Knoxville is a vibrant city in eastern Tennessee with a population of almost 197,000. It is the perfect place to spend at least a few days, if not more, as there is much to see and do. Knoxville offers visitors historic sites, museums, outdoor attractions, a lively music scene, craft breweries, and award-winning restaurants serving both Southern and international cuisine. It is also a great base if you want to explore the Smoky Mountains National Park, as it is only 65 km (40.4 miles) away.
Even though Knoxville is the third-largest city in Tennessee, it has a small-town feel about it. You will find that the locals are friendly, and the staff at the historic sites and museums are helpful. If you enjoy nightlife, you will be in your element in Knoxville. The Old City offers bars and clubs where you can dance the night away. Throughout the city, you will find many live music venues with music catering to different tastes, and there are theatres offering shows, operas, concerts and classic films. These are the best things to do in Knoxville that will suit different tastes, so read on.
- Knoxville, Tennessee
- Top Tours
- 20 Things To Do in Knoxville
- 1- Wander Around The Old City Of Knoxville
- 2- Enjoy The Outdoors At Ijams Nature Centre
- 3- Take A Stroll In World’s Fair Park And See The Sunsphere
- 4- Visit the McClung Museum Of Natural History And Culture
- 5- Learn About Tennessee History At The East Tennessee History Centre
- 6- Step Back Into The Past In Knoxville’s Historic Homes
- 7- Catch A Live Show At A Historic Theatre
- 8- Check Out Knoxville’s Vibrant Live Music
- 9- Support The Locals At Market Square Farmers Market
- 10- Visit The Knoxville Museum Of Art
- 11- Go Back To The 1950s At The Phoenix Pharmacy
- 12- Visit The Girl Scout Museum
- 13- Take A Ride On The Three Rivers Rambler
- 14- See The Biggest Baseball In The World At The Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame
- 15- Take The Kids To The Musee Knoxville
- 16- Discover Knoxville’s Blooming Craft Beer Scene
- 17- Take A Knoxville Food Tour
- 18- Wander Around Knoxville Botanical Garden And Arboretum
- 19- Marvel At The Wonders Of The Cherokee Caverns
- 20- Go On A Day Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Downtown Knoxville Hidden Tour – with ice cream, coffee and discovering Tennessee’s river gems.
- Knoxville Scavenger Hunt: Knoxville’s Perfect Blend – a fun way to discover the city’s secrets.
- Knoxville’s Country Music Heritage – A Self-Guided Audio Tour for country music fans.
- Get in the holiday spirit with a scavenger hunt – by Holly Jolly Hunt in Knoxville
20 Things To Do in Knoxville
1- Wander Around The Old City Of Knoxville
The Old City of Knoxville may be small, but the atmosphere is energetic.
Within the few blocks it occupies, you will find restaurants, bars, clubs, music venues, coffee shops, galleries, breweries, and stores selling artisan products, ideal to take home as gifts.
It is the place to shop by day and to dance to live bands by night.
This area used to have the highest number of saloons in the region and was once the red-light district of Knoxville.
This is no more, but the buildings that housed these establishments have been repurposed for the businesses that are there today.
If you only have a few days in Knoxville, you should visit the Old City, if only for the atmosphere.
2- Enjoy The Outdoors At Ijams Nature Centre
If you are a nature lover or you just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, head to Ijams Nature Centre.
You will find it hard to believe that you are still in Knoxville.
Ijams Nature Centre covers 300 acres and is part of the larger Knoxville Urban Wilderness, which is a massive 1000 acres.
It started as a bird sanctuary, but now, as well as birds, it is home to a wild variety of wildlife such as coyotes, opossums, white-tailed deer, foxes, bobcats, beavers and groundhogs.
There are over 16 km (10 miles) of trails where you can hike, and there is a rock-climbing section that is the only outdoor climbing area in Knoxville.
At Mead Quarry Lake, you can rent paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks.
If you like to get your adrenaline going, head to the zipline adventure park, or if you want to learn more about nature, the Visitor’s Centre puts on exhibits, art shows, and classes.
You could find out more about birds or maybe learn about Green Living.
3- Take A Stroll In World’s Fair Park And See The Sunsphere
Back in 1982, the World’s Fair was held in Knoxville, and now the site is a relaxing park with walkways and beautiful water features such as geysers and fountains.
There is even a splash pad for the kids, which is open from April until October.
