Tennessee is a beautiful state to explore. I mean, you’ve got a heap of national parks, incredible cities and some of the best BBQ in the US. Yeah, I said it! We had the most epic time on our road trip around the state, especially as we got to explore so many of the best things to do in Tennessee without rushing or feeling short on time.
Not only that, Tennessee a really diverse state to explore; which is why we decided on a road trip here in the first place. After anchoring ourselves between Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville, we got to explore so much of the local regions and fall in love with Tennessee.
I mean, I’m still not over how hot Hattie B’s was. Blew my socks off!
So, to get the most out of your trip to Tennessee, we’ve included some of the best stopping points to visit as you tour the state. You’ll be in for a treat.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Tennessee. Have the best holiday.
Nestled on the southern border of Tennessee, Memphis is one historic city to visit whilst exploring the state. It’s pretty easy to spend 4-days here, and can easily be driven in a few hours from Nashville (like we did).
After arriving, make sure to fill up at the Beauty Shop Restuarant which is a retro dining experience based in the old beauty parlour where Priscilla Presley would go.
When touring the city, you’ve got to go visit the Lorraine Motel (now, National Civil Rights Museum) where Dr Martin Luther King was killed. Also, be sure to take in the history at Sun Studio and Stax Museum, too.
Plus, if it gets really hot, like it did when we visited, get your sweaty self over to Jerry’s Snow Cones!
We did have to queue for about 30-minutes, so be prepared for this.
Finally, for a night on the town, head to the rooftop at the Peabody Hotel. In the warm summer months, they host live local bands, outdoor bars and food which is so much fun. Plus, it’s a great place to watch the sunset with some tasty cocktails.
Though, if you don’t want your night to end there, head straight on over to Beale Street, too. Just don’t blame me for your sore head in the morning. 😉
Nashville was the very first city that we visited in Tennessee and instantly loved it. It’s such a buzzing city to visit and one of the best things to do in Tennessee if you want a really fun city break.
After rocking up at your hotel, be sure to visit the historic Ryman Auditorium, find the huge replica of the Parthenon and explore the downtown area with all its indie bars and music joints that serve up some of the best music in the south. They have such a wide variety of artists from all over the US (and the world, to be honest) and it’s so much fun.
Though be warned, your bowling will get sloppy after those potent cocktails!
Just on the outskirts of Nashville, it serves up an epic (and totally huge) brunch that’s too good to miss. Though be aware, queue times can take a while; so have a little patience.
Oh yeah, and if you’ve got yourself a rental car, head on over to the historic Cheekwood Estate with all its art and historic house.
Alternatively, go inside Belle Meade Plantation to learn more about the history of this historic spot in the city.
You see, not only is Knoxville the largest city within easy reach of the Great Smokey Mountains, but it’s also got a heap of lovely spots to experience when exploring.
Once you arrive in the city, head on over to the Knoxville Museum of Art, visit the birthplace of Knoxville at James White’s Fort and pop over to Mead’s Quarry Lake for some well-earned chill time.
For some tasty sweet treats, pop over to the Phoenix Pharmacy which is filled with yummy desserts and traditional soda fountains. It’s like stepping back in time 80 years!
For cocktails, head straight over to the Peter Kern Library which is a speakeasy that’s hidden behind the alley and hotel. They make some incredible cocktails and it’s so cosy.
Finally, if you fancy a stroll head out on the mural walk that takes in some of the best street art in Knoxville. It’s well worth doing if you love contemporary art and a great way to explore the city.
Yup, it’s home to the Jack Daniels Distillery; a place that’s totally easy to visit for a few hours trip. We spent around half a day exploring Lynchburg and headed on a distillery tour, too. Even if you’re not into your Bourbon, it’s still one of the best things to do in Tennessee as it’s part of this areas history and makeup. Plus, it’s really interesting to learn so much more about its beginnings, too.
Afterwards, pop into the downtown area (Google Maps link here) of the town that’s got a cute little square and lots of little trinket shops to browse.
It’s totally tiny and easy to stop at before leaving Lynchburg itself.
Okay, I know I already mentioned Memphis but Graceland deserves a mention in its own right. Not just for Elvis fans, it’s one of the best things to do in Tennessee if you want to explore the musical soul of this region.
Once home to ‘the King’, you can now tour the Graceland itself, head onboard his private plane, wander through his living room and learn so much more about his musical legacy.
Now, I’m not the biggest Elvis fan but totally loved this place; it was so much fun.
6.) Great Smokey Mountains
Heading over to the Great Smokey Mountains is a must if you want to explore the great outdoors in Tennessee. You see, it’s one of the best national parks in the state, especially with all the trails, drives and beautiful scenery that’s relatively close to Knoxville.
For a pretty tough hike, head on the Charlies Bunion (via the Appalachian Trail) that takes you most of the day to complete. Now, it’s by no means an easy hike but you are rewarded with some epic views across the mountain range.
Alternatively, head over to spot Rainbow Falls or join the Kephart Prong Trail that’s great for the whole family.
Finally, right on the borderline of Tennessee and North Carolina, Clingman’s Dome for some of the best vistas over both states. It’s totally stunning. Just be sure to pack plenty of water and food with you; there are no services once you get here.
7.) Virgin Falls State Natural Area
Situated halfway between Nashville and Knoxville, Virgin Falls State Natural Area is a great place to stretch your legs. You see, it’s filled with lots of different trails and wooded pathways that make for some totally pristine hikes.
That being said, the hike to Virgin Falls (via the Virgin Falls Trail) itself can be tough and not be taken unless you’re an experienced hiker. The trail can be difficult at times and a little planning will be needed.
8.) Forbidden Caverns
Just south of Douglas Lake, visiting the Forbidden Caverns is one of the best things to do in Tennessee if you love geological history.
You see, Forbidden Caverns has taken tens of thousands of years to naturally create and is so incredible to walk around.
Still being created by mother nature today, these caverns can be explored via a guided tour that’s pretty epic to go on. Just be sure to wear some sensible shoes; it does get wet and slippy inside.
9.) Ruby Falls
Right on the border region with Georgia, Ruby Falls is one epic place to see!
This underground waterfall is totally unique and so impressive to visit. Like, how are there waterfalls like this underground? It’s so beautiful.
Visits typically last a few hours and it’s well worth stopping when passing through Chattanooga.
10.) Pigeon Forge
Okay, so this one might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a stop at Pigeon Forge is one of the best things to do in Tennessee if you love some kitsch fun.
You see, Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood; a massive entertainment complex of theme parks, restaurants, water parks and more! Plus, you’ve got the Alpine coaster and The Old Mill, too.
Love it or hate it, it’s one of the spots people love to visit in the state and you can easily spend a few days on all the rides and attractions here.
11.) Falls Creek Falls
Relatively close to Spencer, seeing Falls Creek Falls is one of the best things to do in Tennesee if you’re looking for an adventure. This totally awe-inspiring waterfall plunges deep within the forest and is so impressive to see.
Now, some of the best views are from the Gorge Overview Trail and the Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail which varies in difficulty. Oh, and always stick to the trails and don’t wander away from the routes. After all, no one likes a reckless hiker.