Tennessee is a state in the Southeastern United States that offers natural wonders, outdoor adventures, rich history, and unique music culture. Don’t forget to sample the state’s famous barbecue and whiskey while enjoying Southern hospitality along the way. Here to assist you with your travel itinerary, are the 35 best things to do in Tennessee. 

The 35 Best Things To Do In Tennessee

1. Hike In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park


This national park is the most visited national park in the nation. It stretches across Tennessee and North Carolina and features 522,000 acres of forest, mountains, and waterfalls. It includes 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 850 miles of backcountry trails. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park with an elevation of over 6,600. Thousands of species of animals and plant life flourish here, including black bears, elk, deer, and over 1,600 varieties of wildflowers.

2. Visit Memphis


The city of Memphis is known as the birthplace of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Some of the most popular sites here are Beale Street, famous for its music clubs; Graceland, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Sun Studio. You can also take a riverboat cruise on the “Mighty” Mississippi and head to the Lorraine Motel to see the National Civil Rights Museum. Dine on Memphis-style ribs at the nigh-iconic Rendezvous too!

3. Go To Graceland

“I’m going to Graceland, Graceland…”  Memphis’ Graceland is a massive mansion on a 13.8-acre estate that is part of a 120-acre entertainment complex. Formerly owned by American singer-songwriter and musician Elvis Presley. This iconic rock ‘n’ roll residence turned museum first opened in 1982. Over 650,000 people come here every year to see the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s jumpsuits, jets, and other past possessions. Film aficionados will fairly thrill at the limited-time “Making of ELVIS Movie Exhibition.”   

4. See Nashville


Nashville is a great place for country music fans. You can visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, the Johnny Cash Museum, and the Ryman Auditorium. Check out up-and-comers at such hot honky-tonks as Robert’s Western World.  

Book your room at the popular Union Station Nashville Yards. Other highlights here include the Bluebird Cafe, the Frist Art Museum, the Parthenon replica, and the Tennessee State Museum. Enjoy a dinner showboat cruise aboard the jazzy General Jackson too.  

5. Explore The Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum

The well-known Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a big Nashville attraction that both country music fans and history buffs will appreciate. Explore three stories of both rotating and permanent exhibits focused on the music genre from past to present. Here you’ll see a wide wall of gold and even platinum platters, and country music memorabilia like Garth Brooks’ guitar, Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac and more amidst a mix of music and video clips.

6. Visit Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge is a family-friendly town at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains that has kept people entertained with music, outdoor activities, rides, and dining for years. Roller coaster lovers will enjoy Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show and Adventure Park, where you can brave the zip line coaster called Flying Ox. The Island in Pigeon Forge is a kid-friendly entertainment complex that has escape rooms, rides, and more. Dollywood is another great attraction featuring many rides, music shows, and culinary options.

7. Have Fun At Dollywood

Image courtesy of Dept. Of Tourist Development

Dollywood is a theme park owned by American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. It features 160 acres of kid-friendly exciting rides, live shows, and even Southern-inspired dining. Be sure to check out the new Big Bear Mountain.  

It is a local black bear-themed roller coaster and has a length of nearly 4,000 feet. Another popular ride here is Splash Country, the water park. It comes complete with majestic mountain views, wonderful water slides, and a 1,500-foot lazy river.

8. Check Out Chattanooga

Chattanooga is located along the Tennessee River in the rugged Appalachian Mountains. It has multiple museums, a lively downtown area, a noteworthy art district, and plenty of places to shop. Visit Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga Zoo, the Tennessee Aquarium, and the historic Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Stay at the well-known Chattanooga Choo Choo, a decommissioned railway station-turned-hotel, and ride the rails at the terrific Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Later, cool off at Coolidge Park’s interactive water fountains.

