The 20 Best Things to Do in Tennessee for First Timers

Dollywood

The land-locked southern state of Tennessee is an interesting destination to consider for a vacation as there is such a diverse range of things to see and do during your stay. On the one hand, this state is known for its mountains and stunning landscape, which are perfect for outdoor pursuits. On the other hand, it is also famous for its music scenes, particularly in Nashville and Memphis. While Nashville is known as the heart of country music, Memphis is better known for rock n’ roll. However, the many attractions and activities in Tennessee are not all related to these themes as there is something for everyone. To give you some guidance on which activities to enjoy during your stay in your time in this state, the following are the 20 best things to do in Tennessee for first-timers.

Lotz Museum

20. Lotz House Museum

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Vacation Idea says that Lotz House Museum was once a private house but it is now a museum. This attraction is located in Franklin and it played a role in the Civil War when it was used as a military field hospital. It once belonged to the Lotz family, who produced handmade furniture and fine art. The museum now displays family heirlooms, fine art, antiques, and interesting artifacts relating to either the Lot family or the Civil War.

Sun Studio

19. Sun Studio

In a state that is well-known for its music, the most famous recording studio is Sun Studio. This studio, which is located in Memphis, was founded by Sam Phillips in 1950. Although it is still a working recording studio, it is also open to the public who can take guided tours of the facilities. There is a free shuttle form Graceland to this studio, so many people visit both attractions on the same day.

Ripleys Tennessee

18. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

An interesting place to visit for all the family is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This is one of the top aquariums in the United States. Located in downtown Gatlinburg, it has tanks containing 1.4 million gallons of water that are home to more than 100,000 marine animals. The underwater tunnel is one of the highlights of the visit, as visitors feel like they are walking amongst the marine life, which includes giant sea turtles and sharks. There are exhibits and activities throughout to keep the children entertained.

Ijams

17. Ijams Nature Center

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Tennessee is Ijams Nature Center. According to Vacation Idea, this park covers 300-acres of a protected wildlife area. There are many outdoor activities you can enjoy in the park, including hiking, biking, and paddling. One of the features in the park is Jo’s Grove, which is a natural play area for children. Another feature is Ijams Crag, which is a popular location for climbing.

Lost Sea Adventure

16. The Lost Sea Adventure

The spectacular Lost Sea is within a huge cave system in Sweetwater, which is 46 miles outside Knoxville. The best way to view this fascinating underground waterway is by taking one of the many boat trips. This will take you safely through the large Craighead Caverns and the underwater tunnels while you learn about the geography of the Lost Sea and about the role it played in the history of the Civil War.

Museum of Appalachia

15. The Museum of Appalachia

An open-air museum, this attraction focuses on the people who settled in the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors to The Museum of Appalachia can experience the culture and lifestyle of these people by participating in hands-on activities that relate to how they made their livelihoods, such as farming and weaving. There are more than 250,000 artifacts on display at this museum, so there is plenty to see during your visit. Various events and festivals take place at this venue throughout the year, so it is worth checking what is one before embarking on your visit.

Museum of Science

14. Oak Ridge: American Museum of Science and Energy

Oak Ridge: American Museum of Science and Energy differs from other science and energy museums because its focus is on the history of nuclear energy. It is a fascinating place to visit, and it looks at the Manhattan Project and the development of the nuclear bomb. Some of the displays include weaponry, protective clothing, tools, photographs, and videos. There are some fun interactive exhibitions that make the attraction a fun place to visit.

Hermitage

13. The Hermitage

The Hermitage was once the home of former US President Andrew Jackson. This plantation home was built in 1819, and the grounds consist of woods and park-like gardens. It will take at least a couple of hours to explore. One of the highlights for many visitors is seeing the tomb that is the final resting place of the former president and his wife. The house has been restored to its original glory and contains many interesting artifacts relating to Jackson’s life.

Memorial Cemetary Grotto

12. Crystal Shrine Grotto

If you want to take a break from the busy tourist areas of Memphis and enjoy some peace in a tranquil environment, then you should visit Crystal Shrine Grotto. This quiet attraction is located in the Memorial Park Cemetery, which sits at the end of a tree-lined drive. The Grotto was completed in 1938 by Dionicio Rodriguez. It is filled with bible scenes that are handmade from rock quartz crystal and semi-precious stones. To enter the Grotto, you step through a concrete tree stump. Compared to the rather boring entrance, the interior is a spectacular sight.

