Top 28 Things to Do in Tennessee: Best Attractions & Activities

From parks and museums to thrill rides and honky-tonks, Tennessee has it all. These are our top must-sees and must-dos in the state.

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Top 28 Things to Do in Tennessee: Best Attractions & Activities

Posted by Gary Ashton on Thursday, March 28th, 2024 at 11:41am.

Best Things to Do in Tennessee

Craving adventure, history, music, and more in Tennessee? Our curated list guides you through the state's best experiences. Tour the Smoky Mountains, tap your feet in Music City, step back in time at historical landmarks, and get your thrills at Dollywood. Join us as we explore the top things to do in Tennessee.

Quick Highlights

  • Nashville is a hub for music lovers with its honky-tonks, Music Row, and Country Music Hall of Fame celebrating America's rich musical heritage.
  • Tennessee is home to natural wonders like the Great Smoky Mountains, Lookout Mountain, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
  • From Pigeon Forge's amusement parks to unique experiences like The Lost Sea and the Johnny Cash Museum, Tennessee has diverse offerings for every type of explorer.

Nashville Music Tour

Embark on a musical journey in Music City, where life pulses to the rhythm of strumming guitars and crooning voices. Nashville, the heartland of country and Americana, is a diverse musical landscape teeming with honky-tonks, historic recording studios, and music museums. Imagine walking along Broadway, the neon lights of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and Robert's Western World calling you in to experience live country music. You might even spot an up-and-coming artist. Just a stone's throw away, you'll find many attractions on Music Row, from historic studios to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Stroll through the Music City Walk of Fame, commemorating over 90 stars from various music genres. Let the legacy of these artists inspire you as you explore the exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Each of Nashville's attractions offers a unique story, a melody of its own, providing a rich perspective on Nashville's musical heritage.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

Venture from Nashville's lively streets into the tranquil embrace of nature. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, known for its stunning beauty, wide-ranging biodiversity, and pristine forests. Imagine standing atop Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park at 6,643 feet, while taking in the breathtaking panorama.

As you wander through the park, don't miss the opportunity to visit Cades Cove. Here, you'll encounter frequent wildlife sightings and historical structures that portray 19th-century pioneer life. The park also offers over 850 miles of backcountry trails, with scenic hikes like Rainbow Falls and Chimney Tops.

The National Civil Rights Museum

Ready to explore a profound chapter of American history? The National Civil Rights Museum is housed at the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The museum narrates the story of the Civil Rights Movement, from the eras of slavery and the Civil War to modern movements for global equality. With over 260 artifacts, 40+ films, and other interactive media, there's much to explore.

Educational initiatives at the museum engage and educate visitors on civil rights history. Some of these initiatives include:

  • Teacher Workshops
  • Learning Links
  • eLearning Sit-In
  • Before the Boycott

Through these programs and interactive experiences, visitors can delve deeper into the struggles and triumphs of this pivotal movement in American history.

Dollywood Theme Park

Step into a world of fun at Dollywood. Co-owned by the country music legend and Nashville celebrity Dolly Parton, Dollywood is a highlight for many visitors to Pigeon Forge. The park offers both high-thrill and low-key attractions, including Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, and the Tennessee Tornado, promising an adrenaline rush for adventure seekers.

But Dollywood isn't just about thrilling rides. Visitors can enjoy a variety of rides and shows, including the Village Carousel, the FireChaser Express, and the Dollywood Express Train, offering scenic views of the Smoky Mountains. The park also hosts special events and festivals like the Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration and Harvest Festival.

Ripley's Aquarium

Aerial View of Gatlinburg in Tennessee

Head to Gatlinburg to visit Ripley's Aquarium and other attractions. Here, you can enjoy unique experiences like the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure, Turtle Time, and Penguin Encounters.

While exploring the aquarium, you'll encounter diverse exhibits like the Shark Lagoon and the Tropical Rainforest. From observing colorful tropical fish to learning about the fascinating world of sharks, your visit to Ripley's Aquarium promises to be a marine adventure like no other.

Lookout Mountain

Journey to the natural wonders of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. Here, you can explore attractions like Ruby Falls, the U.S.'s tallest and deepest underground waterfall, and Rock City Gardens, offering panoramic views atop Lookout Mountain.

As you explore Ruby Falls, you'll have the chance to venture through astonishing caverns before reaching the waterfall itself. The journey doesn't end here, though. You can also partake in additional attractions, such as a climbing tower and zip line adventures, promising an adventure-filled day.

