17 Best Things to Do in Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN
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Knoxville is a historic city serving as the seat of Knox County in eastern Tennessee.

It traces its origin to the settlements in the 1790s and was incorporated as a city in 1815.

The city got its name from Henry Knox, who served as war secretary during Washington’s presidency.

As Tennessee’s first capital, it is home to many of the state’s first, including its first published book and first newspaper.

Since the late 18th century, it has become home to the University of Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest state universities.

The city has a lively downtown with restaurants, arts and culture institutions, and entertainment spots hosting various exciting activities.

The city sits by the Tennessee River and offers plenty of nearby outdoor recreation opportunities.

Here are some of the best things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee, to help you plan your visit:

Meet the Residents of Zoo Knoxville

An elephant at Zoo Knoxville
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Learn about animal conservation when you meet the fun residents of Zoo Knoxville.

Established in 1971, this premier zoo features acres of various habitats that serve as home to more than 20 animals.

Get up close and personal with otters, red pandas, and other animal ambassadors.

Join a safari and see fascinating African elephants, white rhinos, and mountain zebra.

A red panda at Zoo Knoxville
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If your kids are fond of exciting activities, take them on the soaring eagle zipline for a one-of-a-kind zoo experience above the treetops.

There are several dining options within the zoo, so you can grab a bite and take a rest from touring.

Zoo Knoxville is along Knoxville Zoo Drive.

A baboon at Zoo Knoxville
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See the Lovely Flora at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum

Stroll along the fascinating garden spaces at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.

Established in 2001, it traces its origins to the 18th-century Howell Nurseries, one of the oldest businesses operating in the state.

The facility has over 40 acres and features eight display gardens, stone walls, structures, and landscaped green spaces.

Admire the playful stone architecture at the stone terraces, welcoming you to a serene atmosphere in the gardens.

Go on a relaxing walk along the dogwood nature trail, where dozens of dogwood varieties thrive.

Explore the butterfly meadow, where East Tennessee native plants provide a thriving environment for native butterflies.

Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum are located along Wimpole Avenue.

Go on a Water Adventure at Ijams Nature Center

Welcome sign of Ijams Nature Center
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit Ijams Nature Center for a day of outdoor adventures.

Established in 1975, this outdoor recreation spot features over 12 miles of trails, play areas, and access to various water activities.

You can explore Mead’s Quarry Lake on a canoe and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Mead's quarry lake at Ijams Nature Center
Scott Basford, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go kayaking on the Tennessee River.

Instead of exploring by boat, you can launch from the dock at the Ijams River Landing.

Ijams Nature Center is located along Island Home Avenue.

Boardwalk at Ijams Nature Center
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover the Local Craft Beer Scene with Knox Brew Tours

Peek into Knoxville’s vibrant craft brewing scene with Knox Brew Tours.

Hop on a tour bus and visit various breweries around the city, from nano to large ones.

At each stop, learn about the brewery’s history and see its brewing process.

Of course, no tour would be complete without tasting some of the city’s best brews.

If you’re visiting with a group of friends, you can also book a private guided tour with Knox Brew Tours and get to choose the breweries that interest your group.

Alternatively, you can join their walking tour, where you’ll explore on-foot breweries downtown.

Join the Dogwood Arts Festival

Painted cups for sale at the Dogwood Arts Festival
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Experience the city’s arts and culture vibe at the Dogwood Arts Festival.

Starting in 1961, this festive cultural celebration at the World’s Fair Park features art, live entertainment, food, and many activities.

See a diverse collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other artworks from over 100 fine art vendors participating in the festival.

Check out the performance stage and catch a showcase of diverse local talents.

Sample local flavors and treats at the many food trucks onsite.

If you’re coming with your little ones, plenty of children’s activities can keep them entertained at Dogwood Arts Festival, such as face painting booths and balloon animals.

Indulge in Southern Fare at Sweet P’s BBQ Downtown Dive

There’s no better way to refuel than to indulge in some excellent barbecue.

After a day of sightseeing, head to Sweet P’s BBQ Downtown Dive for a plate of authentic Southern fare.

Fulfilling the city’s barbecue cravings since 2015, this restaurant serves slow-cooked and smoked barbecue.

Pair yours with some delicious sides and sauces.

You can also enjoy the day’s special with a pint of craft beer in their outdoor area.

You can find Sweet P’s BBQ Downtown Dive along West Jackson Avenue.

Dine and Shop at Market Square Knoxville

Buildings along Market Square Knoxville
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Explore the city’s dining and shopping scene at Market Square Knoxville.

Situated at the center of downtown, this historic dining and shopping destination traces its origins to the mid-19th century.

Today, it boasts a vibrant market scene featuring restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops.

Shops at Market Square Knoxville
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

Grab breakfast or a bite, and then explore the shops around the square.

You can also visit in the evening and check out the nightlife at the bars.

Market Square Knoxville also hosts various activities throughout the year, such as jazz concerts in spring and the peppermint trail in winter.

A restaurant at Market Square Knoxville
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Join the Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour

Learn about the city’s musical heritage when you go on the Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour.

Knoxville is known for its dynamic music history, making remarkable contributions to the evolution of jazz, blues, and rock and roll.

Moreover, the city has become an essential part of the development of country music.

Get a glimpse into this history as you walk over ten stops downtown, each with a fascinating story to tell.

The stops include studios and spots where early county music stars started, including Dolly Parton’s radio broadcast debut.

You can visit the places on tour at your own pace.

The Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour also has an audio tour version.

