View of the sunrise in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the best places to visit in Tennessee

25 Best Places to Visit in Tennessee in 2023 (By a Local)

If you’re looking to experience the very best places to visit in Tennessee, then you have an abundance of options.

Made up of three sections – west, central, and east – Tennessee has a wide range of beautiful geographical features. You’ll find everything from caves to world-famous mountains to cities exuding world class music culture.

I’m a Tennessee local here to guide you through the best places to travel in Tennessee!

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25 Best Places to Visit in Tennessee

Nashville

Enjoy the music, food, and culture in Tennessee’s capital city

The author looking at the colorful mural in Nashville
Me looking at one of Nashville’s many murals

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Many people would consider Nashville at the top of the best places to visit in Tennessee. The state’s capital city is best known for country music, but there are so many unique things to do in Nashville. From the Country Music Hall of Fame to the Grand Ole Opry and the Johnny Cash Museum, Nashville is full of attractions. 

Music lovers of all genres will appreciate the music scene. Nashville may be called Music City, but it also has a rising culinary scene with several Nashville restaurants and chefs winning James Beard awards each year. 

There are also breweries, Nashville coffee shops, boutique shops, and beautiful outdoor spaces to enjoy.

Memphis

Listen to the blues and eat barbecue in this iconic Southern city

A statue of Elvis in Elvis Presley Plaza
The Elvis Presley Plaza in Memphis (photo: f11photo / Shutterstock)

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Memphis is famous worldwide as the “Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock’ n’ Roll.” You can visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland, browse the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, or visit the trendy South Main Historic Arts District. 

One of my favorite things to do in Memphis is going to the Peabody Hotel. You’re never too old to see the famous Peabody ducks march to their palace.

You can’t visit Memphis without trying some barbecue. The city is home to legendary barbecue joints. The Rendezvous, A&R Bar-B-Que, and Interstate Barbecue are a few of the most popular places to get barbecue.

Chattanooga

Enjoy classic attractions in this fun mountain town

A door at the Rock City Gardens
Rock City Gardens on Lookout Mountain

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Visitors have been making their way to Chattanooga in East Tennessee for years to see the attractions at Lookout Mountain. 

While Lookout Mountain is technically just across the Georgia state line, going to Ruby Falls and Rock City Gardens is one of the highlights of visiting Chattanooga. The Chattanooga National Military Park and the Incline Railway are also located on Lookout Mountain. 

Within the city of Chattanooga, there’s even more to explore. The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the United States. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is also popular with visitors. Chattanooga is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee with kids, but it’s a cool mountain town to experience even without kids.

Knoxville

Explore the outdoors without leaving the city

View from a boardwalk in Ijams Nature Center
Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

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For outdoor enthusiasts who still want the benefits of a city, Knoxville is one of the best places to visit in East Tennessee. One of the coolest things in the city is Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. It’s a 1000-acre area with tons of trails and multiple parks to explore. 

The city’s Historic Market Square is lively with restaurants, cafes, and live music, and it’s the place to be in the evenings. If you visit on a Saturday, be sure to check out the Knoxville Farmers Market. The open-air market is one of the best in Tennessee.

Pigeon Forge

Bring the family to enjoy a fun vacation

A replica of the famous Titanic ship at the Titanic Museum
The Titanic Museum (photo: JennLShoots / Shutterstock)

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Conveniently located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge has been a favorite among visitors for generations. The family-friendly town is packed with different attractions. 

From the Titanic Museum to Rocky Top Mountain Coaster, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. One of my favorite things to do in Pigeon Forge is Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Find out for yourself why people keep returning to Pigeon Forge year after year.

Dollywood

Hop on the rollercoasters at this one-of-a-kind theme park

People enjoying their rollercoater ride in Dollywood
Thunderhead Rollercoaster at Dollywood (photo: Nicholas Lamontanaro / Shutterstock)

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Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge, but the unique amusement park is a destination within itself. The entire park, which is co-owned by Dolly Parton, celebrates the culture and customs of the Smoky Mountains. Guests can even take a 5-mile train ride through the Smoky Mountains on a steam engine.

