Best Attractions and Things to Do around Knoxville

Not only does Knoxville offer a number of attractions within the city limits, there are plenty of things to do in nearby Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains. From theme parks and camping, to train rides, museums, and other outdoor recreation, Knoxville has plenty of options for travelers.

In 1982, Knoxville was home to the World's Fair, and today the park still welcomes visitors. The signature icon is the Sunsphere, a sprawling viewing tower offering sweeping city views. Visitors can travel back in time to some of the Historic Homes of the area, or wander through the Museum of East Tennessee History.

Families can bring little ones to the Muse, a hands-on art and science center, or take them on a train ride aboard the Three Rivers Rambler. About 30 minutes away, Dollywood offers amusement park rides and water slides, while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perfect for a day trip or family picnic.

Sports fans can appreciate the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and nature lovers can experience Ijams Nature Center - located within Knoxville's city limits. There's also Market Square for shopping, dining, and nightlife. The travel experts at have sorted through Knoxville's attractions and present this list of the 10 Best things to do.


Three Rivers Rambler
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

This train travels along the Tennessee River from Downtown Knoxville, past historical sites to the "Three Rivers Trestle" where the French Broad and Holston Rivers meet. The 90-minute ride generally runs on Saturdays since freight is hauled during the week. Around Halloween and Christmas, special theme train rides are offered. Book well in advance, particularly during Christmas when Santa comes on board! If the train isn't running when you're in town, another way to see the river is by taking the Star of Knoxville, a classic paddlewheeler that offers sightseeing cruises. Be sure to check the schedule to make sure there is a train running during your visit.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Although it doesn't travel far, the historic train is old-fashioned fun.

Amber's expert tip: The train is best for families with little ones, particularly during one of the special excursions.

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This is the most visited national park in the country, and one glimpse at it lets you know why. The park includes more than 520,000 acres, 735 miles of streams, and 800 miles of some of the most scenic hiking and biking trails in the world. The peaks reach over 6,000 feet, providing unforgettable scenic vistas and several visitor centers are scattered throughout the park. Located less than an hour from Knoxville, pack a picnic lunch and spend the day. Activities include fishing, horseback riding, camping, ranger-led programs, and wildlife viewing. Black bear, white-tailed deer, and elk are just a few animals that live in the park.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A national icon, this makes a wonderful day trip from Knoxville.

Amber's expert tip: Weekends during the summer can be especially busy. Visit during the fall and you'll likely see fewer crowds and beautiful colors.

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Fun in the Great Smokies awaits at this celebrated theme park co-owned by Dolly Parton. If you're lucky, you'll catch a live performance by the country music songstress! Rollercoasters, kiddie rides, craft shops, train rides, an interactive museum and plenty of restaurants and snack stalls make this a great family-friendly attraction. The water park features more than 23 rides, from plunge pools and white water rafting to body slides and lazy rivers. Located about 30 miles from Knoxville in Pigeon Forge, Dollywood makes an easy day trip. Cabins are available for those planning a longer getaway (but book in advance).

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: After a dose of history and museums in Knoxville, this is a great way to blow of some steam.

Amber's expert tip: The two-in-one pass is the best bang for your buck.

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Muse Knoxville
Photo courtesy of The Muse Knoxville

Formerly the Discovery Center, this kid-friendly museum is full of hands-on programs and learning experiences. With extremely affordable ticket prices (just $5 for adults and $4 for kids), families won't have to break the bank at this fun attraction. With nearly 4,000 square feet of space to roam, kids off all ages will find an exhibit that interests them. There's the building space to create cars, tiles, and structures, science exhibits like wind tunnels and microscopes, and "kid space," loaded with things to crawl on or climb into. Kids can even take an imaginary flight. The museum also features a planetarium.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: With affordable prices, this family-friendly activity is great for a rainy day.

Amber's expert tip: Be aware they are closed on Sundays.

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Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
Photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville

A thirty-foot tall basketball, which weighs more than 10 tons and sits on top of a glass staircase that resembles a basketball net, beckons visitors to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Located in downtown Knoxville, this 32,000-square-foot building features interactive, hands-on exhibits that trace the history of the sport from its beginning in 1892 to the creation of the WNBA. Individuals that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame include University of Tennessee and Olympic coach Pat Summitt, Olympic star Cheryl Miller, and Asian great Shin-Ja Park. The Hall of Fame features memorabilia such as uniforms, rulebooks, and trophies, as well as an interactive exhibit where you can test your fundamental basketball skills of shooting, passing, and dribbling. A gift shop is located on-site.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Informative and affordable, this is an excellent tribute to women's basketball.

