Tennessee has a great mixture of natural beauty, history, music, food, and culture. With its rich cultural heritage, it makes one of the best vacation destinations in America. There are so many great things to do in Tennessee, it is tough to narrow down the list.
Here are some of the best things to do while visiting Tennessee.
The Ryman Auditorium located in Nashville was initially designed to be a church. It was built by and named after Captain Tom Ryman, a wealthy riverboat captain. He got the inspiration to build the auditorium after being converted to the faith at a prayer meeting. The place was so well-built with incredible acoustics and large seating capacity that it became Nashville’s unofficial city auditorium.
No longer a church, the Ryman Auditorium has been converted to a place for great music and is popularly known as the mother church of country music. The auditorium has been used for performances by legendary artists such as Booker T Washington, Sarah Bernhardt, Merle Haggard, the Indigo Girls, Rebe McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Brooks & Dunn, Neil Young, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Chris Stapleton. Everyone who is anyone in American music has performed the Ryman.
Some of the things you can do here include taking a tour of the facilities, attending any of the concerts being held here, and shopping at the auditorium’s gift shop.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This beautiful national park is one of the most visited parks in the United States and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting more than 10 million visitors to every year. As such, a visit to this park is one of the best things you should do in Tennessee when you are visiting. The park is a scenic beauty with so many activities for visitors to experience.
One of the major activities you can do is going hiking. The park features over 900 miles of hiking trails. There is Sugarlands, a beautiful valley that is a hiker’s paradise. Other activities you can do here include having a fun picnic with your family. You can also have a romantic lunch at Cades Cove, a picturesque cove featuring meadows, lovely homesteads, incredible mountain views, and wildlife native to the region. You can also stay overnight, either camped in a tent or lodged in one of the cabins in the woods.
Driving through the park, which connects North Carolina with Tennessee, is a great way to experience the Smoky Mountains if you are pressed for time.
A visit to the Graceland Mansion is considered one of the top things to do when you are in Tennessee. This is thanks to Graceland’s fame as the most famous rock ‘n’ roll residence in the world. Fans from all over the United States and beyond regularly flock to the Graceland Mansion to pay homage to Elvis Presley and gain a peek into his life.
Thankfully, the mansion has been well preserved that it has not changed since Elvis’ passing in 1977. This makes a visit to Graceland Mansion an altogether unique experience.
Some of the things you can do while at Graceland include a tour of the property, where you will see a large warehouse-like building that houses exhibits and displays of his most iconic outfits, his rise to fame and his influences. You also get to see his collection of cars, aircraft, and memorabilia, as well as his family tomb.
Be sure to take a tour of his living quarters. Step into his music room and look around, where he created a lot of the magic he is known for. Instead of booking a one-day trip, book a staycation that allows you to explore the premises properly. There is a guest house at Graceland that you can use.
Lower Broadway Music Scene
The Broadway in Nashville is one of the most popular Tennessee attractions and one of the top Nashville activities. This is thanks to the sheer amount of things to do and see here.
Lower Broadway has a long, rich history of live music. For example, it is considered the heart of the country music scene thanks to the Honky Tonks, which launched the music careers of many singers. One of the most popular honky-tonks in present-day Nashville is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge which launched the career of a number of famous performers.
Apart from visiting the honky-tonks, some of the things you can do in Lower Broadway include a tour of the area. Take a stroll down the road and look at the historic commercial buildings that have been converted to country-themed restaurants and shops. Check out some some of the cool roof-top bars and restaurants. And watch impromptu jam sessions and discover new music.
For many people, their knowledge of Beale Street stems from the book If Beale Street Could Talk by legendary writer James Baldwin. However, there is much more to Beale Street. Beale Street is one of the most iconic places to visit in America.
One thing that makes Beale Street unique is that while it is notorious for its lively night scene made up of wild partying, there are a large number of family-friendly things you can do on Beale Street. You can start by visiting the Memphis Rock’ n’ Roll museum, where you will learn about the Memphis music story, legendary blues artists and their legacy. Treat your family to lunch at Silky O’Sullivans, a popular restaurant with an open patio from which you can watch a live show in the early evening, and your kids can see the live goat that lives on a tower.
Other fun activities you can do on Beale Street include visiting Memphis Music record shop, grabbing ice cream from Beal Sweets Sugar Shack and attending Broadway shows at The Orpheum Theatre. You can also stop by B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill in the afternoon or early evening to enjoy family-friendly live music.
If you are a Dolly Parton fan, visiting Dollywood should be at the top of your bucket list of Tennessee activities.
