35 Top Things to Do in Tennessee

Tennessee’s abundant beauty, rich history and music culture are just a few reasons to visit the Volunteer State. There are also natural wonders, outdoor adventures and top-notch attractions beckoning nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike. During your visit, be sure to sample the state’s famous barbecue, sip a little whiskey, listen to some live music and enjoy a healthy dose of Southern hospitality along the way. Here’s a list of the must-see Tennessee attractions and experiences.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Top things to do in tennessee

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With more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountains, waterfalls and wildlife stretching across Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. The park boasts 850 miles of backcountry trails and features about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail: Top hikes include the 5.4-mile round trip to Rainbow Falls and a steep climb up to the summit of Chimney Tops for sweeping mountain views. Also not to be missed is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park – and in Tennessee – at more than 6,600 feet in elevation. Note that the road to the tower is closed during the winter months.

Thousands of species of animals and plant life flourish in the park, including elk, deer, black bears and more than 1,600 varieties of wildflowers. For a fully immersive Great Smoky Mountains experience, make reservations to camp: Cades Cove Campground is situated in a gorgeous valley with ample wildlife-watching opportunities and an 11-mile route you can explore by car, bicycle or on foot.


Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of The Peabody Memphis)

Known to many as the birthplace of both the blues and rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis is all about music. Top-rated attractions include Beale Street (where live music venues abound), the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Graceland, Sun Studio and more. Sun Studio visitors say that the former recording studio, though small, packs in a lot of information, and listening to the old music clips from legends like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis is priceless.

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is another one of the city’s top attractions, along with a riverboat cruise on the “Mighty” Mississippi. Book accommodations at The Peabody Memphis and watch the famous Peabody Ducks as they strut their stuff down the lobby’s red carpet to the hotel fountain daily. When it comes to Tennessee barbecue, grab lunch or dinner across from The Peabody at the iconic Rendezvous, which has been serving up Memphis-style ribs since 1948.


Top things to do in tennessee

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Fans from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Graceland to visit the home of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. The bustling entertainment complex in Memphis boasts 120 acres of museums and memorabilia dedicated to the legendary performer. You’ll need tickets to access Graceland and its collections of Elvis’ cars, jets, jumpsuits and other artifacts. Consider splurging on the “Ultimate VIP Tour” package for an expert-led tour of Graceland Mansion as well as access to a VIP-only exhibit and other exclusive perks that travelers say are worth the money. Recent visitors also recommend allowing for at least half a day to see most everything.

Movie fans may want to visit Graceland for the “Making of ELVIS Movie Exhibition.” Open through Sept. 4, 2023, this special exhibit features behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the film, along with props, costumes worn by the actors and set pieces. After you explore, plan to stay at The Guest House at Graceland to enjoy all of the highlights, memorabilia, Elvis-themed events and live concerts.


Top things to do in tennessee

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Country music fan favorites in the city of Nashville include the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ryman Auditorium and the Johnny Cash Museum. Head to famous honky-tonks along Broadway like the iconic Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Robert’s Western World to see up-and-coming artists and maybe even get a chance celebrity sighting. Then, duck into themed signature bars and restaurants owned by top country artists like Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley (plus a Garth Brooks-owned bar slated to open in 2023).

While on Broadway, visit the National Museum of African American Music to learn about a variety of genres. For the full Nashville experience, visit one of the city’s famed listening rooms, such as the legendary Bluebird Cafe, where songwriters including the likes of Taylor Swift and Keith Urban perform original songs and share stories.

But there’s more to Music City than its tunes. Reserve a room at The Union Station Nashville Yards – favored by visitors for its historic architecture and prime location near downtown – then bring your appetite to Assembly Food Hall. The building features international and locally inspired eateries, cocktails, incredible rooftop views and live music. You’ll also want to set aside time to visit more of the city’s museums, including the Parthenon replica, Frist Art Museum and the Tennessee State Museum. Venture to Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, where history and botanical experiences await, and end your Nashville adventure with a dinner showboat cruise on the General Jackson.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Exterior or Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

(Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

History enthusiasts and country music devotees alike will appreciate the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a top Nashville attraction. A stop at the three-story building begins with exploring the museum gallery’s permanent and rotating exhibits, which highlight the genre from its early beginnings to country music’s biggest celebrities. You’ll see a variety of clothing, instruments and memorabilia such as Elvis Presley’s Gold Cadillac and Garth Brooks’ guitar, interspersed with sound and video clips. There’s a wall of gold and platinum albums, plus the Hall of Fame Rotunda with plaques of all the inductees. Before your visit, be sure to check the calendar for “Songwriter Sessions” in the museum’s Ford Theater, concerts in the CMA Theater or special programs in the Taylor Swift Education Center.