Rock City Gardens further enhances the experience, providing a tranquil setting to marvel at Tennessee's natural beauty. The garden even hosts the Enchanted Garden of Lights event during Christmas, adding a special touch to your visit.

Tennessee River Attractions

Embark on a journey along the Tennessee River. The Chattanooga Riverfront offers a suite of attractions, forming a central hub along the Tennessee River. These attractions include:

  • The Tennessee Aquarium
  • Chattanooga Zoo
  • Lookout Mountain
  • The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

For a unique adventure, you can embark on a narrated tour with Chattanooga Ducks. The company operates an authentic WWII amphibious 'duck' vehicle, adding a historical layer to your journey. If you're seeking a more tranquil experience, the Southern Belle Riverboat offers a relaxing sailing adventure with themed cruises on the Tennessee River.

Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery

Belle Meade Mansion in Tennessee

Dive into the rich history of the Belle Meade Historic Site! Founded in 1807, it was a prominent thoroughbred horse breeding and racing center during the 19th century. It resumed operations after the Civil War and became a leading thoroughbred farm.

Today, you can visit the Belle Meade mansion, expanded into a Greek-Revival style in 1853, and admire its limestone pillars and majestic two-story veranda. The site showcases its rich history, with preserved outbuildings, landscape design from the 1910s, and a museum.

In addition to guided tours, you can wander the grounds, visit the restaurant and shops, and book wine and bourbon tastings.

The Lost Sea

Dive underground and uncover the marvels of The Lost Sea. Located in Sweetwater, halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville, the Lost Sea Adventure offers a guided tour through magnificent caverns, culminating with a boat ride on the largest underground lake in America.

As you explore the underground world, you'll find more than just the lake. Lost Sea Adventures also features a Wild Cave Tour, where organized groups can view anthodites, known as "cave flowers."

Live Music Across Tennessee

No matter where you are, you can immerse yourself in Tennessee's vibrant music scene. There are countless music festivals and events throughout the state, showcasing the diverse musical offerings that Tennessee has to offer. A few notable festivals and events include:

  • Southern Skies Music & Whiskey Festival
  • Exit 56 Blues Fest
  • Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree
  • Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
  • Grand Ole Opry's Country Classics.

Apart from its music festivals, Tennessee is also home to historic and notable music venues, including:

  • The National Museum of African American Music
  • The Tennessee Theatre
  • Overton Park Shell
  • The Bluebird Cafe

These live music venues contribute to the state's reputation as a music mecca. Whether you're a fan of country music, blues, jazz, or rock 'n' roll, Tennessee's music scene has something for everyone.

Outdoor Adventure in East Tennessee

Whitewater Kayaking on Pigeon River in Tennessee

East Tennessee offers a diverse range of outdoor activities for adventure seekers. White-water rafting on the Pigeon River and other East Tennessee rivers, such as the Ocoee, promise a thrilling adventure with big waves and Class III to IV rapids.

For those who prefer to stay on land, rock climbing on over 300 routes at the Obed Wild and Scenic River provides a physical challenge with stunning views. East Tennessee's waterways also offer waterskiing, wakeboarding, and parasailing opportunities. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or a nature lover, East Tennessee's outdoor adventures are bound to leave you breathless.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Embark on a nostalgic journey through railroading history. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, founded in 1961 by the local community, preserves and operates railway equipment from the "Golden Age of Railroading."

As you explore the museum, you'll be transported back in time, with the museum's collection of restored locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars taking center stage. The museum also features heritage train rides that operate on the original East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia roadbed, preserving the history of these lines.

The Memphis Zoo

Step into the wild at the Memphis Zoo. One of the U.S.'s oldest zoos, Memphis Zoo, is home to over 500 animal species.

As you explore the zoo, you'll encounter diverse exhibits like:

  • Teton Trek
  • Northwest Passage
  • Once Upon A Farm
  • Cat Country
  • Primate Canyon
  • Dragon's Lair
  • Animals of the Night

Each exhibit is designed to resemble the animals' natural habitats. From gazing at majestic African elephants to observing the behaviors of nocturnal creatures, your visit to the Memphis Zoo promises to be one-of-a-kind.

