Tennessee is one of the American South's most beautiful states, known for natural wonders like the majestic Mississippi River and the stunning Great Smoky Mountains range, preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can easily day trip to resort areas like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which are home to family-friendly museums, lively country music shows, and theme parks like renowned amusement park Dollywood, owned by country singer Dolly Parton. Major cities like Nashville and Memphis are renowned for their legendary music scenes, which launched the careers of 20th-century icons like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash. The state is also home to some of the nation's most renowned museums and aquariums, including the acclaimed Tennessee Aquarium and the iconic Rock City Gardens on Lookout Mountain.
1.The American Museum of Science and Energy
© The American Museum of Science and Energy
The American Museum of Science and Energy is a family-friendly science museum in Oak Ridge, opened in 1949 as the American Museum of Atomic Energy following World War II. Today, the Smithsonian-affiliated museum is located within an 18,000-square-foot new facility on Main Street, which showcases a wide variety of interactive, hands-on science and nuclear technology exhibits. Permanent exhibits include a Van de Graad generator, a full interactive NOAA weather station, and an exhibit related to the city of Oak Ridge's "secret" history as an undisclosed nuclear testing facility for the Manhattan Project. Visitors can also walk through the museum's WWII-era vintage flat-top house, preserved from the city's Manhattan Project era, and view photography from noted Manhattan Project photographer Ed Wescott. Bus tours explore sites connected to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, including the East Tennessee Technology Park and the Y-12 National Security Complex.
115 E Main St, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-294-4531
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Asheville is one of the most beautiful cities in North Carolina, located in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, located less than two hours from the Tennessee-North Carolina state border at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The vibrant, highly cultural city is best known as the home of the stunning Biltmore Estate, which was commissioned by George Washington Vanderbilt II and stands as one of the greatest examples of Gilded Age architecture today. Visitors can explore the estate as part of guided tours or enjoy full afternoon tea service at the elegant Biltmore Estate Dining Room. The city's historic downtown district, also commissioned and master-planned by Vanderbilt II, is known for its excellent gourmet dining scene, which features options ranging from elevated New American fare to clever gastropubs and creative global fusion joints.
Atlanta is the most populous urban area in Georgia and one of the top 10 largest metropolitan regions in the country, best known today for its attractions connected to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Visitors can explore a plethora of Olympics-themed attractions throughout the city, including the charming Centennial Olympic Park, which showcases a pavilion of international flags and a 200-foot Ferris wheel. A number of historic sites preserve the city's connection to the American Civil Rights Movement, including the free-admission historic buildings of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The city's stunning parks and green spaces have earned it a nickname as the "City in a Forest," including the newly-developed Atlanta BeltLine, which converts a former railway corridor into an urban greenway. Other major attractions include the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Ballet, and the World of Coca-Cola Museum.
4.The Bourbon Heritage Centre
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The Bourbon Heritage Centre is the official visitor center and museum of Bardstown, Kentucky's Heaven Hill Distillery, which has been producing high-quality whiskies and liquors since 1935. Visitors can explore the company's Heritage Center and tasting room as part of tours through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and learn about the history and legacy of American whiskey production. Two types of tours are offered at the center, including Mashbill Tours, which explore the facility's Rickhouse Y production facility. 40-minute Whiskey Connoisseur Experiences also sample four of the company's premium and limited-release whiskeys, elaborating on color, aroma, and finish tasting notes. After tours, all visitors can stop in at the company's tasting room and sample whiskeys like the company's Rittenhouse Rye, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond, and Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey.
1311 Gilkey Run Rd, Bardstown, KY 40004, Phone: 502-337-1000
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Chattanooga is a delightful metropolis in southeastern Tennessee, located along the banks of the beautiful Tennessee River within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range. The city, which sits on Tennessee's southern border with Georgia, is known for its unique outdoor recreational opportunities and attractions, including famed Lookout Mountain, which offers a chance to purportedly see seven states from its summit on clear days. Charming Rock City Gardens showcase whimsical landscaped rock gardens, while impressive Ruby Falls, located deep within the mountain, are known for their romantic origin story as a tourist attraction. Family-friendly museums include the acclaimed Tennessee Aquarium, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, and the historic 1921 Tivoli Theatre. The beautiful 13-mile Tennessee Riverwalk spans the length of the river throughout the city, providing convenient access to many attractions along a gorgeous greenway.
