27 Best Places to Visit In Tennessee on a Road Trip

Planning a Tennessee road trip? Looking for tips on the best places to visit in Tennessee? You’ve come to the right place.

We enjoyed a four-week road trip exploring this state and feel we have a pretty good grasp on what there is to see and do there.

In this guide, we’ll share our top places to visit in Tennessee, as well as share tips on where to eat and where to stay in each place.

We traveled around the USA on a road trip to discover the REAL America.

To not only to see the main tourist sites but to unplug the hidden secrets and ask you guys, our readers, to share your local tips and help shape our journey.

Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains on a Tennessee road trip

Our road trip allowed us to experience all 27 of the top places to visit in Tennessee, and a lot of the cool experiences we had were thanks to you!

A partner for our road trips was Allianz Travel Insurance and their tagline is ‘How can we help?’. Keeping in line with this motto, we wanted to help you by sharing all the great places to visit in Tennessee and what you can do in each place so you can replicate our trip!

Getting Around Tennesse: Why Take A Family Road Trip?

As we keep saying, road trips are the best way for us to travel as a family, and from our base in Raleigh, North Carolina, driving from A to B certainly made life easier.

Hiring a car and driving yourself is the most convenient way to see the best attractions in Tennessee, but if you don’t drive, here are some other ways to get around.

You can, of course, fly into each of these Tennessee vacation spots, but with all the stress around flying these days, it’s sometimes more time and hassle than it’s worth; let alone expensive.

You still need to factor in driving to and from the airport, plus getting through security, possible delays, picking up baggage etc – it could take more time and expense than driving.

In the cities, it’s really easy to get around using public transport. These are the only places where a car isn’t needed. Nashville for instance has a free bus service in downtown from Monday – Saturday, so you can always park your car outside and give the battery a break.

You can also get long-distance buses from city to city and the main bus company is Greyhound. Buses are a lot slower since they stop at multiple places.

And honestly, the price for a bus is sometimes more expensive than hiring a car.

Since a lot of the best places to visit in Tennessee are in rural areas, they can’t be reached by the main bus routes. Therefore, driving and taking a Tennessee road trip is the best way to go.

The Best Places to Visit in Tennessee

Not sure about what to do in Tennessee? We’re here to help.

First of all, you don’t have to spend a month-long vacation in Tennessee like us (though you should) to see all the best places to visit in the state.

The below suggested itinerary totals 9 days, but I would add on two extra days of travel and another day for some flexibility, so a good 12 days, and you’re all set for your Tennessee road trip!

1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is the most visited National Park in the US and one of the top Tennessee vacation spots.

It’s located in Gatlinburg and near Pigeon Forge (Home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme park and lots of moonshine distilleries!!)

One reason is because of its raw beauty. The other is because it’s within an easy drive for over half of America’s population.

Looking for things to do in Tennessee that involve nature and wildlife? You can’t go past the Smokies.

This is what we got up to over two days.

Clingmans Dome Hike in the Smokies

Hiking up to Clingmans Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking Clingmans Dome

If it’s your first time to the Smoky Mountains, I suggest taking in all the waterfalls and hikes first.

Those who don’t want to hike can take the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway to the Space Needle and see some incredible views, but it’s not as fun as hiking!

When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, why not start off by hiking up to Clingmans Dome? It’s the highest point in the Smokies at 6,643 feet.

From the car park, it’s a relatively steep half-mile walk to the observation tower on the summit, but our kids handled it no problem and on a clear day you get spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond – a great spot for sunrise and sunset.

But, as you can see from our experience, they don’t call it “Smoky” for nothing as our view was a whiteout, but hey, you’re 6,600 feet up.

Clingmans Dome - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

To get here from Gatlinburg it’s a 21-mile drive.

There are endless options of places to eat in Gatlinburg, not a lot of healthy options mind you and for us as gluten-free diners, we struggled.

Our fall back option is usually Mexican, so we ate at No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina which was pretty good!

Grotto Falls Hike in the Great Smokies

A nice easy afternoon hike is the Grotto Falls hike. Excitingly on this hike, we had our first bear sighting, at a safe distance off the trail and there was a ranger nearby.