No matter whether you’re a thrill seeker or prefer something more gentle, there are plenty of rides for all types of visitors to enjoy. Plus, both the entertainment and the food are outstanding. What else would you expect from the park’s co-owner? 

You can visit Dollywood in one day, but it’s even better if you’re able to spend two days enjoying the park.

Gatlinburg

Go skiing or spend your time exploring this mountain town

The Aquarium of the Smokies building from afar
The Aquarium of the Smokies (photo: Stephen B. Goodwin / Shutterstock)

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Separated from Pigeon Forge by just a few miles, Gatlinburg is a fun mountain town. This charming town is located near the entrance to the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Gatlinburg’s attractions include Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Gatlinburg Space Needle. The town is also home to Ober Gatlinburg which is a ski resort and adventure park.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are so close that there’s no reason not to visit them both on the same trip. I prefer to book a hotel in Gatlinburg and drive over to see Pigeon Forge during my trips to the area. Both towns are a lot of fun, but Gatlinburg is more walkable. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hike or drive through the most visited national park in America

View of a rocky river in Chimney Tops trailhead
Chimney Tops trailhead

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. It’s also one of the largest national parks because it encompasses over half a million acres. For nature lovers, this is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife and contains hundreds of hiking trails.

If you’d rather take a scenic drive through the park instead of a hike, that’s an option, too. When the cars in front of you slow down, that could be a signal someone has spotted a black bear. I’ve yet to see a black bear in the park myself, but they’re definitely there.

Shiloh National Military Park

Learn about one of the worst battles of the Civil War

View of canons at the Shiloh National Military Park
Canons at the Shiloh National Military Park

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The Battle of Shiloh was one of the first military conflicts that took place during the Civil War. For history buffs, a visit to the Shiloh National Military Park is a chance to see one of the best-preserved battlefields in the United States. The park covers over 4000 acres and contains a large number of historical sites.

At the park, you can visit the museum to see artifacts and learn more about people involved in the war. You can also take a self-guided audio tour of the park. On the 12.7-mile route, you’ll make 22 stops at different landmarks along the way.

Bristol

See the small town where country music was first recorded

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum building from the outside
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum (photo: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock)

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Nashville may be the headquarters for all things country music today, but Bristol is known as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family were first recorded here in 1927. You can learn more about this history at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol.

NASCAR fans are already familiar with the town thanks to the Bristol Motor Speedway. The speedway is one of the most famous racing venues. 

Everyone can enjoy the rich cultural heritage and geographical wonders–like the Bristol Caverns–found in this town on the border between Tennessee and Virginia.

Franklin

Learn about Franklin’s Civil War history

View of the Carter House in Franklin from the outside
The Carter House in Franklin

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Just 20 minutes south of Nashville, Franklin is full of historic sites, trendy boutique shops, and great restaurants. It’s one of my favorite day trips from Nashville

There are always fun festivals going on in the town, and Franklin has a charming Main Street. If you like to shop, check out the Cool Spring Galleria Mall or visit the shops in the Factory at Franklin.

History buffs will also love many of the things to do in Franklin. Sites like the Carter House and the Canton House were involved in the Civil War. Both of these homes are located in the area where the Battle of Franklin took place in 1864 and their inhabitants were swept up in the conflict.

Rock Island State Park

Hike to the stunning waterfalls

View of the twin falls in Rock Island State Park
Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park

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Rock Island State Park is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee to see some of the state’s most breathtaking waterfalls. If you enjoy hiking, then Rock Island State Park is the place for you. The park’s nine trails vary in difficulty from moderate to strenuous. The Great Falls and Twin Falls trails reward your effort with beautiful waterfall views.

The state park contains two of the trails on my list of the best hikes near Nashville. Tennessee is home to lots of outstanding state parks, and Rock Island State Park ranks pretty close to the top.

