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.
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Learn about aquatic life at Tennessee Aquarium
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.
See the rock formations at Ruby Falls
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.
Soak up the scenery at Coolidge Park
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.
Hike the trails at Rock City
What Is It? A 4,100-foot trail meanders along natural sandstone formations and past a 90-foot waterfall.
Why Do It? You can cross the 180-foot suspension bridge for a bird’s-eye view of Chattanooga Valley, while it’s possible to see up to seven states at the summit of Lover’s Leap.
Good to Know: You’ll want to pack a pair of comfy walking shoes to hike the trails at Rock City, where you can make this destination a memorable day trip.
Take the kids to Creative Discovery Museum
What Is It? One of the top children’s museums in the country, it offers families an afternoon creating, learning and innovating through play.
Why Do It? The entire family will delight in exploring the kid-friendly Buzz Alley and Bee Garden, Culinary Corner and Discovery Library exhibits.
Good to Know: There is a range of fun programs to participate in, from art lessons and storytime to science demonstrations.
Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
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.
Admire artwork at Hunter Museum of American Art
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.
Browse the attractions in Bluff View Art District
What Is It? You’ll find art institutions and public works of art along the waterfront, in addition to small coffee shops and eateries to explore.
Why Do It? This tiny neighborhood is a must-see on a visit to Chattanooga, offering a slice of local life.
Good to Know: While it only stretches across 1 and 1/2 blocks, it packs a lot of punch for its size and offers incredible views overlooking the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga.
Visit the historic Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
What Is It? A combination of history and a natural attraction, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is well-known for being part of a Civil War battleground.
Why Do It? The oldest and largest Civil War park, here you can visit historic landmarks such as Orchard Knob, the Chattanooga National Cemetery and Signal Point.
Good to Know: It was the nation’s first National Military Park, and you can take a self-guided tour of the area and see the notable monuments for yourself.
Explore Raccoon Mountain Caverns
What Is It? Raccoon Mountain Caverns is a fascinating cave system with more than 5.5 miles of passageways carved from limestone by nature.
Why Do It? Popular with campers and adventurous travelers, you can also pan for gemstones, play on go-karts and hike the scenic trails.
Good to Know: Take a Crystal Palace Walking Tour or a Wild Cave Expedition Tour, where you can get an up-close look at the undeveloped sections of the cave.
Smell the roses at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
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.
Go to a Tasting at Chattanooga Whiskey
What Is It? Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, it is the oldest registered distillery in the United States.
Why Do It? Perfect for an adult’s night out, head to Chattanooga Whiskey to sample some of their tasty libations on-site.
Good to Know: You can see the process and taste the current products on a guided tour, which ends with a full tasting of Chattanooga Whiskey and the locally-produced Dr. Thacher’s Cocktail Syrup.
Shop at Chattanooga Market
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.
Get up-close to animals at Chattanooga Zoo
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.
See the sights on a Southern Belle Riverboat Cruise
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.
Take a step back in time at Chattanooga Choo Choo
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.
Sing the Blues at Bessie Smith Cultural Center
What Is It? The Bessie Smith Cultural Center honors the legacy of Blues legend Bessie Smith, who was born in Chattanooga.
Why Do It? You’ll be swept off your feet by the timeless songs by the “Empress of the Blues”, while the collection of African-American art is a must-see.
Good to Know: The small museum showcases African-American history with exhibits on Civil Rights, Jazz and other local figures.
Cheer on the local team at AT&T Field
What Is It? A 6,000-seat stadium home to Chatanooga’s minor league baseball team, the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Why Do It? Experience one of America’s greatest pastimes with a local game. The stadium is easy to reach in Chatanooga’s downtown area right off the Tennessee River.
Good to Know: Tickets are typically affordable, while seats are lower than other stadiums so you’ll also get a great up-close experience.
Hop aboard vintage trains at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
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.
Explore North Shore
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.