9. Enjoy Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is a world-class facility with over 10,000 animals including fish, lemurs, octopuses, penguins, and sharks. The “River Giants” exhibit showcases freshwater fish that grow to monstrous proportions. The “Turtle of the World” gallery has the most extensive collection of turtles of any accredited U.S. aquarium or zoo. Book a guided “Deeper Dives” tour and catch an immersive show at the IMAX Theater. Patrons praise the Tennessee Aquarium as one of the best aquariums they’ve visited.

10. Hike Part Of The U.S. Civil Rights Trail 

Hike to some of the sites included on the 15-state-spanning U.S. Civil Rights Trail. In Memphis, visit the previously mentioned National Civil Rights Museum and Clayborn Temple next to I AM A MAN Plaza. In Nashville, you can see the National Museum of African American Music and the Civil Rights Room at the noteworthy Nashville Public Library. Go to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton and learn of the Clinton 12 as well. 

11. See The Titanic Museum Attraction

The Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge is a museum that brings the history of the ill-fated ship to life. The museum includes assorted artifacts from the Titanic Historical Society and more than 400 objects from the ship. See the replica of the Grand Staircase and galleries filled with information about the ship and personal stories from some survivors. There’s even a Memorial Room dedicated to the 2,200+ passengers and crew members. Give yourself two hours here. 

12. Look Out From Lookout Mountain

Not far from Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain’s main draw is the natural beauty of the immediate area. Here you can discover Ruby Falls, the country’s deepest and tallest underground waterfall. Take a tour of the cave and falls, then climb the tower here and go zip-lining.

Need more excitement? Climb the mountain on the 125+-year-old funicular Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. When the one-mile ride up is over, check out the Rock City Gardens just across the state borderline.

13. Drink In The Sights Along The Tennessee Whiskey Trail

Tennessee has been famous for its whiskey since before the Civil War. Unsurprisingly, this trail has over 30 distilleries and 800+ miles of lovely landscapes. The itinerary includes places in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, and the Smoky Mountains. Give yourself two weeks to complete the trail and remember to register for a “whiskey passport” to collect your stamps. Additional highlights include the historic Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel and distilleries, Civil War battlegrounds, music venues, and state parks.

14. Proceed To The Parthenon

The Parthenon is situated in Nashville’s West End in Centennial Park. The centerpiece of the park, it is the world’s only exact replica of the famous ancient temple located in Athens, Greece. It was originally built in 1897 to mark the state’s centennial.

The temporary structure was rebuilt in the 1920s. Since some time in the 1930s, it has played host to a number of art galleries and exhibits. Today, it still features different temporary shows and exhibitions.

15. See What’s Cookin’ At The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

The popular World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is held during the annual Memphis in May International Festival. The competition was first held in 1978, Since then, it has evolved from a parking lot contest to an international four-day event. Just last year, over 200 teams from four foreign countries and 24 US states vied for the championship title. The festive competition also includes live entertainment, themed team tents, and more.

16. Celebrate The Country Music Association Fest


The annual CMA Fest is a huge June event here and is held in downtown Nashville. Once named Fan Fair, it began with roughly 5,000 people. Today it is attended by tens of thousands of people and includes two nighttime stages and six daytime stages such as the Music City Center and Nissan Stadium. Both award-winning acts and emerging artists perform here. Plan on spending more money for your accommodations though as hotel rates are higher at this time. 

17. Cruise Along The Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic, recreational road through three states. It (approximately) follows the well-known “Old Natchez Trace,” an olden historic route once used by European settlers, Indigenous people, soldiers, and other travelers. The Parkway offers a variety of outdoor activities such as biking, camping, hiking, and even horseback riding. Additionally, there are a number of different short hiking trails here that allow travelers to see numerous natural wonders and historic landmarks.

18. See The Lost Sea, See?

The appropriately named Lost Sea is the USA’s largest underground lake. It is in Sweetwater less than 50 miles out of Knoxville. The 75-minute guided tour of the cave starts with a short, potentially challenging hike, so be sure to wear the appropriate footwear. Your guide will tell you about the cavern’s history and how various geological factors created the carn rooms and rare formations. You can also board a boat and see this 70-foot-deep lake’s clear water.

