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Best Things To Do in Chattanooga
Boredom is hard to come by in Chattanooga. For starters, the Tennessee Aquarium is one of the world's largest freshwater aquariums. Ruby Falls is the country's largest underground waterfall, and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is the largest military park in the nation (and the oldest). The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is one of the steepest incline railways in the world. And the Bluff View Art District may be the smallest neighborhood you've ever heard of (only 1½ blocks!). With so many superlatives, it's hard to believe Chattanooga was made famous by the Chattanooga Choo Choo song (we're confused, too).
Updated October 28, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Chattanooga7.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Recreation, Tours, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND7.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Recreation, Tours, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Along with natural attractions and a notable role in history of the rail industry, Chattanooga is known for being a Civil War battleground. The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is the oldest and largest of America's Civil War parks, encompassing several different sections of land both north and south of the Tennessee-Georgia border. During the Civil War, Chattanooga was considered to be an attractive area for its railroads and location, earning the title of the "Gateway of the Deep South." In 1863, battles broke out in various areas in Chickamauga and Chattanooga, with both the Union and Confederate troops experiencing victories and losses.
The park is headquartered at Chickamauga, Georgia, which is about 9 miles south of downtown Chattanooga. Visitors looking to stay in Tennessee are still within reach of many important war sites, including Orchard's Knob, the Chattanooga National Cemetery, Signal Point, Lookout Mountain and various areas along the Missionary Ridge. Those with a tight itinerary (and who already have plans to visit Ruby Falls, Rock City or ride the Incline Railway), should visit Lookout Mountain's Point Park, the site of the "Battle Above the Clouds," and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Chattanooga0.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Zoos and Aquariums, Natural Wonders, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Zoos and Aquariums, Natural Wonders, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the world's largest freshwater aquariums, and easily Chattanooga's biggest attraction, contributing more than $115 million to the city's economy annually. And for good reason: The Tennessee Aquarium isn't your average fish tank. The aquarium aims to take visitors on a journey, and features eclectic animals that dwell above and below sea level. The theme of the journey is the migration of a raindrop as it makes its way from atop a mountain stream to the bottom of the ocean. Through the "River Journey" exhibit, visitors travel through ecosystems such as the Appalachian Cove Forest and the Tennessee River, meeting many friends along the way, including chirping birds, river otters, alligators, turtles and more. The "Ocean Journey" exhibit follows, where penguins, jellyfish, sharks and colorful reef fish live. There is also a pool of stingrays, which visitors are allowed to touch, featured along the journey.
Reviewers loved their visit at the aquarium, with many amazed by the amount of animals housed at the facility. Along with the animals, reviewers were also pleased with the knowledgeable staff members. Many travelers recommend planning to spend a full day at the aquarium, thanks to the fun atmosphere and a variety of things to see and do. They add that this is a great spot to take the kids.
The Tennessee Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; though admission times may vary daily due to the coronavirus pandemic. Admission costs $34.95 for adults and $21.95 for children ages 3 to 12; kids younger than 3 can enter for free. IMAX theater tickets are an additional $8 per person, regardless of age. The aquarium is downtown on the banks of the Tennessee River. There is no on-site parking, but there are paid lots near the venue as well as paid street parking in downtown Chattanooga. The city's free shuttle also stops next to the aquarium. For more information, visit the aquarium's website.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Chattanooga0.7 miles to city centerFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Those who find themselves beat after traversing the city's many natural attractions should consider taking a stroll through the charming Bluff View Art District. Situated atop a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga, this district is barely a neighborhood: it stretches across just 1½ blocks. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Lush vines hug buildings, public works of art are carefully strewn along the waterfront and some of Chattanooga's most popular eateries, including Rembrandt's Coffee House and Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria, call this area home.
The small district also boasts three art institutions: The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, The River Gallery and the Hunter Museum of American Art. The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features a collection of Victorian art glass and antiques, while the River Gallery focuses on visual art, showcasing many different mediums from paintings to ceramics from local to national artists. The River Gallery also has a stunning sculpture garden, which is currently listed in the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Gardens. The Hunter Museum of American Art is the biggest of the family, featuring everything from paintings to sculpture to photography in its permanent collection. The collection includes works by photographer Ansel Adams, Black sculptor Elizabeth Catlett and Andy Warhol.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Chattanooga0.6 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
After hearing this building's name and seeing its architecture, you may be wondering whether you're visiting a train station or a hotel. Well, it's both. This building was originally a hotel before the Southern Railway acquired it in 1905. Four years later, it opened as Terminal Station and eventually became a major hub, transporting more than 50 passenger trains a day. From the time it opened to its closure in 1970, all trains traveling south passed through Chattanooga. Although well-known in the railroad industry, the Chattanooga Choo Choo didn't became a household name until the Glenn Miller Orchestra created a song of the same name, which was featured in the 1941 movie "Sun Valley Serenade."