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Franklin is one of Tennessee's most historic cities, known for its connection to the American Civil War. The city, which is located less than 20 minutes south of Nashville in Williamson County, preserves the historic Carter House and Carnton Plantation, important sites connected to the 1864 Battle of Franklin. Guided tours of the home's attractions are offered throughout the year, including tours of the McGavock Confederate Cemetery and the home's beautiful gardens. The 1858 Lotz House is also operated as a living history museum, fully stocked with 19th-century furnishings. The city is also known for its National Register of Historic Places-listed Main Street, which is lined with restored Victorian-era historic buildings, trendy boutiques, art galleries, and gift shops. Nearby, the newly-developed Factory at Franklin transforms 11 Depression-era factory buildings into a trendy new multi-use shopping and dining destination, home to clever global fusion eateries and working artisan shops.
Gatlinburg is one of the American South's most famed getaways, located on the Tennessee border to the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The resort city, which is nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, is easily accessible from Knoxville and is known as a mecca of lively family-friendly tourist attractions, including the acclaimed Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, consistently voted as one of America's top aquariums. Visitors can ride the Gatlinburg SkyLift to the top of Crockett Mountain for scenic views, ascend the Gatlinburg Space Needle for 360-degree observation deck views, or ride over the mountains on a two-mile aerial cable car journey up to ski resort and amusement park Ober Gatlinburg. Unique family-friendly attractions include the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, the Guinness World Records Museum, and the new Anakeesta mountaintop theme park. During the winter months, the entire city transforms into a beautiful world of lights as part of the annual Winterfest celebration.
8.Historical Tours of Tennessee
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Historical Tours of Tennessee are presented by Gray Line Tennessee, one of Nashville's premiere touring bus companies for more than four decades. All tours last approximately six and a half hours, exploring significant sites connected to Nashville's plantation history and connection to United States President Andrew Jackson. Tour participants board a miniature tour bus and journey back in time to the 19th century, visiting two of the city's most historic preserved mansions. First up, the Hermitage preserves the 1,050-acre former estate home of Andrew Jackson, considered to be the best-preserved early presidential home in the United States. Next, the Belle Meade Plantation showcases a stunning 2,500-acre estate that is home to a gorgeous Greek Revival Antebellum mansion and former thoroughbred farm. As part of all tours, participants can taste wines at the Winery at Belle Meade and enjoy Southern-style lunch at the Hermitage House Smorgasbord.
1307 Lebanon Pike, Nashville, TN 37210, Phone: 615-883-5555
9.Jack Daniel's Distillery
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Jack Daniel's Distillery is the official production facility for famed Tennessee whiskey brand Jack Daniel's, located in Lynchburg, Tennessee since 1956. The company is best known for its iconic "Black Label" whiskey, which sells more than 12.5 million cases throughout the world each year. Visitors can explore the company's distillery facility as part of guided tours every day throughout business hours, with the exception of major national holidays. More than a quarter-million visitors embark on tours each year, including the company's standard Dry Country Tour, which lasts approximately 70 minutes and offers behind-the-scenes glimpses at the company's whiskey-making process. A Flight of Jack Daniel's Tour adds a tasting of five Jack Daniel's products, while an Angel's Share Tour offers exclusive reserve tastings. Taste of Lynchburg Tours add two-course Southern-style dinners at Miss Mary Bobo's, lasting three hours.
133 Lynchburg Hwy, Lynchburg, TN 37352, Phone: 931-759-6357
Knoxville is a lovely eastern Tennessee metropolitan area located approximately 45 minutes from the state's eastern border at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The charming city is best known as the home of the University of Tennessee, whose Tennessee Volunteers sporting teams play home games in the city throughout the season. Visitors can explore cultural attractions like the interactive Museum of East Tennessee History, which showcases Civil War artifacts and regional artwork. The reconstructed 1786 James White's Fort preserves a Revolutionary War-era structure that was the city's first permanent structure, open today as a living history museum. Nearby, Blount Mansion preserves the 18th-century residence of Constitution signer William Blount, while the World's Fair Park preserves attractions related to the 1982 World's Fair, including the Sunsphere observation tower.