You can do so many things in this place dedicated to the legendary music icon, Dolly Parton. You could catch one of the performances or shows which are always going on at Dollywood. Some of the shows you should look out for include performances by the Smoky Mountain String Band, My People Show, which features Dolly Parton’s family members.
If you are visiting Dollywood with kids, you can take them to the playground to have the time of their rides. There are many rides at Dollywood, and they cater to people of different ages, from little kids to adults looking to have fun. There is a country fair area in Dollywood where you can play different types of games to win prizes, including stuffed animals. The country fair area also features a wide range of delicious fried food. There is the crafts village where you can watch artisans practice their crafts as well as buy a few keepsakes to remind you of your trip or to serve as gifts for your loved ones.
If you are a fan of Dolly Parton, be sure also to visit the Chasing Rainbows Museum. At the museum, you can see memorabilia for her remarkable life, including the awards she has won, handwritten lyrics for some of her most popular songs, and a hologram of her, amongst other things.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage is home to Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. A large portion of his life revolved around The Hermitage. Here, he had his residential mansion and his office. It also served as a place for social gatherings.
One of the top things to do while at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage is paying a visit to Natchez Hills Winery. There, you can taste delectable wine and learn about President Jackson’s relationship with wine. With the diverse types of wine at the Hermitage, you will find something you enjoy.
Beyond visiting the winery, you can go on a tour of The Hermitage, see the mansion that has been restored and contains most of President Jackson’s belongings, walk through the gardens and learn more about The Hermitage cotton plantation. This ancient plantation was the main source of livelihood of The Jackson family. You can also visit the Jackson tomb, where the former President, his wife and other family members are buried in the gardens. This is a great opportunity to take in the beautiful architecture of a Presidential home.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery attracts over 300,000 people yearly to the little town of Lynchburg in Tennessee. From far and wide, people flock to see how the Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel’s is made.
More than just an experience for whiskey lovers, a trip to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery can prove to be quite educational. At the distillery, you will get a guided tour of the facilities and discover the skill and attention to detail that goes into the production of the drinks loved and consumed by millions of people around the world. You will also learn the 150-year history of both the man, Jack Daniel and the products that have been created under his name. You will find out about the ways the brand contributed to its environment too.
During the tour, there is so much to see. You will also see the step-by-step process of how the whiskey is made. You will see how much whiskey the warehouses can hold. There is a natural spring in a cave which is one of the reason’s Jack Daniel’s chose this place for the distillery because the spring flows through the limestone cave, which filters iron from the water. This water is then used in the whiskey fermentation process.
You can also step into Jack Daniel’s office and see the safe he infamously kicked, which led to his death as a result of an infected, badly healed toe injury. If you wish, you can also taste the whiskey.
Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
Given Tennessee’s long history of playing a key part in country music, it makes sense that the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum can be found in Tennessee. If you are a lover of the genre, then you should visit it!
The Country Music Hall of Fame focuses on showcasing the history and evolution of country music in America, as well as preserving and upholding country music traditions.
At the museum, you will find a vast range of exhibitions dedicated to some of the legends in the genre, such as the Zac Brown Band, Charlie Daniels and Blake Shelton. There is also an exhibition dedicated to Grammy Award-winning artist Taylor Swift.
While there, you should also attend the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s main exhibition titled Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music. This exhibition makes use of pictures, videos and artifacts to teach the history of country music and its legacy. Spending a weekend in Nashville and visiting the Hall of Fame and Museum is an extremely popular getaway for many people.
Sun Studio is one of the more important and historical places to visit in Tennessee, thanks to the significant role it played in the evolution of music. It is commonly considered the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll music. This title was rightly earned after Delta Cats and Jackie Brenston recorded the hit song Rocket 88 there – widely considered to be the first rock ‘n’ roll single.
A large number of musical icons have recorded hit songs at Sun Studio, including Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and the most popular of them all, Elvis Presley. The studio continues to be a world-famous recording studio with several artists in the area using the facilities to record their music.
When you visit, you can get a tour of the facilities. You can also purchase a few keepsakes, artist merch and souvenirs from the studio’s gift shop.
Belle Meade Plantation
The incredible Belle Meade Plantation is one of the most significant places to visit in Tennessee because of the site’s historical importance. And also the beautiful setting in the Nashville suburbs.
Founded in 1807 by John Harding, this plantation was initially a log cabin located on 250 acres of land. Thanks to financing from the richest family in the area, the plantation expanded to cover 5,400 acres of land and included a horse farm, a mansion, a deer park and a train station. It welcomed a wide variety of guests, including celebrities and presidents.
