Knoxville may be small in stature, but it offers some serious big-city attractions, including an array of excellent museums and historical sites. The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame tells the stories of the girls who got game, and the nearby James White Fort explores the history of Knoxville's founding family; the University's McClung Museum showcases the state's history and more. With the river and mountains surrounding the city, natural attractions including the Ijams Nature Center and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are must-visits, and the charming towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg serve as the gateway to the park.
Caution: There can be huge (and frustrating) traffic jams in the Smokies during the summer and peak color viewing in the fall.
Hot Tips: Make time to visit the Blue Plate Special on Monday - Saturday at noon at the Visitors Center downtown.
Downtown Knoxville offers the widest variety of accommodations from high-rise hotels to charming inns. And, the advantage of staying downtown is the proximity to the city's restaurants and attractions, as well as the University. If a visit to the Smokies is on the itinerary, then your best bet is to book a hotel east of the Tennessee River, which affords easier access to both of the major park entrances about 40 miles away.
Hot Tips: Football weekends in the fall bring a ton of orange-clad fans to the University of Tennessee - so be sure to book far in advance and check the football schedule.
There's a robust restaurant scene in Knoxville, from conventional Southern fare to cutting-edge cuisine; local chefs are very supportive of the area's abundant farm culture, so locally-sourced meats, produce, and cheeses are the norm in many eateries. On Market Square, Sangrias is a family-run Cuban -influenced tapas bar, and Cafe 4 is a hip spot with Southern cuisine and al fresco dining. The casual Pete's Coffee Shop is a must-hit for breakfast or a diner-ish lunch, and along the river, Calhoun's is the local favorite for barbecue and a river view.
Take It or Leave It: The Knoxville Visitor Center has an excellent coffee/sandwich shop - and offers a place to review maps and other travel information in a homey atmosphere.
Be Sure to Sample: A moon pie and RC Cola at the Mast General Store - conveniently packaged to grab and go.
As the home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is definitely a town with a college bar scene, and as the campus is just outside the downtown business district, the nightlife scene is lively. The Old City neighborhood offers a walkable nightlife district, with Southbound for late night dancing and drinking, the Crown and Goose for a milder pub scene and loads of other options. Baker Peter's Jazz Club is a hip late-night (weekends) scene that's a bit further afield.
Caution: Look out for panhandlers in Old Town during the later evening hours.
Take It or Leave It: Most bars in Old Town close at 3 am, with those in outlying areas closing at 2 am on weekend evenings.
Knoxville is one of the best places for outdoorsy types to find gear, whether it's fishing rods and lures, hiking gear or kayaks and paddles. The Knoxville Tourism site has a great rundown of shopping. Downtown is filled with boutiques and unique options - from Mast General Store to the Art Market Yee-Ha, a woodblock printing company, to the trendy Bliss on Market Square. A selection of malls rings the outlying area, and outlet shopping is about an hour away in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
Hot Tips: Most of the downtown shops are closed on Sundays.
Best Local Souvenir: A CD of folk music from one of the WDVX Blue Plate Special bands, available at the downtown Visitors Center.