Knoxville, a Dynamic Center for Nature and the Arts
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Knoxville, a Dynamic Center for Nature and the Arts

Getaway Staff

Knoxville isn’t just barbecue and country music. The roots of jazz, rock, and blues run deep in this lively Tennessee city. Whenever you find yourself in Knoxville, you’ll have to treat yourself to a drink and live music at one of the great local bars. If you enjoy hiking and outdoor recreation, you’ll find yourself in heaven when you visit the forests that ring the outside of the city. When you explore the Knoxville downtown area, you’ll be astonished by the way the city embraces learning and the arts.


01 Dine and dive at Knoxville’s architectural icon

The Sunsphere in Knoxville EJ_Rodriquez / Getty Images

The most enduring legacy of the 1982 World Fair is Knoxville’s most impressive architectural work, the Sunsphere. The towering structure was defunct for several decades until it reopened in 2014. The restaurants here include a spectacular pizza place and an amazing Southern BBQ joint, and you can even skydive from the Sunsphere! Just be sure you skydive first and eat later.


02 Drink great cocktails and enjoy breathtaking views

An aerial view of Nashville Kruck20 / Getty Images

Atop the Sunsphere, the Icon Ultra Lounge serves up excellent drinks and amazing views in equal measure. It’s worth visiting for the expertly-made cocktails and selection of drinks, but you should stick around a bit to enjoy the view. From a table by the window, you can take an unbeatable panoramic view of Knoxville and beyond. If you’re a fan of photography, this is where you need to go to take the best photos.


03 Visit a life-changing nature preserve

A beautiful lakeside forest Remus Kotsell / Getty Images

Ijams Nature Center is a nonprofit urban wildlife center that’s dedicated to teaching the importance of conservation. It fulfills this mission by showing rather than telling. Anyone who goes hiking along the pristine forest trails or kayaking along the clean rivers of Ijams will immediately appreciate the need for vibrant urban forests.


04 Learn of Tennessee's Secret City, the Heart of WWII Atomic Bomb Development

epantha / Getty Images

Oak Ridge is a town just outside Knoxville that history knows as "The Secret City." Two things earned it a place in history: the top-secret research programs that developed atomic weapons technology, and the prophet who foresaw this great development forty years prior. Torn by personal tragedy and turmoil, John Hendrix slept in the woods for forty days and emerged with dramatic, shockingly accurate visions of the future. You can learn about the development of the first atomic bombs and the story of the Oak Ridge Prophet at the American Museum of Science and Energy.


05 Bounce around the trampoline capital of Tennessee

Kids having fun on a trampoline Karl Weatherly / Getty Images

The Jump Jam Trampoline Park is great fun for the whole family. The sprawling destination includes over 60 trampolines, occupying around ten thousand square feet! There’s more to it than typical bouncy fun, though. Trampoline Park includes all sorts of unique fitness challenges, sports, and even obstacle courses. If you have young children with a lot of energy or if you want to let your inner child out to play, this is a great place to start your day.


06 Discover Knoxville’s rich musical history

A man playing an acoustic guitar puhimec / Getty Images

Knoxville has an underrated place in the history of jazz, blues, rock, and most of all, country music. You’ll learn all about it on the popular Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour. The tour is self-guided but generally takes about an hour. On the way, you’ll visit almost twenty spots of great significance to the history of country music and learn about the ties Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and other big names in American music.


07 Check out a museum dedicated to America’s toughest admiral

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” With this order, Admiral David Farragut’s ships went on to capture the greatest city of the Confederacy. Knoxville has honored one of her most famous sons with a museum nestled in the town hall. Not only is it filled with historical exhibits and information about what life was like in 19th century Tennessee, but just outside the town hall, you can hike a Civil War trail commemorating a local battle.