While at the museum, consider a Hatch Show Print tour to explore a working letterpress print shop dating back to 1879. If you’re looking to stay nearby, the Omni Nashville is connected via indoor walkway to the museum. What’s more, you can add a tour of RCA Studio B (a short shuttle ride away to Music Row) to learn more about the recording process and get a music history lesson detailing all the artists from Elvis to Dolly Parton who recorded within those walls.

Pigeon Forge

Top things to do in tennessee

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This little mountain town at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains has kept families entertained with thrill rides, outdoor activities, music and dining for many years. Pigeon Forge may be best known for Dollywood, but many other tourist attractions and culinary options are worth exploring as well. Roller coaster enthusiasts will want to check out Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show & Adventure Park, home to the zip line coaster Flying Ox.

The Island in Pigeon Forge is another family-friendly entertainment center that has rides, escape rooms, shopping and dining. Be sure to take a spin on SkyFly: Soar America, an indoor theater adventure that soars high above iconic U.S. locations. While in town, plan to stay at The Inn on the River Hotel. Situated on 3 acres on the Little Pigeon River, this property is a traveler favorite for its great hospitality and close proximity to restaurants, shopping and top attractions.


Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development)

Named after, inspired by and partially owned by country star Dolly Parton, Pigeon Forge’s Dollywood offers 160 acres of kid-friendly thrill rides, live shows, entertainment and plenty of Southern-inspired dining. In May, the park will debut Big Bear Mountain − its longest roller coaster at almost 4,000 feet, themed around the region’s black bears. Dollywood’s Splash Country, the water park, features mountain views, a 1,500-foot lazy river and exciting waterslides.

Stay nearby at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort or opt for one of the property’s luxury log cabins. If you’re visiting in late 2023 or beyond, consider Parton’s second resort, HeartSong Lodge & Resort, scheduled to open in November. Guests of DreamMore enjoy comfortable accommodations and various dining options; those with a valid Dollywood ticket receive a TimeSaver Pass, complimentary transportation from the parks and other amenities. Travelers appreciate all the family entertainment and the friendly staff.


Top things to do in tennessee

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Chattanooga sits on the banks of the Tennessee River in the Appalachian Mountains, bordering Georgia. The city boasts impressive museums, a vibrant downtown area, and lively shopping and arts districts. Major attractions in Chattanooga include the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, Lookout Mountain and the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the oldest and largest of the U.S. Civil War parks. Save time to explore the city’s railroad heritage too, with a stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a railway station-turned-hotel, as well as train rides at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

“Coolidge Park is a must in Chattanooga – particularly if you’re visiting with kids,” recommends Amanda Norcross, travel content and SEO strategist at U.S. News. “The interactive water fountains are so much fun and the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day.” She also notes how easy it is to get around Chattanooga: “The Chattanooga Riverwalk essentially connects all of the city’s top attractions and neighborhoods, and there’s always some type of event (or several) going on by the water – concerts, festivals, you name it.”

Tennessee Aquarium

Top things to do in tennessee

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Take a journey from the mountains to the sea at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. In one building, explore the mountains and rivers of east Tennessee in River Journey, then travel to the sea in Ocean Journey (a building all its own). With more than 10,000 animals here, you can expect to see river otters, lemurs, penguins, sharks, colorful fish and octopuses. In the “River Giants” exhibit, there are freshwater fish from around the world that grow to monstrous proportions. What’s more, the “Turtle of the World” gallery has the most extensive collection of turtles of any accredited zoo or aquarium in the U.S.

For a real treat, book the guided “Deeper Dives” tour, which takes you behind the scenes before the aquarium opens. You’ll also want to catch an immersive show at the IMAX Theater. Patrons call the Tennessee Aquarium a world-class facility, with some even praising it as one of the best aquariums they’ve visited.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail in Tennessee

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Jeffrey S. Otto/Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development & Journal Communications)

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail covers 15 states and more than 100 locations that were significant to the civil rights movement – and you’ll find more than a dozen of these locales in Tennessee. In Memphis, visit a handful of sites including the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel as well as Clayborn Temple next to I AM A MAN Plaza, where sanitation workers protested in 1968. Then, travel a little more than 200 miles northeast to visit Nashville’s seven stops, ranging from the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library to the National Museum of African American Music.

