17 BEST Places to Visit in Tennessee [December 2019]

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Tennessee is located in the southern region of the US. It’s a state that has a little bit of everything. From vibrant cities to rustic towns to a buzzing craft beer and whiskey scene and out-of-this-world southern cuisine, it has something for all types of travelers.

The capital, Nashville, is known as Music City and famed for its country music roots. The southwest city of Memphis is the home of blues and rock-n-roll, and Elvis Presley’s mansion complex, Graceland. 

The Great Smoky Mountains lie on the eastern side of Tennessee. They’re dotted with quaint mountain towns that have plenty to offer for outdoor enthusiasts and active visitors. 

If you’re planning a trip to this southern state, here are the 17 best Tennessee vacation spots!

#1 – Nashville

Easily one of the most fun places to check out in Tennessee

Nashville

Nashville (Photo credit – timeout.com )

  • The capital of Tennessee
  • There are more than 150 live music venues in Nashville

Nashville is the most populated city in the state of Tennessee. It’s mostly known for its strong country music roots, but the city is filled with a wide range of attractions. From large scenic parks to museums to a buzzing bar and restaurant scene, Nashville has a little bit of everything!

Best Attractions
  • The Grand Ole Opry is an iconic music venue that features weekly American country music performances. It showcases both country legends and modern artists and is considered country music’s most famous stage. This is hands-down one of the top places to go in Tennessee if you’re a fan of country music!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Nashville, Tennessee 

#2 – Memphis

One of the most amazing places in Tennessee!

Memphis

Memphis (Photo credit – tripsavvy.com )

  • Located on the banks of the Mississippi River
  • In 1977 Congress officially recognized Beale Street in downtown Memphis as the “Home of the Blues”

Memphis is the second most populated city in the state of Tennessee. Similar to Nashville, Memphis is filled with idyllic parks, plenty of museums dedicated to music, and a pulsating live music scene. However, whereas Nashville is all about country music, Memphis is known as the home of the blues music and the birthplace of rock-n-roll!

Best Attractions
  • Graceland is one of the top Tennessee points of interest. This mansion complex was once owned by the King himself, Elvis Presley. Guests can tour the complex and gain a unique glimpse into the King’s life. Nothing in the house has changed since his passing in 1977.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Memphis, Tennessee 

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#3 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A beautiful outdoor place to visit in Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Photo credit – gsmnp.com )

  • Located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina
  • The most visited national park in the United States

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most scenic attractions in Tennessee. Guests can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities, from camping to biking to horseback riding, fishing, and more! The park has trails to suit all skill levels, from family-friendly hiking paths to adventurous back-country backpacking!

Best Attractions
  • Cades Cove is the most popular area in the national park. Take the Cades Cove Loop Road for the best Tennessee sightseeing opportunity. On this one way paved lane you’ll see buildings and historic structures from early pioneer farms. It’s also a prime area for wildlife spotting!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee 

#4 – Knoxville

One of the most underrated places to see in Tennessee

Knoxville

Knoxville (Photo credit – livability.com )

  • Knoxville is located on the doorsteps of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • The Tennessee River cuts through the city

Knoxville is a hidden-gem in Tennessee! Although the city’s claim to fame is its offering of outdoor attractions, you’ll also find plenty of indoor activities. There are museums that cater to all ages, and a great blend of entertainment and cultural attractions. Knoxville has a friendly, small-town mentality but a big-city appeal!

Best Attractions
  • Market Square is the heart and hub of downtown Knoxville. It has a lively vibe and offers plenty of shopping and dining options. Events are also regularly hosted in Market Square, including First Friday, festivals, and live music.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Knoxville, Tennessee 

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#5 – Dollywood

Awesome place to visit in Tennessee with kids!

Dollywood

Dollywood (Photo credit – tripadvisor.com )

  • Located in the small town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
  • This theme park features more than 40 rides, spread across 10 themed areas

Named after country singer Dolly Parton, Dollywood is a theme park that provides plenty of family fun. It offers a mix of folksy crafts, themed rides, live concerts, and entertainment all ages will enjoy. From fast-paced roller coasters to kiddie rides to water slides, there’s something for everyone! The park also offers dining options and fun dinner shows.

Best Attractions
  • The Dollywood Express is an old steam railway that circles the park. This authentic coal-fired steam engine takes you on a five-mile, 20-minute ride through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful Tennessee landscape!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Dollywood, Tennessee 

#6 – Chattanooga

A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Tennessee

Chattanooga

Chattanooga (Photo credit – rjyoung.com )

  • Chattanooga is located in southeast Tennessee near the border of Georgia
  • Situated between the southwestern ridge-and-valley Appalachians and the foot of Walden’s Ridge

Chattanooga’s official nickname is “Scenic City” which is reinforced by its abundance of outdoor activities. The city is surrounded by mountains and ridges alluring all fans of open-air excursions. Inside the city, downtown Chattanooga is a must-visit. It showcases a wide variety of entertainment, dining, and cultural attractions.

