What Is Tennessee Known For?

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Tennessee is the heart and soul of country music and the city of Nashville is its epicentre. Here you will find the Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame, which showcases memorabilia from country music stars and the renown Grand Ole Opry. However, there’s much more to Tennesse than country music. Memphis is the home of the blues, with blues music streaming out of bars and restaurants on Beale Street. Memphis is home to the famous Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Sun Studio, where many artists recorded their hits.

Besides being the home of two great music genres, the state is steeped in history, having played an important part in the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. And sadly, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in Memphis. Tennessee is a fantastic state for a holiday, whether you love music, want to hike the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or taste delicious Southern food. So let’s take a look at more of what Tennessee is known for.

What Is Tennessee Known For?

1- Nashville, The Home Of Country Music

Discover Nashville City Tour with Entry to Ryman & Country Music Hall of Fame
Country music is one of the top things Tennessee is known for.

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and is where the country music scene is centred.

There are music venues galore, and if you enjoy country music, you will be in your element in the city.

If you can, see a show at either the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Auditorium.

The Ryman Auditorium used to house the Grand Ole Opry but still hosts famous artists.


Throughout the city, you will find other attractions connected to country music, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame.

It is a great honour for a country music artist to be inducted here, and stars such as Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, and Johnny Cash hold this accolade.

Here you will find memorabilia and costumes that belonged to country music stars.

A highlight is the gold Cadillac that once belonged to Elvis.

Another highlight of the city is the RCA Studio B, where many stars, including Elvis and Dolly Parton, recorded their hits.

It isn’t used as a studio anymore, but you can take a tour.

Nashville is not only famous for country music.

It is also home to gospel, which is performed both in churches and in concerts.

Recommended tours:

2- Tennessee, The Volunteer State

Welcome To Tennessee
The title of the “Volunteer State” is what is Tennessee is known for.

Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State because of its enthusiastic participation in many wars, starting with the War of 1812, which was fought between the US and the UK.

2,000 soldiers from Tennessee volunteered to fight in this war, a war that was won by the US in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.

The next war that Tennessee became involved in was the Mexican-American War, which took place between 1846 and 1848 and was won by the Americans.

The state was asked for 2,800 soldiers, but over 30,000 men volunteered to fight.

The main reason for this was that the Mexicans had killed Davy Crocket, who was from Tennessee and had previously been a congressman.

In WWII, more than 100,000 soldiers volunteered to fight making the name, Volunteer State, the most popular nickname the state has to this day.

3- Tennessee Whisky

Single Glass Of Whisky Reflected In Mirror
Whiskey is what is Tennessee is known for.

Tennessee Whisky has an excellent reputation the world over.

There are 30 distilleries in the state, the most famous being Jack Daniels, which is well worth visiting for a tasting.

I say this from experience! We toured the distillery, had a tasting, and then bought a bottle.

It is one of the oldest distilleries in the state, as it has been operating since 1875.

Tennessee whisky is different from Scottish whisky.

Scottish whisky is made from barley, while Tennessee whisky is mainly made from corn and is filtered through sugar maple charcoal.

This makes it taste completely different from Scottish whisky.

It is similar to another American whisky, bourbon.

In 2017, the Tennessee Whisky Trail was created to promote whisky tourism in the state.

Most of the distilleries belong to this association, and you can follow the trail from the eastern mountains to Memphis in the west.

You will have the opportunity to taste many whiskies, some being brewed in small, newer, micro-breweries and others, in large, traditional distilleries that have been around for many years.

4- A Great Food Scene

Nashville Walking Food Tour With Secret Food Tours
Fried chicken is a food that Tennessee is known for.

Tennessee has a food scene all of its own and is a haven for meat lovers.

Barbecue is high on the list of foods that the locals enjoy, such as pulled pork and sweet and sour ribs.

You will see “meat and three” on many menus in the state, referring to one serving of meat and a choice of three side dishes.

It’s usually served with cornbread and sweet tea, both of which are very popular in the state.

Tennessee fried chicken is famous, and very spicy.

It is usually served with mashed potatoes and sweetcorn or Southern greens.

As well as chicken, many foods are fried in Tennessee, including pickles and sweet potato fries.

A popular sweet treat is the moonpie, which has been around since 1917 when it was invented in a Chattanooga Bakery.

Two graham crackers are sandwiched together with marshmallows and then covered in chocolate.

Nowadays, you can also get flavoured moonpies, such as peanut butter, salted caramel, and pumpkin spice.

5- Memphis, The Home Of The Blues

Memphis City Tour with Optional Riverboat Cruise & Sun Studio Add On Options
Memphis is a city Tennessee is known for.

Memphis is Tennessee’s second-largest city and the home of the blues, which was created here in the 1910s.

