People flock to Knoxville, Tennessee, for its southern hospitality, outdoor attractions, fine dining, and killer beer scene. From die-hard college football fans (Go Vols!) to its iconic Southern food (the BBQ can’t be missed), Knoxville offers a unique experience that can’t be described, it has to be witnessed firsthand.
If you’re on the hunt for an outdoor adventure, Knoxville is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, tons of hiking and biking trails, the Tennessee River, and public parks galore. For arts and culture, the downtown scene is home to art galleries, clubs, artisanal shops, and friendly locals from all walks of life.
To satisfy your food cravings, restaurants in Knoxville have perfected southern comfort food. If you’re a night owl, there’s a wide array of nightclubs, speakeasies, bars, and live music venues that will give you a taste of Knoxville after hours.
Sounds like a pretty neat vacation destination, right? Let’s dive in and learn more about the best Knoxville attractions and things to do in the area.
- Most significant landmark – World’s Fair Park
- Best park – Lakeshore Park
- Best free activity – Ijams Nature Center
- Best activity for kids – Zoo Knoxville
- Best activity for adults – Market Square
- Best food – Lonesome Dove Western Bistro
- Best nightlife – Maple Hall
- Best all-around accommodation – Crowne Plaza Hotel Knoxville
Best & Fun Things to do in Knoxville
If you’re planning a trip, we’re here to help! Here are the best attractions and things to see in Knoxville, Tennessee.
1. Market Square
Since the 1860s, Market Square has been a bustling area of Knoxville, Tennessee, that draws throngs of people to shop, explore, and eat. Market Square is home to unique eateries, bars, and coffee shops, along with artisanal shops, outdoor concerts, movies, and much more. If you booked Knoxville food tours on your trip, you’ll likely spend time in Market Square eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
If you’re looking for a spot to rest and people-watch, the Square fits the bill. Featuring picnic tables, trees, and splash pads, families, couples, and solo travelers can spend the day in Market Square and never get bored.
Visit the nearby Krutch Park, a serene public park with walking paths, a quaint waterfall, and lots of peace and quiet. For nightlife, this downtown area is host to the Preservation Pub, Scruffy City Hall, and the Square Room, all offering a fun night out on the town for tourists and locals.
As you can see, Market Square is a great spot for the whole family and for adults after hours. It’s centrally located and easy to access, and we’re confident you’ll find your way here more than once during your stay in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Looking for a place to rest your head near Market Square? Try the Crowne Plaza Hotel Knoxville, located just minutes from Market Square and popular for its amenities, price, and tasty breakfast.
See Related: Where to Stay in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Best Areas
2. Zoo Knoxville
Address: 3500 Knoxville Zoo Dr, Knoxville, TN 37914
Be sure to spend a day at the Knoxville Zoo if you have young kids in your group or you love animals. Zoo Knoxville features tons of fascinating animals from across the globe, from African elephants, giraffes, gorillas, red pandas, lions, tigers, otters, monkeys, and so much more.
You can easily spend the day wandering the zoo and never run out of animals or exhibits to explore. For the younger kids, the Zoo Choo train at the Zoo Knoxville gives an entertaining ride around the koi pond and is friendly for all ages.
Other than exhibits, guests can experience animal encounters, go on unique behind-the-scenes tours, feed the giraffes, and much more at Zoo Knoxville. There’s a splash pad to beat the heat in the summer months and a wild zipline experience for anyone brave enough to take a ride! You can get up close and personal with tortoises on the tortoise trail or go for a spin on the park’s carousel ride.
3. Knoxville Museum of Art
Address: 1050 World’s Fair Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37916
Explore and learn about Tennessee’s richly diverse culture and visuals at the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA). Located on the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, the Knoxville Museum of Art building is made from locally quarried pink Tennessee marble, making it a stunning sight to see.
Featuring compelling works of art from the 19th and 20th centuries, KMA strives to showcase local artists from Knoxville and the surrounding regions. Guests can enjoy the iconic, monumental glass installation by local Knoxville artist Richard Jolley and the museum’s first art installation, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee, when visiting the museum.
The Knoxville Museum of Art also showcases local students’ artwork, encouraging another generation to pursue the study of art and their passions. The Knoxville Museum of Art offers free admission to all guests.
See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit
4. Ijams Nature Center
Address: 2915 Island Home Ave, Knoxville, TN 37920
Spend the day outside at Ijams Nature Center, soaking up the sunshine and fresh air in east Tennessee. Ijams Nature Center is an outdoor nonprofit nature center that aims to inspire guests and locals to care for the Earth through education and interactive programs.