Complete your journey across the state in Clinton, about 175 miles east of Nashville, to learn about the Clinton 12 at the Green McAdoo Cultural Center. After the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, these 12 Black students stepped inside an all-white public high school in August 1956, making it the first integrated school in the South. Visitors to the cultural center say it’s very well done and expressed that their visit was a moving experience.

Titanic Museum Attraction

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of Titanic Museum Attraction)

Owned and curated by the man who co-led the diving expedition to the Titanic in 1987, this impressive museum in Pigeon Forge brings the history of the legendary ship to life. The top-rated Titanic Museum Attraction houses artifacts from the Titanic Historical Society, maintaining more than 400 relics and memorabilia from the ship.

The exterior of the building is about half-scale of the actual ship size, but the interior re-created rooms are true to life. Inside, you’ll find an exact replica of the Grand Staircase as well as galleries filled with information about the ship and stories from survivors. There’s even a Memorial Room dedicated to the more than 2,200 passengers and crew members. Travelers suggest spending at least two hours here to hear the emotional stories of the survivors and better understand what happened that fateful evening in April 1912.

Lookout Mountain

Top things to do in tennessee

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Situated just minutes from downtown Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain’s attractions focus on the immediate area’s natural beauty. Located deep within the mountain, Ruby Falls has the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the U.S. Explore the cave and the falls on a tour, after which you can brave the climbing tower or a zip line adventure. The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway will also get your adrenaline pumping as the more than 125-year-old funicular railway climbs Lookout Mountain. After a mile-long ride, hop off at the top of the mountain to take in the views of the Tennessee Valley from the overlook at the observation deck.

Just over the state line, Rock City Gardens, one of the top things to do in Georgia, boasts panoramic views and other attractions atop Lookout Mountain. “Rock City Gardens is especially fun at Christmastime, when it hosts the Enchanted Garden of Lights,” Norcross says. “The Fairyland Caverns display feels almost otherworldly!” Other travelers say Lookout Mountain is worth a visit and the vantage point from the mountaintop is incredible.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail

Top things to do in tennessee

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Since pre-Civil War times, Tennessee has long been known for its whiskey. Today, there are more than 30 distilleries and 800-plus miles of scenic landscapes to cover on the statewide Tennessee Whiskey Trail. In fact, the trail’s official website estimates you’ll need 14 days to visit all the spots, and you can register for an analog or digital whiskey passport to collect stamps. The complete itinerary includes stops in and around Nashville, Knoxville, the Smoky Mountains, Chattanooga and Memphis. Be sure not to miss the Lynchburg and Tullahoma area, home to the historic George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s distilleries.

In between stops, check out Civil War battlegrounds, live music venues, local food favorites and hidden gems in smaller towns, as well as state parks with outdoor adventures. For accommodations in Memphis, consider staying at the outdoor-themed, pyramid-shaped Big Cypress Lodge, which affords views of the Mississippi River. The historic Hermitage Hotel is a top choice in Nashville, while in the Knoxville area The Oliver Hotel is a traveler favorite due to its close proximity to Market Square.

The Parthenon

Early morning at the Parthenon in Centennial Park, Nashville, TN.

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Located in Centennial Park in Nashville’s West End, the Parthenon is the only exact replica in the world of the ancient temple in Athens, Greece. Regarded as the park’s centerpiece, the Parthenon was constructed as a temporary structure in 1897 to celebrate 100 years of Tennessee statehood. In 1920, after Nashville had been known for years as the “Athens of the South,” the Parthenon was rebuilt with the help of a local architect and an architectural historian.

Since the 1930s, the Parthenon has hosted rotating art exhibits in its galleries; today, as Nashville’s art museum, it continues to feature temporary exhibitions and shows. The museum’s permanent collections include paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists as well as 14 casts of the Parthenon Marbles. You’ll also find an impressive replica of the Athena Parthenos statue from ancient Greece. The Parthenon and this statue are a must-see, according to traveler reviews.

World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

A plate of delicious barbecued ribs with french fries and salad.

