31 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 incredible natural wonders, exciting outdoor adventures and top-notch attractions that beckon nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike. You might even discover hidden treasures in the small towns off the main highways and byways. During your visit, be sure to sample the state’s famous barbecue, sip a little whiskey and enjoy a healthy dose of Southern hospitality along the way. Here’s a list of the top attractions to see and fun things to do in Tennessee.

(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)

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 heavily visited national park in the U.S. The park boasts 850 miles of backcountry trails and features about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The 5-mile round-trip Rainbow Falls Trail is one of top hikes: A challenging walk along LeConte Creek is followed by several miles sprinkled with foot bridges. Hikers up to the challenge are rewarded with views of the 80-foot-high Rainbow Falls – and, if you time your visit for a sunny afternoon, you may see a rainbow (hence, the waterfall’s name) in the mist. Another popular hike takes adventurers on a steep climb up to the summit of Chimney Tops for sweeping mountain views. And not to be missed is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park – and in Tennessee – at more than 6,600 feet in elevation; a 7-mile drive to the parking area combines with a 0.5-mile hike to reach the top.

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. Other great options include the Elkmont and Cosby campgrounds, the latter of which sits on the border with North Carolina.

Memphis

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Courtesy of The Peabody Memphis)

Known to many as the birthplace of both 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.

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; arrive early or opt for a view from the second-story atrium, as the spectacle brings in a crowd. 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. When it comes to Tennessee barbecue, grab lunch or dinner at the Rendezvous: This iconic spot, located in a downtown Memphis alley across from The Peabody, has been serving up Memphis-style ribs since 1948.

Graceland

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; to make the most of your experience, consider splurging on the Ultimate VIP Tour. This package includes an intimate, expert-led tour of Graceland Mansion; a meal voucher for the on-site restaurant; a Graceland Archives show and tell; and access to a VIP-only exhibit and private lounge, among other exclusive perks such as merchandise options. Travelers say that this tour is worth the money and that you should allow for at least half a day or more to see most everything.

Plan to stay at The Guest House at Graceland to enjoy all of the highlights, memorabilia, Elvis-themed events and live concerts. This hotel, one of the largest in Memphis, features rooms and suites inspired by the glitz of Las Vegas as well as the decor at Graceland and Elvis’ home in Palm Springs.

Address: 3717 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, TN 38116

Nashville

Top things to do in tennessee

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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 in the 132-acre Centennial Park, as well as Frist Art Museum and the Tennessee State Museum. End your Nashville adventure with a dinner showboat cruise on the General Jackson.

Country Music Hall of Fame

Exterior or Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

(Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Country music devotees – and history and music fans of other genres – will appreciate visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is a top attraction for visitors to Nashville. A stop at the three-story building begins with the Hatch Show Print tour, where you’ll explore a working letterpress print shop dating back to 1879 that creates custom posters and historical reprints from old movies, state fair and circus advertisements, and other classics.

You’ll also check out the Hall of Fame Rotunda with plaques of all the inductees; see a variety of instruments, clothing and memorabilia from the genre’s biggest names; learn about country music’s precommercial history; and more. The museum features permanent and rotating exhibits, special events, workshops, and live performances that travelers say are inspiring and incredibly well done. What’s more, you can add a tour of the historic RCA Studio B (a short shuttle ride away to Music Row) to learn more about the recording process and get a history music lesson detailing all of the artists from Elvis to Dolly Parton who recorded within those walls. You might even get lucky and see one of your favorite country music performers.

Address: 222 Rep. John Lewis Way S., Nashville, TN 37203

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, outside excursions 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 Flying Ox: This zip line-meets-coaster hoists riders 80 feet in the air to zoom around a roller coaster track at 15 mph. 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 the Grand Canyon, Alaska’s glaciers and other 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.

Dollywood

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. Dollywood’s Splash Country, the water park, features mountain views and exciting slides like the 70-foot-high Fire Tower Falls and the high-speed TailSpin Racer. If you prefer, grab a tube and ride the water in the wave pool or relax while floating down a 1,500-foot lazy river.

Of course, you’ll want to stay nearby with so much to do, so reserve a guest room at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort or opt for one of the property’s luxury log cabins. Guests of the resort 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. And if you ever need a break from the parks, Pigeon Forge’s other top sights are just a few miles away.

Chattanooga

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, fun things to do, a vibrant downtown area, and lively shopping and arts districts. Major attractions 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. The Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel is one favorite – this historic Beaux-Arts-style building, originally built as Chattanooga’s Terminal Station, welcomed its first train in 1909. Today it welcomes tourists visiting the “Scenic City.” And at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, train enthusiasts can hop aboard a historic train for a ride (options last from one to nine hours, depending on the journey you choose).

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 recreated rooms are true to life. Inside, you’ll find an exact replica of the Grand Staircase – which you can climb – 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 in the museum so you can listen to the emotional stories of the survivors and come away with a better understanding of what happened that fateful evening in April 1912. You’ll need tickets to enter, which can be purchased online in advance.