Best Attractions
  • The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway runs up Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. It provides beautiful, breath-taking views in every direction. The ride takes about 15 minutes each direction. At the top of the mountain, you’ll find an observation deck as well as food and gift shops.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Chattanooga, Tennessee 

#7 – Gatlinburg

One of the nicer places in Tennessee to sightsee!

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg (Photo credit – gatlinburg.com )

  • From November to February Gatlinburg’s Downtown Parkway is lit up with unique lighting displays
  • The city boasts a nice selection of local breweries, distilleries, and wineries

Gatlinburg is nestled at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This quaint resort town is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee to explore nature. Gatlinburg is home to Tennessee’s only ski resort, making it an attractive destination in winter. During the warmer months, camping, fishing, white water rafting, and hiking are popular activities.

Best Attractions
  • Gatlinburg Skylift Park offers guests the best views of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains. The Gatlinburg Skybridge is North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. Cross over and see this vast mountain ridge from a different perspective! You can also visit the SkyDeck if you prefer a more grounded viewing platform.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Gatlinburg, Tennessee 

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#8 – Franklin

One of Tennessee’s coolest historical sites!

Franklin

Franklin (Photo credit – livability.com )

  • Located just 17 miles south of Nashville
  • One of the best cities to visit in Tennessee for history lovers

Franklin offers a unique blend of historic and modern allure. The city contains the site from one of the bloodiest wars fought in the Civil War, the Battle of Franklin. You’ll find many historic locations spread throughout the city. The charming historic Main Street is lined with antique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and more!

Best Attractions
  • The Carter House is a historic Civil War-era home. During the Battle of Franklin, the house was taken in possession by a Union Army General. The Carters were forced to hide in the basement while the battle raged around their home. If you love history, this is one of the coolest places to see in Tennessee!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Franklin, Tennessee  

#9 – Bristol

Bristol

Bristol (Photo credit – believeinbristol.org )

  • A city in two states, Bristol straddles both sides of the Tennessee-Virginia state line
  • The main street acts as the border between the two states

Many people think Nashville is the birthplace of country music, but in 1998 the U.S. Congress recognized Bristol as the official “Birthplace of Country Music”! The city’s other claim to fame is the Bristol Motor Speedway, a legendary NASCAR short-track. The speedway is one of the largest sporting venues in the world!

Best Attractions
  • The Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCM) allows visitors to learn all about the country music genre. The museum is located in Bristol, Virginia. It showcases the role of both Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia in the birth and development of country music. It’s filled with fun and educational hands-on exhibits all ages will enjoy.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Bristol, Tennessee 

#10 – Clarksville

Clarksville

Clarksville (Photo credit – onlyinyourstate.com )

  • Clarksville is the fifth-largest city in Tennessee
  • For a larger town, it has a surprisingly small-town charm and appeal

Clarksville is full of history and character. The charming downtown area contains a collection of 1870’s buildings. At the Historic Collinsville Pioneer Settlement, you can learn about the Civil War events that took place in the area. The Cumberland River borders the city and provides a peaceful place for visitors to enjoy leisurely water activities.

Best Attractions
  • The Dunbar Caves are located inside the 110-acre Dunbar Cave State Park. Stretching 8 miles inward, this is one of the largest cave systems in the US! Explore the incredible depth and marvel at the indigenous cave drawings.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Clarksville, Tennessee 

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#11 – Rock Island State Park

A very cool place in Tennessee to go for a day

Rock Island State Park

Rock Island State Park (Photo credit – get-offline.com )

  • The park spans 883 acres
  • Known for its beautiful cascading waterfalls

Rock Island State Park is a great attraction in Tennessee for fans of the outdoors and water activities. Enjoy hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or just relaxing. The park has several swimming holes (swim at own risk), a sandy beach, and a boat ramp. If you’re looking for vacation spots in Tennessee where you can camp, the state park has 10 cabins and 60 campsites.

Best Attractions
  • The Eagles Trail is a 1.5-mile moderate hike. It runs from the Blue Hole picnic area to the park’s natural sand beach on Center Hill Lake. Make sure to keep your camera ready, the path is filled with an abundance of birds and wildflowers!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Rock Island State Park, Tennessee 

#12 – Johnson City

Johnson City

Johnson City (Photo credit – shepherdsmen.com )

  • Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains
  • From mountains and lakes to shopping outlets and museums, this city has a little bit of everything

Johnson City offers a great mix of outdoor activities and cultural attractions. It has a bustling downtown, with art galleries, local boutiques, and antique stores. It’s also a food hub that features great local and regional restaurants and craft breweries. With such an eclectic range of activities, this is a Tennessee vacation spot that has something for everyone!

