Best Things To Do in Knoxville
Knoxville is a pleasure to explore, especially on foot, as so many attractions are close to downtown. From restaurants and shops centered around Market Square to the museums and sights radiating out from World's Fair Park, there's plenty to keep visitors busy. To get a lay of the land, pay a visit to the Sunsphere for 360-degree views of downtown Knoxville. When you want to get out of town, the Great Smoky Mountains are less than an hour away.
Updated December 4, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeMarket Square#1 in KnoxvilleCafes, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCafes, Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Since the 1860s, Market Square has been a community center of Knoxville, with shops, restaurants, cafes and bars drawing a large number of locals and visitors. Recent travelers said it's a lively and fun place to walk around, with plenty of places to eat or just hang out. From outdoor concerts and movies to Shakespeare on the Square and other live entertainment, the area is usually bustling. There are also two water play fountains, a magnet for kids in warm weather.
From May through November on Wednesday and Saturday, the open-air Market Square Farmers Market offers products grown or made by vendors in the East Tennessee region. Products, which vary by the seasons, include eggs, honey, herbs, pasture-raised meat, baked goods, coffee, crafts and much more.
- #2View all Photos#2 in KnoxvilleParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Once the fairgrounds of Knoxville's 1982 World's Fair, today the space is a public park and home to the Sunsphere and the Tennessee Amphitheater, the two remaining structures from the exposition. Visitors and locals say the park is a great place to see a show, have a picnic or just take a walk.
The two-acre Festival Lawn accommodates a variety of events, from concerts to festivals, while the enormous Performance Lawn, another open area, provides a natural amphitheater-like setting, also perfect for concerts, festivals, parties and other events. The Splash Pads, a fun water feature, are usually available from mid-April to early October, but availability can depend on the weather conditions.
- #3View all Photos#3 in KnoxvilleHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Spanning more than 300 acres in Tennessee's Knox County, this nature center offers plenty of rock climbing opportunities and more than 10 miles of trails to walk or hike. What's more, visitors can paddle on Mead's Quarry Lake via canoe, kayak and paddleboard. Start at the visitor center, where you can pick up a trail map, grab a snack and use the restroom. In addition, the exhibit hall at the center is home to a number of non-releasable animals, including a variety of owls and snakes. You can learn more about some of the animals who live in the ecosystems in the area and learn how to spot them throughout the nature center.
Recent visitors said the nature center is a great place to bring kids, but all ages will enjoy the beauty of the region. Patrons particularly enjoyed the River Boardwalk, which overlooks the Tennessee River.
- #4View all Photos#4 in KnoxvilleMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Muse Knoxville, the city's children's museum, offers a variety of exhibits that focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Along with a planetarium, the museum features interactive exhibits that teach kids about science of sound, the body's circulatory system and gardening, among other subjects.
Recent visitors said this is a great place for kids, with lots of hands-on activities and exhibits to keep them occupied for hours.
- #5View all Photos#5 in KnoxvilleZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
More than 700 animals live at this 53-acre zoo, which is a delightful spot to take kids and animal lovers alike. A major highlight of the zoo is its red pandas; more than 100 red pandas have been born at the zoo, which is more than any other location in the world. Other popular activities at the zoo include feeding giraffes, riding the Zoo Choo Train and going on camel rides, all of which do have extra fees.
Recent zoogoers praise the staff and facility's cleanliness, saying the animals look well-cared for and happy.
- #6View all Photos#6 in KnoxvilleHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This museum is named after James White, the American pioneer and soldier who founded Knoxville. In 1783, he led an expedition into the upper Tennessee Valley and established what would become the future site of Knoxville. In 1790, the fort was chosen as the capital of the Southwest Territory. The very next year, White sold the land and donated lots to establish a permanent city.
Today, visitors can see the original 1786 home of White. In the main house, highlights include White's desk as well as a map of the original layout of Knoxville. Other spaces to see include the kitchen, the outhouse, the blacksmith shop and the weaving house. The fort is one of the most visited historical sites in Knoxville and recent visitors said it offers a fascinating and authentic glimpse into the past.
- #7View all Photos#7 in KnoxvilleMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Knoxville Museum of Art highlights the art and artists of East Tennessee with both permanent and temporary exhibits. "Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee" is the museum's permanent exhibit. It aims to highlight artists who spent the majority of their careers in the eastern Tennessee area and it features objects from the museum's own collection, along with works borrowed from public and private collections. Another popular permanent exhibit is the "Thorne Rooms," a set of intricate miniature dioramas created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne. Rooms depicted include a 19th-century Victorian parlor and a late 18th-century English dining room.
A major draw of the museum is the enormous sculpture called the "Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity" by Knoxville resident and internationally known artist Richard Jolley. The work is one of the largest figurative glass and steel sculptures in the world.