Grotto Falls in the The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee
Grotto Falls

The hike is a 1.3 mile round trip and our kids handled it easily. And the cool thing about this waterfall is you can walk right behind the falls.

To get to Grotto Falls take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail 5 mile loop drive out of Gatlinburg.

A nice evening activity is to take a stroll around Gatlinburg, there are plenty of quirkiness and amusement-type activities going on if that’s your thing.

A popular place for dinner is the Smoky Mountain Brewery, but I thought the food was average.

Bike the Cades Cove Loop Road

Cades Cove bike ride Smoky Mountains National Park (5)

You’ll experience so much more when you bike through the Smoky Mountains. If you have two days in the Smokys, do this on the second day.

Probably our favorite activity in the Smoky Mountains was cycling the Cades Cove Loop Road.

You can drive the 11-mile circuit, but we love our bike rides and so Caz and Kalyra cycled whilst daddy and Savannah followed in our vehicle.

Around the loop, you’ll see numerous historic buildings – cabins, churches, and workplaces of Cades Cove residents during the 19th and early 20th centuries – and several walking trails as well in case you want to stretch your legs.

Hot Tip: Do this bike ride on a Wednesday or Saturday morning between 7am -10am when the road is closed to traffic.

Bears Cades Cove loop road bike ride Smoky Mountains National Park

And great wildlife spotting opportunities, we saw BEARS again, a momma bear and two cubs! Again they were at a safe distance and we had a range close by.

Cades Cove is an about an hour and a half drive from Gatlinburg. It’s a must-do in the Smokies and one of the top places to visit in Tennessee!

Read more: If you want to know more about this bike ride, check out our guide to Cades Cove Bike Ride.

Laurel Falls in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee

Laurel Falls

Another top place to visit in the Smokies is Laurel Falls, which is another kid-friendly hike and one of the most popular places to go hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

And to be honest, I think we liked this waterfall better than Grotto Falls, there are several cascading levels, but both hikes are nice and easy enough for families.

Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee

Besides Clingmans Dome, a lovely spot to take in a Smoky Mountains sunset is from Mortons Overlook, about a 20-minute drive up from Gatlinburg.

You get a gorgeous view across the valley as the sun dips below the peaks in the distance.

Where to stay in the Smoky Mountains

We stayed at the Old Creek Lodge in Gatlinburg which had a great, quiet location just off the main road but within easy walking distance to all the restaurants, shops and activities in the town.

For more places to stay in Gatlinburg, our partner Booking.com has over 600 properties to choose from!

2. Knoxville

The Riverfront in Knoxville, Tennessee
Tennessee River, Knoxville

Knoxville is more than a College Football town, although they say game day here is like no other place in the nation and I plan to come back in the fall for a Vols game.

But what surprised us about Knoxville is the outdoor attractions, the food and drink, it’s family-friendly, the music scene, the friendly locals and the relaxed vibe.

Knox would top the most underrated list of places to visit in Tennessee. Here are some top places to visit in Knoxville in two days.

Knoxville Markets

The Farmers Market is one of the best things to do in Knoxville
Knoxville Farmers market

No trip to Knoxville is complete without spending time experiencing the markets and the hiking trails around Knoxville.

If you visit Knoxville between May – November and can time your trip for a Wednesday or Saturday, start your visit at the Knoxville Farmers Market in historic Market Square.

We love a good local farmers’ market, and many of our readers suggested this as one of the best, and they weren’t wrong!

This market has an emphasis on local produce and community and everything is grown or made by the vendor in the East Tennessee region with an excellent range of products from delicious local food and coffee to artisan crafts.

We always do our best to shop local and if we lived in Knoxville we’d be regulars here! The market is open Wednesdays 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, Saturdays 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Whilst in Market Square, grab a burger at The Stock & Barrel. Again this place came highly recommended by our readers and my turkey burger and duck confit fries were delish!

Stock & Barrel - one of the best places to eat in Knoxville
Take a walk at the Ijams Nature Center - one of the best outdoors things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee

Ijams Nature Center

We love getting outdoors, and in Knoxville, there’s no better place than the Ijams Nature Center. 

With 10-miles of trails, rock formations, lakes, and stunning overlooks it is a much-loved sanctuary by the locals and only a 10-minute drive from downtown.