Pigeon Forge's Amusement Parks

Aerial View of Pigeon Forge in Tennessee

Enjoy all-ages fun at Pigeon Forge's amusement parks. The city is home to a range of attractions, like The Island, which offers shopping, exciting rides, and arcade games.

Among the various amusement parks in Pigeon Forge, FunStop Family Action Park stands out with its go-kart tracks and SkyScraper. Other favorites include Track Family Fun Park, which offers go-karting and blaster boats, and the interactive fantasy adventure of MagiQuest. No matter your age or interests, Pigeon Forge's amusement parks promise a day filled with laughter and excitement.

Centennial Park

Stroll through Nashville's Centennial Park. This park, located in the heart of Music City, offers a tranquil setting amid the bustling city life. As you explore the park, you can enjoy the fresh air, city views, and Vanderbilt University's night-time illumination, all just a stone's throw away from downtown Nashville.

Within the park, you'll find:

  • The iconic Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the ancient Greek temple
  • Large trees and waterfowl-watching spots
  • A dog park, big band venue, and lake

While in Nashville, consider exploring some of the other parks in Nashville where you can practice outdoor yoga, go horseback riding, and hike toward scenic overlooks.

Ijams Nature Center

Strengthen your connection with nature at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville. This nature center features a diverse network of trails, including the scenic Keyhole, a unique natural formation that attracts hikers near and far.

In addition to the trails, the center also offers various educational programs, aiming to connect visitors of all ages with the wonders of nature. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a nature enthusiast, Ijams Nature Center offers a serene setting to connect with the natural world.

The Scenic Beauty of Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake at Sunrise in Tennessee

Relish the scenic beauty of Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of Tennessee. Created by the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes along the New Madrid Faultline, the lake offers a tranquil setting to relax and unwind.

At Reelfoot, you can enjoy stunning natural displays, from vibrant fall foliage to the serene beauty of sunrise and sunset reflections on the water. Whether you prefer hiking, camping, fishing, or boating, Reelfoot Lake offers myriad activities to enjoy.

The Titanic Museum

Get ready to go on a historical exploration at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. At the museum, you can view the stories and artifacts of the Titanic, offering an immersive historical journey.

As you navigate through the museum, you can:

  • Experience interactive exhibits that let you feel the North Atlantic chill
  • Touch an iceberg
  • Explore the faithfully recreated Grand Staircase, First Class Parlor Room, and Third Class Quarters

With over 400 authentic Titanic artifacts on display, the museum promises a journey back in time, bringing the legendary ship back to life.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

Pay tribute to country music legends at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This museum pays homage to the titans of the genre, with a special focus on figures like Patsy Cline, DeFord Bailey, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, and Hank Williams.

Additionally, you'll encounter exhibits like "Sing Me Back Home: Folk Roots to the Present" and spotlights on iconic artists, their stories, and musical contributions. From the deep roots of country music to its modern developments, the museum offers a comprehensive look into the genre and its influential artists.

World's Fair Park

Sunsphere at World's Fair Park in Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville's World's Fair Park, home to the iconic Sunsphere, offers panoramic views from its observation deck. As you ascend the Sunsphere, you'll be greeted by a stunning view of the city and the surrounding landscapes.

Along with the Sunsphere, the park also features the Tennessee Amphitheater, another legacy of the 1982 World's Fair. As you explore the park, you'll discover various amenities for outdoor concerts and performing arts, providing an enriching cultural experience.

Discovery Park of America

Make all sorts of discoveries at Discovery Park of America. Located in Union City, this park has 10 galleries highlighting topics like Native American history, space exploration, and technology. Other exhibits include:

  • Natural history
  • Regional and military history
  • Science
  • Transportation
  • Art

In addition to the indoor exhibits, the park also features a 50-acre outdoor heritage park. Here, you can explore an artificial river, waterfalls, bridges, and other outdoor recreation areas.

The Frist Art Museum

Explore the grounds of the Frist Art Museum. Housed in Nashville's historic former main post office building, this Nashville museum showcases the elegance of classicism and Art Deco with white Georgia marble and gray-pink Minnesota granite.

Exhibitions showcase a range of artistic talent and themes; as a non-collecting museum, the museum hosts an ever-changing array of 12–15 exhibits from collections around the world. Every few months, repeat visitors get something entirely new.

