Tennessee is one of the most underrated states to visit in the US and a place that’s well worth a road trip around. Not only does it have the most visited national park in the USA, but it’s also got a shed load of the best things to do in Tennessee within the cities, too.
Now, for lots of us, Tennessee brings homes images of Jack Daniels (in Lynchburg), musical heritage and lots of yummy BBQs. Well, that might be the case but there’s so much more to the state.
This is exactly why I wanted to share some of my favourite pit stops to explore across Tennessee.
Take a look, below, at some of the very best things to do in Tennessee. Have the best trip!
1.) Hike the Great Smoky Mountains
Of all the famous national parks in the USA, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains attracts the most visitors. Though, it’s easy to see why, especially if you’re a hiker.
This is exactly why I wanted to share some pretty cool hikes to explore whilst you’re in the state.
For moderate hikers: Hiking is a popular activity in the Great Smoky Mountains, as you’ll be able to join one of the various trails, including the famous Appalachian Trail. One 8 mile (13km) section of the Appalachian Trail will take you to the rocky outcropping known as Charlies Bunion, where you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the mountains.
For hardcore hikers: A more strenuous 2.7 mile (4.3km) hike will take you to Rainbow Falls, and from there to the summit of Mt. Le Conte. The popular Chimney Tops trail is also found here, rising 1,400 feet (427 meters) in elevation in just 2 miles (3.21km).
Visiting the national park is easily one of the best things to do in Tennesse and a spot you really can’t miss. Just make sure to always stay safe, pack lots of water and always tell someone where you’re going. No one likes a reckless explorer.
2.) Explore Fall Creek Falls lake
You see, Fall Creek Falls, has come to be one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi and a spot that’s pretty breathtaking to see. Oh, and if it’s falling you’re after, make sure to check out Rockhouse Falls that is totally stunning.
You can even get some stunning views at the Cane Creek Overlook that’s just off the Gorge Trail that trails the area.
3.) See the Country Music Hall of Fame
Nicknamed the Smithsonian of country music, the Hall of Fame showcases the history, traditions, and beauty of country music. You might even spot some newer country music stars like Taylor Swift, too.
With current exhibitions on country musical icons like; the Zac Brown Band, Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, and Charlie Daniels, you can be sure that this is definitely not your standard history museum. That being said, if you’re not into country music, you’ll probably want to steer clear of this spot.
4.) Discover a piece of Greece at the Parthenon
Built back in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition, it now houses Nashville’s art museum and is one of the best things to do in Tennesse. The permanent collection includes 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century American artists and is totally easy to visit when you’re in the city.
5.) Visit Graceland
Sure enough, the home and estate of one of the world’s most beloved stars (Elvis) is found in Memphis.
Arguably the second most famous home in the United States (after The White House, of course), visiting Graceland has become one of the best things to do in Tennessee (even if you’re not an Elvis fan).
Tours of Graceland include stops inside Elvis’ living room, dining room, the famous Jungle Room, Trophy Building, Racquetball Building (look for his jumpsuits here!) and you can even step foot on his private planes.
It’s pretty cool and really easy to visit after exploring all the things to do in Memphis.
6.) Explore Cheekwood Botanical Garden
Home of eleven different gardens and a woodland sculpture trail, as well as an art museum, Cheekwood is really easy to visit if you’re in Nashville and really can’t be missed.
With a hoard of decorative and contemporary art (plus a few outdoor sculptures), it’s a totally stunning estate to explore. Now, the gardens and art museum are located on the estate of the Cheek family, one of the early entrepreneurial families of Nashville (who spent a pretty penny on this place).
Now, if all that exploring gets you hungry, pop on over to the relatively nearby Loveless Cafe. It’s become something of an establishment in Tennessee and a great spot for brunch.
Interestingly, the popular Maxwell House coffee brand traces its beginnings to Cheekwood too!
7.) Enjoy the beats of Beale Street
When in Memphis, you can’t forget to take a stroll through history down Beale Street. Not only is it the main music and entertainment section of downtown Memphis, but it’s also possibly one of the most lively spots in the city on a weekend.
Known for its bars, restaurants, and blues music, Beale Street has been a popular destination for Memphis entertainment for over a century.
The legendary blues musician B.B. King is a familiar name on Beale Street, as well as W.C. Handy, Rufus Thomas, Willie Mitchell, and Isaac Hayes. Plus, you’ll find a load of local spots like; B.B. King’s Blues Club, Blues City Café, and the New Daisy Theatre to visit whilst you’re here.
8.) Lean into country rhythms at Grand Ole Opry
Known as the home of American music, The Grand Ole Opry has been hosting weekly country music concerts since 1925.
What started as a small radio program known as The WSM Barn Dance has turned into the premier country music venue that everyone should experience when in Nashville. Country stars familiar with the stage include Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and Dierks Bentley.
Oh, and remember, you can purchase backstage tours to see the inner-working of this historic site, too. It’s a great spot to visit if you’re interested in the musical history of Tennessee, that’s for sure.
9.) Visit Ruby Falls
If you’re in need of a break from country music, head out to Chattanooga to see Ruby Falls that’s so impressive and totally worth the journey.
Now, the falls are located 1,120 feet (341 metres) beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain and were first discovered almost 100 years ago. Soon after, Ruby Falls was opened to the public and has been loved ever since.
You’ll probably end up spending around 2-3 hours here (all in all), so make sure to plan your stop wisely.
10.) Ski at Ober Gatlinburg
Visiting Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area is one of the best things to do in Tennessee if you love to ski.
Though, don’t fret if you’re not too great at skiing as they’ve a whole heap of other activities to suit everyone. An experience like the; Aerial Tramway, Ski Mountain Coaster, an Alpine Slide, Wildlife Encounter, the Scenic Chairlift, water raft rides, and even ice skating all dotted all across the area.
Now, the park itself is located on a mountain top overlooking the city of Gatlinburg and offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing all through the winter.
11.) Visit Knoxville
After exploring the cities of Nashville and Memphis, head further east to the smaller city of Knoxville. Once here, make sure to explore the Knoxville Museum of Art, Wander through Market Square and stop off at James White’s Fort for a little history.
If it’s a speakeasy you’re after, head straight over to the Peter Kern Library. It has a hidden bar that serves up some of the best cocktails in the city. It really is one of the best things to do in Tennessee – especially if you love cool bars.