Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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Home to one of the world’s largest freshwater aquariums, the steepest incline railway in the world and the country’s largest underground waterfall, Chattanooga has a lot to offer, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. A vibrant landscape of natural scenery, you’ll find a charming riverfront, leafy parks and plenty of outdoor adventures to partake in, while this top vacation destination in Tennessee also showcases a collection of historic attractions and excellent museums. Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Chattanooga.
What Is It? Home to the most diverse gathering of freshwater animals in the country, the Tennessee Aquarium is a top family-friendly attraction.
Why Do It? It features river otters, frogs, turtles and a colorful variety of unique fish, as well as interactive exhibits that will delight visitors of all ages.
Good to Know: This popular aquarium in the United States boasts a lemur, penguin and alligator presentation, while the Appalachian Cove Forest is a realistic replica of chirping birds and cascading waterfalls and the Discovery Hall is home to the nation’s largest salamander.
What Is It? Ruby Falls is the world’s highest underground waterfall, located 1,120 feet under Lookout Mountain.
Why Do It? The 145-foot high underground waterfall sits along the Tennessee River Gorge, where you can take an elevator down into the cavern as a guide points out the fascinating rock formations, including geological formations such as stalactites and stalagmites.
Good to Know: At this top-rated Tennessee site, there’s also a lookout tower, a playground and ziplining adventure on-site.
What Is It? A popular waterfront park with expansive greenery, Coolidge Park features pleasant views of the Tennessee River and is home to the Walnut Street Bridge, the largest pedestrian bridge in the world.
Why Do It? Part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, its 15-mile long greenway runs along the river and boasts a historic, 100-year-old carousel.
Good to Know: You can soak up the sights while the kids play in the interactive water fountain and rock climbing area.
What Is It? The Incline Railway has been billed “America’s Most Amazing Mile”, transporting passengers up the steep part of the mountain on a 73 percent grade track. It is considered the steepest in the world.
Why Do It? While you can certainly reach Lookout Mountain with a car, the more exciting way to reach its summit is via the Incline Railway.
Good to Know: Make sure to visit the observation deck at the upper station to see magnificent views of the surrounding area. The famous Point Park and Battles for Chattanooga Museum are less than a mile north of the railway station.
What Is It? The Hunter Museum of American Art features a collection of American art from the colonial period to the present day, with exhibits showcasing paintings, sculptures, furniture and contemporary studio glass.
Why Do It? It is located in the Bluff View Art District and where you’ll want to go if you’re looking for a dose of culture.
Good to Know: Set in a 1904 classic revival mansion, you can come here to see a wide array of collections, from decorative art pieces to mixed media masterpieces.
What Is It? A beautiful 317-acre slice of natural beauty, the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center is home to lush foliage and diverse wildlife.
Why Do It? It’s a pleasant area to get out and stretch your legs, featuring 14 miles of hiking trails that wind through picturesque meadows and mountains, a blue heron boardwalk and a butterfly garden.
Good to Know: There are a variety of educational programs and tours available, in addition to canoes and an Arboretum.
What Is It? Showcasing over 50 farms, the Chattanooga Market is a local gem that brings a variety of produce, meats and cheeses to the market each week in an open-air pavilion.
Why Do It? There are over 130 artisans offering locally made specialties, including handmade crafts, artwork and farm-fresh goods
Good to Know: Sample the market’s array of regional delicacies on offer and soak up the lively atmosphere, as local musicians are often seen jamming out and special events are held throughout the year.
What Is It? Chattanooga Zoo is a 13-acre zoological park home to more than 300 animals and more than 200 species, including endangered species.
Why Do It? Both kids and kids at heart will enjoy the zoo’s attempt to connect visitors with the animals and wildlife instead of being pushed along. You can get face-to-face with chimpanzees or jaguars, ride a camel or test your bravery by getting up-close to venomous reptiles.
Good to Know: The zoo is affordably priced, making it a top destination for families looking for a budget-friendly day out in Chattanooga.
What Is It? Built based on the old American steamers of the late 19th-century, Southern Belle offers sightseeing trips along the Tennessee River.
Why Do It? You can make your journey extra special by booking one of the two-hour Captain’s Dinner Cruise, which includes a buffet-style dinner, live entertainment and a behind-the-scenes tour of the pilot house with the captain.
Good to Know: There are a variety of sightseeing cruises on offer, from dinner, lunch and sightseeing cruises to holiday-themed, 21+ cruises for adults and moonlight cruises.
What Is It? All aboard! The Chattanooga Choo Choo was built in 1909 as Terminal Station, welcoming thousands of travelers during the golden age of railroads. It’s now a bustling complex with a renovated hotel, shops, bars and entertainment venues.
Why Do It? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the landmark offers insight into a bygone era in Chattanooga.
Good to Know: You can stay overnight in the renowned Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which features unique Victorian sleeper cars that were once reserved for the wealthiest of passengers.
What Is It? The Tennesee Valley Railroad Museum was founded as part of the National Railway Historical Society in 1960, but now boasts a reconstructed rail line and collection of restored vintage trains.
Why Do It? Train enthusiasts can enjoy a ride on the track through the Whiteside Tunnel, also known as the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, and learn about the fascinating history of the trains.
Good to Know: You can also see some historic steam locomotives, including the “Southern Railway 4501” and “Baldwin 349”. Seasonal services are offered throughout the year, including trips to Chickamauga, Georgia in summer and Christmas-themed trains during the holidays.
What Is It? Chattanooga’s North Shore is a trendy area known for its strip of local restaurants, independent shops, cozy cafes and bars along Frazier Avenue.
Why Do It? You can easily spend an entire afternoon perusing the sights in this pedestrian-friendly area. Suitable for families, it also offers easy access to nearby Renaissance Park, Coolidge Park and downtown Chattanooga.
Good to Know: If you’re looking for vintage and antique finds or handcrafted jewelry, make sure to browse the local boutiques to find some one-of-a-kind treasures.