Performances, festivals, and other events are held in the park; for example, July 4th is celebrated, and there is a Jingle Run in December.
The highlight of the park is the Sunsphere, which was built for the World’s Fair.
It is a large, round object secured on top of a tower 81 metres (266 feet) high.
Go up to the observation deck, from where you will get stunning views of the city, the Tennessee River, and the Smoky Mountains.
In addition, some displays will tell you more about the World’s Fair, and if you’re hungry, visit the Italian restaurant or the cafe.
It is free to go to both the park and the Sunsphere.
The World’s Fair Park is at 963 World’s Fair Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37916
The Sunsphere is at 810 W Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37902
4- Visit the McClung Museum Of Natural History And Culture
This museum is on the campus of the University of Tennessee, and admission is free.
This is a bonus, as it is both a fun and an educational museum for the whole family.
Outside the museum, there is a large dinosaur that has been called Monty.
It offers great photographic opportunities, particularly if you stand alongside it. Monty is 7.31 metres (24 feet) long and weighs a massive 1,088.62 kg (2,400 pounds).
Inside the museum, you will find a varied range of exhibits.
There is a large section dedicated to dinosaurs and fossils, and there is also a collection of artefacts from Ancient Egypt.
In addition, you will be able to find out about local history, including what life was like in the state during the Civil War.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm.
The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is at 1327 Circle Park, Knoxville, TN 37996
5- Learn About Tennessee History At The East Tennessee History Centre
If you want to know more about Tennessee history, visit the East Tennessee History Centre.
It relates the history of the state, going back 300 years until the present day.
There are more than 13,000 artefacts in the centre, including Civil War items such as uniforms, flags, and weapons.
There is also furniture, paintings, clothing, and quilts. You may wonder why quilts are exhibited, and the reason is that East Tennessee families treasure the quilts made by their ancestors as they depict important events in their lives.
The signature exhibition is Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee, which has interactive displays that will delight children.
It also gives you the chance to hear first-person accounts of what life was like in the past.
Temporary exhibitions are also held in the centre.
The East Tennessee History Centre is at 601 S Gay Street, Knoxville TN 37902.
6- Step Back Into The Past In Knoxville’s Historic Homes
There are many historic homes in Knoxville where you can learn about the history of the city.
They are stunning houses with beautiful gardens and are well worth your time.
Blount Mansion belonged to William Blount who was governor of the southwest territory in the 18th century.
The mansion was built in 1782 and was opened to the public as a museum in 1926.
It tells the story of the house and its owner, as well as giving information about the history of the territory.
James White was the founder of Knoxville, and it is possible to visit his former home, the James White Fort, built in 1786.
You can tour the house, which has been recreated to look as it did back in the 18th century. There are some original furnishings and other artefacts showcased.
In addition, there are outbuildings on the land surrounding the house, including a blacksmith’s workshop.
Special events are held at the fort throughout the year, such as ghost tours for Halloween and a Christmas Open House.
Mabry-Hazen House is on the National Register of Historic Places and once belonged to the Mabry-Hazen family.
It was completed in 1858 and is Victorian in style.
You can tour the house and see the antique collection that once belonged to the family.
Westwood is another historic home worth visiting.
It was completed in 1890 and designed in the Queen Anne style.
It belonged to the artist, Adelia Armstrong Lutz, and her husband, John.
It was opened to the public in 2009, and inside you can find a large collection of Adelia’s art and that of other prominent female artists, such as Cynthia Markert, as well as a magnificent collection of antique slag glass lamps.
Blount Mansion is at 200 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37902.
The James White Fort is at 205 E. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37915.
The Mabry-Hazen House is at 1711 Dandridge Ave, Knoxville, TN 37915.
Westwood is at 3425 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919.
7- Catch A Live Show At A Historic Theatre
If you enjoy live performances, head to one of the historic theatres in Knoxville.
The Tennessee Theatre not only puts on concerts, Broadway shows, and classic films, but it is also a beautiful building.
The floor is made from Italian terrazzo marble, there are Asian carpets, and the ceiling is decorated with crystal chandeliers.
Both the Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra are based here.
Another historic theatre is the Bijou Theatre, which was built in 1909. It showcases live music, including opera.
The Tennessee Theatre is at 604 S, Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902.
The Bijou Theatre is at 803 S, Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902.
