What To Do in Chattanooga

Chattanooga is primarily known to the rest of the country from Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and then...., that's about it. But there is considerably more to Chattanooga, TN. In addition to its place as a railroad hub to the south that saw the city become famous for its choo choo, Chattanooga played a large role in the Civil War decades prior. The flooding of Chattanooga was largely responsible for Franklin D. Roosevelt's Tennessee Valley Authority that ultimately became a cornerstone of the New Deal which shaped the nation.

Chattanooga saw wild swings of fortune during the 20th Century, but presently is firmly on the rise with Volkswagen opening its first North American plant in decades and a thriving art community has risen along with this economic uptick. Chattanooga offers a fantastic indoor/outdoor experience for those that visit this southeastern Tennessee city and are often surprised to find all that the city has to offer.


01The Chattanooga Choo Choo

Close-up of a railway

It's not just a song, but a functioning hotel and piece of Americana. There is a no small amount of irony present in the story of the railroad and Chattanooga. Before becoming the Chattanooga train station, the building was a hotel. The train station closed in 1970 and thanks to a group of local businessmen the building was spared when they returned it to its original function as a hotel. The hotel still has tracks from the railroad running through the property as well as the original Chattanooga Choo Choo Train. While you can explore the hotel to your heart's content the audio guided trolley will cost you a few bucks to learn the history of this hotel/station/hotel which has repurposed train cars as sleeping options for its guests.

David McGill / Getty Images


02Bike Chattanooga

Sunset over Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System

Thanks to the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System you have the option of checking out this lovely city by bicycle. There are over 300 bikes available, located at 41 stations throughout the city. A single day pass costs $8, and a three-day pass runs $15. Once you pay this at any of the stations, you can grab a bike as you please and return it to any station. The pass allows for unlimited trips under 60 minutes. Grab one and return it to any of the 40 other stations and grab another when you need it. It's a great way to leisurely explore the city at your own pace rather than having an Uber pass something possibly interesting at 30 MPH.

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03Whiskey Tasting at Jack Daniels

Roughly 90 miles from Chattanooga, you can relive the history of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey and explore what makes it so intriguing. The distinctive mellow and sweet flavor is a sensory overload that you'll love. As the oldest registered distillery in the US, it makes, ages, and bottles the whiskey in Lynchburg. You can reach the distillery by driving yourself or hire a minibus for a guided tour to the historic Barrelhouse 1-14 to sip a flight of five flavors.


04Bluff View Art District

Hunter Museum of American Art, in Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, The River Gallery and the Hunter Museum of American Art all call this scenic bluff with Tennessee River, and downtown views home. The River Gallery has a brilliant sculpture garden that can only be called a great job of yard work, while the Hunter Museum displays work in tune with the architecture of the three buildings with one of the buildings hosting the work of Andy Warhol. There are also a number of quaint coffee shops and restaurants to be found in this neighborhood.


05The Tennessee Aquarium

The two buildings of The Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is two buildings; one freshwater and the other saltwater. The aquarium tries to follow the journey of a raindrop on land to the ocean, and it does it with spectacular effect. The freshwater journey will give you the birds, river otters, turtles, and alligators that populate the rivers in Tennessee and elsewhere. This trip continues to the other building and its saltwater denizens like penguins, sharks, reef fish, and a fantastic mirrored jellyfish habitat that seems to stretch forever.

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06The Chattanooga Zoo

Resting leopard AlexBran / Getty Images

Imagine a zoo where you can view animal behaviors up close in an immersive environment. That's Chattanooga Zoo that exhibits more than 500 animals from 200 species, including some rare and endangered ones. With an entry fee of $10.95 for adults and $7.95 for kids, the zoo offers various activities, various events, and tours to the exquisite wildlife enclosures. Just take a ride to the zoo located a little over a mile away from downtown and immerse in the wild experience of a lifetime.


07Rock City Gardens

Rock City Gardens

Chattanooga's proximity to the Georgia border makes this a lot closer than it reads. This 4,100-foot walking trail on the far side of Lookout Mountain offers bouldering for the adventurous or a simple, lazy hike through this border state splendor. It provides the kids something while also providing space for your romantic side if you and your partner stop to admire the 90-foot waterfall at Lover's Leap.

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08Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Inside Raccoon Mountain Caverns

The Raccoon Mountain Caverns measure over five miles on its well-lighted walking trail. Opened in 1931, the caves have remained a popular tourist destination for those traveling through the south given their proximity to the highway. Despite all the foot traffic, there remains an active and very much alive ecosystem comprised of spiders, bats, and salamanders. There is an excellent campground available outside the entrance if you wish to make a weekend out of your visit.

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09Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Civil War Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Chattanooga hosted Confederate and Union victories and defeats during the Civil War. The park itself is located in Chickamauga, Georgia less than 10 miles from downtown Chattanooga. However, even if you were to stay on the Tennessee side, you will still have an opportunity to visit Chattanooga National Cemetery, Signal Point, Lookout Mountain and parts of Missionary Ridge. In the summer take a guided tour with a park ranger free of charge to have the battles put in perspective by someone who has done their homework.

BCWH / Getty Images


10Check Out The Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street Bridge over Tennessee River

What do you do with a bridge scheduled for demolition? Use one of the many others spanning the Tennessee River? No, you turn it into the world's longest pedestrian bridge and host concerts and an annual wine tasting to complement the grand river views. The Walnut Street Bridge connects the north and south sides of Chattanooga which was quite significant when it was turned into a pedestrian bridge given the racially segregating nature of the river running through town.

Jens_Lambert_Photography / Getty Images


11Ruby Falls

Waterfall inside Ruby Falls

This accidental discovery along the Tennesse River Gorge is one of Chattanooga's most visited tourist attractions. The Lookout Mountain Cave was closed in 1905, for railroad construction. A local cave explorer, Leo Lambert, led a team to build an elevator from the surface so the cave could be reopened to the public. As it happens, a newly found 18-inch crack in the rocks turned out to be the entrance to Ruby Falls. It's the United States' largest underground waterfall now and includes zip lines and various other activities on top of the majesty of this discovery.

buburuzaproductions / Getty Images


12Audubon Acres

If hiking in natural environments fascinates you, don't miss a tour to Audubon Acres in East Brainerd. It offers five acres of hiking trails on either side of Chickamauga Creek in a sanctuary spread over 132 acres. You can tour the small visitor's center, explore the forested portions, or visit the Spring Frog Cabin built in the 1700s and Little Owl Village dating back to the 1400s.


13Take the Kids to the Creative Discovery Museum

Two kids looking at a science exhibit

Rainy day in Chattanooga with the kids? Look no farther than the Creative Discovery Museum, one of the nation's most exceptional children's museums. This interactive museum appeals to kids of all ages while their parent's remark on the intelligence put into this museum by its curators. This hands-on-family experience is open 10 AM-6 PM daily.

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14Chattanooga National Cemetery

Embark on a historical journey marked by courage, sacrifice, and valor at Chattanooga National Cemetery. The area sprawled over 120 acres is the largest national cemetery in the state and one of the oldest military cemeteries in the country, established in 1863. More than 44000 veterans are interred at this site that offers spectacular views of the three Civil War battle sites.


15Chattanooga Market

Plan a shopping excursion and buy fresh farm produce and local handicrafts at the Chattanooga Market. This producer-only market features farm-fresh goods, arts, and crafts from over 50 farms and 130 artisans coming here every week. If you want some entertainment on the side, the market offers live music from regional musicians for two free shows every Sunday and Wednesday. Food trucks serving local delicacies are another attraction, especially when you get starving after shopping.

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