Whether you're an art enthusiast or a casual visitor, the Frist Art Museum promises a visually stimulating experience.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls is the Tallest Waterfall in Tennessee

Seek out nature's beauty at Fall Creek Falls State Park, one of the best camping spots near Nashville. This park is famous for its:

  • Waterfalls
  • Hiking trails
  • Rock climbing opportunities
  • Swimming holes
  • Fishing spots

As you explore the park, you'll encounter the breathtaking Fall Creek Falls, standing at 256 feet, making it the highest waterfall in Tennessee. The park also offers many outdoor activities, from hiking to camping, ensuring a day filled with adventure and excitement.

Chattanooga's Cultural Attractions

Spend a day exploring the cultural attractions of Chattanooga. The city is home to the Hunter Museum of American Art, renowned for its extensive collection of American art.

In addition to the museum, Chattanooga enhances its cultural landscape with expansive outdoor sculpture fields and the significant Ed Johnson Memorial. The city also boasts the historic Tivoli Theatre, enriching Chattanooga's live entertainment scene with symphony, opera, diverse music, and Broadway shows.

Tennessee's Local Food Festivals

Savor the culinary delights of Tennessee. Across the state, numerous food festivals offer a chance to sample local and international cuisines. From the Nashville Wine & Food Festival, where attendees can pair global wines with regional dishes, to the Ragin' Cajun Crawfish Festival, where visitors can indulge in all-you-can-eat crawfish and Louisiana-style sides, Tennessee's food festivals are a gastronomic delight.

In addition to food, these festivals often include live music. So whether you're a foodie, a wine connoisseur, or a music lover, Tennessee's food festivals promise a feast for the senses.

Jack Daniel Distillery

Jack Daniel Distillery in Lunchburg, Tennessee

Take a behind-the-scenes tour at Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg. Here, you can learn about the intricate process of whiskey making and even sample some of Jack Daniel's finest distillations.

From learning about the distillery's history to witnessing the barrel charring process integral to whiskey production, your visit to Jack Daniel Distillery is unlike any other spirit tour in the U.S.

Shopping Spree in Franklin

Enjoy a shopping spree in Franklin. Recognized as one of the premier shopping destinations in Tennessee, the city of Franklin offers a variety of quaint shops and restaurants, as well as eclectic stores and dining options within The Factory at Franklin.

Whether you're looking for unique finds at antique shops or brand stores at CoolSprings Galleria, there are plenty of things to do in Franklin that cater to all preferences and budgets.

The Johnny Cash Museum

Celebrate rock 'n' roll at the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville. Here, you can explore the life and career of Johnny Cash, one of the most influential figures in country music.

Moving across exhibits, you'll encounter a wealth of items from Cash's life and some memorabilia related to Elvis Presley. From Cash's San Quentin prison jumpsuit to his gold and platinum records, the museum promises a nostalgic journey through the life of the Man in Black.

And, of course, once you're done, there are plenty of other things to do in downtown Nashville to complete your night out.

Discovering the Many Fun Things to Do in Tennessee

Vibrant music scenes, breathtaking natural landscapes, rich history, thrilling adventures, delicious culinary delights—is there anything you can't have when you live in Tennessee? No matter where your interests lie, the state offers a diverse range of experiences that promise to leave a lasting impression. So why wait? Start planning your adventure today and discover the treasures that await you in Tennessee.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most picturesque area in Tennessee?

If you're looking for Tennessee's most picturesque setting, Gatlinburg is a popular choice thanks to its stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

What parts of Tennessee have the most things to do?

From east to west, a few of the best places with things to do in Tennessee include Pigeon Forge, Chattanooga, and Memphis—though, of course, we're biased toward all the fun things to do in Nashville.

What is Tennessee known for?

Tennessee is known for its music scene, including bluegrass and blues. It is also the birthplace of the Manhattan Project and hosts attractions like Dollywood and multiple national parks and trails.

What is the #1 tourist attraction in Tennessee?

Graceland might take the top spot among Tennessee tourist attractions. Elvis Presley's estate welcomes over 500,000 visitors each year, making it one of the most-visited private homes in the country.

Another popular tourist destination in Tennessee is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. It's among the biggest ticketed tourist attractions in the state, featuring 10 themed areas, and is owned by Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment.

Ready to move to the great state of Tennessee? Call The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Advantage with Nashville's MLS at (615) 603-3602 to talk with a real estate agent who can help you find your dream Tennessee home.


Gary Ashton

The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Advantage

The #1 RE/MAX team in the World!

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