Head to Beale Street, where you will hear the best blues music in the world pouring out of the bars as you walk along the ars but soulful music along the street.

However, it isn’t only the blues that Memphis is famous for.

Soul and rock and roll also gained fame here, with artists such as Al Green, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin coming from this city.

Memphis is also steeped in history, especially the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Another thing Memphis is known for is Martin Luther King Jr’s assasination at the Lorraine Motel.

It is an eerie place to visit, as his car is still in the parking lot and the room has been maintained as it was the day he died.

Learn about Martin Luther King Jr and the 20th-century Civil Rights movement at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Recommended tour: Memphis City Tour with Optional Riverboat Cruise & Sun Studio Add-On Options

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6- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sights, Tennessee
When you ask the question what is Tennessee is known for? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes to mind.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the USA’s most visited national parks, with around 14 million visitors annually.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and covers over 200,000 hectares (494,210 acres).

Visitors head to the park to hike, to see the wildlife and to camp.

There are around 1,287 km (800 miles) of trails, and you can hike to waterfalls, forests, and even up mountains.

There are more than a hundred waterfalls in the park, cascading over the rocks.

Some trails are harder than others, so check before you go.

There are also 4,667 km (2,900 miles) of streams where you can fish.

You may be wondering why they are called the Great Smoky Mountains, and the answer is that there is fog hanging over them.

This is created by organic compounds from the plants and trees in the park combined with water vapour.

It makes the mountains look quite eerie.

7- Elvis Presley’s Former Mansion, Graceland

Elvis Presley could have chosen to live anywhere, but he chose Memphis, where he had moved to at the age of 13 and where his career had begun.

In 1957, he bought Graceland, and it was his home until his untimely death at the age of 42, 20 years later.

Graceland is now a museum dedicated to the ‘King’, and you can take a tour around the downstairs of the house, where you will be able to visit rooms such as his music room and the Jungle room.

You can also visit his grave in the meditation garden.

Many of Elvis’s clothes, especially his jumpsuits, are on display, including his gold lame suit.

You will also be able to see his enormous collection of gold and platinum records.

There is a car museum at Graceland where some of his cars are on show including a Dino Ferrari and his famous pink Cadillac.

You can also climb aboard his aeroplanes, the Lisa Marie, dedicated to his daughter, and the Hound Dog, named after one of his songs.

Many Elvis fans make the pilgrimage to Graceland to honour his memory and to put flowers on his grave.

8- Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Theme Park

Dollywood, a popular theme park in Pigeon Forge, is owned jointly by Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment.

It combines rides with live entertainment, which includes country, bluegrass and gospel.

A highlight is Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Show.

There is also an opportunity to buy local crafts and food.

Dolly Parton has been known to stop by the park and even perform.

The fastest ride in the park is the Lightning Rod, which has a top speed of 117 kph (73 mph).

A more family-friendly roller coaster is the Big Bear Mountain, which is the longest roller coaster in the park at 1.2 km (0.75 miles) long.

Next door is Splash Country, a water park, also belonging to Dolly and the Herschend family.

It has some big slides such as the Big Bear Plunge, but there is also a lazy river for those who want a gentler water experience.

Both Dollywood and Splash Country have attractions for toddlers.

9- 10,000 Caves

Tennessee has the honour of having the most caves in the US, totalling more than 10,000, many of which are open to the public, mainly for guided tours.

Craighead Caverns, in between Sweetwater and Madisonville, is one of the most spectacular cave systems in the state, with a maze of passageways.

You need to have a guided tour here otherwise you could get lost.

The caves have the largest underground lake in the US called The Lost Sea, and tours usually include a boat ride on the lake.

You can see stalactites, stalagmites, and crystal clusters throughout the caves.

Ruby Falls Cave in Chattanooga is another cave well worth visiting, as at the entrance is a 44-metre (145-foot) waterfall cascading underground.

It is at Lookout Mountain, and you get into a glass elevator to descend to the bottom of the waterfall.

You then have the opportunity to explore the caves.

Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville is the second-largest cavern system in the US covering 48 km (30 miles).

It has underground caverns, and impressive rock formations, and even hosts live music shows.

As well as offering daytime walking tours, you can also go there overnight with headlamps, which is an experience.

10- The Trail Of Tears

Native Americans may tell you about the Trail of Tears, which happened in the 1830s when their ancestors were forced to leave their homes in the southeast of the US, and travel 8,120 km (5,045 miles) through nine states to what is now Oklahoma.

The plain and simple reason for this was the greed of the settlers, who wanted the rich farmland that the Native Americans owned so that they could grow cotton.

Around 100,000 people were displaced and during the long trek to what was specially designated Indian territory, at least 15,000 of them died from starvation, disease, or exposure to the elements.