Dunbar Cave State Park

Take a tour to see the Mississippian Native American cave art

View of the entrance to Dunbar Cave
The entrance to Dunbar Cave

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Dunbar Cave in Clarksville is not one of Tennessee’s largest state parks, but it’s definitely one of the coolest. The cave contains drawings dating back to 1350 AD. During the summer, you can take a tour of the caves. Be sure to reserve a tour as far in advance as possible because the tours get booked up quickly.

Even if you aren’t able to tour the cave, you can still see the entrance to the cave from the park. During the early 20th century, a dance floor was constructed outside the cave, and you can see remnants of this part of the cave’s history without going inside.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Admire the tallest free-fall waterfall on this side of the Mississippi River

Overlooking view of the Fall Creek Falls Trail
Fall Creek Falls waterfall

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If you want to see waterfalls, Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee. The second largest park in the state is home to 10 waterfalls including Fall Creek Falls, an incredible free-fall waterfall. The park has lots of great hiking trails, like the Fall Creek Falls Viewpoint trail which is on my guide to the best hikes near Nashville

In addition to the normal activities you expect to find at a state park, you can also go rock climbing or do a canopy challenge course at Fall Creek Falls State Park.

Cherokee National Forest

Hike, camp, or fish in Tennessee’s only National Forest

Scenic view of the Blue Hole Waterfalls
Blue Hole Waterfalls in Cherokee National Forest

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For those who want to explore the great outdoors, there’s no shortage of options in Tennessee. Cherokee National Forest is located across 10 counties in East Tennessee. In fact, there are more than 30 campgrounds on these public lands. 

You can also hike, bike, horseback ride, or kayak through different sections of the land. Basically, if there’s an outdoor activity you enjoy, chances are it’s possible somewhere within Cherokee National Forest.

South Cumberland State Park

Hike the Fiery Gizzard Trail

A footbridge found in Fiery Gizzard Trail
Footbridge along the Fiery Gizzard Trail

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If you enjoy hiking and camping, head to South Cumberland State Park. The park is worth visiting for the scenic views, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations. For many, the biggest reason to go to the park is to hike the Fiery Gizzard. The Fiery Gizzard trail was named one of the top 25 hikes in the United States by Backpacker Magazine.

The trail is rated strenuous and is best attempted by experienced hikers. The trail requires extra effort, but the scenery is gorgeous. 

Natchez Trace Parkway

Take a scenic drive

View of the Natchez Trace Parkway signage and the bridge on its bakground
(photo: marekuliasz / shutterstock)

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Beginning right outside of Franklin, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile recreational road that follows the original trail used by Native Americans. The trail goes south all the way to Natchez, Mississippi.

While you may not want to follow the entire trail, driving a portion is worthwhile. About 100 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway is located in Tennessee. Along the way, you can stop at different scenic spots and explore.

Lynchburg

Visit the home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery

The Jack Daniels Distillery building from the outside
(photo: Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock)

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Lynchburg may be a small town, but it’s home to one of the most recognizable products in the world–Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whisky. Fans of the brand will love seeing the process of how the famous whisky is made. Plus, you also get to do a whisky flight at the end of the tour. 

While in Lynchburg, make sure to visit the town’s cute downtown area. Here you can visit antique shops and try out one of the lunch options. 

If you’re staying in Nashville and visiting Lynchburg just for the day, then you can sign up for a Jack Daniel’s Distillery tour from Nashville. It includes pick up and drop off so if you take it, then you won’t have to worry about drinking too much before driving.

Oak Ridge

Learn about the role this town played in the Manhattan Project during WWII

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For visitors interested in WWII history, Oak Ridge is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee. The town about 25 miles south of Knoxville was one of the secret cities where the materials for the atomic bomb were created during WWII. 

You can visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park to learn more about the people and science behind this unprecedented development. Many of the areas in the park allow you to take a self-guided tour. 

You can also visit the K-25 site. Here you’ll learn more about the men and women who worked on the project without knowing the full details of what they were working toward.