Meads Quarry - Knoxville, Tennessee

There’s a lovely relaxing short walk along the Tennessee River, then we upped the adventurous side and took on the Navitat Canopy Experience – a high ropes challenge consisting of 6 different courses and each course is designed with varying degree of difficulty from beginner to advanced.

Mead’s Quarry

And just down the road from Ijams is Mead’s Quarry, a beautiful place to go canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Calhoun's - one of the best places to eat in Knoxville

Take a stroll along the riverfront of the Tennessee River followed by drinks and dinner at Calhoun’s which has a prime riverfront location.

We visited here twice to sit outside on the deck and enjoy the fresh air and watch life on the river go by (kids and gluten-free menu available).

Knoxville Zoo

The Knoxville Zoo - one of the best things to do in Knoxville with kids

Another top place to visit in Tennessee is Knoxville Zoo. Take your time and really enjoy visiting animals at the zoo. Then, go and experience the beauty of the market square.

The Zoo was another suggestion by our readers, which proved popular with our kids, they loved feeding the giraffes, watching the gorillas play (they had a baby when we visited), and getting up close to a tiger and elephants.

The zoo is one of the most family-friendly attractions in Knoxville and you can easily spend a few hours here.

Balter Beerworks, Knoxville

Ale Trail in Knoxville

Another cool thing about Knoxville is their Ale Trail with 10 breweries currently in operation and more on the way, so if craft beer is your thing you’re in luck!

One brewpub we stopped in for a beer and a bite to eat at was Balter Beerworks which has a nice outdoor seating area.

Back home in Australia, we would only ever go bowling when it rained and had nothing else to do! In the US, bowling alleys are so fancy and popular.

Maple Hall Bowling Alley

Maple Hall bowling alley is located underground in the historic J.C. Penney building and is this super cool boutique bowling with a full-service bar, cozy lounge areas, and even a VIP room.

Maple Hall Bowling Alley, Knoxville

And almost next door on Gay Street is Cruze Farm Ice Cream, a cool family story and of course their ice cream was a hit with our kids.

They milk their own Jersey cows and bottle whole pasteurized Jersey milk, as well as real churned buttermilk, light milk, and chocolate milk.

You might have seen their farm girls around town delivering milk in their striking red and white dresses!

If you don’t get a chance to experience the morning farmers market, visiting Historic Market Square is still one of the must-do things in Knoxville.

It’s the heart and hub of downtown Knoxville and whilst it’s a cool destination at any time of day, it really comes alive in the evening and is the place to be for cafes, restaurants, and live music on select nights.

Market Square is one of the best things to do in Knoxville

A great place for dinner in Market Square is Tomato Head, they have yummy pizzas and a nice range of sandwiches, salads, and sweets.

If you have more time in Knoxville, we recommend taking a day trip up to the Bristol Motor Speedway to see the car racing events.

Where to Stay in Knoxville

We stayed at the new and stylish Tennessean Hotel which has a prime central location downtown across the street from the Sunsphere and an easy 5-10 minute walk to Market Square.

For other hotels in Knoxville our partner Booking.com has over 70 properties to choose from!

3. Nashville

Nashville - one of the best places to visit in Tennessee

Nashville is unlike any US city we have visited so far and a place we can see ourselves returning to over and over again. It’s fun, it has a soul, it has music and cool museums and pro sports and a growing food scene!

And music city has overtaken Vegas as the number one destination for bachelorette parties – it’s a HOT place to be right now!

This is what you can do in three days.

Country Music Hall of Fame Museum

You should spend the first day just getting into the history of country music. Nashville is the birthplace of country music after all and you’ll find live music venues galore.

If you’re a fan of Country Music or want to learn about its history and famous artists, then a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-do in Nashville.

This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tennessee and one of our favorite museums to spend a few hours. There are four levels within the building, each sharing a different era and stories of the past.

Acme feed and Seed Nashville rooftop views

Nashville has some great rooftop venues and one of our faves is the ACME Feed & Seed. It’s one of the best places to eat in Nashville for stunning views over the river and Broadway down below.

