View of the Tennessee State Capitol from the Bicentennial Capitol Mall in Nashville, one of the best cities in Tennessee

17 Best Cities in Tennessee in 2023 (By a Local)

When it comes to cities in Tennessee, there are a lot of great options. The state has four major cities and hundreds of smaller cities and towns. Across Tennessee, you’ll find communities with strong local traditions, interesting history, rich musical legacy, and excellent food.

Whether you’re looking for a vibrant urban environment to visit, a thriving suburb to live in, or a city with small-town charm, you’ll find it in one of the many amazing places in Tennessee.

I am a local who’s lived in different Tennessee cities and visited many others. I’ve put together this article to guide you toward the best cities in Tennessee.

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17 Best Tennessee Cities


Tennessee’s capital city is best known for its music scene, rich history, and rising culinary scene

The author Elizabeth Demolat posing at Nissan Stadium in Nashville
Me at Nissan Stadium in Nashville

🏠 Population: 692,587 | 📍 Google Maps | Nashville City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Nashville on Booking

Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee and is best known for its music scene. Of course, you don’t have to be in the music industry to enjoy visiting (or even moving to) Nashville. Besides legendary Nashville music venues like the Ryman Auditorium, the city is home to amazing restaurants, beautiful parks, and cool boutiques. 

Visitors can tour the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, spend time at the Honky Tonks on Broadway, browse the exhibits at the Frist Art Museum, or sample some cuisine at Nashville’s best restaurants. With so many great things to do in Nashville for all tastes, this is a great all-encompassing city to visit.


Discover the city of the blues, rock ‘n roll, and delicious cuisine

Exterior view of the unique architectural structure of Sun Studios
Sun Studios (photo: f11photo / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 628,127 | 📍 Google Maps | Memphis City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Memphis on Booking

Known as the Home of the Blues, Memphis is another city in Tennessee with a rich musical heritage. Memphis is one of the largest cities in Tennessee, and it’s a regional hub for West Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

In Memphis, you’ll find legendary music sites as well as historic landmarks. However, it’s impossible to talk about Memphis without mentioning the food, especially the barbecue. 

One of the best things to do in Memphis is visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion in the city. Other popular activities are visiting Sun Studio, watching a Memphis Grizzlies game, or going to the National Civil Rights Museum.


One of the most scenic urban cities in Tennessee with lots of family-friendly attractions

View of the red tram of the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway in Chattanooga (photo: Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 182,113 | 📍 Google Maps | Chattanooga City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Chattanooga on Booking

Located on the Tennessee River and surrounded by mountains, Chattanooga may not be the largest city in Tennessee, but it is one of the most scenic. This East Tennessee city is a great example of a modern, eco-friendly urban area. There’s a good public transportation system and many areas are bike-friendly.

Chattanooga has a lot of attractions that are perfect for families. Children will love the Tennessee Aquarium, the Chattanooga Zoo, and the Creative Discovery Museum. Destinations on Lookout Mountain, including Rock City and Ruby Falls, are also very popular. 

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the hikes near Chattanooga and the access to white-water rapids on the Ocoee.

👉 Need a Ride? Discover Cars is an excellent service for stacking up the car rental competition. Or, if you’re looking for more general tips, then don’t miss my guide to renting a car in Nashville!


An underrated city with a hip downtown and great outdoor spaces

View of the water area at Knoxville's World Fair Park
Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park

🏠 Population: 192,648 | 📍 Google Maps | Knoxville City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Knoxville on Booking

Located in East Tennessee on the Tennessee River, Knoxville is one of the state’s coolest cities. Upon arriving, you’ll notice The Sunsphere – this is an iconic feature of Knoxville’s skyline that was built when the city hosted the 1982 World’s Fair.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. It includes 5 city parks, 60 miles of trails, and a 600-acre wildlife area. If you love hiking, biking, climbing, or paddling, Knoxville is a good place to be. 

The city also has a cool downtown area, great restaurants, and trendy shops.


Explore this college city with a friendly atmosphere

View of the colorful autumn trees with the Customs House Museum in the distance
Customs House Museum in Clarksville

🏠 Population: 170,957 | 📍 Google Maps | Clarksville City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Clarksville on Booking

Clarksville is a great city in Middle Tennessee just south of the Kentucky state border. One of the best things in Clarksville is checking out the downtown area which has a classic, small-town feel. Markets, concerts, and other fun festivals take place downtown throughout the year. 

The city is home to Austin Peay State University, so there’s a large student population. The city is also family-friendly, and there are a lot of fun things to do with kids in Clarksville. One of my favorite attractions is Dunbar Cave State Park – I haven’t been in the cave (yet), but I can confirm that the park has nice hiking trails.


A city full of historic sites related to the Civil War

View of the cannon stones near the cemetery in Stones River National Battlefield
Stones River National Battlefield

🏠 Population: 157,519 | 📍 Google Maps | Murfreesboro City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Murfreesboro on Booking

Murfreesboro is located right in the middle of Tennessee, literally. In fact, there’s even a marker in the city that shows the location of the geographical center of the state. 

