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The 20 Best Things to Do in Knoxville, TN, for First Timers

Three Rivers Rambler

Knoxville is an amazing city to visit if you are planning a vacation to Tennessee. This city can offer a variety of experiences to suit people with different tastes, as there are activities and attractions for everyone. If you are visiting Knoxville for the first time, you should whittle down your entertainment options before your trip to make sure your schedule includes the activities that interest you the most. To help you plan your trip, the following are the 20 best things to do in Knoxville, TN, for first-timers.

Star of Knoxville Riverboat

20. Take a Boat Tour on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat

365 Atlanta Traveler recommends taking a boat tour on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat during your visit to Knoxville. This riverboat is an authentic paddle wheeler that offers cruises along the Tennessee River. There are different packages available, such as the Civil War sightseeing cruise and the Know Knoxville tour. Many of the boat tours include food and drink as part of the package.

Schakolad Chocolate Factory

19. Tour the Schakolad Chocolate Factory

There are several chocolate factories in Knoxville, and one of the best to visit is the Schakolad Chocolate factory. This factory offers tours to visitors so that they can learn about chocolate making and the different production methods. They can also learn about the history of chocolate and have a go at molding and decorating chocolates. At the end of the tour, visitors can enjoy a full tasting menu of the factory’s specialty chocolates.

Eat and Bowl at Maple Hall

18. Eat and Bowl at Maple Hall

In Knoxville and the surrounding area, there are many outstanding restaurants that you can try. However, a venue that offers a completely unique dining experience is Maple Hall. This is a bowling alley with a lounge area, a full bar, and a live stage. Unlike other bowling alleys that serve fast food, Maple Hall serves interesting tasting plates.

Three Rivers Rambler

17. Ride the Three Rivers Rambler

The Three Rivers Rambler is a steam train that will take you on a tour of the stunning countryside surrounding Knoxville. Heading from Downtown Knoxville, it travels along the Tennessee River past many historical sights. It then heads towards where the Holston River and the French Broad Rivers meet. Taking a ride on the Three Rivers Rambler is an interesting way to take in the sights and to admire the beauty of the area.


16. Have Fun at Dollywood

A great attraction to include in your itinerary if you are in Knoxville with your kids is a day at Dollywood. This is a theme park that is co-owned by Dolly Parton. There are kids’ rides, train rides, an interactive museum, and craft shops. The attraction also includes a water park that has more than 23 rides and activities to enjoy, so you will find plenty to keep the kids entertained. There are restaurants on-site, so you can grab a bite to eat during your visit.

Market Square District

15. Stroll Around the Market Square District

10 Best says that you should spend some time strolling around Market Square during your visit to Knoxville as this is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a hub of activity in the heart of the city. Around the square, you will find multiple shopping areas, restaurants, and bars. It is also home to gardens, walkways, and an outdoor theater.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

14. See the Exhibits at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Although there are many museums in and around Knoxville, one of the more unusual museums to visit is the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. 10 Best says that this museum is noticeable from the outside as it has a huge structure featuring a giant basketball measuring 30-feet in diameter and weighing more than 10 tons. Inside, this downtown Knoxville attraction covers more than 32,000-square-feet of interactive exhibitions. The displays begin in 1892 when the sport was first established and continues to the present day. Visitors will learn more about the individuals who have been inducted into this hall of fame and see a vast array of memorabilia relating to women’s basketball.

Ramsay House

13. Visit Historic Ramsey House

An interesting historic landmark to visit in Knoxville is the Historic Ramsey House. This property was built in 1797 for Colonel Francis Alexander Ramsey. This property is one of only a handful of 18th-century homes in the East Tennessee area that is open to the public, so taking a tour of such a beautiful period property is a privilege. In addition to touring the house, visitors can also stroll around the beautiful grounds. This venue is used to host a variety of events throughout the year, so you should check out what is on during your visit.

12. Experience James White Fort

Head out of the urban part of the city and you can step back in time at the James White Fort, where you can experience frontier life. This attraction if the former home of James White, who was the founder of Knoxville. The fort was constructed in the downtown part of the city in 1970, and it is now one of the top attractions as there are more than 10 thousand visitors each year. There are many interactive activities for visitors to enjoy, such as spinning, blacksmithing, and pioneer cooking. Visitors will also see many interesting artifacts that tell the story of how Knoxville was founded and developed.

11. Take the Tour of Mabry-Hazen House

History buffs should take a tour of the Mabry-Hazen House, as this is one of the most interesting historic landmarks. It is a Victorian home that was built in 1858, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sits on the top of a hill, and it tells the story of a family that are significant to the history of the area. There are some interesting features inside the house that you will see on a tour, including one of the largest collections of original family heirlooms in the country.