Hop on hop off bus tour of Nashville

A fun and informational thing to do in any city is a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour. We like them as they are great for getting your bearings and for the expert commentary you get from a local in the know.

On this tour of Nashville we were shown Taylor Swift’s penthouse, the hotel Keith Urban stayed in before he was Keith Urban, and received lots of local tips for places to eat in Nashville and where to listen to live music.

Allow about 90 minutes for a loop.

Finish your bus tour on Broadway and take a walk around downtown, and maybe go shopping for some cowboy boots!

Shopping for cowboy boots in downtown Nashville

Broadway is vibrant and the place to be for people-watching. Wander past all the honky-tonk bars with cool music blaring, maybe take a horse and cart ride, pop into a candy shop, or jump on a pedal tavern – they are the thing to do in Nashville.

chris jansen performing grand ole opry

Grand Ole Opry Show

One of our favorite evenings yet on our travels in the US has been seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry House. This is the show that made Country Music famous and a night out you won’t soon forget.

The Opry started as a radio broadcast in 1925 and evolved into a live show. Each Opry show is still broadcast live on radio.

You get to see a wide variety of musicians and famous artists – new and old in one evening. We saw six performers in total and we also recommend doing a backstage tour to see behind the scenes and for a deeper insight into the Opry experience.

Even if you’re not in town on a show night, you can still visit the Opry on a tour – definitely one of the best places to visit in Tennessee!

Hot Tip: Book your Opry ticket before you go, so you don’t miss the show!

Press play to see more of our Grand Ole Opry experience:

The Gulch

Angel wings in the Gulch neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee
The Gulch angel wings

Another top thing to do in Nashville is to go and see a bunch of other live shows. There are so many places that you could actually spend all day listening to live musicians perform.

Grab a great breakfast and coffee at Fido Cafe in Hillsboro Village. You might even spot a celebrity here, it’s one of Taylor Swift’s favorite hangs and when we were there so was Lennon Stella, AKA Maddie from the hit TV show Nashville.

Then explore The Gulch, a district with an industrial history that’s been revamped into one of the hippest places to visit in Nashville with boutique shopping, a cool food scene, and incredible wall murals.

The “What Lifts You” angel wings mural is one of the most photographed places in Nashville.

When you’re looking for lunch, stay in the Gulch, the incredibly popular Biscuit Love is here (be prepared to line up) or head to Hattie B’s Famous Hot Chicken.

If you need to be back downtown and fancy some ribs, a few blocks from Broadway is Martin’s BBQ Joint and we had the biggest rack of ribs we’ve ever eaten – cool venue too!

Lunch at Martin's BBQ Joint in Nashville, Tennessee
Ribs at Martin’s BBQ Joint

The Johnny Cash Museum

Back on the music scene and the Johnny Cash Museum is just off Broadway and is home to the largest collection of Johnny Cash items in the world that tells the story of his life. Well worth a visit, what a legend!

And upstairs is the Patsy Cline museum, another country music legend worth learning about.

Goo Goo Clusters Things to do with kids Nashville (1)

Across the road is one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids (that does not involve music), and that is the Goo Goo Clusters store.

What is a Goo Goo cluster? A unique combination candy bar (chocolate, peanuts, caramel and marshmallow nougat), and Goo Goo Clusters remains a family-owned Nashville institution!

From there, head to one of Nashville’s top rooftop bars for a drink and to prime yourself for an evening of Honky Tonk bars.

View from Rockbottom Brewery in Nashville
View from Rockbottom Brewery

The George Jones Museum ranks as one of the best rooftop bars in Nashville with incredible river views plus live music, or Rockbottom Brewery on Broadway!

Robert's Western World

You’re in Nashville and you can’t visit music city without hitting up a few of the honky tonk bars!

Here are some of our favorite bars to catch live music in Nashville:

Got kids? Go before dinner time or check out the Wildhorse Saloon Bar, a 66,000 square foot live music, dance and dinner venue, which is a more kid-friendly attraction in Nashville.

The Ryman & The Blue Bird Cafe

Ryman Auditorium tour, Nashville

Finally, your visit to Nashville is not complete without a visit to the holy church of country music and the iconic Bluebird Cafe.

