The Volunteer State appeals to all kinds of travelers, from history buffs to nature lovers to music enthusiasts. With so many things to see and do here, it can be hard to know where to start. That's why iSupport Local TN took into account a variety of factors – including diversity of attractions, accessibility, affordability and culinary options – to determine the best places to visit in Tennessee. Want to have a say in next year's list? Vote for your favorite destination below. Tell us your favorite places in Tennessee.
#1 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Gatlinburg makes a great base for travelers looking to spend their vacation outdoors. Nestled within eastern Tennessee's section of the Great Smoky Mountains, this town boasts proximity to multiple hiking trails and ski slopes. Plus, Gatlinburg features several parks ideal for picnics and leisurely strolls. For some of the town's best panoramas, climb aboard the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, head to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle or walk across Gatlinburg SkyLift Park's suspension bridge. No visit would be complete without checking out Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.
Why Go To Gatlinburg
With three entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, it's no surprise that visiting the park is the most popular attraction in this eastern Tennessee town. In fact, it's such a hit that Gatlinburg's population balloons during peak tourist season from less than 4,000 residents to more than 40,000. With miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as historical exhibits and cabins, and the opportunity to view black bears, elk, deer and other wildlife in their natural habitat, it's easy to see why the park is such a hot spot. When you're not in the park enjoying its natural wonders, you'll likely spend time admiring it from several of Gatlinburg's top attractions, including the Gatlinburg Space Needleand the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.
But Gatlinburg isn't just a gateway to the Smokies. This small mountain town is a destination in its own right, and one that's particularly popular with families thanks to kid-friendly diversions like Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies and the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre. To get a taste of local Gatlinburg culture, skip the kitschy souvenir shops and visit one of several local galleries, including the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community, to watch local artists and craftsmen create everything from paintings and pottery to handmade brooms and jewelry.
#2 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Memphis played a significant role in developing the blues, soul and rock 'n' roll musical genres, so much so that artists like Elvis Presley, W.C. Handy and Otis Redding recorded songs here. Today, the musical city offers a taste of this history at many of its top attractions, including Graceland, Sun Studio and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Memphis is also known for its ties to the civil rights movement. Visit the National Civil Rights Museum, which occupies the former Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated), to learn more about this important period in American history.
Why Go To Memphis
Memphis is constantly grooving, either to the songs of Elvis echoing throughout the city or to the tunes of up-and-coming musicians along Beale Street. Graceland is the major draw for many; however, audiophiles who come only for Elvis will be pleased to find out that Memphis has much more to offer. Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes and B.B. King also nurtured their unique sounds in Memphis bars and recording studios. Along with the significant role Memphis played in music history, this city also serves as a poignant reminder of the civil rights movement. It was here that Martin Luther King Jr. petitioned for the equal rights of Black sanitation workers in 1968. After leading a peaceful protest in March, King returned to the city on April 3 only to be assassinated a day later at the Lorraine Motel, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. There's a third, sometimes overlooked reason to plan a Memphis visit. The "Cradle of American Music" delivers good eats, as well as good tunes and good history lessons. Consider a spring or fall trip (the summer heat here is staggering) to try out a few culinary – and distinctly Southern – favorites. The region's finger-lickin' barbecue and buttery grits should be at the top of any aspiring foodie's list. For more information on the city's history, food and tunes, sign up for one of the best Memphis tours.
Great Smokey Mountain National Park
#3 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Situated south of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers 800-plus miles of hiking trails, including some that take you to breathtaking waterfalls like Abrams, Grotto and Laurel falls. America's most-visited national park also provides ample opportunities to fish, bike, ride horses and camp (weather permitting). But remember, the Smokies are home to approximately 1,500 wild black bears, so stay alert, keep your distance and properly store your food at all times.
Why Go To Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans both Tennessee and North Carolina, with the border running through the center of the 522,427-acre tract. The mountains have a long history of human settlers from the prehistoric Paleo Indians to 19th-century European settlers. Today, more than 10 million people visit the park each year – it's one of the few free national parks in America – to enjoy scenic drives to Cades Cove or along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and outdoor activities like hiking, biking and fishing. Pack a picnic for stunning hikes to Abrams or Rainbow Falls, or bike the Cades Cove Loop on Wednesday and Saturday mornings when the road is closed to traffic. Learn the history of the park at the Cades Cove Visitor Center and explore the historic gristmill and Cable Mill or stop by Sugarlands Visitor Center to see wildlife exhibits, view a film on the park and pick up unique souvenirs at the gift shop.