Amber's expert tip: Get there early enough and you might have the place all to yourself.

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Museum of East Tennessee History

This museum traces the area's history, from its beginnings in the 1700s to the present. Guided tours feature a documentary and numerous hands-on exhibits. Enjoy displays devoted to the "Trail of Tears," Davy Crockett, Bonnie Kate Sevier, the Civil War, and the Underground Railroad. Located right on Gay Street, it can easily be combined with other attractions in the area. Although exhibits may change, the "Voices of the Land" tells the story of the people of East Tennessee and the history of the Knoxville World's Fair. Some 13,000 artifacts can be viewed including quilts, textiles, furniture art, and Civil War items.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Constantly changing exhibits, visitors can return each year and still learn something new!

Amber's expert tip: The Tennessee Historical Society offers a number of events, so check with them to see what is on the schedule.

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Once a frontier town, Knoxville has a fascinating history that is on display at six unique houses. From log cabins to mansions, visitors can time travel through several eras. Listed on the list of National Historic Landmarks, Blount Mansion is the former home of William Blount, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. James White's Fort dates back to 1786, and was restored so the public can experience frontier lifestyle like cooking on hearth, blacksmithing, and spinning (on a wheel, not a bicycle). Other historic homes include the Ramsey House, Marble Springs, Mabry-Hazen House, and Crescent Bend. Just 30-minutes drive from each other, it is easy to visit all six in one day!

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Knoxville's history comes to life at each of the six historic homes.

Amber's expert tip: The combo pass is a steal: $20 gets you in to six homes.

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Airport - Tys
Ijams Nature Center
Photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville

This sprawling nature center includes 3.5 miles of marked trails, rolling meadows, colorful gardens, and dramatic bluffs, all intersected by the Tennessee River. The main mission at this 275-acre park is to educate visitors about the environment, which they accomplish by offering free tours and workshops. The hands-on classes are as entertaining as they are educational. There is always some type of event or activity going on, including paddle boarding, yoga, animal programs, canoe rentals, and Peg's weekly breakfast. They also host some signature events like "Symphony in the Park," "River Rescue" clean-up effort, "Hike-a-Thon," and Halloween haunted lantern tours.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Visitors don't need to leave the city to experience the natural beauty at Ijams.

Amber's expert tip: Be sure to check the events schedules to see what is going on during your visit.

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Airport - Tys
World's Fair Park
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

Knoxville was the host of the 1982 World's Fair that drew 11 million people, making it the last successful World's Fair. Decades later, the area where the fair was held is still a top draw for visitors. Attractions include The Candy Factory, a conglomeration of Victorian homes hosting arts and crafts shops, and Fort Kid, which is a large playground. The world-class Knoxville Museum of Art is also located here, as is the memorable symbol of the World's Fair, the 26-story Sunsphere. Take the elevator up for sweeping views of the city and the amphitheater below. It's a good choice for a first stop in the city to help visitors get their bearings.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Sunsphere (and park) is a free attraction that will give some history behind the World's Fair.

Amber's expert tip: On a hot day, the fountains at World's Fair Park are a great way to cool down.

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Market Square District
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

With a history dating back to 1854, Market Square has been a hub for exchanging goods and for people to gather. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today the square features a blend of restaurants, bars, shopping areas, an outdoor theater, gardens, and pedestrian walkways. It is also the home of The Oliver Hotel, Knoxville's lodging gem. During the summer months, visitors can dine outdoors on outdoor patios and linger late over wine and cocktails. On weekends especially, live music performances from Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall draw a crowd. On Wednesdays and Saturdays a farmers market takes over much of the square.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This bustling central square is a free attraction and a great way to spend some time in Knoxville.

Amber's expert tip: Be sure to stop by during the farmer's market and check out the Cruze Farm ice cream truck.

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Meet Amber Nolan

Originally from upstate New York, this restless traveler has a knack for befriending interesting characters. You can usually find her just about anywhere that has a hammock. Amber's favorite...  More About Amber