Go behind the scenes at the famous Ryman Auditorium, recognized as one of the best live performance venues in the USA, and one of the most historic places to visit in Tennessee for music!

Known as the Mother Church of country music, this is hallowed ground and the original venue of the Grand Ole Opry Show. It’s also where Johnny Cash met June Carter, and where countless careers were launched.

If there’s a live show on here whilst you’re in town, do it.

Across the river, East Nashville and Five Points are hip and happening spots for lunch or dinner. The Wild Cow serves up delicious vegan and vegetarian food, The Pharmacy tops many lists as the best burger joint in town, or there’s Burger Up!

Studio B

As part of your visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, you can add on a Studio B Tour which takes you to Music Row, where all the artists record their music, and to Studio B, the most famous of them all.

It’s not much to look at from the outside, but behind the walls, Billions of dollars worth of hits have been recorded here, primarily when the studio was operated by RCA Records – Elvis recorded most of his number one hits here!

Studio B Tour in Nashville

If you’re a fan of the hit Nashville TV series like us, you’ll be excited to visit the famous Bluebird Café.

This tiny and intimate music venue in an old strip mall launched the careers of some of the old and modern greats, think Taylor Swift.

The Bluebird has scheduled shows throughout the week, see this calendar for info and tickets, but on Monday nights they host Open Mic – we had to line up super early to get tickets, this place only holds 80 people.

If you can’t get into the Bluebird, The Listening Room Cafe comes highly recommend.

Top tip: You can save by booking a combined RCA Records and Country Music Hall of Fame ticket.

Shiloh

shiloh tennessee

Another top place to visit in Tennessee is just a short 20-minute drive outside of Nashville. Shiloh is a civil war era town built on the battlefield.

On this site, nearly 110,000 American soldiers fought in the civil war, resulting in 23,746 casualties – the highest number of casualties than in any of America’s other wars.

While we’re not big museum people, but this was an important part of American history and is worth checking out. Another important historical site is the Stones River National Battlefield, which is also just a short drive outside Nashville.

Where to Stay in Nashville

Accommodation in Nashville can be hard to find and expensive. The city has lots of events happening all the time.

We also stayed two evenings at the family-friendly Loews Vanderbilt Hotel located in Mid-town. Its location is near many restaurants including the famous Hattie B’s hot chicken, and also near Vanderbilt University.

Our partner Booking.com has over 630 properties in Nashville to choose from.

4. Memphis

view of a city

Memphis is another iconic city known for its rich blues music history and one-of-a-kind food.

We didn’t plan to visit Memphis on this road trip, but after experiencing the Grand Ole Opry Show and the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville, we said to each other,

Let’s chase the music, let’s go to Memphis!”

Graceland

Gracelands - one of the best places to visit in Tennessee

If you visit Memphis, you simply must tour Graceland.

One of the most popular places to visit in Tennessee would be Graceland. The home of Elvis Presley is the most famous house in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and the top attraction in Memphis. In fact, Graceland has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s truly amazing that over 600,000 people still visit Graceland each year to tour the home of Elvis who died 40 years ago.

From the moment you enter his mansion and the 13.8 acres of property, you go on a journey through the private life of Elvis and what it must have been like to be the king of rock!

We recommend the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour which includes an audio tour with headsets and an iPad, but the tour doesn’t stop at Graceland, across the road at the Visitor Entertainment Complex you can see his car collection, iconic fashion trends, private planes and much more.

Learn more about the king of Rock on an Elvis Tour in Memphis!

Marlowes Ribs & Restaurant - one of the best places to eat Memphis BBQ

Before we arrived in the city, everyone kept raving about Memphis BBQ as one of the best in the country, and you have plenty of options.

Close to Graceland is Marlowes Ribs & Restaurant, and when you walk in it’s like you entered a museum about Memphis, Rock & Roll and the king himself.

The Sun Studio Tour is one of the best things to do in Memphis Tennessee

Sun Studio

I think we enjoyed the Sun Studio Guided Tour as much as Graceland, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Memphis.

Originally called the Memphis Recording Studio, Sun Studio is now known as the most famous recording studio in the world and the birthplace of Rock and Roll.

Elvis recorded his very first song here, plus some of the great have recorded here like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis, even U2 and Bob Dylan.

