take in the scenery, and there are quite a few hikes, and historical buildings to see too.
Tip: Sit back and relax. The drive can take 2 – 4 hours during the busy season.
The Synchronous Fireflies are the only species in the United States that can synchronize their lights — and you can see them at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This event is popular, and only happens for two weeks every May/June (it varies) — so the park uses a lottery system for those who want the chance to observe these creatures. If you’re awarded a slot, you’ll take a shuttle from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the area where the fireflies appear.
Definitely something you’ll want to see at least once!
Back in the city, you and your kids will love checking out the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium! Artwork made completely out of lint? Shrunken heads? A vampire killing kit? Check! Check! Check!
This massive museum is filled with optical illusions, crazy facts, and fun exhibits.
Be warned, though — my younger kids were a little freaked out by some of it!
Visit with the penguins, stick your head up into the middle of a fish tank, see sharks up close, and touch a stingray at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies!
Although this aquarium isn’t huge, it packs a lot of punch. There is plenty to see, do, and learn about our underwater friends here!
And if you’re looking for a totally unique experience, consider a ride on their Glass Bottom Boat! The glass on the bottom will be all that separates you from the sharks that call this aquarium home.
Buckle up! Have you ever been to a movie theater that requires seatbelts? This one does!
This “moving theater” features digital effects and moving seats, so you’ll feel like you’re in the movie! It’s a great family adventure, and was a hit with our three older kids.
If you decide to try this one out, you may want to consider a combo ticket. It’s a great way to see a lot of the Ripley’s experiences at a discounted price.
The 120-seat trams will take you 2.1-miles up to the top of the mountain, where you can experience amazing views of Gatlinburg!
The trams itself are amazing — with windows all around, you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery all the way up.
At the top, you’ll find Ober Gatlinburg’s Amusement Park and Ski Resort where there are plenty of things to do — including ice skating and a park.
One big plus? Kids 4 and under ride the tram for free!
There are so many amazing restaurants to experience in Gatlinburg! I promise, you will not go hungry. Here are 29 Delicious Gatlinburg Restaurants & Foodie Treats Our Family Devoured.
Close To Gatlinburg
These places aren’t technically in Gatlinburg, but they’re so close and totally worth a visit!
Looking to stay in a small town while visiting the Smokies? You must check out the town of Sevierville!
Just outside of Gatlinburg, Sevierville is known as the town where Dolly Parton grew up! Here, you’ll find family-friendly activities, outdoor adventures, amazing restaurants, and so much more. They’ve got a zoo! And the Wilderness of the Smokies indoor water park! You’ll love it.
Pigeon Forge is synonymous with Dolly Parton — since this amazingly fun town is home to Dollywood!
Dollywood is a resort, water park, and theme park — plus, you absolutely must see the famous Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner show.
The town of Pigeon Forge also has its fair share of awesome attractions and great restaurants. We enjoyed walking through the town and getting ice cream. Yum!
Looking for some whitewater rafting fun? Then the Nantahala Outdoor Center is for you!
The NOC offers a variety of whitewater rafting adventures for all ages — whether you’re looking for something super adventurous, or just looking to relax on the water.
Children as young as 3 years old can enjoy a scenic float on the Lower Pigeon Gorge. Advanced rafters can enjoy a full day on the Chattooga or Ocoee Rivers on some Section IV rapids! No matter your skill level, they’ve got something for you.
Well-known as the home to Elvis Presley, rock n’ roll and blues, lots of history and culture, and plenty of family-friendly activities — Memphis is one of Tennessee’s most amazing cities!
You can’t go to Memphis and not visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland! Tour the home of Elvis Presley, and learn all about what made him the King of Rock n’ Roll.
Immerse yourself in all things Elvis by touring Graceland Mansion, visiting Elvis Presley’s Memphis — an entertainment and exhibit complex, step aboard Elvis’ custom airplanes, or visit the Presley Motors Automobile Museum and walk among his favorite cars.
There is so much to see and do! You’ll leave saying, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Looking for some adventure up in the trees? A visit to Go Ape’s Zipline and Adventure Park will hit the spot.
Experience their Treetop Adventure — filled with sky-high crossings, ziplines, and crazy swings! The Treetop Journey is a great introduction to aerial adventures and a hit with the kids. And when you’re ready to get down from the trees — try your hand at Axe Throwing!
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?! Sure you do!
Don’t laugh — this is a BIG DEAL. A lot of famous people have been part of the process at the Peabody Hotel, and the ducks have shown up on The Tonight Show, Sesame Street, and more.