11.The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
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The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a lovely national recreation area located at the Kentucky-Tennessee border near beautiful Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The recreation area, which was designated in 1963, protects the United States' largest inland peninsula, located at the intersection of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. More than 300 miles of natural shoreline are showcased throughout the park, which offers opportunities for fishing, boating, water sports, hiking, wildlife watching, hunting, picnicking, and camping at one of the eastern United States' largest portions of undeveloped forest wilderness. Ranger-led experiences are offered by the Woodlands Nature Station, while guided tours explore preserved historic sites such as the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm, the Elk and Bison Prairie, and the Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory.
238 Visitor Center Dr, Golden Pond, KY 42211, Phone: 800-525-7077
12.Mammoth Cave National Park
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Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the largest known cave system in the world, which stretches for more than 400 miles throughout Kentucky's Edmonson County region. The UNESCO World Heritage Site cave dates back to the Mississippian Era, created from limestone and topped by a layer of sandstone caprock. It has been an important cultural site for many area groups for at least six millennia, known as a noted indigenous burial site before the arrival of Europeans in North America. Since the 19th century, it has captured the nation's imagination and been immortalized in a number of pop culture works, ranging from the famed classic novel Moby Dick to a 1990 hit song by rock band Guided by Voices. Today, visitors can explore the cave as part of guided tours throughout the year and see impressive sights such as its Fat Man's Misery, Grand Avenue, and Frozen Niagara stalactite and stalagmite formations and passageways.
P.O. Box 7, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007, Phone: 270-758-2180
Memphis is a charming western Tennessee metropolis set along the banks of the impressive Mississippi River, best known as the birthplace of some of the 20th century's most iconic American music genres. Visitors can explore the city's famed Graceland estate, which once belonged to rock and roll legend Elvis Presley and is preserved today as a living history museum. Lively Beale Street district is home to the legendary Sun Studio, known for launching the careers of internationally-renowned soul, blues, and rock musicians in the mid-2oth century. Historic blues clubs within the district still present live music performances today, while delicious restaurants serve up signature Southern-style cuisine. A plethora of cultural museums dot the city's landscape, including the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Blues Hall of Fame and Stax Museum, and the Peabody Place Museum. Unique outdoor attractions include the acclaimed Memphis Zoo, home to one of North America's only panda exhibits, and Mud Island River Park, which recreates a miniature-scale 1,000-mile stretch of the Lower Mississippi River Valley.
Nashville is Tennessee's lovely state capital, known around the world for its connection to the country music industry. Visitors can tour and attend live music performances at renowned country venues like the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Honky-tonk bars and club line the city's downtown district near Lower Broadway and Printer's Alley, showcasing the hopeful next generation of music stars. The city's Vanderbilt University campus showcases gorgeous architecture and public museums, while its Tennessee State Museum showcases Civil War-era artifacts. The unique Parthenon dots the city's downtown landscape, recreating the famed Ancient Greek landmark. Visitors can also tour Andrew Jackson's former estate home Hermitage, shop at the lively Opry Mills shopping complex, or explore the beautiful indoor gardens of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Each year, the city hosts many country music-related events, including the annual CMA Music Festival in June.
15.Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park
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Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park protects two internationally-recognized white water rafting areas near the city of Delano, the first river site managed by Tennessee's State Scenic River program. Visitors can enjoy amazing year-round recreational opportunities throughout the park, including some of the world's best opportunities for white water rafting on the beautiful Ocoee and Hiwassee Rivers. Class I, II, II, IV, and V rapids sites are showcased throughout the river, which can be tackled independently or as part of guided white water rafting excursions. Floating and canoeing are also popular on both rivers. Anglers can catch largemouth bass, brown and rainbow trout, catfish, and yellow perch on both rivers throughout the year. At Gee Creek, a 47-site campground offers primitive tent sites with picnic tables, fire rings, and barbecue grills, providing convenient access to the nearby Cherokee National Forest.