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The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is one of the beloved events that takes place during the Memphis in May International Festival. The contest dates back to 1978, when it began in a parking lot with just 20 teams. In 2022, the four-day event brought more than 200 competition cooking teams from 24 states and four foreign countries to compete. So, if you’re craving all things pork and want to see unique themed team tents and live entertainment while having a bit of over-the-top fun, head to Tom Lee Park along the banks of the Mississippi River in May. In 2023, the festival will run from May 17 to 20.

CMA Fest

Thomas Rhett performs at Nissan Stadium on Friday, June 10 during CMA Fest 2022 in downtown Nashville.

(Josh Brasted/Courtesy of Country Music Association)

June is also a busy month in Tennessee, with the four-day CMA Fest as one of the top events in the state. The annual Nashville event began as Fan Fair with 5,000 people in attendance; tens of thousands of attendees now come from all over to see more than 260 performers. The fan-favorite event is celebrating 50 years in 2023, and attendees can see award-winning and chart-topping artists like Carly Pearce, Lainey Wilson, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Tim McGraw – as well as emerging country artists. The event takes place in downtown Nashville and features six daytime and two nighttime stages, including larger venues like Nissan Stadium alongside indoor venues at Music City Center. You also won’t want to miss the neon lights of the honky-tonks and festivities along Nashville’s famous entertainment district on Broadway Street.

“Travelers should expect a party atmosphere if they choose to visit Nashville during CMA Fest,” says Marisa Méndez, a senior travel editor at U.S. News and CMA Fest attendee. “You’ll encounter massive crowds of music fans (with expensive hotel rates to boot) and the tradeoff is a slew of excellent concerts. If you aren’t a diehard country music fan or you dislike massive crowds (like me!) then choose another time to visit.”

Natchez Trace Parkway

Road down the Natchez Trace Parkway in fall

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Set off from Nashville on a scenic journey along this 444-mile recreational road. Meandering through three states, this national parkway roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic route once used by Indigenous people, European settlers, soldiers and more. Along the way, travelers can experience camping, biking, hiking and horseback riding while soaking in all the natural beauty. There are a variety of short trails along the parkway to explore waterfalls, natural wonders and historic landmarks.

The Lost Sea

A boat on The Lost Sea in Tennessee

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Travel 140 feet below ground to see the largest underground lake in America. The aptly named Lost Sea sits about 50 miles southwest of Knoxville in Sweetwater. The 75-minute guided tour begins with a short walk that past travelers say can be challenging, so wear comfortable nonslip shoes. As the guides explain the history of the cavern, you’ll learn how geological factors created the rare formations and cavern rooms. At the end of the tour, hop on a boat ride to see the clear waters of this 70-foot-deep lake spread across more than 13 acres of water. Visitors comment that walking through the cave is a great experience, but seeing the lake is what’s truly worth the price of admission.

A stop in Sweetwater could be a daytrip from Knoxville, but you can also linger longer by renting a cabin or cottage. Sweetwater’s historic district has unique shops and boutiques to peruse, and don’t miss a visit to Sweetwater Valley Farm’s cafe to enjoy farm-fresh dairy specialties.


Cannon in Franklin Square, Tn at Sun Set

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Located around 20 miles south of downtown Nashville, Franklin is a must-visit for history buffs, shoppers and music lovers alike. The Battle of Franklin – one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – occurred here, and visitors can learn all about it with a trip to the well-preserved Civil War sites of Carnton, Carter House and the Lotz House. The 16-block historic downtown is an idyllic destination for shopping, dining, intimate songwriter rounds, art and special events. For a classic Southern meal, grab a bite to eat at Puckett’s Restaurant with its laid-back atmosphere and live music.

Consider an overnight stay at The Harpeth, where travelers say the staff and accommodations are exceptional; many also praise the on-site bar and restaurant. Vinophiles may want to venture to some of middle Tennessee’s vineyards, including the award-winning Arrington Vineyards. You can sample the wines, have an outdoor picnic and catch live music on weekends in the warmer months.

The Memphis Zoo

Top things to do in Tennessee

(Phillip Van Zandt/Courtesy of The Memphis Zoo)

Located in Memphis’ Overton Park, the Memphis Zoo has been a major attraction since 1906. The zoo’s property covers nearly 80 acres and is home to more than 500 species of animals that reside in various zones and exhibits. In Cat Country, you can view elusive snow leopards, African lions and near-threated jaguars. The China exhibition encompasses 3 acres and features Asian wildlife including Francois langurs, Sulawesi crested macaques and the visitor-favorite giant pandas.

