While Tennessee is famous for being the home and indeed the birthplace of both blues and country music, its scenery is no less varied than its music scene. The breathtaking, forest-coated Great Smoky Mountains feel a world away from the lush green valleys and scorching lowlands that can be found in the rest of the state, and each distinctive geographic region has its own accompanying musical heritage.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Despite the differences in terms of scenery and music, the famous southern hospitality is on show wherever you go. Endless charming towns and cities are found alongside glitzy resort towns, fun-filled amusement parks, and of course, fantastic live music venues.
Straddling the Harpeth River, the small city of Franklin lies just over 30 kilometers from Nashville. Its laidback downtown has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it, with plenty of boutiques, eateries, and bars for you to choose from.
The main reason that people visit, however, is for its battlefields and historical sites that are related to the fierce and bloody Battle of Franklin that took place here in 1864 during the Civil War.
For visitors interested in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the historic events that happened here, Carter House, Lotz House, and Carnton Plantation are all very informative to visit. With a lovely small-town feel to it, Franklin is well worth a day trip from Nashville and can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Arrington, which is home to a fantastic vineyard selling some delicious local wines.
9. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Lying between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, the appropriately named Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area will delight nature lovers and outdoor aficionados alike with its stunning scenery. Home to a wide range of different landscapes and habitats, visitors can hike or cycle their way through beautiful forests and wetlands, with vast stretches of gorgeous shoreline also on show.
With some of the largest swathes of untouched and undeveloped forest in the east of the United States, there is a wonderfully wild feel about much of the recreation area. Many different types of birds and wildlife reside within its confines.
As the two elongated lakes border the recreation area, there are also ample opportunities for swimming, boating, and watersports, while many people choose to camp overnight in the park.
Located right at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains and the wonderful national park that is named after them, the resort town of Gatlinburg is set in a beautiful spot, with gorgeous nature and mountains all around it.
As such, many people visit for the wealth of outdoor activities that it has to offer. Hiking along the Appalachian Trail is a particularly popular pastime, while in winter, the state’s only ski resort of Ober Gatlinburg is packed with people having a good time.
As there is quite a touristy feel and look to Gatlinburg, don’t be surprised to see lots of arcades, mini-golf courses, souvenir shops, and go-karting courses around town. Unique attractions such as the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers and Hollywood Star Cars Museum are also dotted about here and there.
While much of Gatlinburg is quite gaudy and kitsch in appearance, the town does have its charms. The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is a great place to head to if you want to learn more about the rich history of Tennessee and see all the local crafts being created.
An increasingly popular tourist destination, Tennessee’s third-largest city and former capital is well worth a visit if you’re into your food and drink; a load of great restaurants, bars, and breweries have sprung up in recent years.
As Knoxville is also home to the University of Tennessee, there is a very lively and youthful feel to its streets. College-football game nights are a massive event in the city as supporters pack into the Neyland Stadium, which can host up to 102,000 people.
In addition to this, Knoxville’s art and culture scenes are blooming, and lots of cultural events, art festivals, and music shows take place here during the year. With the Great Smoky Mountains National Park also lying nearby, the city makes for a great base if you want to explore the park’s myriad of trails while returning each evening for some delicious local fare and sumptuous craft beers.
6. Cummins Falls State Park
Named after the beautiful waterfall that lies at its heart, Cummins Falls State Park is home to lots of breathtakingly beautiful scenery; untouched and pristine nature surrounds the gorge and river that run through the park. With a very wild and rugged vibe, the state park makes for some fantastic hiking as you navigate streams, boulders, and weaving woodland paths to get to the waterfall.
The undoubted highlight, besides the scenic forest and gorge, is Cummins Falls itself. The cascades look absolutely majestic as water courses over the rock face to the pool below. A lovely thing to do here is to go swimming in the refreshing waters or enjoy a picnic.
Lying on the banks of the Tennessee River right on the border with Georgia, Chattanooga has long been a major railroad station. It is well-known internationally for Glenn Miller’s famous ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ song.
Due to its important and strategic use as a transport hub, Chattanooga was fiercely fought over during the American Civil War. As such, there are a number of interesting battlefields and historic sights for you to check out around town.
Nowadays, however, the main reason that people visit is for the city’s fantastic range of outdoor activities. It is not without good reason that Chattanooga is known as the ‘Scenic City,’ as gorgeous ridges, valleys, and mountains lie all around it. These natural wonders lend themselves perfectly to mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing, with lots of water sports also on offer.
To top it all off, the center of Chattanooga has a very lively feel, with plenty of great restaurants, bars, and breweries found among its beautiful old brick buildings.
4. Pigeon Forge
Best known for being home to Dollywood, the mountain resort town of Pigeon Forge is a fun and friendly place to visit that has something for everyone in the family to enjoy. With lots of souvenir shops, shopping malls, and amusement parks sprinkled around town, there is loads to see and do. Fun museums looking at everything from the Titanic and Hollywood Legends to Alcatraz and Southern Gospel music are on offer.
While country music fans, in particular, will love all the musical theaters and music-related museums and venues, the main attraction in town is, of course, the Dolly Parton theme park, which has loads of fun rides for you to try out.
Due to its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge is also a great base from which to enjoy the great outdoors. In the evening, you can return to the town tired but happy and watch a magic show or catch a performance.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Fantastic to visit at any time of year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is awash with stunning landscapes and breathtaking natural sights that change before your eyes as the seasons change. It is the most visited national park in the whole of the U.S. – once you visit, it is easy to see why. The majestic Great Smoky Mountains are almost entirely coated in verdant forests with a myriad of scenic paths and trails – such as the Appalachian -winding their way through the undergrowth.
As such, there are loads of great outdoor activities for you to try out, with hiking, mountain biking, and fly fishing all very popular. A wonderful way to see as much of the national park as possible is to camp overnight and wake up nice and early to check out some of the many historic sights, cultural landmarks, and breathtaking vistas found within its confines.
As it is widely considered to be the birthplace of blues music, it should come as no surprise to learn that music permeates Memphis’ soul. Along Beale Street, you’ll find dozens of lively bars and clubs that all have some fantastic live music for you to enjoy.
Throughout town, there are plenty of museums and monuments dedicated to various musicians, with Graceland – Elvis Presley’s former home – being the most popular.
Lying along the Mississippi River bordering Arkansas, Memphis is a lively place to visit, which attracts music lovers from all around the globe, and there is certainly a lot of fun to be had. While it used to be quite run down, in recent years, many great bars, restaurants, shops, and breweries have popped up, and one can’t visit Memphis without trying some of its famous and delicious barbecue dishes.
As well as being the capital of the state, Nashville is also the country music capital of the world. Consequently, there are loads of fantastic live music venues for you to check out, as well as museums dedicated to illustrious names such as Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
Despite being known as ‘Music City, USA,’ Nashville has many different sides to it and is now a center of culture and commerce in the region.
There are some wonderful old buildings and historic sights dotted about for you to discover, while its vibrant neighborhoods are packed full of unique boutiques, trendy bars, and cozy coffee shops, with lots of leafy parks.
The main reason that people visit, however, is for its music. Going to see the Grand Ole Opry radio program broadcast live or watching a gig at the historic Ryman Auditorium are both quintessentially Nashville experiences. In addition to this, no visit to the city can be complete without wandering around the brilliant Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.