404 Spring Creek Rd, Delano, TN 37325, Phone: 423-263-0050
Pigeon Forge is one of Tennessee's liveliest tourist destinations, located adjacent to the state's entrance to the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The resort town, which is located in Sevier County, is best known as the home of premiere theme park Dollywood, owned by country singer Dolly Parton. Visitors can enjoy high and mild thrill rides throughout the year at the park, including acclaimed launched wooden roller coaster Lightning Rod, wing roller coaster Wild Eagle, and looping roller coaster Tennessee Tornado. Dinner theaters line the city's bustling Parkway, including the Smoky Mountain Opry, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, The Comedy Barn, and the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud. Larger-than-life attractions are showcased at the Titanic Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum. Visitors can also enjoy excellent opportunities for go-karting, miniature golf, outlet shopping, and Southern-style dining throughout the city. Each winter, the city's Winterfest event lights up the Parkway with millions of Christmas lights.
17.Rock City Gardens
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Rock City Gardens are one of Georgia's most unique tourist attractions, located on Lookout Mountain overlooking the Tennessee city of Chattanooga. The attraction was opened in 1932 and gained national prominence for its viral "See Rock City" marketing campaign, which was painted on barn roofs and walls throughout the United States in the mid-2oth century. Visitors can see seven states on clear days from atop the attraction's Lookout Mountain observation point or explore the attraction's whimsical Fairyland Caverns landscaped gardens, which showcase German gnome statues and other fairytale-esque characters. Bizarre rock formations are showcased throughout the attraction's landscaped trail, including the Fat Man's Squeeze passage and Balanced Rock. Each year, the attraction hosts a number of special events, including an autumn corn maze, a St. Patrick's Day Irish Festival, and a Christmas light display.
1400 Patten Rd, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750, Phone: 706-820-2531
18.Rock Island State Park
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Rock Island State Park is a picturesque state park in Warren and White Counties, spanning 883 acres near the Caney Work waterway, the Collins River, and the Great Falls Dam. The park is named in honor of the Rock Island community and land mass, which is located on a peninsula created from the confluence of both bodies of water. Iconic natural wonders throughout the park include the Great Falls Gorge, home to a series of cascading waterfalls and plunges, including majestic Twin Falls. The historic Great Falls Cotton Mill, developed in 1892, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other attractions include the 1890s Spring Castle and the Bosson Mill. Visitors can enjoy excellent opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and birding throughout the year or stay overnight at the park's lovely campsites and rental cabins.
82 Beach Rd, Rock Island, TN 38581, Phone: 931-686-2471
19.Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the United States' most-visited national park, attracting over 11 million annual visitors to its free-admission attractions and natural wonders. The park, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located along Tennessee's border with North Carolina and derives its name from the perpetual bluish haze that surrounds its mountains' upper elevations. Its 522,000 acres are home to iconic attractions like the 6,643-foot-elevation Clingmans Dome observation tower, and the preserved historic Appalachian cabins and structures of the Cades Cove region. More than 850 miles of hiking trails traverse the park's lands, leading to beautiful waterfalls like Grotto Falls, which features a walk-behind pathway. Area tourists can stay in resort towns like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Cherokee, which are home to lovely hotels, rental cabins, and family-friendly shows and attractions.
107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, Phone: 865-436-1200
Sweetwater is a lovely city in Monroe County, best known as the home of the acclaimed Craighead Caverns. The National Natural Landmark caverns are home to the stunning 4.5-acre Lost Sea, the largest underground lake in the United States, which can be toured as part of combination guided walking and boat tours throughout the year. Beautiful underground crystal formations and waterfalls are showcased throughout the cave, which is named in honor of Cherokee Chief Craighead. After exploring the caverns, visitors can enjoy tastings and tours at renowned winery Tsali Notch, known for its production of wines crafted with signature Tennessee grape varietal Muscadine. Picturesque Sweetwater Valley Farm, founded in the early 19th century, offers a charming cafe, gift shop, and daily tastings of cheese produced at the facility's dairy farm.