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Memphis Rock n Soul Museum Tennessee (1)

Another great museum for music fans is the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum which is more about the musicians who overcame racial prejudice and socio-economic challenges to create the music. It’s a celebration of diversity and embracing cultures.

Beale Street

beale st memphis night
Beale Ste

Beale Street is the heart of Memphis, the place to be for live music and one of the most fun places to visit in Tennessee!

This three-block radius of clubs and restaurants is a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock’n’ roll, and R&B. And if you’ve got kids like us, go late afternoon / early evening for dinner and music.

It’s hard to beat the original BB King’s Blues Club for cool music. We took a late afternoon stroll along Beale Street, followed by dinner and a top night at BB King’s!

Read more: Learn more about our visit in this guide to Graceland, Sun Studios and Studio B, TN

Civil Rights Museum and Bass Pro

Dive even deeper into American history with a tour of the breathtaking Civil Rights Museum and then indulge in more amazing Memphis food.

The Arcade Restaurant - one of the best things to do in Memphis with kids
Take notice of our seat. Back right booth – It’s where Elvis sat

Step back in time and get your fix of eggs, pancakes, and biscuits at Memphis’ oldest cafe, The Arcade Restaurant.

This classic American diner was founded in 1919 and has that nostalgic feeling to it, Elvis once ate here, and you might recognize it from movies such as Walk the Line, The Client and Great Balls of Fire. 

And you’ll need a full stomach because over the next couple of hours you’ll be spending absorbed in the National Civil Rights Museum, one of the best museums I have ever visited!

Located at the Lorraine Motel, this is the actual location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and this museum walks you through his life, the tragedy of his assassination, and the history of the Civil Rights Trail and Civil Rights movement.

Visiting the Civil Rights Museum is one of the most moving things to do in Tennessee.

Civil Rights Museum, Memphis
Rosa Parks
Dr Martin Luther King Jr - Civil Rights Museum, Memphis

Before arriving in Memphis we asked our friend, a former Memphis resident, where do the locals go for Memphis BBQ? Central BBQ was at the top of his list.

From the outside, this place is nothing flash but the moment you walk in you can tell it is a locals fave, and he was right, the BBQ is tasty – take your choice of ribs, beef brisket plate, pork plate, chicken or turkey, BBQ nachos, hot wings and more!

Central BBQ Memphis

Many of our readers suggested we visit the Bass Pro Shop. Why we kept asking ourselves, why? How could a fishing and hunting store be one of the top Tennessee tourist attractions??!

Turns out, it’s one of the most unusual places I have ever been inside of and one of the craziest places to see in Tennessee! 

Located inside the giant Pyramid, this is not your ordinary fishing and hunting store, this place is home to an aquarium, bowling alley, and an award-winning 5-star resort called Big Cypress Lodge!

Only in America lol.

Oh, and you can ride the world’s tallest freestanding elevator 28 stories to the top of the Memphis Pyramid, walk out onto the glass floor observation deck, and get the best views of Memphis and the Mississippi River from 300 feet above!

Memphis skyline seen from the Bass Pro Shop observation deck
View of Memphis from Bass Pro Shop

For another unusual experience, go see a parade of ducks walk down the red carpet in the hotel lobby of the Peabody Hotel.

The Peabody Ducks are one of the top attractions in Memphis. The Legend of the Peabody Memphis Ducks started back in the 1930s, and they still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

No joke, they hop out of the fountain, walk the red carpet, step into the elevator and ride to the rooftop.

Where to Stay in Memphis

If you want to stay near Graceland, you can literally walk there from the Guest House at Graceland. Designed with Elvis in mind, you’ll feel like you’re a guest of the King staying here!

But to be close to all the other attractions in Memphis I suggest staying downtown.

The Peabody Hotel ranks highly, and for a full list of places to stay in Memphis our partner Booking.com has over 90 properties to choose from.

5. Chattanooga

Lovers Leap Falls cascading over the cliffs and green valley  in chattanooga
Lovers Leap Falls Chattanooga

Nestled on the southernmost tip of Tennessee is the charming city of Chattanooga. It has to be one of my favorite places in Tennessee because there was so much to see and do, especially if you’re on a road trip.