Very few Native Americans were left in the southeastern states after this time.

11- Davy Crocket, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin

Davy Crockett is a famous person Tennessee is known for.

The historical figure of Davy Crocket was born in Limestone, Tennessee, in 1786 and represented the state in the House of Representatives before serving in the army during the Texas Revolution.

Together with his entire garrison, he was killed in the Battle of the Alamo.

Many singers were born in Tennessee and the first that comes to mind is the Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, who was born in 1946 and grew up living close to the Great Smoky Mountains.

She first appeared on television at the age of 10 and recorded her first album 10 years later.

Memphis-born the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin (1942 to 2018) became the first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Other famous singers born in Tennessee include Tina Turner, who was born in Brownsville, and Justin Timberlake, who is from Memphis.

Justin Timberlake is one of the world’s best-selling artists and has had sales of over 88 million records.

12- The Manhattan Project

The US State Flag Of Tennessee Waving In The Wind
What is Tennessee is known for? Check out our top 15 things.

The Manhattan Project was a programme set up during the Second World War to produce the first nuclear weapons.

The US was in charge of the project, but it also had help from the UK and Canada.

Oak Ridge, in Tennessee, was the first site to house facilities for this project.

The other two were Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, but Oak Ridge was the largest and employed thousands of workers.

However, it was in Los Alamos that the first atomic bomb was successfully created.

The Manhattan Project was closed in 1947, but Oak Ridge still has a nuclear power research facility.

13- The Shiloh Indian Mounds

The Shiloh Indian Mounds are in Hardin County in southwestern Tennessee, beside the Tennessee River.

They are approximately 800 years old and were part of a town occupied by Native Indians.

The seven mounds are surrounded by a wooden fence, and it is thought that back then there were also around 100 wattle and daub homes within the fence.

Because it was so big, it was probably a chiefdom that ruled over other villages.

Six of the mounds are rectangular and flat on top, and it is thought that they were platforms for important buildings such as places of worship and the homes of the town’s leaders.

The seventh mound is oval-shaped with a round top, and here the leaders were buried.

It is believed that the modern-day Chickasaw Native Americans are descendants of the Shiloh Indians.

14- Wildlife

Coyote In The Mountains
Coyotes are an animal Tennessee is known for.

If you are interested in seeing wildlife, there are plenty of animals and birds in Tennessee, in particular in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The biggest animal you might come across is the black bear, and believe me, they’re not elusive.

You have a good chance of seeing bears along the hiking trails and in Cades Cove.

For safety, if you do see one, make sure that you are around 89 metres (291 feet) away.

It’s not a good idea to approach a bear.

Also well-kept away from are the coyotes and bobcats, although they tend to keep away from people.

Much safer are the white-tailed deer, but they are more active at night.

If you camp overnight, you might get to see one. Other animals include elk, racoons, and squirrels.

Bird life is abundant in the park.

Larger birds include the wild turkey, the red-tail hawk, and the American kestrel.

Other birds include kingfishers, warblers, bluejays, and the American robin.

There are 240 species of birds in the park, 60 of which are permanent residents.

The park is a haven for the salamander, and you are likely to see some if you look in one of the many streams running through the park.

There are more than 30 species of salamander to be found.

15- Civil War Battlegrounds

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA Views From Lookout Mountain
Chattanooga is another place Tennessee is known for.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Tennessee left the Union and joined the Confederacy.

However, the people were divided in their loyalty, and while 100,000 soldiers joined the Confederate army, another 50,000 joined the Union army.

Tennessee was in a strategic position during the war as it was in the upper South and was the road to the deep South.

Because of this, more than 1,000 battles were fought in Tennessee.

Every county in the state was witness to the fighting, and much of the farmland was destroyed.

In 1862, Nashville was occupied by the Unionists, and the state officials fled to Memphis.

However, a few months later, Memphis was also occupied.

Military rule was then imposed, and even though there were more battles, Tennessee became the first state to be readmitted into the Union at the end of the war in 1865.

Recommended tour: Civil War Tour with Lotz House, Carter House & Carnton Admission from Nashville

Map Of United States With Tennessee Highlight

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Irena Nieslony
Irena Nieslony was born in Windsor, England but now lives on the island of Crete, Greece, in a small village called Modi near the city of Chania. She has visited 32 countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Her favourite country is Tanzania as she loves wildlife and was lucky enough to see ‘The Big Five”. She also loves Egypt, as ancient history intrigues her, the southern states of the US and the cities of Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans for music. She has a B.A. Honours degree in English and Drama from Westfield College, University of London. She has been writing for over 13 years and has 13 novels, 7 short stories and thousands of articles published.