Address: 2134 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

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. Tours take you through the cave and by the falls. After spending time underground, take a heart-racing zip line adventure through the treetops and maneuver your way to the top of the challenging 40-foot-tall climbing tower.

The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway will also get your adrenaline pumping as the more than 125-year-old funicular railway climbs or descends Lookout Mountain at a steep 72.7% grade. The mile-long trek – known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile” – lasts about 15 minutes one-way. 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 – where you can see seven states from one spot – along with massive rock formations and other attractions. Travelers say Lookout Mountain is worth a visit and the vantage point from the mountaintop is incredible. Tickets for the attractions must be purchased separately.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail

Top things to do in tennessee

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Tennessee has long been known for its whiskey, as the tradition dates back to pre-Civil War times. Today, there are more than 30 distilleries and over 800 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 that include boutiques, historic homes and museums, and state parks with outdoor adventures. For accommodations in Memphis, consider staying at Big Cypress Lodge: This outdoor-themed pyramid-shaped hotel boasts a Bass Pro Shops location, dining options, entertainment and 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 to celebrate 100 years of Tennessee statehood at the 1897 Centennial Exposition and originally viewed as a temporary structure. 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 dozens of paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists as well as 14 casts of the Parthenon Marbles. You’ll also find the impressive 42-foot-tall gold-coated statue of Athena (or Parthenos), a full-scale replica of the original work created by Pheidias, the fifth-century sculptor. The Parthenon and the statue are a must-see, according to traveler reviews.

Address: 2500 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203

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 the Orpheum Theatre parking lot with just 20 teams and a $1,000 prize for the best barbecue. In 2022, the four-day event brought more than 200 competition cooking teams from 24 states and four foreign countries to compete for $147,000 in total prize money. Before COVID-19, attendance at the event topped out at nearly 30,000 people a day. 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, then head to Tom Lee Park along the banks of the Mississippi River in mid-May for all the festivities.

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. Known as the “Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience,” the annual Nashville event began as Fan Fair with 5,000 people in attendance. Tens of thousands of participants now come from all around the U.S. and the world to see more than 80 performers, including award-winning and chart-topping artists like Keith Urban, the Zac Brown Band, Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Carly Pearce and many others. The event takes place in downtown Nashville and features six daytime and two nighttime stages, including larger venues like Nissan Stadium and Ascend Amphitheater alongside indoor venues at Music City Center. At Fan Fair X, on the indoor stages, you’ll be able to listen to and meet more than 50 emerging country music artists. You also won’t want to miss the neon lights and festivities along Nashville’s famous entertainment district on Broadway Street.

The Lost Sea

Top things to do 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 0.75-mile round-trip walk on wide sloping pathways; past travelers advised it can be challenging, so it’s best to 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 may want to stay a day or two to explore the town and book a cabin or cottage vacation rental. Sweetwater’s historic district has unique shops and boutiques with rare antiques, collectibles and artwork. Don’t miss a visit to Sweetwater Valley Farm’s cafe to grab lunch and enjoy farm-fresh dairy specialties, such as grilled cheese sandwiches and creamy milkshakes.

Address: 140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN 37874

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 the elusive snow leopard, African lions and the endangered Sumatran tiger. The China exhibition encompasses 3 acres and features Asian wildlife including Francois’ langurs, Sulawesi crested macaques and the visitor-favorite giant pandas. There are also kid-friendly activities like Twilight Tours and special events throughout the year. You can purchase tickets online; special events and experiences may be an additional cost.

The Hermitage

Top things to do in tennessee

(Courtesy of The Andrew Jackson Foundation)

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. Located about 10 miles northeast of Nashville, a visit to the property makes an excellent daytrip from the city. 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.

Address: 4580 Rachel’s Lane, Hermitage, TN 37076

Gatlinburg

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 much more 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 others warn it can get overcrowded, causing a long wait for some of the activities, so your best bet is to 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 1,800 feet above sea level at Skylift Park, and zip to the top of Anakeesta theme park on a chondola, on which you select from an open-air chair or enclosed gondola cabin. 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.

Learn about Native American history

Top things to do in tennessee

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Native Americans have inhabited modern-day Tennessee for about 12,000 years. Many places in the state have names of Indigenous origin, like Chattanooga, Tullahoma, Sewanee and Nickajack – 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 a Cherokee by the name of Sequoyah. He was a silversmith, soldier and statesman, 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 30 places to visit to learn more about the horrific trek, including the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood: This site, located in the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, features informative historical displays, the Memorial Wall and the Removal Routes Amphitheater. Visitors to the park comment that it’s a beautiful and much-needed memorial to the Native American people.