It’s the best tradition, and a must-do Memphis experience.
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is one of the best museums in the country, hands down.
The museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the sight of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The National Civil Rights Foundation did an amazing job of walking visitors through the history of the Civil Rights movement, culminating in a recreation of Dr. King’s last hours alive in the hotel.
Music lovers, this one’s for you! Tour the legendary Sun Studio — known as the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll.
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash (to name a few!) recorded here! You can stand in the same spot where these musical legends recorded their most famous songs.
You’ll find exhibits, memorabilia, and outtakes from recording sessions here too.
Right on the corner of Beale Street — one of the most well-known musical streets in America — you’ll find the Rock n’ Soul Museum. Created by the Smithsonian Institution, this museum features exhibitions about the birth of rock and soul music.
It shows the stories of the people who overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the kind of music that changed the world!
Lions, Tigers, and Bears — Oh My!
With over 4,500 animals representing 500 species, the Memphis Zoo is worth a visit!
There are so many animals and amazing exhibits throughout the zoo — you’ll need the whole day to see them all.
For an extra fee, you can even feed a giraffe or ride a camel!
If your kids are like mine they love a good children’s museum — and the Children’s Museum of Memphis is a good one!
With lots of great hands-on exhibits and programs, the Children’s Museum of Memphis is a kid-friendly environment that’s full of fun. They have a seasonal splash pad and dinosaur digging area too! And make sure you take a spin on the carousel before you leave.
Where to Eat in Memphis
I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that Memphis is home to some great restaurants. You’ll find some of our favorites here.
Filled with lots of great activities, outdoor adventures, and great restaurants — Knoxville has it all!
Navitat Knoxville is a tree-based adventure park!
Each “trail” consists of challenges connected tree-to-tree, and you exit the trail by ziplining down, climbing down a net, or lowering yourself down using equipment. Sounds like a fun and unique way to “hike” among the trees!
Zoo Knoxville is so much more then just a zoo!
You’ll find animals here, of course — 800 of them, to be exact! But this zoo is committed to saving species from extinction, and has been recognized for their efforts to save the East Tennessee bog turtles.
In addition to seeing the animals, you can also ride a train, play in the splash pad, ride a camel, take a spin on a carousel, and enjoy multiple shows and animal encounters. A visit here would be a great way to spend the day!
Make new friends, but keep the old…
Curious to learn more about Girl Scouts? The Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place is for you! You’ll find vintage uniforms on display, hands-on exhibits, and more.
If you have a Girl Scout in your group, this museum should be on your list.
Before you leave, make sure you get a patch commemorating your visit!
The Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park is an observation deck that offers 360 degree views of the site of the 1982 World’s Fair — now known as World’s Fair Park. You can also see downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee River, the University of Tennessee, and the Smoky Mountains from up there!
The best part? It’s free!
Where to Eat in Knoxville
Knoxville has some great sweet treats, restaurants, and food tours! You can find out all about them here!
After you’ve partied hard in Nashville, you may be ready for a break. When you’re ready to slow down in a picturesque setting — Franklin is the perfect place to do that! (And it’s just south of the capital city.)
Enjoy the live music! Eat the food! Drink the spirits! Have all the fun!
The Pilgrimage Music Festival in Franklin is not just a music festival — it’s a cultural arts festival too!
You’ll find six musical stages, a food truck park, kid-friendly activities, and a makers village featuring local artisans. It’s the perfect family-friendly activity, and a great way to be introduced to Franklin. It’s held in September.
If you find yourself in Franklin on a Saturday morning, a stop at the Franklin Farmers Market is a must-do.
You’ll find local produce, eggs, dairy, baked goods, and meats here — all fresh from the farm. Local artisans are also at the market, selling their uniquely crafted goods.
Definitely a great way to start your Saturday!
Timberland Park is a great place to visit to get out in nature!
Here you’ll find hiking trails (including an ADA-accessible one), a butterfly garden, and a 2,000-square foot interpretive center.
Bird watching, wildlife viewing, and hiking are popular here. And your four-legged family members are welcome to join you. (As long as they’re on a leash!)
Tennessee likes its rope courses and SOAR doesn’t disappoint!
With four levels and more than 110 climbing elements, SOAR will challenge both kids and adults alike! And when you’re done adventuring, you can take in a round of mini golf on their musically-themed course.
Where To Eat in Franklin
Looking for more fun in Tennessee? Another great place to check out, that may not be on your radar, is Carter County!
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