Tennessee is brimming with charm and hospitality, rowdy sports fans, and captivating escapes to nature that are both quiet and invigorating—so you truly get a little bit of everything.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tennessee Bucket List Ideas for Outdoors, Hikes, and Parks
- Tennessee Bucket List Ideas to Do in Cities
- Tennessee Bucket List Restaurants and Food
- Tennessee Bucket List Ideas for Families or Kids
If Tennessee is on your bucket list, but you’re not sure what spots to hit while you’re there, or you’re familiar with the state, and you’re just trying to explore a bit more, this post will help you with all of that.
This post will cover more than 25 must-do activities across Tennessee, including hikes and parks, city experiences, food and drinks, and kid-friendly adventures.
Tennessee Bucket List Ideas for Outdoors, Hikes, and Parks
Tennessee is known for its stunning Appalachian terrain and the alluring Smoky Mountains. Whether you and your loved ones are headed to Tennessee for some serious hiking, a relaxing mountain escape, or just driving through for some scenery, there are spots for you.
1. The Great Smoky Mountains
You can get the best of both worlds for short hikes or scenic drives with the following spots. You can also check out Hiking in the Smokys for more hikes. Be sure to reach out to local rangers stations and visitors centers for the most up-to-date advice on trail and road conditions.
- Cades Cove: Cades Cove Loop is a one-way (one-lane) paved road that takes you through a large valley surrounded by mountains with parking for short excursions and historic cabins along the way. The scenic driving tour through the Cades Cove Loop takes approximately two to four hours, depending on traffic, but you can also take a shorter two-mile loop to get on your way.
- Clingman’s Dome: As the highest point in The Great Smoky Mountains, the 7-mile road to Clingman’s Dome offers great spots to pull off and take pictures. And, once you’re ready to walk, you’ll find a half-mile trail at the end of the road (you’ll also have a spot to park, don’t worry). Though the trail is paved, it’s also steep. You’ll find an observation tower on the top worth checking out, too. You can learn more about Clingman’s Dome on the National Park Service website.
- Porters Creek: A fairly lowkey hike, this trail follows the banks of Porters Creek. The first part of the trail is an old gravel road surrounded by mossy rocks and thick forest.
- Foothills Parkway: This parkway is a must-see during the fall season, as it offers colorful views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee Valley. Even during other seasons, the views are still spectacular and worth the drive. You can learn more on the Foothills Parkway website.
For hiking enthusiasts, a few of the top hikes and sights to see in the Smokies include:
- Alum Trail to Mt. LeConte: If you’re looking for a perfect Smokies hike that offers a little bit of everything, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte is a great pick. Alum Cave Trail has unique views, history, and plenty of adventure. You can learn more about this trail in this post, “Hiking in the Smokys Top Hikes.”
- Andrews Bald: Andrews Bald is a short hike that leads to a great place to picnic afterward. There are several acres of open grassy meadows, commonly referred to as “the balds in the Appalachians,” and views of the southern Smokies.
- Mt. Cammerer: This 11.1-mile roundtrip hike provides 360-degree panoramic views of row upon row of smoky-blue mountains thanks to a stone observation tower at the top.
- Charlies Bunion: Charlies Bunion is a rewarding and somewhat daring hike as long as you don’t mind a steep climb. This is thanks to views on either side of the trail that make you feel like you’re walking along “the spine of the Appalachians.”
2. House Mountain in Corryton
House Mountain is about eight miles northeast of Knoxville and is the highest point in Knox County. This hike offers 5.8 miles of twisting trail with a 2,100-foot crest and exceptional views of the parallel mountain ranges 30 miles away, according to Outdoor Knoxville.
3. Sequoyah Hills and Lakeshore Park in Knoxville
If historic homes and mansions, rolling hills, and cliff views by the river’s edge interest you, be sure to check out the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood and nearby Lakeshore Park.
Sequoyah Hills offers a gravel path down Cherokee Boulevard that stretches several miles and is perfect for walking. Bringing your dog with you is also an option, as you can both enjoy the dog park that runs right along the river. Lakeshore Park is also pet-friendly and offers paved paths, playgrounds, ball fields, and great views of Fort Loudoun Lake and the Smokies.
4. Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg
Frozen Head State Park is a 3,324-foot peak in the Cumberland Mountains. The top of the mountain is often covered in ice or snow in the winter months, earning its name, “Frozen Head.” The entire park is made up of about 24,000 acres of dense forest. You can learn more about the park on the Tennessee State Parks website.
5. Virgin Falls State Natural Area in Sparta
The impressive Virgin Falls features a stream that starts underground then drops over a 110-foot cliff. This stream drops off and disappears into another cave—making it truly a sight to behold. There are also other waterfalls in the area, including Big Laurel, Sheep Cave Falls, and Big Branch Falls.
The hike into Virgin Falls, which will total around 9 miles going in and out, should be considered a strenuous hike and takes 5 to 9 hours. The trail descends around 900 feet in elevation along a path that in many areas is rocky with uneven footing, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Education.
6. T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis
As the first state park open for African Americans east of the Mississippi, T.O. Fuller State Park offers a family-friendly spot great for camping, swimming, and hosting events. You can learn more about T.O. Fuller State Park on the Tennessee State Parks website.
Tennessee Bucket List Ideas to Do in Cities
Even while in Tennessee’s cities, you’ll still be treated to beautiful mountain views. But, if you’re looking for nightlife, sporting events, or other fun, there are plenty of spots to hit across the state.
7. Market Square Farmers Market in Downtown Knoxville
In the center of downtown Knoxville, Historic Market Square offers street performers, restaurants, bars, historic hotels, and, of course, an open-air farmers market. If you’re looking for local produce and handmade goods from Tennessee, this is where to find them. Products vary by season but include produce, eggs, honey, herbs, pasture-raised meat, plants, bread, baked goods, coffee, artisan crafts, and more.
8. Knoxville’s Gay Street
Since the 1790s, Gay Street has played a primary role in Knoxville’s historical and cultural development, according to Visit Knoxville. This street runs through Knoxville’s vibrant downtown with historic theatres (i.e., that iconic Tennessee Theatre sign), as well as museums, galleries, parks, shops, rooftop bars, and more than 75 restaurants within less than one square mile.
9. Sports in Knoxville
A trip to Knoxville wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Neyland Stadium for a Vols game — or at least some tailgating. But, during the off-season, you also have options like the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, an Ice Bears hockey game, or a friendly (albeit rowdy) local brewery or sports bar to catch another game.
10. Antiquing in Clinton
Historic Downtown Clinton offers more than 20 antique stores offering a high-quality variety of affordable finds. It’s a short drive from Knoxville if you’re looking to spend an afternoon or a worthwhile pitstop on a road trip.
11. Nashville’s Parthenon
The Nashville Parthenon, originally built for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition, is a replica of the historic Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The original was built between 447 and 438 BCE in the Age of Pericles, dedicated to the city's patron deity, Athena. Nashville’s version is located in the center of Centennial Park and is a great photo-op, filled with Greecian casts, sculptures, and a massive 42-foot statue of Athena gilded in gold.
12. Broadway in Nashville
Broadway is a happening hotspot in the downtown area of Nashville. This area is known for entertainment and tons of loud fun—think cowboy boots, hats, live country music, and drinking in crowded bars and dance halls called “honky-tonks.” You can also find plenty of shopping, southern cooking, and other attractions, like the famed neon signs that light the street.
13. Graceland in Memphis
Perfect for Elvis fans of all ages (and soon-to-be Elvis fans), Graceland is the site of Elvis’ home. You may also know him as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” You can visit Elvis’ grave, tour his house, and check out his impressive car collection.
Tennessee Bucket List Restaurants and Food
How memorable is a trip, weekend, or even a recent move without exciting food options to get you acclimated? There’s undoubtedly an art to crafting a food bucket list, whether you’re primarily looking for must-stop spots in Tennessee, around the country, or around the world.
To help you fill out your food bucket list across the state between hikes and outdoor activities, sporting events, or road trips, here are all the great restaurants and food to see.
14. North Knoxville
With several distinct areas, named Happy Holler, Cable District, Oakwood-Lincoln Park, and Fountain City, North Knoxville is rich in history and full of fantastic brews and eats.
- Central Filling Station Food Truck Park: The perfect spot to satisfy the taste buds of all your travel buddies, even picky eaters.
- Schulz Bräu Brewing Company and Biergarten: An authentic German experience in Knoxville with beer, food, music, and more.