The Caverns

Top Things to Do in Tennessee

(Katherine Brown/Courtesy of The Caverns)

Home to the TV series “Bluegrass Underground,” The Caverns touts itself as “The Greatest Show Under Earth.” This otherworldly cave system boasts more than 8,000 linear feet of passageways. During the day, take a guided tour of the caves, where you will get a behind-the-scenes look at the underground concert venue – Big Mouth Cave – and at Big Room Cave, one of the largest underground rooms in the world at the size of about three football fields. For the more adrenaline-seeking, 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. If you prefer wide-open skies, there’s an outdoor music venue: The Caverns Above Ground Amphitheater. Concertgoers interested in an extended visit can book a Stay-and-Cave package that includes lodging, ground transportation and other amenities. Reviewers say the underground concert experience is unique and fun. You’ll find The Caverns in Pelham, approximately 85 miles southeast of Nashville and 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

Address: 555 Charlie Roberts Road, Pelham, TN 37366

Knoxville

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 (originally constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair), the East Tennessee History Center and 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.

The 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 that swim, jump, fly and waddle, you can expect to see river otters, lemurs, penguins, sharks, colorful fish and octopuses. In River Giants, 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. This intimate experience takes you behind the scenes 1.5 hours before the aquarium opens. You’ll also want to see a show at the IMAX Theater, which features a wide variety of documentaries that take you on immersive virtual adventures from the depths of the oceans to far-reaching corners of the world. Patrons call the Tennessee Aquarium a world-class facility, with some even praising it as one of the best aquariums they’ve visited.

Address: 1 Broad St., Chattanooga, TN 37402

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 in 1942 during World War II. Within 2.5 years, the city’s population reached 75,000, becoming the fifth largest city in the state at the time. More than 100,000 people of various professions, including generals, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers, 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. The K-25 History Center is one of various free things to do in Oak Ridge, including off-road adventures at Windrock Park and bike riding, jogging, fishing or swimming at Melton Lake Park. For an extended stay, several major hotel chain properties are located in town.

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 70,000 visitors in attendance. Its name was inspired by New Orleans musician Dr. John’s 1974 album “Desitively Bonnaroo”; the Creole slang word “bonnaroo” translates roughly to “best on the street.” The annual music, arts and camping event now convenes with as many as 80,000 festivalgoers from around the country – and the world – on the 650-acre Bonnaroo Farm in Manchester. This small town sits just 65 southeast of Nashville. The four-day Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival typically occurs in mid-June and features more than 150 musicians performing on 10 stages; four camping barns; and nonstop entertainment, food and parties. This event features diverse music genres, so you can expect to see and hear everything from rock to hip-hop and jazz. Past performers have included Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Radiohead and U2.

Address: 1560 New Bushy Branch, Manchester, TN 37355

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 most visited state parks in Tennessee. It’s also one of the largest, 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 – including one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern U.S., the 256-foot-high Fall Creek Falls. There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails, with two overnight, long-distance routes. The Nature Center at Fall Creek Falls hosts naturalist-led programs with activities like campfires, organized 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. In operation for more than a century until it closed in 2009, the facility kept many of the state’s most violent criminals locked up for life, earning the nickname “End of the Line.” The facility now offers self-guided tours that cover 30 stations and stories. Throughout the prison, you’ll find displays and descriptions of what happened in that particular spot. The attraction also screens an 18-minute documentary every half hour. 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 for up to a month as punishment.

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. At the on-site distillery, sample its End of the Line moonshine, which comes in a variety of different flavors. Before you plan your escape, dine behind bars at the Southern-inspired Warden’s Table restaurant. Note that this site closes for the winter.

Address: 9182 state Route 116, Petros, TN 37845

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 complete with rail cars and a caboose. 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 educational and great fun for families.

General admission tickets and a VIP Discovery Package option are available online. When you need to refuel, take a break at one of two casual eateries, Sabin’s Cafe or Eats and Treats. 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 one of several hotels in Union City or set up camp near Reelfoot Lake.

Address: 830 Everett Blvd., Union City, TN 38261

Museum of Appalachia

Top things to do in tennessee

(Courtesy of Museum of Appalachia)

About 25 miles northwest of Knoxville, the 65-acre Museum of Appalachia in the town of Clinton is a living history museum – and provides a perfect daytrip from the city. 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.

Plan to spend several hours at the property and, while there, enjoy lunch at the on-site cafe. 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. 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.

Address: 2819 Andersonville Highway, Clinton, TN 37716

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. The guided Mansion Tour includes a complimentary wine tasting and access to the grounds and outbuildings. Guests say the entire estate is beautiful and this popular tour provides a good historical overview. For a deeper dive into the Black history of Belle Meade, Journey to Jubilee offers insight into the lives of the enslaved people who worked here for nearly a century until the home was closed in 1906. You can also get outside on a guided Segway tour or on the Southern Food Traditions walking tour, and families may want to check out Belle Meade’s 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 to sample hickory-smoked meats, cornbread, biscuits and more. For more of a taste of Belle Meade’s wines or bourbon, reserve a spot for one of Belle Meade’s culinary experiences.

Address: 110 Leake Ave., Nashville, TN 37205

Reelfoot Lake

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

(Getty Images)

Created in the early 19th century by a series of violent earthquakes that supposedly caused the Mississippi River to temporarily flow backward, 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, several rustic lodges nearby include Blue Bank Resort, or you can opt to camp in Reelfoot Lake State Park.

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