8- Check Out Knoxville’s Vibrant Live Music
Knoxville is well-known for its musical heritage, with the likes of Dolly Parton and the Everley Brothers having performed in the city.
Live music can be found all over Knoxville, even on the streets. Historic theatres such as the Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou Theatre offer a variety of music shows, from classic to country and anything in between.
There are new theatres as well, including the Mill and Mine, which showcases country, rock, and punk.
From Mondays through Thursdays, the Knoxville Visitor’s Centre hosts live performances of a radio show, and the music could be anything, but bluegrass, rockabilly, folk, and funk feature heavily.
Preservation Pub is a fun venue with a rooftop forest of electric trees and a roof garden overlooking Market Square.
On the floor below, there is live music and dancing.
Scruffy City Hall is a fun place to go to listen to live music. It has three bars, a mediaeval hall, a rooftop bar, and two balconies.
There is music every night.
9- Support The Locals At Market Square Farmers Market
Every product sold at the farmer’s market has either been raised, grown, or made by the vendors.
Here you can find fresh fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meat, eggs, honey, jams, baked goods, cooked dishes, plants, flowers, handmade crafts, and clothes.
The idea behind the market is to provide support to farmers while offering healthy choices to the locals.
Why not come and add some support to the Knoxville farmers and take home some beautiful souvenirs and gifts?
The market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through November.
The Farmer’s Market is at 500 Howard Baker Jr. Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37902.
10- Visit The Knoxville Museum Of Art
The Knoxville Museum of Art is housed in a beautiful building made from state-mined marble. It houses local art with a focus on Southern Appalachian culture.
There is a mixture of older art and more contemporary pieces.
The highlight of the museum is the Cycle of Life, which is the largest glass sculpture in the world. It was created by the local artist Richard Jolley, who is internationally renowned.
You shouldn’t miss the captivating diorama collection, which includes pieces created by some of the most famous artists in the state.
The Knoxville Museum of Art is at 1050 World’s Fair Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37916.
11- Go Back To The 1950s At The Phoenix Pharmacy
If you were alive in the 1950s, you may remember the old-style pharmacies where you could get a soda or ice cream sundae as well as get your medication.
They were gathering places for the locals to chat with their friends, and the people working there took time to get to know everyone.
The Phoenix Pharmacy replicates this, with a mirrored counter and classic chrome stools.
The menu will make you lick your lips.
You can have an ice cream soda, egg creams, milkshakes, root beers, malteds, and ice cream sundaes such as the decadent Smoky Mountain Sundae.
Nearly everything is homemade, including the ice cream and the peanut butter used in some of the desserts.
The Phoenix Pharmacy is at 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902.
12- Visit The Girl Scout Museum
If you were a Girl Scout or your daughter is one now, you won’t want to miss this museum, which showcases the history of the Girl Scout movement.
You will be able to see many artefacts going back through the years, such as vintage Girl Scout uniforms and a Girl Scout Triumph book that talks about the history of the movement.
There are interactive exhibits that will delight the little ones.
It is a good idea to book a tour if you have children, as they can try on a vintage uniform and then appear in it in a fashion show.
There is a SWAPS basket in the museum so your children can bring something to put in it and then take something away with them.
The museum also houses a library that holds information about the Girl Scout movement going back as far as 1912.
The Girl Scout Museum is at 1567 Downtown Blvd., Knoxville, TN.
13- Take A Ride On The Three Rivers Rambler
For something a bit different, take a ride on the Three Rivers Rambler, an excursion train that travels to the Three Rivers Trestle where the French Broad River and the Holston River come together to form the Tennessee River.
Along the way, you will pass many historic sites, farmland, bridges, and sports stadiums. Once the train reaches the Trestle, it goes back to town along the same tracks.
The journey takes around an hour and a half.
Throughout the journey, you will learn about the history of the US railroad and the river you are heading to. It is a must for train lovers.
The Three Rivers Rambler starts at 2560 University Commons Way, Knoxville, TN 37919.
14- See The Biggest Baseball In The World At The Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame
The said basketball is right on the roof of this building and can be seen from quite a distance.
As you enter, there is a 5.18-metre (17-foot) bronze statue depicting a female basketball player.
The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honour the sport of women’s basketball, which may not be taken as seriously as men’s basketball.
139 women have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and there is information provided about each one, showing how they contributed to the game.
There is an interactive area for you budding basketball players out there. You will find three basketball courts, a dribbling course, and a passing skills area.