When you arrive, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center on-site for trail information, the gift shop, and animal exhibits. At Ijams Nature Center, guests can explore the surrounding hiking trails, ride mountain bikes, or spend time at Mead’s Quarry Lake swimming, kayaking, canoeing, or on a stand-up paddleboard.
Be sure to take a stroll around the River Boardwalk, which overlooks the Tennessee River and offers many breathtaking views. There’s even a beer garden on-site, so you can catch your breath after all the adventures.
Calling all fitness lovers! Ijams Crag is a fantastic spot to do some outdoor rock climbing and challenge yourself physically. There’s also a Primal Playground, where guests can get their sweat on by using stone, wood, and boulders for an intense workout.
For kids, the nature center features a Nature Playscape for forest and creek play. Kids can dig, climb, and explore in a five-acre area designed specifically for them. Jo’s Grove is a hillside play area where your kids can climb logs and enjoy time outdoors for hours.
East Tennessee is filled with stunning views and outdoor activities; you just have to know where to look. Ijams Nature Center will keep your entire party entertained for the day, and you’ll get a healthy dose of the beautiful southwest territory all in one trip.
5. Take in a show at the Tennessee Theatre
Address: 604 S Gay St, Knoxville, TN 37902
Built in 1928, the Tennessee Theatre is Knoxville’s movie palace, a grand entertainment venue that welcomes tourists and locals for many shows, movies, and performances throughout the year. The Tennessee Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was also named the Official State Theatre of Tennessee. Its decor is something to be remembered; from the Spanish-style interior, French chandeliers, and Italian terrazzo floor in the Grand Lobby, many cultures are honored in this historic building.
Guests can experience many exciting shows at the Tennessee Theatre, including the Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, stand-up comedians like Chelsea Handler and Chris Rock, musical performances including Cheap Trick and Amy Grant, and legendary Broadway plays like CATS.
The Tennessee Theatre is located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, making it the ideal spot to spend the evening. Grab dinner at any one of the unique local restaurants before your show, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the downtown area all evening long.
Additionally, the Knoxville Children’s Theater is a non-profit organization that produces shows for children and families, whether visitors of Knoxville or local. They aim to serve the community and enrich children’s lives through theater education and outreach. Be sure to check out the Knoxville Children’s Theater events calendar if you’re in town and want to take your kids to see a show!
For a place to stay downtown that doesn’t sacrifice comfort, the Tennesseean Personal Luxury Hotel will knock your socks off. Featuring a fine dining restaurant, fitness center, and dog-friendly amenities, guests love staying here for multiple nights.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Johnson City, Tennessee
6. Take a Brewery Tour
Knoxville is known for its iconic breweries, and you can’t visit the city without tasting some of its unique craft beers made by the locals. Book a hop-on and hop-off brewery tour by Brew Bus Knoxville that will guide you through the beer scene in eastern Tennessee.
Operating every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, this brewery transportation service will save you money on taxis and Uber rides by transporting your party around the downtown brewery scene for an affordable price. Visit up to 5 breweries and stay as long as you like!
The stops on this brewery transportation service include Printshop Brewing Co, home to tasty IPAs and sours. Head to Geezers Brewing for a taste of locally brewed Hazy IPAs and hard seltzers, with an awesome tap room to hang out in. The next stop is Xul Beer, home of the Kill the Lights Beer Festival and an outdoor space to enjoy beers and tasty bites from local restaurants and food trucks.
You can’t miss Next Level Brewing in Old North Knoxville for a memorable chat with the local owners and to taste one of their many beers on tap. Lastly, Elst Brewing Co. in the North Central area of Knoxville serves unique brews like the Habanero Juicy IPA and the Vanilla Milkshake IPA.
7. Explore Downtown Knoxville
Address: Gay St. and Market Square
Head to Gay Street to fully experience the magic of downtown Knoxville. Gay Street is home to Knoxville’s theater district and art district and has every variety of cuisine you can imagine within its streets. Various Knoxville food tours kick off on Market Square and Gay St., as there are endless locally-owned restaurants, cafes, and coffee houses.
Gay Street and Market Square are also home to exciting nightlife, sports bars, clubs, and lounges. Pick your poison, and you’ll surely find the vibe you enjoy. Don’t forget to stop at the Visitor Center for tips on Knoxville’s hot spots and to snap a picture of the brightly painted Knoxville mural.
