Hunker down! This is one long post and definitely one that’s probably best grabbing yourself a cup of tea and biscuits (or a cheeky glass of wine) before jumping in.
Ready? Okay – let’s go explore Knoxville together.
Knoxville was the smallest of the 3 cities we planned on visiting in Tennessee and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew of certain places I wanted to visit here but I had no clue what the general vibe or feel of the city would be.
Let me just answer this head on – Knoxville may be smaller but it’s such an interesting city that packs a surprising amount of stuff for its relatively smaller size.
We started off with a visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art – a relatively small but perfectly formed space with views overlooking the city and intriguing art at every turn… including The Tennessean Hotel – our ‘home’ while in Knoxville!
The museum seems like such an integrated part of the city as locals with their kids pop in for workshops, check out the art and chat over their daily coffees in the café upstairs.
The art is quite diverse too – with sculptures unlike anywhere else we’ve been to (that one – see below – of the top part of a man is just freaky as it moves and changes and you walk around it – there are even fine hairs on it).
Leaving the gallery, we stopped off to check out a mural just a few blocks away – the Weaving Rainbow Mountain Mural…
…a colourful little delight in a part of town I probably wouldn’t even have thought to look out for, if not for recommendations on Instagram! (Thanks!!!)
We then headed into the city in search of lunch – and to take shelter from the rain which started as soon as we left the mural.
Luckily, the rain subsided almost with the same immediacy it started off with and by the time we’d parked – the clouds had already started to part ways.
There’s a side street in Knoxville’s city centre worth checking out, by the way, if you’re into street are – that street’s called Strong Alley.
I’m not sure what the policy is on the art here but it’s down a street you probably wouldn’t think to go down and for the most part is a lot grittier than some of the other street art dotted across town.
I like a good old ‘outdoor gallery’ so a quick jaunt down this alley was one I just knew I had to do before making our way over to the restaurant for lunch.
For lunch, we headed over to Stock and Barrel for a good old fashioned fill-your-tummy up lunch. Burger for Lloyd (with a milkshake) and chicken and waffles for me.
After lunch, we decided to go on a little jaunt around the area – Market Square is probably where you want to head out to for lunch, dinner, drinks…etc when you’re in Knoxville and seeing as the sun was out – it made for the perfect excuse for a lazy mid-afternoon amble through town.
Somehow, our lazy amble meant that we ended up right in front of the Oliver Hotel – at which point, Lloyd and I remembered a message we’d been sent on Instagram about a speakeasy – Peter Kern Library – that was on the side street next to the hotel. (You could also access it from a hidden door – which looks like a wall – in the hotel).
The plan was originally to pop by the speakeasy later that evening but seeing as we were right there – we figured we might as well pop in for a drink or two!
The speakeasy had literally just opened (I mean this was shortly after lunch time) but this didn’t stop us from jumping right into their cocktails menu.
Sufficiently libated – the cocktails here are pretty good by the way, even the virgin ones (one of them was a non-alcoholic one for the driver 😃), we carried on our jaunt through the city…
… slowly making our way to the old part of town.
Thing is though, as it was a Sunday – quite a lot of places in the old town were shut so we soon gave this up, grabbed the car from the parking lot and headed on a drive to check out some of the old historic houses across the city.
We weaved past the University of Tennessee (stopping briefly to marvel at the architecture – which is reminiscent of some buildings we have back home in England)…
…before carrying to the swing by the old historic houses. The plans was never to visit the houses properly (they weren’t open on Sundays and wouldn’t be till a day or two after we’d have left the city) but this way, we could put together pieces of the history of the city I’d been learning about on the drive over here.
The most important of all these old houses of course is, without a doubt, James White Fort.
The entire city of Knoxville started with this one spot – built by, you guessed it – James White! He was the very first Tennessean and everything you see now stemmed from this one place here.
Of course, you can go in typically but it was closed today and so with that, we headed down to Mead’s Quarry Lake to just kick back and relax as the sun set over the city.
To be fair, our original plan was to go exploring a pathway somewhere here but as soon as I set eyes on the lake, I knew I was pretty good exactly where I was.
In retrospect, I wish I’d brought a floatie with me (and an ice cold drink) to just kick back and relax here.
Once the sun had set, we swung briefly past the ‘Welcome to Knoxville’ mural (we weren’t too far from it so we figured we might as well), before making our way to Maple Hall for food and a bit of bowling.
Now, the plan had originally been just to pop round to Maple Hall for drinks (and maybe bowling) but seeing as we didn’t make it into the city until it was fairly dark – and seeing as Maple Hall serves food and drinks till fairly late, we decided to make a whole evening of it.
I kid you not, I’d totally forgotten how fun bowling can be (and also how to bowl properly). Every time I’ve been bowling, I’ve actually really enjoyed it! Throw in a few Moscow Mules and its just the perfect way to finish off a fairly relaxed day exploring the city.
Oh, and my bowling got soooo much better towards the end! Lloyd won the first game (by a very large margin) but I got the second game – finish off with double strikes – much to Lloy’d chagrin. 😆
With that, we called it a night and headed back to the Tennessean for a good night’s kip!
The following morning, before leaving the city, we popped by one building I knew as soon as I saw photos of it, that I just had to check out. That building was the Tennessee Theatre – a grand old movie palace that had now been turned into an amazing working theatre.
The theatre was one of the very first places (if not the first) building in Knoxville to have air-conditioning in the city. Of course, movie palaces (I guess, what we’d called ‘cinemas’ today) changed with the industry and eventually the building was left unused till it was restored to its former glory for use till this very day!
It’s just such an impressive building and definitely a brilliant way to finish off our time in Knoxville!
By the way, on the walk back to the hotel, I realised how walkable the city really is!
Almost all the places we drove to the day before (except I guess for the old houses bit) are easily reachable on foot and you don’t really need a car to get the best of the city!
And with that – we hit the road again! The original plan was to head back to Nashville directly and so some stuff we hadn’t gotten round to experiencing (and by “do some stuff”, I mean “eat some food”!) but I just knew there was one place I just had to visit before leaving Tennessee!
More on that in the next post!