The Muse Knoxville

10. Take the Kids to The Muse Knoxville

If you are visiting Knoxville as a family, then the top attraction to include in your vacation schedule is a trip to The Muse Knoxville. This is a fantastic attraction for keeping children entertained as it boasts a four thousand square foot play space that blends science and art to create a fun learning experience for all the family. Some of the topics covered include construction, nutrition, physical science, and many other topics. The mission of the attraction is to inspire and empower children. An interesting feature of The Muse Knoxville is its planetarium, which is the only planetarium in the city.

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

9. Go to the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is one of the best museums to visit in Knoxville, and it is a fantastic option if you are traveling with children. One of the major focuses of the museum is displaying dinosaur bones that have been discovered in Tennessee. There is also a Civil War and Human Origins exhibit, and an eclectic collection o special exhibits from across the globe. Throughout the year, there are educational programs, and there are opportunities for research in the laboratory in the museum.

Art at Knoxville Museum of Art

8. Take in the Art at Knoxville Museum of Art

For art lovers, the top attraction in Knoxville is the Knoxville Museum of Art. This museum features art that highlights the culture of the southern Appalachians, It also celebrated the art and artists of East Tennessee. The art museum is interesting from the outside because it is clad in Tennessee marble. Once inside, visitors can enjoy a variety of exhibitions. One of the most recent additions to the exhibitions is the Cycle of Life exhibit, which is the largest figural glass installation in the world. One of the most interesting sections of the museum is a collection of America’s most well-known miniature diorama group. There are also temporary exhibitions and events are held throughout the year.

Blount Mansion

7. Visit Blount Mansion

There are several interesting historic buildings to visit in Knoxville, and one that you should include in your vacation itinerary is a trip to Blount Mansion. This property was built in 1792 by William Blount, who was the signer of the U.S. Constitution and the Governor of the Southwest Territory. Therefore, it is a home of historic significance in this area. The house has been beautifully restored to tell the story of Tennessee’s formative years. Visitors can take a tour of the house and stroll around the property’s stunning gardens.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

6. Admire the Beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Knoxville is set against the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, so you should take some time to step outside the city and enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of this area. There is a multitude of activities you can enjoy within the national park, including miles of hiking trails, biking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, birdwatching, and observing wildlife. Many people who are visiting Knoxville book a hotel for most of their vacation, then spend a couple of days camping in one of the campsites within the national park to enjoy a contrasting experience. Make sure you take along your camera.

Knoxville Zoo

5. See the Animals at Knoxville Zoo

Regardless of whether you are visiting Knoxville with children or you are traveling in an adults-only party, a fantastic attraction to visit is Knoxville Zoo. There are more than 900 animals from across the globe living in this zoo, so it is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the different species. There are also many hands-on experiences for visitors to enjoy, such as feeding a giraffe or riding a camel. Other interesting features of this attraction include the Forest Theater Show and the largest splash pad in Knoxville. There is plenty to keep younger travelers entertained, including a petting zoo and an interactive jungle experience.

Tennessee Theater

4. See a Performance at Tennessee Theater

One way that people like to spend their time when they are on a vacation is by seeing a live performance. The best place to catch a live performance in Knoxville is at Tennessee Theater. There is something for everyone in the jam-packed program, with some examples including Broadway shows, classical music concerts, rock concerts, and vintage movies. It is best to check out what is one before visiting Knoxville and to book the tickets in advance.

Museum of East Tennessee History Center

3. Learn About the Local History at the Museum of East Tennessee History Center

Operated by the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Museum of East Tennessee History Center is an award-winning tourist attraction. The museum covers 300 years of life in Tennessee with interesting exhibitions and an array of artifacts. There are annual events held throughout the year, and there are some workshops that require pre-registration.

Ijams Nature Center

2. Enjoy the Outdoors at Ijams Nature Center

Open for more than a century, Harry Ijams originally opened the Ijams Nature Center as a birdwatching sanctuary. Now, the 300-acre park is one of the leading wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning centers in the world. There is plenty for nature lovers to explore on a visit to this nature center, including trails, creeks, groves, a homestead, and boardwalks. It is also home to Knoxville’s only outdoor rock climbing area.

Day at World’s Fair Park

1. Spend a Day at World’s Fair Park

According to Vacation idea, the best thing to do in Knoxville is to visit World’s Fair Park. This is a large park in the heart of the city that boasts large lawns, man-made lakes, and streams. There is an observation deck where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Great Smokey Mountains and the Tennessee River. This venue is used to host multiple events, festivals, and performances, throughout the year.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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