- #8View all Photos#8 in KnoxvilleMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this museum offers exhibits on everything from the native peoples of Tennessee to "Monty," a 2,400-pound, 24-foot-long bronze skeleton of a hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur), which once roamed the coastal plains of Tennessee.
Recent travelers said the museum is small, but fascinating, and well worth visiting for its interesting exhibits, especially "Ancient Egypt: The Eternal Voice." This exhibit features a collection of objects, most manufactured more than 2,000 years ago, including everday items like shoes and hair combs to ceremonial pieces, such as a coffin and animal mummies.
- #9View all Photos#9 in KnoxvilleParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This 47-acre property dates back to 1786 when it was a private family-owned horticultural business. In 2001, it was founded as the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Today, visitors will encounter eight display gardens, including a butterfly meadow, walking trails and 2 miles of distinctive stone walls.
Recent travelers said the garden is a tranquil and beautiful place to visit. Others praised the knowledgable staff.
- #10View all Photos#10 in KnoxvilleHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Built in 1792, Blount Mansion, designated a National Historic Landmark, was the home of the first and only governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount. The building was also considered the territory's capitol. Blount was a signer of the U.S. Constitution and played an important role in Tennessee becoming America's 16th state.
The mansion is surprisingly interesting and fun to peruse, according to recent visitors, who also said the guides are knowledgeable and friendly. Unlike most homes built at the time, Blount's home was made of timber rather than of rough logs or hand-hewn beams. The original "mansion" was just a hall and parlor house with two rooms downstairs and a half-story loft for sleeping. Over time, two wings were added, enlarging the property. The detached kitchen is modeled after a common 18th-century kitchen and the Governor's Office was a typical law office of the 1790s.
- #11View all Photos#11 in KnoxvilleParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The official botanical gardens of the state of Tennessee boasts more than 4,000 annuals, perennials, herbs, tropical plants, trees, shrubs, vegetables and ornamental grasses, and are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Scenic walking trails weave throughout the various gardens and greenhouses.
Recent visitors said the gardens are pretty, well-kept, and equipped with informative signage for the curious. Art exhibits, seasonal events, lectures, plant sales and more are offered at the gardens throughout the year.
- #12View all Photos#12 in KnoxvilleMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This downtown museum boasts more than 13,000 artifacts in its permanent collection. Items range from decorative arts to textiles (especially quilts) to Civil War relics from the Union and Confederate armies. One of the museum's main exhibits, "Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee," features interactive displays and first-person accounts from locals. There are also a variety of temporary exhibits.
Recent visitors called the museum a great place to learn about the region thanks to a range of informative exhibits.
- #13View all Photos#13 in KnoxvilleMuseums, SportsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SportsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, dedicated to all levels of women's basketball, is a great place to learn about the game's history and key players over the years. Spanning 35,000 square feet, the facility features the Hall of Honors, which displays the names of noted players inducted into the Hall of Fame. In addition, visitors can test their own basketball skills on three different courts and enjoy a fun photo area where they can pretend to be different players. What's more, the museum is home to the world's largest basketball, measuring 30 feet in height and weighing 10 tons.
Recent travelers said this is a must-visit for basketball fans, with great exhibits, and lots to see and learn.
- #14View all PhotosfreeSunsphere#14 in KnoxvilleMonuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, Museums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Constructed for the 1982 World's Fair, the 266-foot-tall Sunsphere offers a great view of the city from its observation deck on the fourth floor. It's one of the last remaining relics of the 1982 World's Fair and features information and images about the historic event. What's more, it offers a 360-degree view of the original 1982 World's Fair site (now World's Fair Park), downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee River, the University of Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. It's worth stopping in to take photos, according to visitors. However, a few complain that the venue could use some updating and cleaning.
The Sunsphere, located in World's Fair Park, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is free to visit. World's Fair Park is best accessed via the Knoxville Trolley's orange line. For more information, visit the observatory's official website.
- #15View all Photos#15 in KnoxvilleEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
When the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928, it was considered the "South's most beautiful theatre." Now on the National Register of Historic Places and honored as the Official State Theatre of Tennessee, the venue hosts classical music performances, vintage film screenings, dance performances and touring Broadway shows. Local organzations, such as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Knoxville Opera, also regularly use the theater for shows.
Recent theatergoers raved about the gorgeous architecture and history of the venue and say it is like stepping back in time. The building was designed by Chicago architectural firm Graven & Mayger and features globally inspired motifs. It boasts a Spanish-Moorish style interior with French-style chandeliers and Italian terrazzo flooring in the lobby. What's more, it was one of the first public places in Knoxville to have air conditioning.
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