Whether it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, conquering the coasters at Dollywood, savouring some Jack Daniels and barbecue, making the pilgrimage to Graceland or paying your respects at the National Civil Rights Museum, it’s hard to beat the variety of things to do in Tennessee. This Southern destination mixes historic and modern in places like Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Look for Civil War sites, civil rights monuments and some of music’s most legendary landmarks right alongside world-class cultural venues, trendy food spots and craft distilleries and breweries.
When it comes to music, Tennessee is legendary for the foot-tapping, soul-saving kind – blues, bluegrass, country, rock and roll, and everything in between. In Memphis, pay homage to the King at Elvis Presley’s estate at Graceland, or duck into a blues bar on Beale Street. Catch live music at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and get a little bit country at the Grand Ole Opry. Visit Bristol, the Birthplace of Country Music, where the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers found their fame, and check out the schoolhouse-turned-museum honouring Tennessee native Tina Turner in Brownsville.
For those with an interest for ‘The Great Outdoors’, you can discover Appalachian mountain culture, witness the breath-taking beauty of autumn leaves or explore endless hiking trails and peaceful waterfalls. These are all reasons why Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the USA’s most-visited natural treasure. Beyond this famed national park, outdoor thrill-seekers can raft the Ocoee River in Cleveland, zip-line through treetops in Gatlinburg or explore one of the 56 state parks. Don’t miss a chance to take a riverboat cruise on the mighty Mississippi in Memphis or visit Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge.
On a culinary level, Tennessee is a constant discovery of mouth-watering flavours and fresh seasonal dishes, from award-winning barbeque in Memphis and the iconic Loveless Café in Nashville, which has been serving comforting home-cooked Southern favourites, like hot biscuits and country ham, for over 65 years to trendy farm-to-table restaurants and the booming local distilleries and brew house scene.
Like a bit of history? Then you won’t be disappointed. Visits to battlefields like Shiloh will take you right back to the Civil War, while there’s the story of the civil rights movement to discover in Memphis, where Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Must See Places in Tennessee
The Smokies: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Park highlights include a variety of flora and fauna, more than 900 miles of hiking trails, and the 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome, with its Observation Tower perched atop the mountain’s summit and offering 360-degree views.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate is the top attraction in Memphis. Tours of the stately home provide a unique glimpse into the King’s life, and nothing has been changed since he passed away there in 1977. Undoubtedly the most famous rock ‘n’ roll residence in the world, Graceland remains a place of pilgrimage to fans from far and wide. Highlights include the family tomb, an impressive collection of cars, aircraft, and memorabilia, and tours of his living quarters, including the music room, TV room, and Jungle Den.
Memphis and Nashville
No US state can claim the rich musical tapestry that’s evident everywhere in Tennessee. The centre of the nation’s country music scene, Nashville is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame in the city’s famous Music Row. Then, of course, there’s Memphis, the home of gospel and blues, and famous for Beale Street where the greats like Elvis got his big break.
Dollywood Theme Park
Named after country singer Dolly Parton, Dollywood has long been Tennessee’s most popular ticketed attraction, luring more than three million visitors per year. In the small town of Pigeon Forge, this always busy theme park provides family fun with its mix of folksy Smoky Mountains traditions and crafts, thrilling rides, and entertainment.
Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley Railroad
Tennessee has had a long love affair with the railroad. Along with the mighty Mississippi, railways were of vital importance for the shipping of wood and cotton during peacetime and military supplies during war. Fortunately, much of this rich heritage has been preserved, from the original terminal and an engine from the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo to heritage trolleys and fancy Pullman cars restored as luxury accommodation. Perhaps the most ambitious project has been the Tennessee Valley Railroad, which offers hour-long steam trips.
Knoxville is a good base from which to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first capital of the state, its most noticeable landmark is the Sunsphere Tower with its observation decks and views over the downtown core. The city also played an important role in the Civil War, as evidenced in the Confederate Memorial Hall, which recalls the siege of the city in 1863 and was used as the headquarters of Confederate General James Longstreet.
Overlooking Chattanooga and offering some of Tennessee’s best views, Lookout Mountain makes for an excellent day or half-day outing. Getting there is half the fun, especially aboard the wonderful Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, a mile-long journey on trolley-style cars at an incline of 73%. Once at the top, you’ve got a number of excellent natural attractions to choose from, including Rock City with its dramatic cliffs and great views, and Ruby Falls, the deepest cave and largest underground waterfall in the US.