Perched in eastern Tennessee, Knoxville is one of those cities that was pretty new to me but a totally amazing surprise. Now, if you’re planning a little jaunt around Tennessee, you’ve gotta set aside a little time to see some of the best things to do in Knoxville. It’s such a diverse southern city.
Now, before our road trip around Tennessee, I can’t say I’d heard too much about visiting the city. I mean, yeah, I’d heard loads of stuff about visiting Memphis and Nashville but, for some reason, Knoxville had always been a little out of mind. Thankfully, our most recent trip changed that…
… and boy I’m glad it did! 🤗
Anyway, without rambling on, I wanted to show you some of the best things to do in Knoxville on your trip around Tennessee.
Take a look at some of the best things to do in Knoxville.
1.) Find the Peter Kern Library Speakeasy
Okay, so the Peter Kern Library is something of a hidden spot in Knoxville. Only identifiable by its red ball light (just off Union Avenue and in the same block as the Oliver Hotel), it’s one of the coolest little haunts and best things to do in Knoxville.
Now, if the lights on, proceed to open the door and make your way through until you reach the bar (on the left-hand side as you enter). Once inside, you’ll be greeted by the coolest speakeasy ever!
Best of all, this place isn’t just hype, it actually has some of the best cocktails in the city, too. Make sure to try one of their old-fashioned cocktails. 🍸
2.) Explore the Knoxville Museum of Art
Nestled just a few minutes walk from the Sunsphere Tower, the Knoxville Museum of Art is a beautiful gallery that has a whole heap of art. Make sure to wander through the three floors and spot the Cycle of Life installation by Richard Jolley and the Currents (Recent Art from East Tennessee and Beyond).
Entry into the museum of art is totally free and a lovely little stop off whilst exploring Knoxville.
3.) Find the Tennessee Theatre
So, the Tennessee Theatre is most certainly one of the most unique buildings in Knoxville and a place you have to see. Built in the 1920’s, the Tennessee Theatre was actually an old movie Palace that’s just so stunning. Who knew these were a thing? 🤔
Anyway, make sure to book tickets for one of their shows – it really is one of the best things to do in Knoxville (especially if you like the theatre). 🎭
4.) Wander through Market Square
Just a few minutes walk from the Tennessee Theatre is Market Square, which is a great little spot to grab a tipple, gorge on some wholesome local grub or to just visit some of the boutiques.
One of the things I loved about Knoxville was that it’s such a walking city. It’s one of those places that you can literally wander around all day without ever having to get a car, uber or bus. Everything feels pretty close, with Market Square being a great spot to start.
5.) See Knoxville from the Sunshphere Tower
The Sunshpere Tower is possibly one of the more well-known icons of the city and one of the best things to do in Knoxville for epic views. Opened in the early 1980’s, it’s a big golden ball-like structure that sits almost 300 feet above the city ground.
Once part of the World’s Fair of 1982, the Sunsphere Tower is now a spot to see in its own right. Best of all, unlike most cities with viewing towers, this one is totally free!
6.) Explore James White’s Fort
James White’s Fort is the very spot where Knoxville was founded and officially the birthplace of the city. Set up by James White, the fort is a great place to learn more about the history of the city and the historic Southwest Territory.
The fort is open daily from Monday-Friday (and Saturday in summer), with admission being around $7, or so. It really is a great spot to learn more about the region, it’s pretty long history and the life of James White.
7.) Tour Bleak House
Firmly on the United States Register of Historic Places, Bleak House is a historic property that has a long and varied past in Knoxville. Built with slave labour as a wedding gift, Bleak House became a key battle point in the Battle of Knoxville between the unionists and the Confederates. Still, to this day, two canons lay embedded within the walls.
Thankfully, nowadays, there’s no need for worries of firing canons or civil war *wipes brow* but you can still head inside Bleak House to learn about its history and much more about the Battle of Knoxville.
Entry costs around $10, or so, with the last tours leaving around 3:30 pm.
8.) Wander down Strong Alley (Graffiti Alley)
If you’re a fan of street art, then Strong Alley is one of the stops you’ve gotta visit. Perched pretty close to Market Square, it’s best to visit here around dusk when all the twinkly lights turn on.
Stroll through the alley and spot some of the ever-changing graffiti that calls this alley home.
9.) Stroll along the downtown mural walk
Perched at 1143 N Broadway (near K Brew), the Greetings From Knoxville mural has quickly become a perfect starting point for the downtown mural walk (well, in my opinion at least). It’s not only the largest mural you’ll see on the walk but it was also the first in all of Knoxville.
That being said, the downtown mural walk takes in so many spots. Make sure to stop off at; Postcard from Knoxville, the Miller’s Building Mural and the Weaving Rainbow Mountain steps.
You can download a free PDF of the downtown mural walk, right here.
10.) Stay at The Tennessean
Like I mentioned before, the thing I love most about Knoxville is that it’s walkable. That means it’s the perfect opportunity to park that car up and just enjoy rambling around the city.
We decided on the Tennessean that’s right next door to the Sunsphere Tower and a few minutes walk from the Gay Street and the rest of the city centre…
…plus, the rooms are super plush! 🤗
11.) Chillout at Mead’s Quarry Lake
So, after a morning exploring the city, make sure to head out for a little rest and relaxation at Mead’s Quarry Lake. It’s the type of spot where locals and visitors both go to just chill. It’s super relaxed and just so nice.
Now, to get to Mead’s Quarry Lake, it’s best to rock up in your car as it’ll take you around 15 minutes to get there from the centre of Knoxville. Just remember to take your swimming gear (and a big towel). It’s such a fun spot and one of the best things to do in Knoxville after a long wander around the city. 🐟
12.) Gorge at Stock and Barrel
Perched on Market Square, Stock and Barrel is an all-American style restaurant and bar that serve some of the best burgers in Knoxville. Best of all, they have a pretty fiery and quirky menu that’s too good to miss.
Make sure to try their chicken waffle burgers… it’s one massive fried chicken piece with two huge waffles as the bun! Just work up an appetite before you head inside.
13.) Devour some treats at Phoenix Pharmacy
Perched on Gay Street, Phoenix Pharmacy is right in the heart of the city and one of the best things to do in Knoxville if you’re looking for that yummy sweet treat. Once inside, make sure to try their great Smokey Mountain sundae and their peanut butter cup shakes.
You won’t be disappointed. 🍦
14.) Be a baller at Maple Hall
Maple Hall is a proper old-school style bowling hall that’s totally shiny and sleek. Based right next door to the Phoenix Pharmacy, it’s a boutique and cool bar/restaurant/bowling alley to visit after a day of exploring Knoxville.
Once there, grab yourself a lane, order some food (they make a mean mac and cheese) and a few of their signature cocktails, too. Just try and knock over some of the pins! I was TERRIBLE! 🎳 🤣