19. Find Famous Franklin

You’ll find Franklin less than 20 miles out of Nashville. It’s a must-see city for history lovers, music mavens, and shopaholics too. The bloody Battle of Franklin occurred here. 

Visit the local Civil War sites of Lotz House, Carnton, and Carter House. Stroll the 16 blocks of the historic downtown. Here you can enjoy art galleries, shopping, songwriter rounds, special events, and memorable dining. Indeed, if you want to enjoy a real, honest Southern meal, consider eating at Puckett’s Restaurant.

20. Explore The Memphis Zoo

Image courtesy of Philip Van Zandt and Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo is located in Memphis’ Overton Park. It has reportedly been a major local attraction since 1906. The zoo’s property spans an area of almost 80 acres.  

Over 500 species of animals live here in several different exhibits and zoo zones. There’s much to see! Cat Country alone includes African lions, elusive snow leopards, and threatened jaguars. The three-acre China exhibition is home to such Asian animals as Sulawesi-crested Macaques and Francois langurs as well.

21. Hide Out At The Hermitage

Not to be confused with the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, The Hermitage has a mansion and a visitor center and the property covers an area of 1,120 acres. You will find it less than 10 miles out of the city. President Andrew Jackson and his wife once lived here. You have several choices when it comes to touring the place. Two of them focus on the lives of the slaves who once worked on this old plantation.  

22. Go To Gatlinburg

Some travel writers say Gatlin is the perfect place to be if you came to Tennessee for some adventure. Surrounded by the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains, it has much to offer! If you’re into winter sports, visit the awesome Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area.

This family-friendly place offers year-round fun including visitors ice skating, skiing, snow tubing, an aerial tramway, assorted amusement rides, and more! Other worthwhile attractions include Skylift Park, Anakeesta theme park, and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

23. Spend A Night In A Treehouse

Image courtesy of treehouseresort.com

Before you leaf Tennessee, spend the night in the soon-to-be-opened Sanctuary Treehouse Resort. When it opens in spring, Sanctuary Treehouse Resort will officially be the world’s largest treehouse resort. This tree-mendous place is nestled amidst 40 acres of picturesque property in the striking Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg. It has a number of different luxurious treehouses for families and couples. They come complete with such amenities as escape hatches, rope swings, slides, and even hidden beds. 

24. Learn About The History Of Indigenous Americans

Image courtesy of Sequoyah Birthplace Museum

Indigenous People have resided in this state for almost 12,000 years. The names of cities like Tullahoma and Chattanooga are Indigenous terms. Even the state’s name, Tennessee, is roughly Cherokee for “where the river bends.” Explore the heritage of these people by visiting The Tanasi Memorial and the informative Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. Hardcore hikers may already know that a portion of the infamous 5,000+-mile-long Trail of Tears National Historic Trail runs through this state.

25. Spelunk In The Caverns

Image courtesy of The Caverns

The Caverns, in Pelham, is a nigh-otherworldly cave system that includes over 8,000 feet of passageways. Visit during the day and you sign up for a guided tour of the caves to get a good “behind-the-scenes” peek at this unusual underground concert venue and one of the largest underground rooms in the world. This is also the setting for the TV show “The Caverns Sessions” (formerly “Bluegrass Underground”).  The handicapped-accessible Big Mouth Cave is the place to see big-named acts perform.

26. Next Stop: Knoxville

Knoxville is home to a thriving art scene, multiple museums, outdoor adventures, and more. You can shop, eat, and be entertained all in one place–Knoxville’s Market Square. Other highlights here include the educational East Tennessee History Center, the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture, the Sunsphere Tower’s Observation Deck at World’s Fair Park, and the Urban Wilderness. Last but not least, history buffs should see Fort Sanders and take a driving tour of the other nearby Civil War sites.     