08 Tour Knoxville’s gorgeous collection of public art

Knoxville Tennessee Downtown Restaurants and Bars on Market Square benedek / Getty Images

Knoxville should be more famous for its enthusiastic embrace of the visual arts. Every year, the Art in Public Places venue puts on a rotating display of artworks that are available for everyone to enjoy. The city government commissioned many public murals around the city over the years, too. The Knoxville Downtown Murals Walking Tour will take you to over thirty of these beautiful public murals.


09 Visit the Girl Scout Museum

Group of young scouts joining hands together, showing their unity.

Knoxville is home to a museum dedicated to the Girl Scouts. If you were ever a scout or have a child who's a scout, this destination is sure to delight. The permanent exhibits include retro uniforms, stamps, an assortment of badges and medallions, and all sorts of Girl Scout memorabilia. One of the best pieces is a historic Girl Scout doll, donated courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.


10 See a perpetual motion machine

 Museum of the Appalachia

A short drive outside Knoxville will deliver you to Clinton TN, where you'll find the Museum of Appalachia. It’s dedicated to one of the most underappreciated, unique, and generally quirky parts of America. One of the best exhibits is a complex contraption of wooden gears, pulleys, and mechanisms: the result of reclusive inventor Asa Jackson’s lifelong struggle to refute the Laws of Thermodynamics. Now, he ultimately failed and the machine did not run forever, which goes without saying. Nonetheless, the invention is an interesting sight and the story is fascinating.


11 Zoo Knoxville

Zoo Knoxville, which used to be called the Knoxville Zoo, is one of the best places to take in the wonders of the natural world. Fun for grownups and kids alike, you can find all sorts of 'wildly fun' experiences here, including a Tiger Forest, Red Panda Village, an Amphibian and Reptile Campus, and more! Many people consider it one of the most animal-friendly zoos in America and you'll notice that the staff has a great rapport with carnivores and herbivores alike!


12 Old City

Historic Old City is the place to go if you want a taste of something different downtown. It's a quirky, urban neighborhood with a number of unique restaurants, shops, and attractions. You'll feel like you've stepped back into the mid-1800s -- and if you visit on the 2nd or 4th Sunday of the month, you can purchase some tasty local treats and fun souvenirs at the Old City Market. It's one of the few places in Nashville that retains the small-town charm the city once had before it became the uber-trendy hipster paradise it is today!


13 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame

The Knoxville Women's Basketball Hall of Fame is a favorite of sports fans around the world! It's also the only complex dedicated solely to women's basketball. Come check the stats on your favorite players and get your picture taken next to life-size statues of the female greats! You can easily spend half a day here, touring the galleries and taking part in the interactive exhibits. They have activities for kids to enjoy and plenty of fun trivia and memorabilia for adults to peruse.


14 James White Fort

James White, a pioneer and great American soldier, founded Knoxville, TN back in 1793. He also served in the county militia as a captain during the American Revolutionary War. The Fort is his original homestead, an 18th-century settlement where you can stand in the very place that White decided to start building a town called Knoxville. There are plenty of forts in the Knoxville area, and history buffs will have a great time checking them all out -- but keep his one at the top of your list.


15 Strong Alley (Graffiti Alley)

Strong Alley is one of the coolest areas in all of Knoxville. Also called Graffiti Alley, it is a stretch of alleyway covered in beautiful, spray-painted murals. The area is located next to Market Square, between Gay and Market Street, and is a collaboration between city businesses and artists. Artists were allocated their own wall space to design and tag as they pleased and the results are sensational! It's a popular spot to visit both day and night, but the colors really pop on a sunny day.


16 Star of Knoxville Riverboat

If you’re a fan of riverboat cruises, or just live entertainment, check out the lovely Star of Knoxville Riverboat! You can take in the scenic Tennessee River on an old-fashioned riverboat while you enjoy lunch, dinner, or a themed party. Keep an eye out for a cruise that appeals to you - they even have a Murder Mystery Dinner Cruise that’s fun for the whole family!


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