Chattanooga Travel Guide

USA  #5 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
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Courtesy of Julie Thurston/Getty Images

Free Things To Do in Chattanooga

Looking for free things to do? Here's our ranking of the best free activities in Chattanooga. Popular attractions include Bluff View Art Districtand Chattanooga Choo Choo.
  • #3
    Things to do in Chattanooga
    View all Photos
    #3 in Chattanooga
    0.7 miles to city center
    Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.7 miles to city center
    Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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 sustainable 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 and even jewelry from local and 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, sprawling across three buildings, each of which displays art that matches the architecture's style. For example, the Colonial-style mansion houses art from the colonial period, while two other modern buildings feature more contemporary works. The Hunter Museum of American Art has featured the likes of Monet and permanently houses work from Andy Warhol.

  • #4
    Chattanooga Choo Choo
    View all Photos
    #4 in Chattanooga
    0.6 miles to city center
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.6 miles to city center
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    To the naked eye, the Chattanooga Choo Choo may look like just another hotel, but what lies within the building's old brick walls is a history so rich it helped put Chattanooga on the map. Ironically, the building that housed the Chattanooga train station was originally a hotel before it was acquired by the Southern Railway in 1905. Four years later, it opened as a train station and eventually became a 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, with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt among the many passengers who frequented this historic station. 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 first Chattanooga Choo Choo Train, which dates back to 1880 and is the only one of its kind in the city. The property also boasts shops, gardens and a trolley, which travelers can ride to hear an audio narrative of the building's history.

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