13 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Tennessee

Jul 22, 2021

The world's seventh most populous country has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and its great diversity of natural and cultural resources is one of its top assets. The US state of Tennessee, which borders both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is a mecca for water sport enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike.

Nashville, the "Music City of the World", is the state's largest city and an important international business center. The state's capital, its most populous city, and its second city, Memphis, are also great tourist destinations, and all three offer interesting cultural sights and experiences. Meanwhile, the state's rural areas offer nature lovers a chance to explore the American landscape, and the cities of Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga provide much-needed respite from Tennessee's natural beauty.

These tips and suggestions will make it easier for you to decide where you want to go and what you want to do. Whether you're looking for things to do in Tennessee for your next vacation or want to make a trip to the state part of your regular life, you'll find useful information below.


Photo of Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee: en.wikipedia.org

As the Music City of the South, Nashville has no shortage of live entertainment options. From touring contemporary country acts to legendary shows by country and rock legends like Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Nashville is the place to hear live music. In recent years, Nashville has also emerged as the hot spot of the country music industry, with major new artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood leading the way. A place that thrives on its reputation, Nashville is also a destination for architecture buffs. It features a growing art scene, architectural landmarks like the 1849 Opryland Hotel, and the Craft Brewery District with over 60 breweries. Nashville's annual events, which take place in May and June, include the Country Music Association Awards, the Grand Ole Opry and the popular Nashvillian celebration of Midsouth Culture and the Arts Festival. For the truly die-hard fan, the Fourth of July is an opportunity to experience two days of live country music and the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at LP Field, home of the Nashville Predators hockey team. If you are looking for hotels in Nashville, The Lookout in Franklin, Tennessee is a perfect blend of fun and excitement with incredible views.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Photo of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. with nearly five million visitors annually. It's part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Densely packed with towering pines and hardwood forests, the park is home to the largest stand of giant sequoias in the world, and the world's highest waterfall. There are eight main visitor centers, but many visitors choose to base themselves in the towns of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, both of which have visitor centers and offer a wide range of lodging, food, and entertainment options. The park covers almost 5,000 sq km, or 2,400 sq miles, and has a system of 825 miles of trails covering the mountains, valleys and ridges that are the spine of the Smokies.

Tennessee Aquarium

Photo of Tennessee Aquarium
Tennessee Aquarium: en.wikipedia.org

With over 15,000 inhabitants, the Tennessee River is a vital part of the Tennessee River Navigation System. A major tributary of the Mississippi River, the river originates on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, which sit more than 1,200 miles away. It takes more than two years for a baby to be born and a year and a half for one to grow to one and a half times its size at birth. The Tennessee River, like the others in this system, was a crucial transportation route for the United States. After Americans settled the west in the late 18th century, their settlement required better transportation than the animals they were using at the time. The river also made it possible for settlers to reach their homes after their settlement. The Tennessee River has supported a variety of industries, but it was the most important of these during the time of the American Civil War. As a result of that war, several improvements were made, and riverboat travel became a significant form of transportation.

Tennessee State Capitol

Photo of Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol: en.wikipedia.org

Tennessee's State Capitol is the second largest state building in the U.S. It was designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White of New York, in a blend of late-Victorian and Italian Renaissance styles. Atop the 330-foot high center, the Jefferson Memorial was created by sculptor Thomas Crawford and is dedicated to the third president of the United States. Visit the capitol for a tour of the famous curved marble staircase; the Senate chamber, filled with paintings by James Dickey; the richly decorated Golden Gallery; and the Clock Hall, which houses the most famous clock in the world. From the east gallery of the Capitol, visitors have beautiful views of the Tennessee River.


Photo of Knoxville, Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee: en.wikipedia.org

Knoxville is a modern city whose allure has something to do with its location in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Founded in 1788 as a crossing point on the Cumberland River and a small outpost of the American state of North Carolina, Knoxville is the largest city in the state. While there are cultural attractions such as the University of Tennessee's state-of-the-art football stadium and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Knoxville is a city that appeals more to tourists who enjoy the natural wonders of the mountains. For history buffs, a visit to the Tennessee History Center, housed in the old Carnegie library, is a must. In it you can see exhibits, most notably the giant "Tennessee Tear Drop" that once hung from the ceiling of the lobby.


Photo of Clarksville, Tennessee
Clarksville, Tennessee: en.wikipedia.org

Clarksville, the third-largest city in Tennessee, is located in the eastern part of the state, just north of Nashville. Its antebellum architecture, exceptional local museums, and fine old downtown restaurants are major draws for visitors. When exploring the city, check out the Johnson Collection at Centennial Park, housed in the William Peace Building. The entire museum is devoted to Tennessee's history and art and celebrates the city's role as the state's capitol. Nearby, check out the Clara White Memorial Institute, the first public art museum in the country. The center houses more than 5,000 works of art from around the world, mostly acquired through public and private donations. The admission to the permanent collection is free. To get to Clarksville from Nashville, take I-65 south to I-24 and take the clarksville exit.