For things to do in Murfreesboro, history buffs will enjoy visiting the Stones River National Battlefield, the site of a deadly Civil War battle. The city’s courthouse, which is the oldest remaining courthouse in the state, is also worth checking out.

Besides historical sites, Murfreesboro offers great access to the outdoors. Long Hunter State Park is located nearby, a popular place for hiking, camping, and swimming. 


A charming city with historic sites, shopping, and a beautiful Main Street

View inside the shop of The Factory at Franklin
Shopping in The Factory at Franklin

🏠 Population: 85,469 | 📍 Google Maps | Franklin City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Franklin on Booking

Franklin is the perfect destination to experience all the comforts of city life packaged in a small-town atmosphere. In fact, Franklin is one of my favorite day trips from Nashville for quite a few reasons. 

First, the historic downtown square is beautifully preserved. You can see the Franklin Theatre, dine at great restaurants, and visit boutique shops all without leaving downtown. Further, visitors interested in Civil War history can visit Carnton Plantation, the Lotz House, and the Carter House. 

There are also a ton of shopping options in Franklin. It’s home to the Cool Spring Galleria as well as a unique shopping center called The Factory, which is located in a former stove factory complex. You’ll also find attractions for kids and plenty of other great things to do in Franklin

Johnson City

A city in the foothills of the Appalachians with plenty of outdoor activities

View of the colorful flowers and cars in the parking area in Downtown Johnson City
Downtown Johnson City (photo: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 71,278 | 📍 Google Maps | Johnson City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Johnson City on Booking

Johnson City is well known in pop culture thanks to the song “Wagon Wheel,” but that’s just one of many compelling reasons to visit. Johnson City is a charming town right in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Anyone who enjoys being outdoors will find lots of things to do in Johnson City. 

On the Tweetsie Trail, you can hike or bike from downtown Johnson City to the nearby town of Elizabethton. Or, kick back and relax by spending the afternoon floating down the Nolichucky River. Biking, hiking, fishing, boating, and even caving are all available in Johnson City.


A former railroad city that’s now a beautiful rural retreat

View of the vintage black train in The Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum
The Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum (photo: Brenda Kean / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 68,114 | 📍 Google Maps | Jackson City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Jackson on Booking

Right between Memphis and Nashville, Jackson is the perfect escape from the busyness of Tennessee’s biggest cities. The city has a charming small-town atmosphere but still has plenty of attractions.

During the 19th century, Jackson grew thanks to the railroad boom. As a result, you’ll find railway-related things to do in Jackson like the Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum. The city also has peaceful outdoor spaces. In particular, visitors can birdwatch at Cypress Grove Nature Park or admire the views at the Liberty Garden Park & Arboretum.


A Nashville suburb with historic landmarks and family-friendly attractions

View of the crowd wandering around the lawn area in Rock Castle
Rock Castle, the oldest home in Tennessee (photo: Newcastle / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 62,257 | 📍 Google Maps | Hendersonville City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Hendersonville on Booking

Hendersonville may only be 20 miles from Nashville, but the city has its own distinct atmosphere. In Hendersonville, you’ll find cute boutiques, great restaurants, and a local brewery. The city also has a number of landmarks to visit, including Historic Rock Castle – the oldest home in the state of Tennessee.

Hendersonville is especially popular with families. The city’s Veterans Park has places to walk, bike, and even skate. Plus, the park’s playground, Mary’s Magical Place, was built to be inclusive for all abilities and ages. The playground also has shade canopies over the play equipment, which is so nice in the summer heat.


An artsy city with a charming downtown

View of the USA flag in front of The Courthouse in Columbia
The Courthouse in Columbia

🏠 Population: 43,340 | 📍 Google Maps | Columbia City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Columbia on Booking

Despite being a medium-sized city (for Tennessee), Columbia has all the charm normally associated with small towns. Just a little south of Nashville, Columbia is a family-friendly place with a cool, artsy side. 

Columbia’s downtown has a historic square and bustling Main Street filled with boutiques, antique stores, and trendy restaurants. In the nearby Columbia Arts District, you’ll find shops and studios run by local artists and artisans. Or, for a dose of history, visit the President James K. Polk Home & Museum, it’s one of the most popular sites to visit in the city.


An industrial city with a lively downtown and excellent outdoor spaces

View of the large sculpture in the center of the roundabout with shops and parking around
Main Street in Kingsport (photo: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 55,582 | 📍 Google Maps | Kingsport City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Kingsport on Booking

Kingsport is an industrial city with an interesting history. In the early 20th century, the city was redesigned to be a model “All-American City.” The effects of this planning are still evident in the city today. 

The city has a welcoming historic downtown with shopping, dining, and cultural attractions. In the summer, you’ll find some great live music on Friday nights. 

Outdoor lovers will find plenty to do in Kingsport. The city park Bays Mountain Park has 25 miles of hiking trails and is a great place to spot wildlife. There’s also a planetarium and star observatory at the park. 