However, beyond being a plantation and entertaining guests, the Belle Meade Plantation (now called the Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery) also had enslaved people who worked on the land. Currently, the plantation only covers 34 acres and provides a sobering insight into what life in America’s past was like, for both the wealthy white owners, and the enslaved people who worked the property. Take a guided tour of the facilities. You can also take a walk through the mansion and visit the quarters of the enslaved workers.
Stones River National Battlefield & Cemetery
Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery is one of America’s most significant reminders of the consequences of internal squabbles and divisiveness. Stones River National Battlefield is the location of one of the deadliest battles during the Civil War, popularly known as the Battle of Stones.
The battlefield has been converted to a park spanning over 570 acres and serves as a battle memorial. In this park, you will find the Stones River National Cemetery, which has about 7,000 grave sites, as well as Hazen’s Brigade Monument, which is the oldest serving monument created in memory of the Civil War.
There are several activities you can engage in while visiting the Stones River National Battlefield. You can go on guided tours managed by volunteers or park rangers who will teach you more about the historical significance of the site.
While it may not be an exciting place to visit, it is an important landmark in understanding the history of America, and as such, worth visiting.
If there is one place you should not skip when visiting Nashville, it should be The Parthenon. The Parthenon is one of the most phenomenal tourist attractions in Tennessee. Located in Nashville’s Centennial Park, it is a remarkable life-size replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was built and inaugurated in 1897 as part of the activities to commemorate Tennessee’s centenary.
This building has become a significant landmark in the city, largely thanks to its unique architecture. Inside the building, you’ll find Nashville’s main art gallery, which features works by 19th and 20th Century American painters. Also, you will find an impressive 42-foot golden statue of the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos.
Walk through the building, admire the art, and be sure to take a picture standing in front of the building for memory’s sake.
National Civil Rights Museum
Are you a history buff or interested in civil rights history? In that case, the National Civil Rights Museums in Memphis is one of the foremost places you should visit in Tennessee. Established in 1991 as a way to preserve the legacy of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement, the museum offers visitors a history lesson. It also shows how this movement has influenced the fight for equality all over the world.
The museum is made up of several historic buildings dedicated to different pioneers and aspects of the civil rights movement. Each building has a museum within it. One of such buildings is the building dedicated to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This building is in the lot of what was once the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is no wonder that many of the museum’s exhibits are centered around him and his work.
Oak Ridge – American Museum of Science and Energy
If you are on a family trip to Tennessee and you have kids who are into science, paying a visit to The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge is one of the best things to do in Tennessee.
When you visit The American Museum of Science and Energy, you will be treated to an interesting introduction to the history of nuclear energy. Some of the things you will discover include the story of how Oak Ridge came to play a major part in the development of the nuclear bomb. You will also learn about the Manhattan Project through pictures, videos, documents, and memorabilia that show how the facility was used in the past.
Some of the other displays you will find at The American Museum of Science and Energy include models of the types of weaponry, tools and protective gears that were used when the site was still in operation. You will also see exhibits that teach you about other sources of energy, as well as exhibits showing innovations in the field of robotics.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Tennessee Valley Railroad is one of the top attractions in Tennessee. Located in Chattanooga and drawing a large number of people to a unique experience, it has been described as a moving museum. It offers you an interactive, historical adventure on a regularly scheduled train ride.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad takes you down memory lane to the era when railroad travel was the common means of transportation, and the city of Chattanooga was popular for being an established railroad hub. Aboard one of the scheduled train rides of the Tennessee Valley Railroad, you will learn more about Chattanooga’s railroad history and legacy. You will discover the significant role it played during the Civil War.
You will journey through the historic route, including the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. This journey on The Tennessee Valley Railroad gives you the opportunity to appreciate advancements in technology with regard to travel while learning how things functioned in the past.
Grand Ole Opry
This is one of Tennessee’s most popular attractions, thanks to its worldwide fame. The Grand Ole Opry is often described as the place that made country music famous. It is also referred to as the home of American music.
The Grand Ole Opry started as a radio show called the WSM Barn Dance in 1925. This show was initially broadcast from the historic Ryman Auditorium before it moved to the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. From a simple country music radio station, the Grand Ole Opry House expanded to become a prominent location for hosting country music concerts.
The Grand Ole Opry hosts concerts every week, and some of the biggest names in country music, such as Carrie Underwood, have performed here. The concerts are still being broadcasted across many channels all over the world, as well as the Grand Ole Opry’s website.