#4 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Tennessee's third-largest city perfectly blends outdoor recreation with urban amenities. In the 1,000-acre plot of forested land that comprises Knoxville's Urban Wilderness, visitors can explore 50-plus miles of trails, swim in pristine lakes and get an adrenaline rush while zip lining, among other activities. For a more leisurely dose of nature, head to the University of Tennessee Gardens. Additional must-dos include visiting the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Zoo Knoxville and the Knoxville Museum of Art.
Why Go To Knoxville
Tennessee's third-largest city, and the site of its first capital, often flies under the radar, but once visitors get acquainted with the historic and charming Knoxville and its accessible downtown, as well as its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains, they often become fans. One of Knoxville's most famous landmarks is the gleaming Sunsphere, a 266-foot-tall, gold-tinted tower built for the 1982 World's Fair. Now an observatory, located in the World's Fair Park, it's just one of the city's many attractions. Downtown Knoxville is full of interesting independent shops and restaurants, many radiating out from popular Market Square. The Tennessee River runs alongside downtown, so many locals and visitors get out on the water by kayak, canoe or river boat cruise. Historic attractions abound, especially Civil War sites, battlegrounds and homes. Furthermore, friendly residents with a genuine welcoming attitude, lots of green spaces, tasty southern cuisine and an-easy-to-navigate downtown make Knoxville an appealing city to visit.
#5 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Chattanooga's most well-known attribute may perhaps be Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the oldest and largest Civil War park in the country. But there's more to this city than its rich history. Travelers can enjoy incredible views of the Scenic City from Ruby Falls (which is home to America's tallest underground waterfall accessible to the public) and Rock City Gardens (where visitors can see seven states from a platform located 1,700 feet above the ground). Plus, families will find kid-friendly attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium – the world's largest freshwater aquarium – and the Chattanooga Zoo within city limits.
Why Go To Chattanooga
Situated along the Tennessee River and nestled among the mountains of Southeast Tennessee, Chattanooga has truly earned its nickname as the "Scenic City." Once named the most polluted city in America by the Department of Health, Chattanooga has experienced an urban revitalization over the past few decades, making sustainability a priority and giving the city a much-needed boost of diversity without losing touch of its small-town charm. Chattanooga is known as a historical hub, having served as a Civil War battlefield and the grand central station for southern railway travel in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the city is a pioneer of different sorts, as one of the first cities in the U.S. to offer its citizens 2 gigabits per second (read: extremely speedy) internet service, and the first American city to have its own typeface, appropriately named "Chatype." Silicon Valley better watch its back. Technological advancements aside, travelers of all types could spend days enjoying Chattanooga's diverse array of attractions. Adventurers can explore the nooks and crannies that lie within Lookout Mountain, history buffs can traverse terrain once inhabited by Civil War troops at Chickamauga, engineers can marvel at restored trains (several of which are over 100 years old) at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and foodies can eat their way through the delectable North Shore district. Or, you can simply take a stroll along the city's riverwalk and catch a sunset atop the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
#6 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
If you want your next vacation to be unlike any you've had before, visit Pigeon Forge. This mountain town 8 miles northwest of Gatlinburg is home to some of Tennessee's most unique attractions. You can roll down a hill in a giant inflatable ball at Outdoor Gravity Park or buy sweets and souvenirs, mine for gems, feed goats and more at Goats On The Roof. Additionally, Pigeon Forge is where you'll find Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park, WonderWorks and Hollywood Wax Museum outposts and the interactive Titanic Pigeon Forge museum.