See Local Art at the Knoxville Museum of Art

Exterior of the Knoxville Museum of Art
, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Experience East Tennessee’s rich visual culture at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Opened in 1990, this beautiful museum features an expansive and diverse collection of artworks from various East Tennessee creatives.

Stroll along the galleries and see over a century of the region’s art history.

Entrance to the Knoxville Museum of Art
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Explore the miniatures rooms and see some of the country’s famous dioramas.

You can also visit the museum’s outdoor gardens and admire the exhibited sculptures.

The Knoxville Museum of Art is in a four-story steel and concrete building along World’s Fair Park Drive.

Facade of the Knoxville Museum of Art
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Explore the Trails at Baker Creek Preserve

Take the family on a fun urban wilderness adventure at Baker Creek Preserve.

This 100-acre park offers over seven miles of multi-use trails, mountain bike trails, and kids’ play areas.

Enjoy a leisurely walk along the trail loop surrounded by magnificent native trees.

You can also take your bike for a fun ride along the trails.

The park is known for its Devil’s Racetrack, a downhill trail that attracts expert riders.

Access to Baker Creek Preserve is on Lancaster Drive.

View the City from Above at World’s Fair Park

Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park
Joseph Creamer / Shutterstock.com

When you visit the World’s Fair Park, get a lovely look at the city from above.

Constructed for the city’s hosting of the World’s Fair Exhibition in 1982, the park is now a popular destination in the city.

One of the park’s main attractions is the towering 26-story Sunsphere, which served as the fair’s main icon.

The grounds of World’s Fair Park
Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

You can climb up to its observation deck, where you’ll see a sweeping 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, the Tennessee River, downtown, and the University of Tennessee.

Don’t forget to take a photo souvenir of this beautiful structure from the ground so you can capture its golden globe’s beauty.

You can find World’s Fair Park along World’s Fair Park Drive.

Amphitheatre at World’s Fair Park
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Enjoy the Fall Colors at Sequoyah Hills Park

If you’re visiting in the fall and looking for a nice spot to see the foliage, head to Sequoyah Hills Park.

With over 80 acres of lovely open spaces, this park features 2.6 miles of nature trails, sports fields, greenways, and blueways.

Take your bike and enjoy a scenic ride along the tree-lined boulevard.

Otherwise, stroll along the riverbanks and enjoy the mesmerizing fall colors.

You can find Sequoyah Hills Park along Cherokee Boulevard.

See Dinosaur Fossils at the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture

Exterior of the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture
Walker Kinsler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See a different—and much older—side of the area at the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture.

This museum at the University of Tennessee is dedicated to showcasing collections about local geology, natural history, anthropology, and archaeology.

The 24-foot-long Monty—an Edmontosaurus skeleton—will greet you at the museum front.

Learn about Tennessee’s geological history through the diorama displays.

Explore the exhibits on fossils from hundreds of millions of years ago and the Ice Age, including dinosaur bones in the state.

You could also visit the decorative arts gallery, showcasing the museum’s art collection.

Check out the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture along Circle Park Drive.

Go Bowling at Maple Hall

Have a fun evening of bowling with friends at Maple Hall.

This beautifully designed boutique bowling center is in the historic J.C. Penney building.

Aim for a night of strikes at the 11-lane bowling alley.

Enjoy cocktails and small plates from their full-service bar.

Catch up with friends at their cozy lounge area.

If you’re looking for a spot to celebrate, you can book the venue for private events.

You can find Maple Hall along South Gay Street.

Visit the Mabry-Hazen House Museum

Exterior of the Mabry-Hazen House Museum
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Step back in time across a century of Knoxville’s history through the vast collections at the Mabry-Hazen House Museum along Rosedale Avenue.

This mid-19th-century Italianate-style house was home to three generations of the Mabry and Hazen families.

It opened to the public as a museum in 1992, showcasing one of the largest family collections in the country.

See over 2,000 artifacts at the museum, including antiques and elegant furnishings and decorations from the Victorian and Civil War periods.

In 1989, the Mabry-Hazen House Museum was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.

Join a Cruise on the Star of Knoxville

Enjoy scenic views and know more about the city when you go on a cruise aboard the Star of Knoxville.

Run by the Tennessee Riverboat Co., the Star of Knoxville is an authentic paddlewheel with a capacity of 235 passengers.

Hop on a sightseeing tour along the beautiful Tennessee River, and learn more about the city, the historic river, and riverboat history.

You can also choose from a lunch or dinner cruise if you want to enjoy meals and entertainment onboard.

The Tennessee Riverboat Co. is along Neyland Drive.

Catch a Game at Neyland Stadium

Exterior of the Neyland Stadium
Hendrickson Photography / Shutterstock.com

If you’re a sports enthusiast, a visit to Knoxville would not be complete without seeing a game at the city’s landmark sporting venue, the Neyland Stadium.

This iconic stadium is one of the largest college football venues in the country, boasting a seating capacity of more than 100,000.

Experience the pre-game activities for some energy before catching the day’s match.

Aerial view of the Neyland Stadium
Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

The stadium is home to six Tennessee teams that have become national champions.

You can find Neyland Stadium along Phillip Fulmer Way.

Scoreboard of the Neyland Stadium
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Final Thoughts

Knoxville is a city worth visiting for its rich heritage, vibrant arts and culture, and exciting variety of urban and natural attractions.

From a bustling downtown, beautiful parks and nature spots, and thriving arts, music, and culture scene, a fun and relaxing vacation await you at this Tennessee destination.

Start planning your trip now and experience the best things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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