One of the things that makes Chattanooga a great place to visit in Tennessee is the nature. These are some of my favorite nature spots in the area.

Cumberland Plateau

One of the most stunning nature spots in Tennessee is the Cumberland Plateau which is part of the Appalachian Mountains.

The mountain range is huge, and spans into nearby Kentucky, but from Chattanooga, you can visit the nearest town in the plateau, which is Signal Mountain.

Signal Mountain is a quiet, sleepy town with lots of wooded hiking trails that take you to glistening lakes and cascading waterfalls. The hike up to Signal Point offers incredible views of the Tennessee River.

One of the best hiking trails in the area is the Cumberland Trail which takes you to most of the scenic spots such as Julia Falls, Ruby Falls and Ruby Lake.

ruby falls best waterfalls in the us
Ruby Falls

Also in the Cumberland Plateau is the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which is a great spot for rafting and trekking among the gorges and sandstone bluffs. If you have time, we recommend adding this to your trip.

As with most towns in Tennessee, the Signal Mountain is well known for its live music scene and holds open-air events in the summer.

Tennessee Aquarium

If you missed Ripley’s Aquarium when you visited the smokies, then don’t worry as the Tennessee Aquarium is just as fun.

The aquarium has over 12,000 sea animals and marine life, made up of around 800 species in total. It’s considered one of the most diverse collections of freshwater marine life in the U.S.

Witnessing all the diverse varieties of fish in all their colorful tanks is pretty cool, but the IMAX theater makes you feel like you’re in the tank with them.

Watching nature documentaries and educational videos in 3D at the theater is one of the main reasons to visit this aquarium.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Another great place to visit in Tennessee for hiking and camping is the Fall Creek Falls State Park. The waterfalls in this park are some of the most incredible in the state, and photographers will love taking the time to photograph them.

waterfalls in fall creek falls state park

The Fall Creek Falls, which the park is named by, is a whopping 256 feet high, making it the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States.

Cane Creek Falls, Rockhouse Falls, and Piney Falls are all stunning waterfalls in the park that are worth hiking to. In fact, the park has 56 miles of hiking trails, so you could easily spend a couple days hiking and camping here.

Some popular activities here are rock climbing, boating, biking, and even golf.

Cummins Falls State Park

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re big on nature, so we couldn’t miss the Cummins Falls State Park off our list of the best places to visit in Tennessee.

waterfalls cummins

The park is described as idyllic and yet rugged, which is pretty accurate, as the Cummins Falls is surrounded by huge boulders and rocky terrain, as well as jagged cliff faces.

The waterfall is said to be Tennessee’s eighth largest waterfall by volume, which makes it a refreshing place to dip your toes after a day of hiking in the park.

The waterfall itself is stunning and the pool beneath is wide and gentle, perfect for swimming.

Warning: You’ll see lots of people jumping off the rocks, but the rocks are very slippery so we don’t recommend doing the same.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Family friendly chattanooga attraction Tennessee Valley Railroad
Arriving at East Tennessee Depot

So far I’ve shown you a lot of places to visit outside Chattanooga, but for those who don’t want to venture so far out can visit the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

The museum has a collection of historical trains and railroad memorabilia that tell the history of regional rail travel throughout Tennessee.

fun things to do in Chattanooga with kids
Savannah loved this kid friendly attraction in Chattanooga

You can also ride in a restored vintage train. We took the Missionary Ridge trip from Grand Junction Station along the original railroad lines.

As you ride you learn about the history of the railroad and you get to see demonstrations of the turn table. It’s one of the few turning points left in the world.

This was a great attraction in Chatanooga for kids.

Read more: If you want to see more attractions in Chattanooga for kids, check out our complete guide to things to do in Chattanooga with kids.

Where to Stay in Chattanooga

We had a great stay at the Hilton Curio Collection, The Chattanoogan Hotel.

It’s located in the Southside District so it was really easy to travel to all the top places to visit in Chattanooga. We loved the ability to walk around the Southside area – our favorite.

Check out more than 150 places to stay in Chattanooga on booking.com!

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Do you have plans to visit Tennessee? Have you already been? What would you suggest as some of the best places to go in Tennessee? Share in the comments.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and I have received financial compensation. But all opinions about travel in Tennessee are our own.