203 Monroe Street, Sweetwater, TN 37874, Phone: 423-337-9663
21.The Tennessee Aquarium
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The Tennessee Aquarium has been acclaimed as one of the United States' top aquarium facilities, located in charming Chattanooga, Tennessee's downtown district. The nonprofit aquarium, which was opened in 1992, is an accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums facility and is home to over 800 marine life species from around the world. More than 20 million visitors explore the aquarium's exhibits each year, which are housed within the aquarium's River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings. Lovely River Journey exhibits include the North American habitat River Otter Falls, the Mississippi River Delta exhibit Delta Country, and the Tennessee River Gallery, which showcases native Tennessee River Valley species such as the channel catfish and the American paddlefish. Over at Ocean Journey, visitors can explore the immense 618,000-gallon Secret Reef, home to Gulf of Mexico species, or the Boneless Beauties jellyfish gallery.
1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, Phone: 423-265-0695
22.The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
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The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, commonly referred to as TVRM, is a lovely heritage railroad and museum in Chattanooga, originally founded in 1960 as a chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The museum offers heritage railroad excursions embarking from rail stations at Chattanooga and Etowah, traversing through area landmarks such as the Whiteside Tunnel. One-hour roundtrip excursions are offered throughout the year, along with half-day excursions to Bald Mountain's Hiwassee Loop. Historic locomotives operated by the railroad include 19th and 20th-century locomotives constructed by Baldwin Locomotive Works, the American Locomotive Company, and Montreal Locomotive Works. Many of the company's delightful locomotives and train cars have been featured in major motion pictures and television series, including Some Like It Hot, October Sky, and Water for Elephants.
4119 Cromwell Rd, Chattanooga, TN 37421, Phone: 423-894-8028
23.The U.S. Space and Rocket Museum
The U.S. Space and Rocket Museum is a lovely museum in Huntsville, Alabama, operated as a nonprofit museum overseen by the State of Alabama. Visitors can explore "Earth's Largest Space Museum" and view exhibits related to the United States Space program, including preserved Saturn V, Juno II, Jupiter-C, and Mercury-Redstone rockets that traveled to space throughout the 20th century. More than 1,500 permanent space exploration artifacts are on display throughout the museum, including spacecraft engines, military rockets, capsules, and engineering mock-ups. Exhibits trace the history of the famed Apollo program, along with major concepts related to rocketry and space travel technology. Bus tours explore nearby Marshall Space Flight Center's National Historic Landmark buildings, including the Redstone Test Station, where astronaut Alan Shepard tested aboard the Redstone Rocket.
1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, AL 35805, Phone: 800-637-7223
23 Best Tennessee Day Trips
- The American Museum of Science and Energy, Photo: The American Museum of Science and Energy
- Asheville, Photo: Wollwerth Imagery/stock.adobe.com
- Atlanta, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
- The Bourbon Heritage Centre, Photo: Andriy Medvediuk/stock.adobe.com
- Chattanooga, Photo: Kenneth Sponsler/stock.adobe.com
- Franklin, Photo: William C. Bunce/stock.adobe.com
- Gatlinburg, Photo: quasarphotos/stock.adobe.com
- Historical Tours of Tennessee, Photo: Syda Productions/stock.adobe.com
- Jack Daniel's Distillery, Photo: Maksim Shebeko/stock.adobe.com
- Knoxville, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Photo: Jesse Kunerth/stock.adobe.com
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
- Memphis, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Nashville, Photo: susanne2688/stock.adobe.com
- Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park, Photo: Sandra Burm/stock.adobe.com
- Pigeon Forge, Photo: eakkarat/stock.adobe.com
- Rock City Gardens, Photo: Kevin Ruck/stock.adobe.com
- Rock Island State Park, Photo: Jim Vallee/stock.adobe.com
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Photo: csfotoimages/stock.adobe.com
- Sweetwater, Photo: Daniil/stock.adobe.com
- The Tennessee Aquarium, Photo: Refocus Photography/stock.adobe.com
- The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Photo: Petr Bonek/stock.adobe.com
- The U.S. Space and Rocket Museum, Photo: kbaap/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com