Visit the Grand Ole Opry while in Tennessee and attend a concert. You just might run into one of your favorite musical acts.
Downtown Knoxville & Sunsphere Tower
When you are in Tennessee, take a trip to Downtown Knoxville and visit the Sunsphere Tower. The Sunsphere Tower is an iconic structure built for the 1982 World Fair. Standing at 26 stories tall, the Sunsphere tower offers you an awe-inspiring view of Knoxville.
Some historical events have occurred at the Sunsphere. These events include the World’s Fair, which was one of the last successful World’s Fairs, and the debut of the Rubik’s Cube, which was first unveiled at the 1982 World’s Fair. It also includes the event where reputed ex-basketball star Dane Bradshaw ziplined from the top of the Sunsphere to the Court of Flags during a ceremony held in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the 1982 Worlds Fair.
There are so many things to see at the Sunsphere. These include the glasses, which are each made with 24-karat gold, thus providing the building with its reflective gold color, the observation deck where you will find a gallery of pictures of the local area, a beautiful 360-degree view of Knoxville and information on Knoxville as well as the history of the Sunsphere.
Lookout Mountain is one of the most popular places to see in Tennessee and offers some of state’s best views. It is supposedly named after the Cherokee term for mountains facing each other.
This beautiful mountain ridge holds great historical significance in the area. Some historical battles have occurred here, including the last battle of the Cherokees, and the Battle of Lookout Mountain, during the Civil War.
There are many things for you to see on a visit to Lookout Mountain. These include the Ruby Falls cave, which is the deepest and biggest underground waterfall in America, and Rock City, which has impressive cliffs and incredible scenery. It would be best if you also took out the time to visit the Incline Railway and Chattanooga Museum, where you can find displays related to the Battle of Lookout Mountain.
Tennessee Whiskey Trail
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail is a tour of 25 distilleries across the state of Tennessee producing whiskey and other spirits. It was launched in 2017 by the Tennessee Distillers Guild to showcase the craftsmanship the state is known for when it comes to making whiskey and other spirits.
The tour features a diverse range of distilleries, from the little known local ones to the big-name historic distilleries which brands are consumed all over the world. Several of the Nashville distilleries are included on the trail as well. Be sure to collect stamps as you visit each distillery. This way, you will get a free t-shirt at the end of the trail.
Discovery Park of America
Are you looking for a family-friendly destination to visit in Tennessee? In that case, the Discovery Park of America is an excellent choice with its fifty-acre grounds housing fascinating discoveries and awe-inspiring exhibits.
The Discovery Park of America gives you so much to see. It is an exhibition ground for a diverse range of things, including a life-size human body model, a 20,000-gallon aquarium containing different types of aquatic creatures and an earthquake simulator.
It has ten galleries with exhibitions covering different things, including the military, Native American history, regional history, natural history, the evolution of science and transportation, as well as advancements in space travel. There is also a 50-acre outdoor park with a man-made river as well as waterfalls.
RMS Titanic Museum
Tennessee happens to be the state with the biggest and one of the best museums dedicated to the RMS Titanic worldwide. Opened in 2010, RMS Titanic Museum is located in Pigeon Forge and attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is shaped like the original Titanic ship and is half its size while maintaining accurate scale percentages.
The Titanic Museum experience is completely unique. It has 20 galleries with over 400 different artefacts which are related to the ship. Each of the galleries is designed to make you feel like you are on the real ship (without the water flowing in).
When you get into the museum, you will receive a boarding pass with the name of one of the passengers on the original titanic. The pass will entitle you to be in the class they were traveling on and you will get to experience the Titanic the same way they did. At the end of the tour of the facilities, you will get to the Titanic Memorial Room, where you will find out more about all the passengers who were on the original ship and whether they survived.
Tennessee State Capitol Building
Tennessee’s State Capitol Building was dedicated to the people of Tennessee when it first opened its doors in 1859. The impressive structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a US Historic Landmark.
The Tennessee State Capitol Building was the brainchild of William Strickland, who tragically passed away in the middle of construction. Today, it serves as both his and President James Polk’s final resting place.
There are also memorials to other national heroes and notable personalities who have passed. These memories include the statues of Sam Davis, President Andrew Johnson, President Andrew Jackson, and Sergeant Alvin York. Go on a guided tour of the building and discover its rich history.
The Museum of Appalachia
When we think of museums, we think of confined buildings where art and artefacts are put on display. However, The Museum of Appalachia is different. It is an open-air museum in a rural Appalachian community spanning 65 acres of land.