This city is home to the Bristol Motor Speedway and is also the “Birthplace of Country Music”

Exterior view of The Bristol Motor Speedway from a distance
The Bristol Motor Speedway (photo: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 27,530 | 📍 Google Maps | Bristol City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Bristol on Booking

NASCAR fans know Bristol for its famous racing venue, but the ever-popular Bristol Motor Speedway is just one of many things to do in Bristol. 

Bristol is known as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” It’s where the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers first recorded. Visitors can tour the Mountain Music Museum to see memorabilia from country and bluegrass musicians connected to Bristol. 

👉 Pro Tip: If Bristol is on your agenda, then I recommend trying to avoid visiting on major race days at the Speedway. The number of people visiting on race days is 10x that of the regular population. 

Mount Juliet

A Nashville suburb with lots of outdoor activities and shopping options

View of the welcome signage of Mount Juliet with two lamps on the sides
The “Welcome to Mt. Juliet” sign

🏠 Population: 40,766 | 📍 Google Maps | Mount Juliet Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Mount Juliet on Booking

Mount Juliet is located about 20 miles from Nashville and is a popular suburb for people who commute to the capital city for work. However, that’s not all Mount Juliet has going for it. The city is full of outdoor activities for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Charlie Daniels Park in Mount Juliet has something for everyone – a playground for children, a nice area to walk, picnic tables, and a splash pad. There are special events happening almost every month as well. 

Visitors can also go horseback riding at Juro Stables, swim at Shutes Branch Recreation Area, or shop at Providence Marketplace.

Oak Ridge

An East Tennessee city that played a pivotal role in World War II

View of the signage of Secret City Commemorative Walk in the middle of Bissell Park with autumn trees around
Secret City Commemorative Walk at Bissell Park (photo: EWY Media / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 31,824 | 📍 Google Maps | Oak Ridge Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Oak Ridge on Booking

Oak Ridge is called the “Secret City” because it was one of the sites where the atomic bomb was created during World War II. Most people in Oak Ridge, including those working on the project, didn’t know what was really going on. Still, the city was built almost overnight in 1943.

Oak Ridge is absolutely worth the visit if you’re interested in World War II history or if you’re interested in science and technology. A few of the most popular places to see are the American Museum of Science and Energy and the K-25 overlook. 

The city is also home to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge and the University of Tennessee Arboretum.


A charming place with easy access to a few of the state’s most interesting natural features

View of the twin falls in Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park

🏠 Population: 34,666 | 📍 Google Maps | McMinnville City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in McMinnville on Booking

McMinnville is a charming city about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. The city’s downtown area has restaurants, boutiques, and antique stores worth browsing.

One of the best things about McMinnville is its access to some of Tennessee’s most unique natural features. Cumberland Caverns is open for walking tours and overnight trips, but it’s also a cool concert venue with impressive acoustics. 

McMinnville is also just a short drive from Rock Island State Park. The Twin Falls and Down River Trail to a beautiful twin waterfall in the park made our list of best hikes near Nashville.


A city that hosts a major summer music festival, but has plenty of other attractions year-round

View of the crowd at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester
Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester (photo: L Paul Mann / Shutterstock)

🏠 Population: 12,624 | 📍 Google Maps | Manchester City Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Manchester on Booking

Each year tens of thousands of people come to Manchester in June to enjoy the artists at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. This huge festival is worth attending if you’re a music lover, but it’s not the only reason to come to Manchester.

At Beans Creek Winery, you can dry out a variety of wines from around Tennessee. Or, for something a little more historical-inspired, you can visit Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. Around 2000 years ago, Native Americans built a huge embankment in the area. Despite the name, this structure probably wasn’t a fort but the original purpose is still unknown.

FAQs About Cities in Tennessee

What is the best place to live in Tennessee?

Nashville, Franklin, Hendersonville, and Mount Juliet are all great places to live in Tennessee and are popular with families. For access to the mountains, Knoxville is a good choice. 

What’s the most beautiful city in Tennessee?

Tennessee’s capital city, Nashville, is one of the most beautiful cities in Tennessee. It has beautiful buildings and stunning nearby nature.

What are the major cities in Tennessee?

The four largest cities in Tennessee are Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville

How many cities does TN have?

There are 32 cities in Tennessee with a population of more than 20,000 people. In Tennessee, cities and towns have the same requirement of needing at least 500 residents to incorporate. There are over 350 locations in Tennessee that meet this population threshold.


Thanks for reading my guide to the best cities in Tennessee!

If you’ll be starting your trip to Tennessee in Nashville be sure to check out my guide to where to stay in Nashville! Or, if you’re looking for places to live in Tennessee, check out all my Tennessee guides.

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One Comment

  1. Im wondering why Cookeville was not on your list, lots to do here, family friendly, great schools and Temnesse Tech Unniversity, 1 hr east of Nashville on the Cumberland Plateau, lots of falls here as weĺ.

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