The Hermitage

Top things to do in tennessee

(Courtesy of The Andrew Jackson Foundation)

Located about 10 miles northeast of Nashville, The Hermitage – not to be confused with Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel – is a 1,120-acre property and mansion that President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, once called home. Jackson lived at The Hermitage from 1804 – when he purchased the property as a 425-acre plantation, relying on the labor of enslaved Black people – until his death in 1845. Over the years, the mansion has undergone extensive renovations and additions.

Today, the house features most of Jackson’s personal artifacts. Several tour options of the mansion and its grounds are available, including two different tours that teach visitors about the lives of the enslaved men, women and children who worked on this plantation and generated Jackson’s wealth. Travelers say the tours are a very informative and educational experience; they also appreciate how much history is preserved at the property. Don’t miss the exhibits at the visitor center, and before leaving be sure to sample wines from the Natchez Hills Vineyard and Winery tasting room at The Hermitage.


Top things to do in tennessee

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Surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is the perfect base for outdoor adventure. The Sugarlands entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just outside of downtown, but there’s many exciting things to do while in this part of east Tennessee. Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area offers year-round family fun with amusement rides, an aerial tramway, ice skating, snow tubing, skiing and other activities. Many patrons enjoy this attraction, though they warn it can get overcrowded, so aim for weekdays and other off-peak times.

During your jaunt in Gatlinburg you can also visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, walk a 680-foot-long suspension bridge at Skylift Park, and zip to the top of Anakeesta theme park on the Chondola. For an extended stay, make reservations at the Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg or The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, two of the top hotels in Gatlinburg. Then, wake up early to beat the crowds at the iconic Pancake Pantry, Tennessee’s first specialty pancake restaurant.

Spend the night in a treehouse

Exterior of treehouse at Sanctuary Treehouse Resort

(Courtesy of Sanctuary Treehouse Resort)

Opened in spring 2023, Sanctuary Treehouse Resort is touted as the largest treehouse resort in the world. Set amid 40 acres of picturesque land in the Smoky Mountains, the property has a variety of luxurious treehouses for couples and families, with whimsical amenities like rope swings, escape hatches, slides and hidden beds. Located on two championship golf courses, the property is ideally situated near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Resort guests can choose from three types of tree houses, including the family-friendly Tree Fort with room for up to six guests, as well as the Luxe, which is geared toward couples with an outdoor tub.

Learn about Native American history

Exhibit at Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee

(Courtesy of Sequoyah Birthplace Museum)

Native Americans have inhabited the land of Tennessee for about 12,000 years. Many places in the state, such as Chattanooga and Tullahoma, have names of Indigenous origin – even “Tennessee” itself derives from a Cherokee word for “where the river bends.” Today, you can explore Native American heritage across the state.

Plan to begin your journey in the town of Vonore at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. Located around 35 miles southwest of Knoxville, this museum is owned and operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and pays tribute to Sequoyah, who is best remembered for creating the Cherokee writing system. Also on-site is the Cherokee Memorial, where archaeological remains from former Cherokee towns of the 18th century are buried. Afterward, plan to visit The Tanasi Memorial, where Tennessee’s namesake – a former Cherokee village – is commemorated 12 miles southeast of the museum.

Part of the more than 5,000-mile Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which spans nine states, runs through Tennessee. In the 1830s, the U.S. government forced Native American tribes across the Southeast to relocate from their ancestral homelands to west of the Mississippi River; the ensuing journey became known as the Trail of Tears. Throughout Tennessee, you’ll find more than a dozen places to visit to learn more about the horrific trek, including the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood. Visitors to this site, located in the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, comment that it’s a beautiful and much-needed memorial to Native Americans.

The Caverns

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Katherine Brown/Courtesy of The Caverns)

Home to the TV series “The Caverns Sessions” (formerly “Bluegrass Underground”), The Caverns is an otherworldly cave system that boasts more than 8,000 linear feet of passageways in Pelham, around 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga. During the day, take a guided tour of the caves for a behind-the-scenes look at the underground concert venue as well as one of the world’s largest underground rooms. Adrenaline-seekers can book the Adventure Cave Tour, a true spelunking trip where few have gone before.