By 1973, the train station was turned back into a hotel thanks to the efforts of four local businessmen who were fans of the song and wanted to spare the building from demolition. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is among the Historic Hotels of America. Some of the original station tracks still run through the property, and sleeper cars have been restored and converted into hotel accommodations. Visitors not staying at the hotel can marvel at the antique train and ornate hotel lobby. You can also peruse the surrounding entertainment complex, which boasts shops and gardens.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Chattanooga5.4 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.4 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
This popular 4,100-foot path located on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain offers attractions to appease many different types of travelers. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy weaving through the tall boulders situated at Needle's Eye and Fat Man's Squeeze along the Enchanted Trail. Children will feel like adventurers crossing the 180-foot Swing-a-Long Suspension Bridge and likely delight in the figurines depicting fairytales and classic children's stories in the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. Couples looking for a photogenic moment will appreciate Lover's Leap, a lookout point adjacent to the mountain's 140-foot waterfall. And everyone will have fun trying to see how many states they can spot from 1,700 feet above sea level at the See Seven States viewpoint.
Recent visitors enjoyed their experiences at Rock City, citing the natural attractions as beautiful and fun to explore, especially for those with children. Visitors particularly liked the waterfall and recounted the amazing views from the available lookout points. But not everyone was satisfied: a few travelers complained of the lack of accessibility for visitors with mobility issues, and how certain parts of the attractions, specifically Needle's Eye and Fat Man's Squeeze, are difficult for larger guests to enjoy since space is limited. Many travelers recommended wearing comfortable shoes and advised visiting early to beat the crowds.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Chattanooga2.5 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.5 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located along the Tennessee River Gorge just south of downtown Chattanooga, Ruby Falls is one of Lookout Mountain's most popular attractions — and it was discovered completely by accident. In 1905, railroad construction forced the closure of the Lookout Mountain Cave, making it inaccessible to the public. More than 20 years later, local cave explorer Leo Lambert sought to reverse this and gathered a team of excavators to help build an elevator from the surface that would lower visitors into the cave. One day, a team member drilled into an 18-inch opening that led to a new cave, where Ruby Falls now stands.
Located 1,120 feet below the surface of the mountain, Ruby Falls is America's largest underground waterfall. Carrying out Lambert's vision, visitors can take an elevator down to the falls and learn about the various rock formations located along the path to the falls. The attraction also boasts a lookout tower and a zip lining adventure. There are a variety of holiday events and seasonal tours, including the Lantern Tour, where guests are guided through the mountain caverns only by lantern.
- #7View all Photos#7 in ChattanoogaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Instead of showcasing Tennessee's railroad industry behind glass and velvet stanchions, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum shows you first-hand how the trains operated: by taking you on a ride. The mobile museum is a series of passenger cars built in the early 1900s powered by either steam or diesel engines.
How you experience the trains varies, as the TVRM operates several different routes. The basic excursion is the Missionary Ridge Local. On this hourlong trip, museumgoers embark on a 6-mile round-trip journey to learn about the history of railroads and how they operate from a knowledgeable guide. The trip also includes a turntable demonstration, which rotates the train for the trip back to Chattanooga, as well as a quick tour of the museum's restoration center. As an added bonus, you can also choose whether you'd like to take the trip with a steam or diesel engine train at the time of booking. If you'd like a longer ride, consider the Chickamauga Turn, which lasts six hours and takes you to Chickamauga, Georgia, to explore its Civil War heritage. The museum also runs a serious of holiday-themed excursions, including a North Pole trip that travelers say is great for kids.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Chattanooga2.7 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND2.7 miles to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
The most practical way to get to Lookout Mountain may be by car, but the most memorable experience is definitely the Incline Railway. Billed as "America's Most Amazing Mile," the railway transports passengers up the steepest part of the mountain on a nearly 73% grade track, making it one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. At the bottom of the incline, visitors can explore the historic district of St. Elmo's, and up top visitors will be treated to views from the highest point of Lookout Mountain. Some of Lookout Mountain's biggest attractions are less than a mile north of the railway station, including Point Park, which is part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum.
Many recent visitors reported loving the views from within the rail car and atop the mountain. However, some complained of the high price for such a short ride, the lack of attractions and amenities at the top of the mountain, and long wait times — a few travelers reported waiting an hour for a one-way ride. And a select few visitors recommended skipping the attraction entirely during the summer months due to crowds and the rail car's lack of air conditioning.
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