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The Best Vacation Destinations in Tennessee

Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee at night. Memphis is one of the best vacation destinations in Tennessee.

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Country music in lively honky-tonks, whiskey straight from the distillery, and charming small towns with historical significance… get ready to fill your Tennessee to-do list with these and more.

From the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the home of the King, the sights and sounds of Tennessee will keep you coming back for more. And once you taste the barbecue? You’ll be telling this sweet southern state, “You’re the only ten I see.”

Put on your blue suede shoes and get ready for some serious Tennessee wanderlust.

1. Gatlinburg

The Gatlinburg skybridge in the Great Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg is the gateway to one of the region’s treasures: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s the perfect home base if you’re heading into the park, but the city is an exciting mountain resort destination in itself, too.

Get 360-degree views of Gatlinburg and the Smokies from the 400-ft tall Space Needle (no, not that one). Treat yourself to even more spectacular sights on the aerial tramway from downtown to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park, where you can choose your own adventure from skiing, skating, tubing, bumper cars, mini-golf, mazes, a roller coaster, and yeah, there’s more. Anakeesta is another family theme park with an outdoor theme and whimsical attractions.

If you’re traveling without the kids, spend the day at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery for a tour, tasting, and live bluegrass on event nights. Or, if you’re seeking an even quirkier side to Gatlinburg, the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum has got you covered.

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Adventurers will be right at home in one of the United States’ most visited National Parks. The park has more than 800 miles of trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail, where you might encounter elk, deer, turkeys, and other wildlife. 

Start with a drive up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, to scope out all the spots you want to explore from above. This self-guided driving tour will narrate your route through top spots in the park.

Don’t miss driving through Cades Cove, a misty valley with historic cabins and common black bear sightings. Deep Creek is a prime hiking area for visitors to trek along mountain streams and discover hidden waterfalls. If you have more than a day, stay in the park overnight to see hundreds of stars and get away from the crowds; even if you’re not huge on camping, the forests, rivers, and natural beauty will soon win you over. 

3. Nashville

Nashville skyline

Turn up the volume or just turn up in Music City! Broadway is practically nightlife personified, and the four-block stretch of the street called Honky Tonk Highway is always pulsing with live country music. It’s a hot spot for visitors, from bachelorette parties to whiskey lovers, to kick up their cowboy boots to live music performances from songwriters who just might be the next big thing. 

Pay tribute to the city’s musical past at some of its on-theme museums and venues; the Grand Ole Opry, National Museum of African American Music, and the Johnny Cash Museum will get you started. Reserve a ticket ahead of time for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, since it’s one of the most popular attractions in town and often sells out.

Or try a different genre of vacation by checking out Nashville’s creative scene at art crawls, galleries, and cultural events. You can even pretend you’re on a trip to Athens when you visit Nashville’s full-scale replica of the Parthenon.

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

4. Memphis

Beale Street lit up with bars and clubs at night in Memphis.

Don’t let the bars and live music on Beale Street fool you – you’re not in Nashville anymore. Memphis has a music history all its own, with its center at Elvis Presley’s mansion, Graceland. Graceland comes second only to the White House as the most visited house in America, with 13 acres of land and several museums on the property dedicated to the King of rock n’ roll.

Leave plenty of time to reflect and learn in the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum’s exhibits trace Black history from the 17th century through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and into the present day. This history shaped Tennessee, and you can bring a new awareness with you as you encounter the rest of the destinations in the state.

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

5. Clinton

Museum of Appalachia

Embrace small-town Tennessee in Clinton, the home of a quaint downtown at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Step back in time at the Museum of Appalachia, an immersive experience that represents the life of pioneers in the area. Barns, churches, and log cabins compose a full rural village to explore, complete with thousands of artifacts and Native American art pieces.

Downtown Clinton is rich with antique shops where you can spend hours browsing through historical treasures at affordable prices. Pop into local boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants, or hop onto the lunch counter at Hoskins Drug Store for refreshments from an authentic 1940s soda fountain.

6. Lynchburg

If you’re heading to the state just for that sweet, sweet Tennessee whiskey, Lynchburg will not let you down. This is the home of the Jack Daniels Distillery and Museum, where you can choose from several themed tours to learn about the distillery and its iconic whiskey. Yes, the tours include tastings!

Barbecue sauces often incorporate whiskey (just take a look at the shelves of the Jack Daniels gift shop), and in Lynchburg, take the chance to savor some of the state’s best barbecue food. You might need it to soak up all the booze! Especially considering Lynchburg is located in Moore County, where it is still technically illegal to buy alcohol.

7. Knoxville

Knoxville skyline

History, outdoor adventures, art, and culture? That’s Knoxville. The center of it all is World’s Fair Park, a public park with a playground, an amphitheater for concerts, and the iconic Sunsphere. Take the elevator to the top of this unique structure for 360-degree views through its glass panes made with real gold. 

The heart of Knoxville’s shopping and dining scene is Market Square, accessible from the University of Tennessee campus and minutes from Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. Hit up local hot spots like Café 4 for classic Southern comfort food, or stop in the breweries on Knoxville’s Ale Trail. You’ll also find all kinds of swanky lodgings, from hotels to private residences in the area. Knoxville has gotten a lot safer over the years, but you can always choose a rental with good home security to ensure some peace of mind. 