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is at 700 S. Hall of Fame Drive, Knoxville, TN 37915
15- Take The Kids To The Musee Knoxville
Your children will love the Musee Knoxville, which teaches through interactive exhibits, making them think that they are simply playing.
The Musee Knoxville covers 371.61 square metres (4,000 square feet) and combines science and art.
Among other things, your children can learn about nutrition, create volcanoes and oceans in the augmented reality sandbox, and pilot their own spaceship.
The city’s only planetarium is housed here and offers shows for different age groups.
The fourth Friday of every month has free entry.
The Musee Knoxville is at 516 N. Beaman Street, Knoxville, TN 37914.
16- Discover Knoxville’s Blooming Craft Beer Scene
Knoxville has an exciting craft beer scene, and it even has its own Ale Trail, which is well worth joining if you’re a beer lover.
You get an Ale Trail Passport, and every time you have a beer at a Knoxville Area Brewers Association brewery, you will get your passport stamped.
With the stamps, you can redeem prizes before you leave Knoxville.
One of the breweries on the Ale Trail is the Crafty Bastard Brewery.
They use locally sourced ingredients to make experimental beer and age them in whisky and gin barrels.
The brewery hosts weekly music events with food trucks.
Another brewery worth going to, even though it isn’t on the Ale Trail, is the Pour Taproom, where you get to pour the beer yourself from an authentic tap handle.
You only pay by the ounce, and you have the opportunity to try beer from a selection of 68 craft brews.
The Crafty Bastard Brewery is at 6 Emery Place, Knoxville, TN 37917.
The Pour Taproom is at 207 West Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37902.
17- Take A Knoxville Food Tour
Knoxville Food Tours offers a range of tours, allowing you to choose which meal you want to enjoy, be it brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Each tour lasts approximately three and a half hours and takes you to six different establishments, where you will try different foods.
You might go to a small store first and then to an upmarket restaurant.
The establishments on the itinerary change often, so if you want to go again, the chances are high that you will have new experiences.
You can pair the food with drinks such as cocktails, Tennessee whisky, moonshine, or craft beer.
Your guide is knowledgeable and will tell you about the history of the food culture in the region. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Knoxville Food Tours is at 402 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902.
18- Wander Around Knoxville Botanical Garden And Arboretum
This is a lovely place to take time out from busy city life.
It covers 47 acres and dates to 1786, when it was a horticultural business belonging to David Howell, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
In 2001, the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum was founded and offers free entrance to anyone who wants to enjoy its peacefulness and beautiful gardens.
There are nine separate gardens, including The Secret Garden, the Bamboo Forest, and the Paulk Peony Garden.
There are also some nice trails to follow, a butterfly meadow, and a visitor’s centre.
The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum is at 2743 Wimpole Avenue, Knoxville, TN
19- Marvel At The Wonders Of The Cherokee Caverns
The Cherokee Caverns were formed around five million years ago and are a spectacular sight to see.
They were originally discovered by early Native Americans and then forgotten about.
However, in 1854, they were rediscovered by Robert Crudington, a Knoxville farmer.
The rock formations are spectacular colours such as red, orange, yellow, and green, and there are stalactites and stalagmites to admire.
The caves aren’t open for regular tours, but special events are held throughout the year, at times such as Halloween and Christmas.
They also show films in the caves frequently, so check their website to see if there is anything on while you are there.
The Cherokee Caverns are at 8524 Oak Ridge Highway, Knoxville, TN 37931.
20- Go On A Day Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park isn’t far from Knoxville. It’s just 65 km (40.4 miles) away so it can easily be visited as a day trip. However, there is a lot to see so you might want to stay the night. There are plenty of camping options in the park.
There are over 1,287 km (800 miles) of hiking trails in the park, with beautiful scenery along the way, including forests, waterfalls, and mountains. Some trails are harder than others, so be sure to check before you start.
You can also fish at the park, as there are 4,677 km (2,900 miles) of streams. You can catch trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, small-mouth bass, and rock bass, but there are limits on the numbers you are allowed to catch per day.
You can drive through the park and one of the not-to-be-missed places is the Newfoundland Gap which offers spectacular views of the mountains.
You might come across historic buildings while you are in the park. There are 90 dating back to the 19th century and give you an insight into the past.
It’s free to get into the park but you have to pay, if you want to camp.
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