This living history museum is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the people of Southern Appalachia through the recreation of what their lives looked like. The museum features 25 log cabins, farm animals, barns, gardens, schools, churches and other structures that were a part of their everyday lives. These things were recreated using the artefacts and stories from the original inhabitants.
There are three buildings in the museum housing thousands of Appalachian artifacts, including their folk art, tools of work, musical instruments, quilts and other materials. The museum also features a restaurant and a gift shop that is open to guests.
Lost Sea Cave
The Lost Sea Cave is one of Tennessee’s most beautiful travel destinations. Located inside Craighead Caverns, named after the Cherokee chief, Chief Craighead. It is referred to as the Lost Sea Cave because it is here that the Lost Sea, the biggest non-subglacial lake in America, can be found.
This scenic location, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, is easily accessible by foot. Some of the fascinating things you will see in the Lost Sea Cave include a breathtaking waterfall which is a perfect background for pictures and several clusters of crystals hanging from the walls of the caves. Of course, there’s also the lake. This makes the Lost Sea Cave one of the perfect places to appreciate the state’s natural beauty.
A guided tour of the place will also help you find out the historical significance of the caves and their role during the Civil War when the Confederate soldiers mined them to get salt.
The Belmont Mansion, located at the centre of the Belmont University Campus in Nashville, is the biggest house museum in Tennessee and one of the few museums in the world that are centered on a woman’s life: Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham.
At the Belmont Mansion museum, you will learn more about Adelicia Acklen and the historic role she played during the Civil War. Widowed during the Civil War, she sold cotton from her estate to both Union and Confederate authorities to take care of her family.
Get a guided tour of the facilities and learn about the history of the place, which has been well restored and original furniture and art as well as period pieces from that era. Stepping into the museum feels like stepping back in time.
Crystal Shrine Grotto
If you are looking for an unusual Tennessee attraction, look no further than the Crystal Shrine Grotto. It is a location with a mixture of special stones, religious relics and incredible craftsmanship that makes the place look like it was made from more than just concrete, which is not the case.
It was built in the 1930s with an intent to create a safe and serene space for people to simply relax and practice mindfulness while visiting the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. However, the place has morphed into a Christian-themed attraction.
There is so much to see in the grotto. The cave contains several tons of crystals collected from the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. There are artworks inside the grotto depicting events in the life of Jesus. There are hidden figures in the concrete walls of the cave that tell Old Testament stories too.
Hatch Show Print
The Hatch Show Print is one of the country’s oldest letterpress print shops. Established in Nashville in 1870 by the Hatch brothers, originally known as CR and HH Hatch, Hatch Show Print was at its peak of popularity during Nashville’s golden age of country music. This was thanks to the work of the talented woodblock carver, Will T. Hatch, the son of one of the company’s co-founders, who made a number of famous posters for country music stars.
The company became popular and rose to the top of the state’s list of best and most renowned companies as a result of its smartly chosen graphics, beautiful typeface and well-done work. Many downtown Nashville hotels feature their artwork in the lobbies and in guest rooms.
Currently located in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s main foyer since 2013, Hatch Show Print prints over 150,000 posters every year. If you are in search of a fun and artistic activity to do in Tennessee, visit this print shop, take a tour of the facilities and learn more about the print-making business.
Hattie B’s for Hot Chicken
A trip to Tennessee is not complete without exploring its culinary treasures. One of such treasures is Hattie B’s Restaurant, one of the best places to eat in Nashville.
Hattie B’s Restaurant is notable for helping make fried chicken popular. It is a family-run restaurant that offers “Nashville style” fried hot chicken with homemade sides and desserts. It is popular among locals and tourists who make the journey to Nashville to have a taste of the famous hot chicken.
The food here is very affordable. However, when placing your order, be sure to pick options that are best for your tastebuds. The chicken options range from mild to spicy.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous for Memphis Ribs
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Restaurant is both an amazing place to eat at and a part of Memphis’ history.
In 1948, Charlie Vergos started this highly popular restaurant by selling pork sandwiches and coleslaw on the street. He eventually opened this one and only outlet located in one of Memphis’ downtown alleys. The restaurant has upheld its legacy of serving great food with its signature meals, including diverse sausage and cheese plates and full slabs of ribs for which the restaurant is best known.
The main dining area of the restaurant is a huge basement which is often packed full of locals and tourists alike. This sometimes means that you may have to make reservations ahead of time. Alternatively, you can wait in the bar or waiting area upstairs.
The restaurant is family-friendly and remains proof of the locals’ loyalty to businesses and brands that offer them great service.
What are your favorite places to visit or things to do in Tennessee?