As the first capital of Tennessee, Knoxville also has its fair share of historical prominence, especially during the Civil War. Visit the East Tennessee History Center and the McClung Museum to learn about the Civil War battles that took place nearby. 

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

8. Clarksville

A serene river runs through Clarksville, Tennessee

Clarksville may not be as flashy as Memphis or picturesque as Gatlinburg, but the city has some of the richest history in Tennessee. Start at the Fort Defiance Civil War Park, one of the last remaining earthen forts from the Civil War, to learn about the Confederates who built it, the Union troops who later occupied it, and the formerly enslaved people who sought work there.

Also, plan to head out for a day at Historic Collinsville, a 40-acre living history museum that recreates 19th-century life. 

Or go prehistoric at Dunbar Cave State Park. Take a tour of the 8-mile-long cave where indigenous Mississippians left drawings dating back to the 14th century. The area also includes several hiking trails and Swan Lake – ballerinas not included.

9. Union City

An interior view of the dinosaur skeletons on display at Discovery Park of America in Union City
Dinosaur Hall at Discovery Park of America

Union City is a place with a little something for everyone, whether you hit the nature trails in Lake Isom National Wildlife Refuge to spot some birdlife or take a boating trip to Reelfoot Lake. 

Be honest, though, you’re really here for the Discovery Park of America. This massive complex includes exhibits and experiences covering everything from space and science to military and technology. 

You’ll come face-to-whisker with a catfish in the aquarium, walk with fossils of mosasaurs, and sneak into a room hidden by a bookcase – and that’s before you’ve even stepped outside. The 50 acres of land include stunning gardens with plants from around the world, a reproduction of a 20th-century town, and an exact replica of the Liberty Bell.

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

10. Chattanooga

Chattanooga is your go-to for an outdoorsy vacation in Tennessee. The Tennessee River is the heart of the city, and the Riverfront neighborhood includes the Tennessee Aquarium, High Point Climbing, and some of the best breweries in the city. Get on the water with a speedboat tour or a day of canoeing at Audubon Acres.

With a name like Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga’s star natural attraction is guaranteed to provide excellent views. Take the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway to the summit for sweeping vistas of the Chattanooga Valley. Then amble along the paths in Rock City Gardens, winding through caverns and rock formations until you get to the 100-foot waterfall. 

What’s cooler than a waterfall? A waterfall inside of a cave, that’s what. Take an elevator into Lookout Mountain to see Ruby Falls and the cave’s stalagmites and stalactites for an unforgettable underground experience.

Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

11. Pigeon Forge

An aerial view of Pigeon Forge is the backdrop for a family on a ski lift up the mountain.

Imagine taking Disneyworld, mixing in some Appalachian culture, and dropping it at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. Pigeon Forge is a mecca of theme parks and activities that could keep the family busy for weeks. Old reliable mini-golf, go-karts, and escape rooms compete with unique attractions like a recreation of the RMS Titanic (skip the line with an advance ticket here), an upside-down museum called WonderWorks, helicopter tours of the French Broad River, and a dinner theater experience themed around the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

The most iconic theme park in Pigeon Forge is owned by and named for the living legend Dolly Parton. Dollywood‘s 11 themed areas highlight the history and culture of East Tennessee with rides like the Wild Eagle and the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, plus museums, live music, and damn good Southern dining. Check out the best cabins for rent in Pigeon Forge if you plan on experiencing everything the town has to offer!

12. Murfreesboro

You could call it a big city, a college town, or a Nashville suburb, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Murfreesboro, about 30 miles outside of Nashville, is one of Tennessee’s largest cities by population. And the population balloons even more whenever the Blue Raiders have a home game at Middle Tennessee State University.

Stones River National Battlefield is a 570-acre park in Murfreesboro that memorializes one of the bloodiest and most pivotal battles in the Civil War. A museum, audio tour, and walking trail through the battlefield and National Cemetery encourage education and reflection in this historic place.

Before you leave Tennessee, stop at Batey Farms to buy fresh meats and cheese to take home as a souvenir. Depending on the season, you can also pick fresh strawberries, pose with sunflowers, or wander through a corn maze at this local farm.

Other places to visit in Tennessee

If you’re fixin’ to stick around a little longer, here are some extra spots to extend your Tennessee vacation:
  • Bristol: Home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, you’ll find the genre’s origins running deep through the town. You can also catch a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
  • The Caverns in Grundy County: 8,000 feet of underground caves transformed into the world’s coolest music venue. Even if you don’t get tickets to a show, you can book a guided tour and see one of the largest underground rooms on earth. 
  • The Hermitage: If you want even more U.S. history or just like touring presidential homes, visit the estate of President Andrew Jackson about 10 miles outside of Nashville. Learn about the families enslaved there, life in the 19th century, and more on tours of the mansion and grounds.
Authentic barbecue restaurants and whiskey distilleries, lively bars where country music stars began their careers, and Civil War history that runs deep throughout the state are all waiting for you to discover in Tennessee. And once you get there, charming southern hospitality will make it hard to leave! Continue your adventure from Tennessee to other destinations in places like Georgia and Virginia. No matter which Tennessee vacation you’re after, search Wanderu for bus and train tickets to get there for the best price.

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