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32 thoughts on “27 Best Places to Visit In Tennessee on a Road Trip”

  1. You should really consider doing the Junior Ranger program at the National Parks and Monuments. It’s a great program, particularly since you homeschool. We find it adds more history/cultural/etc. components to the parks. Nature is amazing and worthy on its own, but the Junior Ranger program enhances our visits.

    1. Great to hear you will be visiting the US. These were our favorite places to visit in Tennessee but I’m sure there are other spots we will explore next time.

  2. Fantastic, guys! You have such adventurous children. I love exploring the USA and have recently been in Miami. Same country, completely different culture! I particularly liked the classic cars and gorgeous beaches.

    1. Yes grateful that our kids love to travel and explore as much as we do. We’ll, thaey have no choice really, they chose us 🙂

      Looking forward to exploring more places to visit in Tennessee at a later date, we aren’t far from TN being in Raleigh. As for Miami, we’ll have one day there tomorrow before we depart on our cruise.

    1. Would love to!! Actually my parents look like they are coming over next May. Nashville and Memphis is at the top of their list! So if not before it will definitely be then

  3. Check out Chattanooga! Over 2 centuries of Native American and Civil War history. Mountains all around. World class aquarium. Tennessee river front and point of departure for the Trail of Tears. Active downtime night life. Read House history and haunted room. Chattanooga Choo Choo.

    1. We’ve heard great things about Chattanooga. We visited about 14 years ago so can’t remember much and I’ve heard it’s really grown a lot since then. Definitely keen to make it happen

  4. We were just in Nashville for the solar eclipse on the 21st. For the first time we went down to Chattanooga on Tuesday and got to see Rock City and the incline train. So much to do and see there! I want to go back sometime.

  5. Next time come check out Chattanooga. Chatt has so so very much to offer and from my experience it far outshines Knoxville and Memphis!

  6. Great post! I’ve been to Nashville once and really loved that city! I also used to be on exchange in Chattanooga for a year,which was a lovely city as well so I would also recommend going there once. I still haven’t made it to Memphis yet, it looks great! 🙂

    1. I am from Chattanooga. I would stay clear of Memphis. Been there and will never go back. They moved the old Memphis film festival to Mississippi and have changed the name. They do have some good BBQ. I have been to all the 5 largest metro areas. Memphis has to be on the bottom got us anyhow.

      1. Uhm, Memphis wins hands down. Something for everybody. Not mentioned but Memphis also has a first rate Zoo. It’s Home of St. Jude’s Children’s hospital too! And plenty more….

  7. Wow, I had no idea Great Smoky Mountain was so popular! I still haven’t been to Tennessee yet so this is really helpful for when we make it out there! Great itinerary! 🙂 xo Laura

  8. Memphis is a VERY dangerous city and should be skipped if coming to Tennessee. I know this first hand as a Midwesterner living here for the past 20 years. We are 700 police understaffed and the Mayor and City Council wants to defund the police and let all the criminals out of the jails and prisons.

    1. Oh I think you can be smart when you travel. We’ve been there four times and never had a problem. I’ve also been to many countries and cities that have been too dangerous. Never had a problem. I’m not saying there aren’t dangers to be aware of – they are everywhere. Be smart. Be diligent. Travel with awareness and local knowledge of the best places to go and avoid.

    2. I’m sure the Midwest would love to have you back if Memphis is so bad. People are moving to downtown Memphis as fast as they can build new Apts and houses, so it can’t be that bad. Great City yall!

  9. As a Tennessee resident, it is a beautiful state and so much more to explore off the beaten path, especially in upper N.E. Tn where the birthplace of country music is and Bristol Motor Speedway is. Boones Creek named after Daniel Boone, just so many things to mention.

  10. So im seeing this years past your trip, but you missed a very important and fun city on your Tennessee trip. In the Northeast corner is BRISTOL. Its one city in two states and the main street of downtown is one side Bristol VA and the other Bristol TN. But most importantly, Bristol is the official Birthplace of Country Music (not Nashville as most think) and we have a Smithsonium museum to prove it! Add Bristol TN/VA to you itenerary next time….its a great first or last stop.

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