Cades Cove

Photo of Cades Cove
Cades Cove: en.wikipedia.org

The magnificent southern Appalachian mountains and ancient forests are what this part of the USA is all about, and the 300-acre Cades Cove is a great place to get close to nature. Just 8 miles west of the main part of Cherokee National Forest, the Cades Cove features several hiking trails, waterfalls, rock walls, and more. The Cades Cove General Store (open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 5pm) has basic camping and hiking supplies as well as a post office, a pizza restaurant, a playground, and kids' activities. Look for family-run Cades Cove Bed & Breakfast next to the post office, a convenient option if you're planning to stay in Cades Cove. The Cades Cove Visitor Center and bookstore are open daily, while a small section of the park is open year-round.

The National Civil War Museum

Photo of National Civil Rights Museum
National Civil Rights Museum: en.wikipedia.org

The National Civil War Museum is dedicated to the preservation of Southern Civil War sites through both historical and physical means. It includes a full-size re-creation of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, which is the only one of its kind. The museum also features different exhibitions which allow visitors to learn more about the war.

The Great Smoky Mountains

Photo of Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains: en.wikipedia.org

The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the largest and most diverse mountain ranges in North America and includes the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation's most visited scenic route. Aptly named for the great sheets of dark brown and black smoke that often obscure the otherwise blue skies in the area, this national park is a paradise for those seeking to enjoy the spectacular wildlife, breathtaking vistas, and peaceful country atmosphere. It includes three regions: North Carolina (the Unicoi Mountains and Balsam Mountain), Tennessee (Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the adjacent Smoky Mountains region), and North Carolina (the Oconaluftee Mountain area of the Pisgah National Forest). A National Park Service website details all the facilities available in the park, including over 50 attractions, lodging, and golf courses.


Photo of Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee: en.wikipedia.org

Memphis is in the heart of the blues, where legendary musicians like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley recorded. The music scene has lost some of its vibrant energy in the face of enormous commercial growth, but there's no denying the city's music heritage. These days, with a renewed focus on the Delta, "Walking the Blues," the premier blues walking tour of Memphis, has become a popular tourist attraction. This walking tour was developed by long-time Memphis musician Johnny Basil to provide an overview of the area's musical heritage. The tour takes visitors around the area where the Blues were born, ending at Stax recording studio. Here, Basil will demonstrate on a keyboard as he relates his musical history of the city. A multimedia presentation will follow. Guides are available in a number of languages: English, Spanish, French, and Italian, and small group tours are available for English-speaking groups only. Those who want to follow along can download their own copy of the guide.

Moccasin Bend Park

Photo of Moccasin Bend
Moccasin Bend: en.wikipedia.org

Called "the oldest and most complete natural rock amphitheater in North America," this park, on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, consists of thousands of boulders stacked like pebbles, creating what might appear to be a mound of rock that has toppled into the river. It's a popular recreation spot for its hiking and paddling opportunities, as well as its panoramic views of the river and the surrounding countryside. An excellent view of the river from this stunning area is best seen from one of the many places in the park. One of the best spots to view it from is called the Shelter Room, which is a large rock amphitheater constructed into a room-like shape. The park also features several lookouts that give an excellent view of the surrounding river and is one of the largest protected green spaces in the city of Chattanooga. The main scenic overlook is called the John A. Reagan Viewpoint, named in honor of the famous former governor of Tennessee. The park also features a visitor center that provides information on the park, displays of the geological features, and a number of trails.

Montgomery Bell State Park

Photo of Montgomery Bell State Park
Montgomery Bell State Park: en.wikipedia.org

Situated on the Cumberland Plateau in Eastern Tennessee, Montgomery Bell State Park is one of the state's best-kept secrets. Surrounded by the Cumberland Gap, a former military base and home to a fascinating collection of Civil War era artifacts, it's a pleasant walk away from other outdoor attractions such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while its own trails include the Dandridge Mountain Nature Trail, Caney Creek and Boone Creek hiking trails, and the Little Tennessee Rail-Trail.

Pigeon Forge

Photo of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: en.wikipedia.org

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is home to Dollywood, Dixie Land Park and the Tree of Life. With a vast number of theme parks, two cruise ship terminals and a convention center, this small town is loaded with things to do. Dollywood opened in 1981 and focuses on the performing arts with a large zoo and petting zoo as well as an IMAX theater. Dixie Land Park features a carnival, a Waterworld, Ferris Wheel and bumper cars, a mini-golf course, a water slide, a train ride and a multitude of shows and attractions. If you're looking for something a bit more peaceful, several hotels also offer seasonal outdoor waterparks and recreation areas, as well as ice-skating rinks. For something a little different, there are even tours to local businesses like ice cream shops.