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Tennessee is one of the most fun and uniquely American places you can ever hope to visit. From country music to dramatic landscapes and plenty of quaint mountain towns in between, there’s something here that everyone can enjoy.
Tennessee has large cities that are definitely worth visiting, but it’s so much fun to take a drive through the state’s small towns and mountainous regions too. This makes an excellent road trip destination at any time of year and is perfect for families with kids, couples, retirees, and groups of friends looking for adventure on a budget.
In no particular order, here are some of the most unique and beautiful places to visit in Tennessee to help plan your trip!
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Chattanooga is full of historic attractions, natural beauty, and quaint southern charm. Lookout Mountain’s Rock City is a popular attraction here with a walking trail lined with festive gnomes and fairytale characters. It overlooks the Tennessee River and is a beautiful city with lovely views. Ruby Falls, a 145-foot waterfall in a cave, is another Chattanooga attraction worth taking in while you’re in town. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a fun place to visit where you can ride on a full-sized train and attend special themed and seasonal rides. Downtown you can find some great restaurants and breweries, and the best part is you can explore on foot!
You don’t have to be a country music fan to enjoy the energy and excitement of Nashville. This is an awesome place to visit if you love live music, local bands, and a busy nightlife scene. There are so many music venues and late-night bars and clubs here that it’s impossible to get bored. The Country Music Hall of Fame is definitely worth a visit in Nashville. As the state’s capital, you can also check out the Tennessee State Capitol Building, and plan to do some shopping at Opry Mills.
Gatlinburg is a popular Tennessee town in the Smoky Mountains and a major tourist attraction in the state. It’s a beautiful small town that’s decked out with all the mini-golf, arcade games, ice cream parlors, and tourist shops you’d ever hope to visit. But it’s also a beautiful place in terms of scenery and a nice home base for taking hikes in the Smoky Mountains. Ober Gatlinburg is a ski resort with a scenic tramway, and the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has thousands of marine animals. Pigeon Forge is right here too at the base of this popular national park and home to Dollywood, which is a Dolly Parton-themed amusement park that has rides and music.
While Nashville is mostly known for its country music influence, Memphis is all about the blues. This is another music-focused city in Tennessee that’s along the Mississippi River. The best place to experience this culture is on Beale Street, which is packed with live music venues, blues clubs, bars, and restaurants. The National Civil Rights Museum and Shelby Farms, the largest urban park in the U.S., are also here. If you’re looking for museums, the Pink Palace Family of Museums has several that are affordable. Elvis Presley fans will definitely have to visit the famous Sun Studio, and of course, Graceland. Fortunately, it’s only about a 15-minute drive south of Memphis. Here you can tour Elvis’ home and learn everything you ever wanted to about his life and music.
Located in East Tennessee, Dayton is a great place to visit when you hike the Laurel-Snow Trail. This 6.3-mile trail leads to a waterfall and is fairly difficult, meaning it’s best left for experienced hikers. You can hike this trail between March and October and even bring your dog, as long as you keep them on a leash. Aside from the Laurel-Snow Natural Recreation Area, Pocket Wilderness is another great place to visit. The Tennessee Strawberry Festival takes place here in May each year, and the Monkey Town Brewing Company in Dayton is worth stopping by for a beer.
Tennessee and whiskey have become practically synonymous over the years, and Jack Daniel’s is the best-selling brand of American whiskey in the world. This popular whiskey is produced in Lynchburg, Tennessee at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Ironically, the distillery is located in Moore County, a dry county, which means that no liquor is sold here. This is the oldest distillery in the U.S., and guided tours give you insights into the mysterious life of Jack Daniel himself. In addition to the distillery, Lynchburg is a nice town settled among the hillsides, which makes for some peaceful scenic drives.
Another major city in Tennessee is Knoxville, this charming Appalachian city is packed with everything people like to do on vacation. There are excellent museums, restaurants, malls, sports teams, and a riverfront that’s nice to walk along to enjoy the views. You can take a walking tour of Knoxville to learn about its history and stay up late with the fun nightlife scene in the city’s neighborhoods. Check out the Museum of East Tennessee History and the Knoxville Zoo as well here.
You might not think of Tennessee as a major wine-producing region, but there are some lovely vineyards in Middle Tennessee near the town of Franklin. This town is about 20 miles south of Nashville and is a great place to visit for history buffs too. The Battle of Franklin took place here in 1864 during the Civil War. There are a couple of historic homes, Carter House & Carnton, that you can tour and quite a few festivals you can join in on. Mark your calendars for the Main Street Festival, Pumpkinfest, and the Dickens of a Christmas Festival, depending on the season you’re planning to travel.
You’ll need to go to the far eastern part of Tennessee to check out Jonesborough, but the journey is well worth it. This place is considered to be the oldest town in the state, so you know it’s full of history, architecture, and culture. The oldest building in town is the Chester Inn, which was built in 1797. It’s in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and also has lots to do if you love the great outdoors. In the warm weather months, plan to bike, fish, hike, swim, boat, golf, and kayak here. Something interesting to check out is the National Storytelling Festival, which takes place here and celebrates the region’s fascination with the art of Appalachian storytelling.
Head to Southeastern Tennessee to check out the town of Tellico Plains, which is right next to the Cherokee National Forest. This is a place to come for picturesque mountain scenery and scenic paths, perfect for those looking to relax and escape from their busy, stressful lives back home. Come here for outdoor recreation, especially hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, and fishing. Pictured here is Bald River Falls, which is a stunning waterfall that flows down over 100 feet and never ceases to impress hikers from near and far.
Another historic town in Tennessee worth visiting is Rogersville, which is the second oldest town in the state after Jonesborough. It was originally settled by the grandparents of Davy Crockett. If you’re looking for 4th of July plans, Rogersville has a fun celebration you should check out.
Located in Eastern Tennessee, Townsend is a small and peaceful town. Pictured here is a Frick steam engine that was once used for logging in the Smoky Mountains. It is located at the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. This is also a great place to check out when you’re visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a small and scenic town that helps you get away from it all. Arts and crafts culture is big here too, so browse the shops around town for some fun things to take home as souvenirs or gifts. Outdoor lovers enjoy Townsend because of the natural scenery and recreation opportunities. Take a hike on the trails to see the blooming flowers and trees in the spring, and the wildlife all throughout the year.