Stop in at Maple Hall for an elevated bowling experience with spirits, leather couches, and a full bar. Visit the Knoxville Service Center and stroll through the Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place.
For an easy stay in the heart of downtown, you can’t go wrong with Cumberland House Knoxville, a Hilton property that has incredible reviews. Guests love the fitness center, restaurant, free parking, and the short trip to the airport.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Memphis, Tennessee
8. World’s Fair Park
Address: 525 Henley St, Knoxville, TN 37902
In 1982, Knoxville, Tennessee was home to the World’s Fair; once the fair ended, the 70-acre lot was abandoned for several years before it underwent a total renovation. It’s now World’s Fair Park and is one of the most beautiful and popular public parks in eastern Tennessee.
World’s Fair Park is home to the Festival Lawn, which is a 2-acre open lawn where many events are hosted throughout the year. World’s Fair Park has several splash pads for families to enjoy during the spring and summer months. It’s also home to the Tennessee Amphitheater, where many country and classical music concerts are performed.
One of the more noteworthy sights at World’s Fair Park is the Sunsphere, which was also built for the 1982 World’s Fair. The 4th floor of the Sunsphere is known as the Observation Deck, where guests can witness a jaw-dropping view of the Tennessee River, downtown Knoxville, the University of Tennessee, and the Smoky Mountains. World’s Fair Park is home to many local events, food truck festivals, concerts, and much more.
The East Tennessee Veteran’s Memorial is located at World’s Fair Park. It features the names of over 6,200 veterans from East Tennessee counties who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving in the U.S. military since World War I.
9. Blount Mansion
Address: 200 W Hill Ave, Knoxville, TN 37902
Blount Mansion, originally owned by William Blount, once served as the territorial capital of Knoxville, Tennessee. William Blount was appointed by George Washington to govern the southwest territory in 1792.
Blount was a U.S. Constitution signatory and played an important role in Tennessee becoming the nation’s 16th state. Today, Blount Mansion stands as Tennessee’s only National Historic Landmark and is Knoxville’s oldest operating museum, first opening in 1926.
Tucked into a quaint neighborhood in downtown Knoxville, Blount Mansion features lush green gardens, clean grounds, and many rooms to explore, including an upstairs loft, the family’s parlor, the sitting room, Blount’s office, and the outdoor space.
Blount Mansion welcomes guests for tours, historical dinners, and seasonal events where they can experience the birthplace of Tennessee through education and entertainment. Blount Mansion is a must-see for the history lovers in your group, as it provides a close-up look at Blount’s lasting impact on the old city.
See Related: Best Cheap Places to Travel in the US
10. Mabry Hazen House Museum
Address: 1711 Dandridge Ave, Knoxville, TN 37915
The Mabry Hazen House Museum is a historic home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was built in 1858 and offers a beautiful view of downtown Knoxville, the Smoky Mountains, and the Tennessee River. Three generations of the same family lived in the home, which now houses over 2,500 original artifacts, including items from the original Market Square, the Civil War, and other important historical events in Knoxville.
The Mabry-Hazen House served as the headquarters for both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. Guests can schedule guided tours of the home with a local docent who will provide interesting details and insight into life in Knoxville dating back to the 1800s.
11. James White Fort
Address: 205 East Hill Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37915
Witness Knoxville’s first home by touring James White Fort, built in 1786. James White Fort is one of the most historic places in Knoxville, and the home-turned-museum showcases the life of James White, the founder of Knoxville.
Guests can explore the outdoor courtyard, where livestock and animals spent their days. You’ll wander through the main house and kitchen, all the original structure, aside from the doors, windows, and roof. Take note of the large, original fireplace, the dry stone sink, and many original kitchen utensils, dishware, and storage items.
You’ll walk through the weaving house where clothes were made, the large guesthouse, and the blacksmith shop (which is still operational!). For the history buffs in your group, James White Fort is a must-see and will give you a firsthand look at what life was like in Knoxville in the 1800s.
12. Visit the University of Tennessee Campus
Address: Knoxville, TN 37996
You can’t come to Knoxville and not witness the stunning campus of the University of Tennessee. UT Knoxville is the largest university in the state, and Big Orange Country is a feeling of community that you have to experience firsthand.
Catch a college football game at Neyland Stadium and cheer on the Vols to bring home a win. Wander through UT Gardens, the most beautiful Knoxville botanical garden, with incredible sculptures, woodland areas, a children’s garden, an arboretum collection, a rock garden, a stunning rose collection, and more. UT Gardens draws visitors from all over the country to witness its beauty.