At night, listen to top music acts in Big Mouth Cave. The concert hall serves food and brews and is also accessible for music fans with mobility issues. Reviewers call the underground concert experience unique and fun. Extend your visit with the “Stay & Cave” package, which includes lodging, ground transportation and other amenities.


Top things to do in tennessee

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The eastern city of Knoxville is home to outdoor adventure, museums, history and a vibrant arts scene. Plan to stay a few days at The Tennessean, a hotel centrally located downtown. Then, walk over to Market Square, where you can explore the shopping, dining and entertainment options. Other highlights in the city include the Sunsphere tower’s Observation Deck at World’s Fair Park, the East Tennessee History Center and the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture.

For outdoor enthusiasts, visit what the city has dubbed its Urban Wilderness. The collection of open-air attractions features 50 miles of trails, lakes and parks as well as a 500-acre wildlife area; Ijams Nature Center is ideal for hiking, biking, fishing and rock climbing. Finally, Civil War and history buffs can chart out a visit to battlefields like Fort Sanders or plot a driving tour of the area’s Civil War sites.

Oak Ridge

Sunset scene on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, TN with haze in the distance and a duck perched on a log

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Known as the “Secret City,” Oak Ridge quickly developed on a tract of rural farmland purchased by the government during World War II. More than 100,000 people of various professions were brought to this city to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project, unaware the devastating atomic bomb they were producing would end WWII.

While in town, plan to explore this significant part of U.S. history at the Oak Ridge History Museum and the K-25 History Center, which travelers appreciate for being well done and informative. Other fun things to do in Oak Ridge include off-road adventures at Windrock Park and bike riding, jogging, fishing or swimming at Melton Lake Park.

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Concert at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

(Courtesy of Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival)

The first Bonnaroo festival took place in 2002, with its name inspired by a Dr. John album; the Creole slang word “bonnaroo” translates roughly to “best on the street.” The annual music, arts and camping event convenes with as many as 80,000 festivalgoers on the 650-acre Bonnaroo Farm in Manchester, about 65 southeast of Nashville.

The four-day Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival typically occurs in mid-June: In 2023, it runs from June 14 to 18. This event features more than 150 musicians performing on 10 stages; four camping barns; and nonstop entertainment, food and parties. Expect to see and hear everything from rock to hip-hop to jazz. Past performers have included Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Radiohead and U2.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Cane creek falls & rockhouse falls at Fall creek falls state park Tennessee during early spring

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Located around 70 miles north of Chattanooga in Spencer, Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of the largest and most visited state parks in Tennessee, with nearly 30,000 acres spanning the top of the Cumberland Plateau. The park’s rugged terrain boasts gorges, streams, lush hardwood forests and waterfalls such as the 256-foot-high Fall Creek Falls. There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails, including two overnight, long-distance routes.

The Nature Center at Fall Creek Falls hosts naturalist-led programs with activities like campfires, games, live music, movies and more. Visitors say the park is beautiful and the walk to see the falls from the overlook is short and pleasant, while the hike to the base of the waterfall can be challenging. Plan to stay a few days in one of the 30 cabins or camp outdoors under the stars at your choice of more than 200 campsites. For less rustic accommodations, reserve one of the guest rooms at the Lodge at Fall Creek Falls.

Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary)

Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, situated about 40 miles northwest of Knoxville in Petros, was Tennessee’s first maximum-security prison, known as the “End of the Line.” The facility offers self-guided tours that cover 30 stations and stories throughout the prison. Guests can visit most parts of the prison, including the cell block, cafeteria, laundry room, exercise yard and the “HOLE,” where inmates were sent for solitary confinement in complete darkness.

Former inmates and prison guards are stationed throughout the prison to share stories of life in Brushy and give guided tours, which you must book in advance. The more adventurous explorers may enjoy an overnight paranormal tour. Most travelers find the guide-led tours interesting and educational. Sample the End of the Line moonshine at the on-site distillery or dine at the Southern-inspired Warden’s Table restaurant. Note that this site closes for the winter.

Discovery Park of America

Top things to do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of Discovery Park of America)

Discovery Park of America will entertain family members of all ages. You’ll want at least one full day to visit this 100,000-square-foot museum and the surrounding 50-acre heritage park in Union City, about 115 miles northwest of Memphis. Indoor exhibits include 10 galleries and interactive displays highlighting everything from technology and space to art and regional history. Discovery Park also offers a 20,000-gallon aquarium, a theater and the tallest observation tower in the area.