Why Go To Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is famously known for being home to the Dollywood theme park and Splash Country water park. However, you may be surprised by how much else there is to discover in this charming small town in eastern Tennessee. Actors, comedians and musicians put on larger-than-life performances at The Comedy Barn and Country Tonite Theatre. There are numerous educational, engaging and family-friendly museums located here, including WonderWorks, the Titanic Museum Attraction and Beyond the Lens!. What's more, the scenic outdoors beckon to travelers: Visitors to Pigeon Forge can enjoy parks, admire the landscape via zip line or alpine coaster, and go camping and hiking nearby. Be sure to check out the Outdoor Gravity Park, the only Zorbing park in the USA! You should of course spend some time at Dollywood (it's home to an impressive number of roller coasters, attractions and shows) and Splash Country (the 35-acre water park is packed with slides and rides). But don't forget to slow down and take a stroll through town, check out the shops and eateries at The Island in Pigeon Forge, and maybe stop in to visit a winery or brewery. One thing's for certain: There's no doubt you'll appreciate everything to see, do and experience in Dolly Parton's "Tennessee mountain home."
#7 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Nashville's ties to the Fisk Jubilee Singers (the first musical group to go on an international tour) and its prevalence of honky-tonks are only two reasons why the destination is called Music City. Country music fans flock to the Country Music Capital of the World to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and see big-name musicians perform at the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium. The city also boasts an excellent dining scene featuring Southern staples and Nashville hot chicken (a local favorite), so save time for a food tour.
Why Go To Nashville
Nashville has evolved over the years and has become a city of a lot of things for a lot of different people. It's a popular weekend getaway for those based on the East Coast and in the Midwest. It's a foodie retreat for those who love affordable Southern cooking and international fusion cuisine. And it's a fun bachelor and bachelorette spot for friends looking to bond before taking the big leap into marriage. But Nashville at its core is a haven for country music fans. The bars lining Broadway (plus the famous Bluebird Cafe, which is about 5 miles south) host some of the most talented undiscovered artists in the country. In fact, Nashville is where many musicians – including Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt – were discovered or launched their careers. The best way to soak up Nashville's country scene is to enjoy the free live tunes at establishments throughout the city. You should also visit the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, tour Belle Meade Historic Site and ogle The Parthenon. And plan to spend some time just hanging out in the growing number of boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants downtown. Or, let a local show you around with a guided tour.
#8 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Although images of Nashville may first come to mind when you think of country music, Bristol should also be on your radar. This northeastern Tennessee city – which is a twin city of neighboring Bristol, Virginia – is where the musical genre was born. Bristol celebrates its musical history at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The city is also known for its world-famous Bristol Motor Speedway, a sprawling sports venue that hosts multiple racing events throughout the year. Plus, it features several parks and lakes where outdoor enthusiasts can hike, bike, camp and go fly-fishing.
#9 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Murfreesboro attracts history buffs in droves thanks to its collection of historical sights. At Stones River National Battlefield, visitors can learn more about one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. Meanwhile, Oaklands Mansion and Cannonsburgh Village offer vacationers a firsthand look at what life was like in Tennessee during the 19th century. When travelers need a break from Murfreesboro's historical locations, they can check out other popular attractions like the Discovery Center, Go USA Fun Park and Climb Murfreesboro. The latter is Tennessee's largest indoor rock climbing gym.
#10 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Overlooking the Cumberland River, bustling Clarksville is one of Tennessee's oldest cities. Visitors can follow the Civil War Trail to four informative markers or learn more about the war at Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center. The city also features multiple parks with areas for hiking and bird-watching, such as Dunbar Cave State Park, plus life-size statues of some of Clarksville's most famous former residents, including Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph and city founder John Montgomery. Travelers who are at least 21 years old should also check out Clarksville's blossoming brewery scene.
Johnson City, Tennessee
#11 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Johnson City is packed with amenities to entertain travelers young and old. Nestled in northeastern Tennessee's mountains, this city is home to Eastern Tennessee State University, as well as a multitude of restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums, shops and live music venues. But the main reason to visit Johnson City is to reconnect with nature. Vacationers can fish at Boone Lake, hit the links at one of two golf courses or hike Buffalo Mountain Park's trails. For impressive scenery without a workout, take a scenic drive on one of the area's byways.
#12 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Adults ages 21 and older who like whiskey should consider vacationing in Lynchburg. This small southern Tennessee town's claim to fame is the Jack Daniel's Distillery. Visitors flock here every year to tour the distillery and learn how whiskey is made. Most tours offer tastings, but keep in mind that Lynchburg sits in a dry county, so alcohol cannot be purchased on-site or anywhere within town limits. After touring the Jack Daniel's facility, walk around Lynchburg's historic square to see its shops, restaurants and 19th-century structures, including a courthouse and the Moore County Jail Museum.