Virgin Falls

11. Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness

The Virgin Falls is set in a natural preserve that covers approximately one thousand acres. The waterfalls are formed by an underground stream that flows from a cave before cascading more than 110 feet over a cliff. There are also other waterfalls nearby, including Big Laurel and Sheep Cave Falls. When you visit this natural landmark, you should take along your camera to capture some photographs of the pretty falls and its stunning surroundings. You might also like to take some photographs of the views from Caney Fork Overlook. In the land surrounding the waterfalls, there is a recreational trail that you can enjoy.

Memphis Zoo

10. Memphis Zoo

For families staying in Memphis or the surrounding area, one of the top attractions to visit is Memphis Zoo. There are more than 3,500 animals from 500 species living in this zoo, and they live in areas that are modeled on their natural habitats. One of the highlights for many visitors is the Giant Panda exhibit, as this is one of only four zoos in the United State to have Giant Pandas. However, there are many more interesting animals to see at this attraction, including linos, zebras, giraffes, and elephants. Along with the animal habitats, there are exhibitions that provide interesting pieces of information about each species. Therefore, this is an activity that is both fun and educational. This is an attraction that people of all ages can enjoy, and you will cover two miles as you walk around the zoo.

Bell Witch Cave

9. Bell Witch Cave

If you enjoy natural attractions, then The Crazy Tourist recommends a trip to Bell Witch Cave. This privately owned cave is in Adams, Tennessee, and tours are offered throughout summer until the end of October. It is linked to the folklore of the witch that allegedly haunted the Bell family who lived at the now non-existent farm where the cave is located.

Titanic Museum

8. The Titanic Museum

Although there are many museums in Tennessee, one of the best to visit is The Titanic Museum, which is located on Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Even from the exterior, this is an impressive attraction as it is built in the shape of a ship that is half the scale of the original ship. Inside, the exhibitions are divided into 20 unique galleries that contain more than 400 artifacts relating to the Titanic. It takes approximately two hours to complete this self-guided tour.

Lookout Mountain

7. Lookout Mountain

To climb Lookout Mountain, you can hike on foot or travel in the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. From the top, you can enjoy spectacular, panoramic views across Chattanooga. There are also some activities to enjoy at the top of the mountain. These include Rock City, Ruby Falls, Point Park, and Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum. If you plan to enjoy all these activities, you should set aside at least a full day of your vacation to make the most of everything that is on offer.

Tennessee Railroad Museum

6. Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Railroads have played an important role in the history of Tennessee. They have contributed to industries including the shipping of cloth and wood, and to the supply chain during the Civil War. The museum tracks the history of the contribution railroads have made to the state and has some fascinating artifacts. Visitors to the museum can also take an excursion on a steam train, some of which offer dinner packages. Both children and adults alike enjoy taking a trip on these trains.

Parthenon

5. Parthenon

The Parthenon is one of the most important and historically significant landmarks in Tennessee. This huge structure was built in Centennial Park in 1897 to commemorate the state’s centenary. Inside the structure, there is an art gallery that boasts work by American painters from the 19th and 20th centuries. Another feature of the interior is a gold-covered statue of the goddess Athena Parthenos, which stands proudly at 32-feet high.

Civil War Trails

4. Tennessee Civil War Trails

Tennessee has a rich and varied history, and the Civil War has played an important role in the history of the state. The various Tennessee Civil War Trails will take you to a range of important landmarks relating to the Civil War, such as battlefields, visitor centers, memorials, and museums. Planetware says that some of the highlights along the trails include Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Shiloh National Military Park, Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, Point Park Battlefield, and Stones River National Cemetery.

Dollywood

3. Dollywood

Many people consider Dolly Parton the queen of country music, so it is hardly surprising that there is an attraction named after this singer in a state that is considered the home of country music. This is a lively theme park that boasts more than 40 rides, which are divided across 10 themed areas. The rides vary from adrenalin-inducing roller coasters to smaller rides for young children. It also contains the Splash Country waterpark and the Dollywood DreamMore Resort.

Graceland

2. Graceland and the Elvis Presley Memphis Complex

Elvis Presley famously lived and died in his Memphis home, Graceland. Not only is this the most famous rock ‘n’ roll house in the world, but it is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Memphis. Visitors can take tours of the former home of Elvis Presley, which will give them an insight into his life. In addition to Graceland, the complex also includes Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which is a museum dedicated to the king of rock ‘n’ roll. The exhibits include many of his stage outfits, his collection of cars, and various other memorabilia items. Not only is this a fantastic place to visit for fans of Elvis Presley, but it is also interesting for fans of any music genre.

Smokey Mountains

1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

According to The Crazy Tourist, the best place to visit in Tennessee is The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This UNESCO Heritage Site is the most significant natural landmark in the state. Not only does this national park contain the Great Smoky Mountains, but it also has a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the famous Appalachian Trail also passes through the park. There are multiple trails for you to explore the stunning mountains, the panoramic views, and the varied wildlife.


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