Go outside to visit a replica 19th-century frontier settlement or see a gristmill in action in a re-created early-1900s town. You can also wander through Japanese and European gardens and explore a train station. The park even has a river, waterfalls and a playground inspired by nature. Visitors say the museum is worth a visit and that it’s both educational and great fun. If you have time, visit Union City’s historic downtown area or check out nearby Lake Isom National Wildlife Refuge and Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tiptonville. For an overnight stay, reserve accommodations at a hotel in Union City or set up camp near Reelfoot Lake.

Museum of Appalachia

Top things to do in tennessee

(Courtesy of Museum of Appalachia)

The 65-acre Museum of Appalachia in Clinton is a living history museum that makes for a perfect daytrip from Knoxville, since it’s about 25 miles northwest. This authentic mountain farm and pioneer village, a Smithsonian Affiliate, features 35 log cabins, barns, churches and schools; its more than 250,000 artifacts compose collections of folk art, musical instruments and more. You can also stroll through several gardens and see free-range farm animals. Be sure to check out the indoor exhibits, including the Hall of Fame building, which honors interesting individuals with a connection to the Southern Appalachians.

Tourgoers are impressed with the informative exhibits and myriad artifacts, saying they come away with an appreciation for the history and lives of the Southern Appalachian people and their culture. Plan to spend a few hours at the museum. After your tour, take a walk by the Clinch River, visit Clinton’s antiques district and then head over to Hoskins Drug Store, where you’ll find an old-fashioned lunch counter and soda fountain.

Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery

Top things to do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery)

This historic Greek Revival mansion and surrounding 5,400 acres highlight Tennessee’s history, architecture and equestrian heritage. A variety of tour options awaits you at Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery, about 10 miles southwest of Nashville. Guests say the entire estate is beautiful and the popular “Mansion Tour” provides a good historical overview – plus a complimentary wine tasting. “Journey to Jubilee” offers insight into the lives of the enslaved people who worked here for nearly a century, while the “Southern Food Traditions” walking tour takes you outside. There are even guided tours geared toward children.

Following whatever tour you choose, browse the specialty stores and wine shop. End your visit with a traditional Southern-style lunch at the on-site restaurant. For more of a taste of Belle Meade’s wines or bourbon, reserve a spot for one of Belle Meade’s culinary experiences.

Reelfoot Lake

Boardwalk leading out into a wetland with cypress trees and water plants.

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Created in the early 1800s by a series of violent earthquakes, the 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake sits in the northwest corner of the state in Tiptonville. This natural lake is unlike the state’s many artificial reservoirs formed by damming. Reelfoot houses a unique ecosystem: a flooded forest whose cypress trees rise above the water’s surface but are also submerged below as stumps.

Birders will enjoy touring with park naturalists to view the shore and wading birds. In winter thousands of American bald eagles converge on the lake – an occasion marked by the Reelfoot Lake Eagle Festival every February. Visitors enjoy the scenery, recreational activities, camping and peacefulness of the lake. For an extended getaway, bed down at Blue Bank Resort or set up camp in Reelfoot Lake State Park.

Visit the Birthplace of Country Music

detail of classic guitar with shallow depth of field

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While Nashville may be known as the “Country Music Capital of the World,” Bristol is actually considered the birthplace of the genre. This twin city is located directly on the Virginia and Tennessee state line at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Check out the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – a Smithsonian Affiliate – to learn about the genre’s roots and the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

If you’re visiting in September, consider attending the three-day Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, or catch live music around town year-round. While in Bristol, you can take in a race at the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway, snap a selfie while standing in two different states, and take in the region’s beautiful scenery at South Holston Lake and Dam. Consider spending the night at The Bristol Hotel for the rooftop bar, regional cuisine and boutique accommodations.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Rachael Hood is a senior travel editor at U.S. News. She visited Nashville for the first time at the age of 6 and fell in love. She’s been making regular visits to the state of Tennessee throughout her life, and has visited Memphis, Graceland (twice), Nashville more times than she can count, Chattanooga, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and more. Hood has attended multiple CMA Fests and is always looking for her next chance to head to Tennessee. She used her personal experience along with travel research expertise to update this article.

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