- Crafty Bastard Brewery: Offers delicious and quirky options with flavors like Mountain Dew, pickle, seasonal varieties like Pumpkin Pie, and house-made non-alcoholic ginger ale.
- Xul Brewery: A posh indoor-outdoor spot offering fruit-forward sours, tasty IPAs, “xeltzers,” and more.
- Adopo Sourdough Pizza: Known for its unique sourdough crusts, gourmet salads, and creamy, refreshing homemade gelato.
15. Knoxville’s Old City
Just a short walk down Gay Street, Knoxville’s Old City offers excellent food, drinks, and lively nightlife. Here are a few places to see in this thriving part of town.
- Pretentious Glass Co. and Brewery: Also one of the largest and most successful Etsy stores, Pretentious Glass Co. and brewery is a cozy, artsy spot right in Knoxville’s Old City.
- Old City Sports Bar: The perfect bar to catch a game and enjoy a round or two.
- Southern Grit: Decadent southern dining in a cozy atmosphere touting shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, whiskeys, and more to fill you up after a long car ride or hike.
- Kaizen: Unique Asian-inspired dishes and daily specials perfect for sharing in their large outdoor dining area.
- Brother Wolf and Osteria Stella: Brother Wolf specializes in authentic Italian cocktails and small bites, with Osteria Stella right next door for a full experience of Northern Italian cuisine.
16. Brazeiros in Knoxville
Brazeiros is a family-owned, authentic Brazilian steakhouse (churrascaria) where guests enjoy both upscale service and a festive atmosphere. Enjoy a variety of meats prepared by Brazeiros’ expert chefs brought right to your table, as well as a legendary salad bar and an elaborate selection of wine and handcrafted cocktails.
17. Amici in Maryville
Offering authentic Italian pizza and cuisine, this friendly spot in Maryville is a must-see. “Amici” translates to “friends” in Italian, and the owners have more than 40 years of restaurant experience making patrons feel right at home.
18. Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro in Townsend
A true farm-to-table experience located in the Smokies, the Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro uses fresh produce grown on-site and sources the highest quality local ingredients—all in a cozy atmosphere.
19. Hot Chicken Spots in Nashville
Nashville and hot chicken just go together. Spice-enthusiasts and flavor lovers have a variety of top-rated spots to choose from in Music City, including:
- Hattie B’s
- 400 Degrees
- Big Shake’s Hot Chicken and Fish
- Red’s 615 Kitchen
20. Alleia in Chattanooga
Alleia offers simple, Italian-inspired options using fresh local ingredients with consistently high ratings and happy patrons.
21. Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe in Memphis
Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe has earned tons of fans thanks to playful versions of recipes that frequently come to Chef Tam in her dreams, according to Tennessee Vacation. Enjoy things like collard green pizza, fried ribs, or peach cobbler nachos.
Tennessee Bucket List Ideas for Families or Kids
Though the following spots are certainly kid-friendly, all ages will enjoy adventuring in these areas around Tennessee.
22. Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville
Ijams Nature Center is a nonprofit offering engaging education programs and outdoor experiences. You can enjoy 12+ miles of hiking, biking, as well as swimming and kayaking, climbing, and special events.
You can’t visit Tennessee without a little (or a lot) of Dolly. This park wins the award of “friendliest” and offers fun for the whole family. Enjoy more than 50 rides, high-energy entertainment, award-winning dining, and seasonal light displays and events.
24. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer high-energy attractions that still offer sweeping views of the neighboring Smokies, including the Space Needle observation tower and SkyBridge. There’s also the popular amusement park, Anakeesta, and ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg.
25. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville
This is one of the world's largest museums and research centers dedicated to preserving and interpreting American music, often nicknamed “The Smithsonian of Country Music.” The museum offers special exhibits, live shows, and tons of entertainment.
26. National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
The National Civil Rights Museum offers history that spans from slavery through the modern Civil Rights Movement and nonviolent protests and armed self-defense. According to the museum's website, though these topics are serious, there are ways to ensure your visit is enriching for all ages.
What Will You See in Tennessee?
From mountain views to historic landmarks and lively cityscapes, there’s plenty to see in Tennessee. So jot down your favorites or add this to your master travel bucket list, and get out there! You can also check out Tennessee Vacation’s website for even more ideas, as well as this guide for how to make a travel bucket list.