If you want to stay in a funky hotel near the University of Tennessee, the Graduate Knoxville is less than a mile from campus. Guests love its convenience to campus, Market Square, and many other exciting attractions in Knoxville.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA
13. Lakeshore Park
Address: 5930 Lyons View Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919
Lakeshore Park is a public park located in Knoxville, Tennessee, that offers walking trails and paths, playgrounds, sports fields, and more for guests and locals. Lakeshore Park features 185 acres right on the Tennessee River and hosts approximately 1 million visitors each year. It’s the most popular public park in Knoxville and east Tennessee and is home to youth sports and seasonal activities throughout the year.
Local festivals, concerts, corporate events, and sports tournaments take place at Lakeshore Park. The vast open space makes it an ideal place for large groups of people to enjoy themselves.
The park features outdoor picnic areas, plenty of space to sit and relax, and public restrooms. Enjoy beautiful views of the river and the Smoky Mountains as you stroll, run, or bike and get some fresh air.
14. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture
Address: 1327 Cir Park Dr, Knoxville, TN 37996
Located on the University of Tennessee campus, the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture focuses on natural history, archaeology, local history, and anthropology. The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture has current exhibits featuring the stonework of notable sculptor William Edmonson and a natural history print collection of North American mammals by John James Audubon.
The museum is home to impressive art collections, including Ancient Roman objects, Tang Dynasty objects, antique maps, nature prints, and much more. The McClung Museum hosts various events throughout the year to educate the public on various topics in archaeology, anthropology, and more.
15. Explore the Old City Neighborhood
Old City is a unique neighborhood in the historic district of Knoxville that features amazing art galleries, restaurants, coffee houses, nightlife, and entertainment spaces. Explore Old City and enjoy its architecture that nods to Knoxville’s history. Many distilleries and art galleries are housed in century-old buildings- it’s all part of the charm of Old City!
Some of the best restaurants in the area include Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Southern Grit, and Tako Taco. If it’s an adult beverage you’re after, try Public House or Brother Wolf. Blue Slip Winery and Pour Taproom are also must-see spots if you’re in the area.
Many ghost tours take place in Old City; it’s rumored to be where criminals were hung during the town’s riots in 1919. Are you sold on a stay in Old City Knoxville? Try this bright loft, with amazing views, easy access to downtown Knoxville, and convenient amenities for your trip.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Nashville, Tennessee
16. Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame
Address: 700 S Hall of Fame Dr, Knoxville, TN 37915
Visit the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a walk through history as you learn and explore the many women who contributed to the legacy of women’s basketball. The Hall of Fame opened in 1999 and is also home to the world’s largest basketball, measuring 30 feet tall and weighing 10 tons.
Guests of the building can play basketball on the three courts, including a passing skills area and a dribbling course. Enjoy a fun photo area with some of the noteworthy women in the sport and strike a pose!
When you enter the Pat Summit Rotunda, you’ll see the 17-foot bronze Eastman Statue, which strives to “honor the past, celebrate the present, and promote the future” of women’s basketball. For some female empowerment and a history lesson, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is a great place to spend a few hours on your trip.
17. Muse Knoxville
Address: 516 N Beaman St, Knoxville, TN 37914
If your kiddos need some entertainment or inspiration, spend a few hours at Muse Knoxville, a local children’s museum. Muse Knoxville features many exciting exhibits, including a reading area, a sandbox, a building area with LEGOs and blocks, an illumination station with lights, a STEM station, and a make-space to use real tools and create masterpieces.
Head outside to the music garden, outdoor playground, and play space. You can also explore the public Planetarium and gaze at the night sky.
There’s also a science garden where kids can work with seasonal flowers and produce. Muse Knoxville strives to empower all children to use their imagination and gain new skills through hands-on activities.
18. Shop at Turkey Creek
Address: 11197 Parkside Dr, Knoxville, TN 37934
Get your shop on by stopping at the Turkey Creek shopping mall in Knoxville, Tennessee. From luxury shopping to fine dining, happy hour spots, and a movie theater, you’ll find hours of good times at Turkey Creek.
Featuring shops like J. Crew Factory, DSW, and Old Navy, this is your place to shop if you need new clothes on vacation. Grab a bite to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Robin, or Zaxby’s. Need a drink? Try the margarita at Salsarita’s or chill out with a beer at Chili’s.