Best Attractions
  • Winged Deer Park is a 200-acre urban space with softball and soccer fields, batting cages, an 18-hole disc golf course and miles of paved trails. The lakefront area features volleyball courts and public boating access. If you’re a fan of outdoor sports, you’ll find this to be one of the best Tennessee attractions!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Johnson City, Tennessee 

#13 – Townsend 

A perfect place to visit in Tennessee if you are on a budget!

Townsend 

Townsend (Photo credit – tnvacation.com )

  • Townsend is known for its preservation of Southern Appalachian culture
  • It offers plenty of budget-friendly hotels, restaurants, and attractions

Townsend is one of three “gateways” to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a quaint, small-town that’s perfect for budget travelers, or anyone wanting a peaceful, low-key vacation. Explore the local museums, see historical buildings, and enjoy outdoor activities like horseback riding, river tubing, and hiking.

Best Attractions
  • The Tuckaleechee Caverns are hidden beneath the surface and offer a unique glimpse of nature. The caves are believed to be between 20 and 30 million years old but were only discovered in the mid-19th century. For unique sightseeing in Tennessee, make sure to add these caves to your travel list!

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Townsend, Tennessee 

#14 – Murfreesboro

A fascinating educational place to visit in Tennessee

Murfreesboro

Murfreesboro (Photo credit – tnvacation.com )

  • Located in the geographic center of Tennessee
  • Murfreesboro is just a 40-minute drive (34 miles) from Nashville

Murfreesboro is known for its strong ties to the American Civil War. From prominent Civil War battlefields to 19th-century mansions to a small village staged to highlight early Tennessee life, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time! This city is one of the best Tennessee destinations for history buffs.

Best Attractions
  • Stones River National Battlefield is the site of the Battle of Stones River. This was one of the bloodiest battles fought during the Civil War. Around the battlefield, there are seven miles of trails with information about the battle. It’s a very educational and moving place to visit.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Murfreesboro, Tennessee 

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#15 – Oak Ridge

One of the more unique places to visit in Tennessee!

Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge (Photo credit – atomicheritage.org )

  • Located 25 miles west of Knoxville
  • Oak Ridge is one of the most unique Tennessee tourist attractions

Oak Ridge is a city with a fascinating past. It’s nicknamed the Atomic Bomb City and the Secret City. It was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project. Today, it has many sites visitors can explore that are related to WWII. Oak Ridge is also surrounded by nature and offers plenty of activities for outdoor entertainment.

Best Attractions
  • The American Museum of Science and Energy is a place where guests can learn about energy – in particular, nuclear power. It shows the role Oak Ridge played in the infamous Manhattan Project and is a must-see when you visit the city.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Oak Ridge, Tennessee 

#16 – The Burgess Falls State Park

The Burgess Falls State Park

The Burgess Falls State Park (Photo credit – etsy.com )

  • The area was formerly populated by the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw Native American tribes
  • The park is open year-round but can be closed on days with high precipitation

Burgess Falls State Park is one of the most picturesque places in Tennessee to visit. The park is revered for its natural beauty. There are four cascading waterfalls that tower down from 250 feet in elevation. Throughout the park, you’ll find hiking trails suitable for all skill levels.

Best Attractions
  • Ridge Top Trail is a one-mile moderate hike that offers scenic views down the main canyon of the Falling Water River. The trail is primarily used for walking and bird watching. It’s best enjoyed from January until September.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in The Burgess Falls State Park, Tennessee 

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#17 – Columbia

Quite the quirky place in Tennessee!

Columbia

Columbia (Photo credit – flickr.com )

  • Located 45 minutes south of Nashville
  • It has an old town feel but contains lots of modern attractions

Columbia perfectly represents small-town America. It has a friendly vibe and a charming historic appeal. Filled with restaurants, craft breweries, local shops, and a bustling arts district, it’s quirky and creative. Columbia’s close proximity to Nashville makes it the perfect place to take a day trip!

Best Attractions
  • President James K. Polk Home and Museum is the only surviving residence of the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk. The house was built in 1816 and is accessible to guests via guided tours. See personal belongings owned by the family while living in Columbia.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Columbia, Tennessee 

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best places to vacation in Tennessee. As you can tell, this state is made up of fascinating cities; each with its own unique character and charm.

Whether your ideal vacation involves history, music, nature, shopping, or whatever else, you’ll find there’s a city that fits perfectly with your travel requirements.

The best part is, Tennessee isn’t a considerably large state, meaning you can easily visit more than one city on your vacation. Even if it’s just for a day trip, we recommend seeing as much of this gorgeous state as possible!

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About the Author Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson lives to travel! Born in Washington D.C., Emma is a hotel connoisseur and a staff writer at Hotel Jules. An army brat, Emma got the travel bug early and has never been able to stop. Now, she has proudly visited 70+ countries and plans to visit every country in the world! Passionate about her ukelele (obviously) and her family, Emma eventually wants to retire in Thailand and write a book about all of her travel experiences.