Manchester

Listen to the shows at Tennessee’s biggest music festival

People enjoying their day at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
In the crowd at Bonnaroo

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Each summer, music lovers from all over the country come together in Manchester for Bonnaroo. The 4-day festival takes place at the “Bonnaroo Farm” where visitors camp overnight and attend shows during the day and evening.

The event brings in artists from all genres. On the stages at Bonnaroo, you can hear country music, rock, jazz, hip-hop, and everything in between. Most people come for the music, but there are other entertainment options located throughout the venue. Bonnaroo is a fun, laid-back music festival that’s worth visiting at least once.

Tims Ford Lake

Get out on the water at this beautiful man-made lake

Aerial view of the Tims Ford Lake

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One of the most beautiful lakes in Tennessee, Tims Ford Lake is a reservoir that was created by the TVA in 1933. The lake is located in Tims Ford Lake State Park in south-central Tennessee. 

This is one of the best places in Tennessee for fishing and recreation. You can go boating, skiing, and fishing on the lake. If you’d rather stay away from the water, you can hike, go birding, or play golf while at the park.

McMinnville

Slow down and enjoy the small-town charm

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Located right between Nashville and Chattanooga, McMinnville is the perfect escape from busy city life. The town has worked to revitalize its downtown, and the area is now home to several restaurants, antique shops, and local boutiques. You could easily spend several hours browsing through the different establishments in McMinnville.

McMinnville also makes a great home base for visitors who want to explore the nearby natural attractions. Cumberland Caverns and Rock Island State Park are easily accessible from McMinnville.

Sewanee

Head up the mountain to Sewanee

The All Saints Chapel from the outside
All Saints Chapel at the University of the South

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Located on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, Sewanee is home to the University of the South. At first glance, you might mistakenly think you’ve ended up at Hogwarts thanks to the distinctive gothic-style architecture on campus.

The community in Sewanee is small, but there are a lot of things to do. Sewanee has several great shops to visit and excellent restaurants to try. While there you should also spend time hiking and enjoying the views from up above over the rest of the county. 

Stones River National Battlefield

Visit one of the most decisive battlefields of the Civil War

View from the Stones River National Battlefield during a sunny morning
Stones River National Battlefield (photo: EWY Media / Shutterstock)

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The Battle of Stones River was one of the bloodiest conflicts during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a crucial win for the Union army. This is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for history buffs. 

During a visit, you can learn more about the events that occurred in the area and the people involved. Different ranger-led tours are available, including a lantern tour through the Stones River National Cemetery. The park also has 7 miles of hiking trails available for visitors who want to hike, jog, or walk through the area.

Centerville

Discover the tranquil town where legend Minnie Pearl was born

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Surrounded by rivers, farms, and forests, Centerville has a peaceful small-town charm. The town’s biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl. Centerville has a cute courthouse square where you can do a little shopping. You can also stop at one of the cafes to have a coffee and relax.

Each Saturday the town records a 90-minute country music variety show. The show is called Grinder’s Switch Hour in reference to the name Minnie Pearl used for Centerville in her comedy. 

Minnie Pearl wasn’t the only famous entertainer to live in the area though. Johnny Cash also had a retreat nearby. You can visit his farm in Bon Aqua where he would retreat when he wasn’t working. 

FAQs about Places to Visit in Tennessee

What is the number 1 attraction in Tennessee?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives millions of visitors each year and is the number one attraction in Tennessee. In fact, it’s the most visited National Park in the United States.

What is the prettiest place in Tennessee?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest are generally considered to be some of the prettiest places to visit in Tennessee.

Is Tennessee worth visiting?

There are lots of great reasons to visit Tennessee. The state has beautiful natural areas, bustling popular cities like Nashville, and a rich musical heritage.

Where is popular in Tennessee?

Nashville has recently become one of the most popular destinations for travelers. However, places like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge near the Great Smoky Mountains have been steadily drawing visitors for years. They are consistently some of the most popular places to visit in Tennessee.

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Thanks for reading this list of the best places to visit in Tennessee! Now all that’s left is to pick your destination and pack your bags. To help you out, check out my packing list for Nashville.

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