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Knoxville, seeing a movie at the Regal Cinema at Turkey Creek is a great way to put your feet up and be entertained. Bring home souvenirs from your trip or simply spend a few hours wandering around the shops at Turkey Creek; it’s totally up to you!
See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World
19. Historic Ramsey House
Address: 2614 Thorn Grove Pike, Knoxville, TN 37914
Built in 1797, the historic Ramsey House is one of Knoxville’s most historic places and draws great crowds throughout the year. The house is built with beautiful pink marble and blue limestone.
Ramsey House was known as the finest home in Tennessee for its elegance and architectural sophistication during that time. It houses an impressive art collection, and the original interior is still intact.
Guests will learn all about Colonel Francis Alexander Ramsey, one of the first settlers in Knox County, and his family who lived in the home, along with staff, residents, and visitors. Trained staff is available for daily guided tours, where you’ll experience the beautiful architecture firsthand and learn about life in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the early 1800s.
20. East Tennessee History Center
Address: 601 S Gay St, Knoxville, TN 37902
Head to Gay Street for a rich history lesson all about Knoxville at the East Tennessee History Center. Acting as a public library and museum, the East Tennessee History Center contains fascinating information about the old city and its generations of people, culture, art, and more.
The history center focuses on all 35 counties in East Tennessee and works to accurately represent the region’s past through artifacts, photographs, the written word, interviews, and much more. Located in the Custom House in downtown Knoxville just blocks from the historic district, the East Tennessee History Center features many exhibits, including Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee, which emphasizes the last 300 years of life in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Visitors will learn about the early days of frontier life in Knoxville and the hardships people faced. Past exhibits include dedications to the 1982 World’s Fair, recounts of Tennessee’s contributions to the marble industry, and exhibits with artifacts used throughout the Civil War. The museum participates in the East Tennessee history fair, a traditional celebration of Knoxville, Tennessee, where actors re-enact time periods from Knoxville’s early days of settlement.
21. Pigeon Forge Day Trip
Yes, yes, yes, Knoxville has definitely got it going on, but suppose you’ve already been there and got the T-shirt for everything I’ve listed above. In that case, I highly recommend a quick day trip to Pigeon Forge!
About 45 minutes south of Knoxville, Pigeon Forge is a great place to visit or stay. With fun activities for families and kids, you’ll have a blast exploring this Smoky Mountains town on a day trip.
Pigeon Forge is the home of Dollywood, the one and only Dolly Parton’s charming theme park (and a ViaTravelers fave!). But that’s not all.
Pigeon Forge features a number of other fantastic theme parks, offering family attractions, including mini golf, go-karts, various fairground rides, and rollercoasters, as well as outdoor adventures like ziplining, white water rafting, and even zorbing. If you and the gang are looking to get the blood pumping, book a family floating tour in the Smoky Mountains for a water adventure!
Having too much fun in Pigeon Forge and need to stay the night? Check out the Inn on The River for an affordable, cozy stay near all the best attractions.
What are the best tourist attractions in Knoxville, Tennessee?
For history lovers, many come to Knoxville to immerse themselves in the history of the sixteenth state. Tourists can head to James White Fort, Knoxville’s first home since 1786. Pop into the Historic Ramsey House, the finest home in Tennessee at its peak. World’s Fair Park is a monumental piece of Knoxville’s history. The Observation Deck in the Sunsphere at the same site offers an incredible view of the Tennessee River, Smoky Mountains, and downtown Knox.
What are some fun things to do in Knoxville?
Knoxville is filled to the brim with fun activities for any age. Hit the bowling lanes at Maple Hall for some friendly competition and tasty drinks. Explore Market Square and its quaint shops, charming antiques, coffee shops, and delectable food spots.
Witness the many beautiful floral collections at UT Gardens, the official state botanical garden of Tennessee. Enjoy a country music concert at the Tennessee Amphitheater in World’s Fair Park, then explore the many acres of green space and outdoor activities.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Knoxville, Tennessee?
Kids thrive in Knoxville! Take them on a wild animal adventure at Zoo Knoxville, or encourage them to explore the great outdoors at Ijams Nature Center. For some indoor and outdoor brain stimulation, Muse Knoxville is an entertaining children’s museum where kids can learn and have fun all at once.
What are some things to do in Knoxville when it’s raining?
Rain won’t stop you from having a great time in Knoxville! The Knoxville Museum of Art is indoors, and you can spend several hours combing through the exhibits. The Tennessee Theater features weekly shows, musicals, and live performances that can be enjoyed any time of day. Hit the stores at Turkey Creek and shop til you drop til the rain stops.