27. Travel To Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge, a.k.a. the “Secret City” is where over 100,000 uninformed government employees were transported to work on the now not-so-top-secret, infamous Manhattan Project during the second world war. Are you a history buff? Check out the K-25 History Center and the Oak Ridge History Museum.  

Feeling more athletic and outdoorsy? Head to Windrock Park and go jogging or bike riding. Fishers and swimmers should visit Melton Lake Park.

28. Boogie At The Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival

Image courtesy of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

The annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival began in 2002. Named after a Dr. John album, this event focuses on camping, arts, and music. It’s held in Manchester on the well-known 650-acre Bonnaroo Farm.

Tens of thousands of people attend this festival usually held in June. It generally includes 150+ performers playing on 10 separate stages. A partial list of past performers features Bob Dylan, Eminem, Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Odesza, Phish, Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and U2.

29. Hike In Fall Creek Falls State Park

You can find Fall Creek Falls State Park less than 70 miles from Chattanooga. It is one of the state’s most visited and largest parks. It includes almost 30,000 acres and crosses the Cumberland Plateau. Here you will discover rugged gorges, lush, verdant hardwood forests, rushing streams, and crashing waterfalls like its namesake 256-foot-tall Fall Creek Falls. There are also over 50 miles of trails to hike. You can camp outdoors or stay in a cabin.  

30. Visit Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Image courtesy of Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Located in Petros, Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a.k.a. “End of the Line”, was the first maximum-security prison in Tennessee. Today visitors can take self-guided tours, hear stories, and learn about 30 stations here. You can see the cafeteria, the cell block, the exercise yard, the laundry room, and the infamous “Hole” where prisoners were put into solitary confinement in total darkness. Feeling adventurous? Then sign up for an overnight paranormal tour too!

31. Discover Discovery Park Of America

Image courtesy of Discovery Park Of America

Stop in Union City and discover this 100,000-square-foot, family-friendly museum and the beautiful surrounding 50-acre heritage park as well. There are 10 indoor galleries and interactive displays that focus on subjects as varied as art and local history to space and technology. The park also includes the region’s highest observation tower, a film theater, and a 20,000-gallon aquarium. See the replica of an 1800s frontier settlement, the European and Japanese gardens, and the train station too.

32. Meander Around The Museum Of Appalachia

Image courtesy of Museum Of Appalachia

This is actually a 65-acre living history museum ensconced in Clinton. It includes a real farm and an old pioneer village complete with barns, churches, log cabins, and schools. It is also a Smithsonian Affiliate.  

There are more than 250,000 artifacts in collections of musical instruments and folk art. See the free-range farm animals. Wander through the gardens. Finally, visit the Hall of Fame to see exhibits that honor people connected to the Southern Appalachians.   

33. Drink It All In At Belle Meade Historic Site And Winery

This is a historic Greek Revival mansion situated southwest of Nashville. The property spans an area of 5,400 acres and reveals a bit about the state’s architecture, equestrian heritage, and history. Available tours include the “Journey to Jubilee” tour which concerns the slaves who worked here, the “Southern Food Traditions”, an outdoor walking tour, and the well-regarded “Mansion Tour” which provides a historical overview. There’s even a kid-friendly tour option! 

34. Relax At Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake is a natural lake located in Tiptonville. Born of a number of earthquakes in the 1800s, it now has a unique ecosystem with a flooded forest of cypress trees. Every February, the Reelfoot Lake Eagle Festival marks the occasion when thousands of American bald eagles converge on the lake. You can take nature tours, engage in various recreational activities or just relax and enjoy the peacefulness. Set up camp at the beautiful Blue Bank Resort camp.

35. Visit The Real Birthplace Of Country Music

Image courtesy of Believe In Bristol

Bristol is considered the true birthplace of country music. You’ll find it at the foothills of the awesome Appalachian Mountains on the Tennessee and Virginia state line. Stop in at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and learn of the genre’s history and the now-famous 1927 Bristol Sessions. Catch a live act in town or visit in September and go to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion! 

Have a good trip to Tennessee!


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