Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
The Volunteer State appeals to all kinds of travelers, from history buffs to nature lovers to music enthusiasts. With so many things to see and do here, it can be hard to know where to start. That's why U.S. News took into account a variety of factors – including diversity of attractions, accessibility, affordability and culinary options – to determine the best places to visit in Tennessee. Want to have a say in next year's list? Vote for your favorite destination below.
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Gatlinburg makes a great base for travelers looking to spend their vacation outdoors. Nestled within eastern Tennessee's section of the Great Smoky Mountains, this town boasts proximity to multiple hiking trails and ski slopes. Plus, Gatlinburg features several parks ideal for picnics and leisurely strolls. For some of the town's best panoramas, climb aboard the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, head to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle or walk across Gatlinburg SkyLift Park's suspension bridge. No visit would be complete without checking out Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.
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Memphis played a significant role in developing the blues, soul and rock 'n' roll musical genres, so much so that artists like Elvis Presley, W.C. Handy and Otis Redding recorded songs here. Today, the musical city offers a taste of this history at many of its top attractions, including Graceland, Sun Studio and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Memphis is also known for its ties to the civil rights movement. Visit the National Civil Rights Museum, which occupies the former Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated), to learn more about this important period in American history.
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Situated south of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers 800-plus miles of hiking trails, including some that take you to breathtaking waterfalls like Abrams, Grotto and Laurel falls. America's most-visited national park also provides ample opportunities to fish, bike, ride horses and camp (weather permitting). But remember, the Smokies are home to approximately 1,500 wild black bears, so stay alert, keep your distance and properly store your food at all times.
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Tennessee's third-largest city perfectly blends outdoor recreation with urban amenities. In the 1,000-acre plot of forested land that comprises Knoxville's Urban Wilderness, visitors can explore 50-plus miles of trails, swim in pristine lakes and get an adrenaline rush while zip lining, among other activities. For a more leisurely dose of nature, head to the University of Tennessee Gardens. Additional must-dos include visiting the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Zoo Knoxville and the Knoxville Museum of Art.
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Chattanooga's most well-known attribute may perhaps be Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, the oldest and largest Civil War park in the country. But there's more to this city than its rich history. Travelers can enjoy incredible views of the Scenic City from Ruby Falls (which is home to America's tallest underground waterfall accessible to the public) and Rock City Gardens (where visitors can see seven states from a platform located 1,700 feet above the ground). Plus, families will find kid-friendly attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium – the world's largest freshwater aquarium – and the Chattanooga Zoo within city limits.
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If you want your next vacation to be unlike any you've had before, visit Pigeon Forge. This mountain town 8 miles northwest of Gatlinburg is home to some of Tennessee's most unique attractions. You can roll down a hill in a giant inflatable ball at Outdoor Gravity Park or buy sweets and souvenirs, mine for gems, feed goats and more at Goats On The Roof. Additionally, Pigeon Forge is where you'll find Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park, WonderWorks and Hollywood Wax Museum outposts and the interactive Titanic Pigeon Forge museum.
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Nashville's ties to the Fisk Jubilee Singers (the first musical group to go on an international tour) and its prevalence of honky-tonks are only two reasons why the destination is called Music City. Country music fans flock to the Country Music Capital of the World to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and see big-name musicians perform at the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium. The city also boasts an excellent dining scene featuring Southern staples and Nashville hot chicken (a local favorite), so save time for a food tour.
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Bristol#8 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Although images of Nashville may first come to mind when you think of country music, Bristol should also be on your radar. This northeastern Tennessee city – which is a twin city of neighboring Bristol, Virginia – is where the musical genre was born. Bristol celebrates its musical history at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The city is also known for its world-famous Bristol Motor Speedway, a sprawling sports venue that hosts multiple racing events throughout the year. Plus, it features several parks and lakes where outdoor enthusiasts can hike, bike, camp and go fly-fishing.
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Murfreesboro#9 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Murfreesboro attracts history buffs in droves thanks to its collection of historical sights. At Stones River National Battlefield, visitors can learn more about one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. Meanwhile, Oaklands Mansion and Cannonsburgh Village offer vacationers a firsthand look at what life was like in Tennessee during the 19th century. When travelers need a break from Murfreesboro's historical locations, they can check out other popular attractions like the Discovery Center, Go USA Fun Park and Climb Murfreesboro. The latter is Tennessee's largest indoor rock climbing gym.
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Clarksville#10 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Overlooking the Cumberland River, bustling Clarksville is one of Tennessee's oldest cities. Visitors can follow the Civil War Trail to four informative markers or learn more about the war at Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center. The city also features multiple parks with areas for hiking and bird-watching, such as Dunbar Cave State Park, plus life-size statues of some of Clarksville's most famous former residents, including Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph and city founder John Montgomery. Travelers who are at least 21 years old should also check out Clarksville's blossoming brewery scene.
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Johnson City#11 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Johnson City is packed with amenities to entertain travelers young and old. Nestled in northeastern Tennessee's mountains, this city is home to Eastern Tennessee State University, as well as a multitude of restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums, shops and live music venues. But the main reason to visit Johnson City is to reconnect with nature. Vacationers can fish at Boone Lake, hit the links at one of two golf courses or hike Buffalo Mountain Park's trails. For impressive scenery without a workout, take a scenic drive on one of the area's byways.
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Lynchburg#12 in Best Places to Visit in Tennessee
Adults ages 21 and older who like whiskey should consider vacationing in Lynchburg. This small southern Tennessee town's claim to fame is the Jack Daniel's Distillery. Visitors flock here every year to tour the distillery and learn how whiskey is made. Most tours offer tastings, but keep in mind that Lynchburg sits in a dry county, so alcohol cannot be purchased on-site or anywhere within town limits. After touring the Jack Daniel's facility, walk around Lynchburg's historic square to see its shops, restaurants and 19th-century structures, including a courthouse and the Moore County Jail Museum.
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