Nashville is the country music capital and Memphis has all the blues, and millions of tourists flock to them every year for vacations. But in between these destinations lies Knoxville – a city well worth visiting.

Knoxville doesn't tout itself as a vacation destination as loudly as its neighbors, but it should. Located on the Tennessee River in eastern Tennessee, there is so much to see and do, guests will need several days to see it and neighboring towns thoroughly. A free trolley system makes it easy to get all around the city. Downtown, the Market Square district has 19th-century buildings with shops and restaurants. James White’s Fort, built by the Revolutionary War captain, includes the reconstructed 1786 log cabin that was Knoxville’s first permanent building. The Sunsphere, right in downtown, is a 266-foot-high, hexagonal steel structure, topped with a 75-foot, gold-colored glass sphere that served as the symbol of the 1982 World's Fair. The city is home to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and has the only Rachmaninoff statue in the western hemisphere because he gave his last concert in the city.

Accomodations

For a perfectly elegant and thoughtful stay, try theTennessean Hotel, just steps from the city's iconic Market Square. Owner Nicholas Cazana spared no expense when he purchased an empty state office building and turned it into a modern showpiece. The design theme of the hotel is based on the Tennessee River. Maps of Knoxville are placed throughout the hotel, from large canvases down to the custom-made napkins from France.

Maple Hall Bowling is a boutique 11-lane bowling alley located in the historic J.C. Penney building in the heart of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.
Tanvir is a Malaysian tiger who lives at Zoo Knoxville, a 53-acre zoo and is home to about 800 animals and welcomes over 400,000 human visitors each year.

 

If you prefer a view of the Tennessee hills, try the adults-only Mountain Harbor Inn. Nestled in Dandridge, it has beautiful views of Douglas Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains. It's conveniently located near Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Knoxville. Owner Billy Inman is a master proprietor with boundless charm and cooks breakfast for hotel guests nearly every day.

A quaint bed and breakfast with history in every room, the Shepard Inn in Dandridge is situated in the second oldest town in Tennessee, named after President Washington's wife, Martha Dandridge Washington. There is history all around. The owners and workers are up to date on the history of the inn and the town.

The Knoxville Museum of Art  presents the rich visual legacy of East Tennessee and new art from the region and beyond.   This painting by Catherine Wiley (1879-1958) is formally Untitled (Woman and Child in a Meadow) and was painted in 1913.
The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum that interprets the pioneer and early 20th-century period of the Southern Appalachian region of the United States.

 

Things to do

Unique to Knoxville, many visitors love Maple Hall Bowling – totally fun! It's a boutique, 11-lane bowling alley located in the historic J.C. Penney building in the heart of downtown. Downstairs from the street level, the establishment offers a full-service bar, small plates, cozy lounge areas, a live stage and a two-lane private VIP room, all surrounded by historic red brick walls.

Urban Wilderness is a spectacular, 1,000-acre outdoor adventure area five minutes from downtown, where visitors can hike, bike, climb, paddle or just wander in the woods with 42 miles of trails.

Ijams Nature Park is a great place to get outdoors, featuring wetlands and rock formations with 10 miles of trails plus bike and canoe rentals. Take the boardwalk all the way to the Tennessee River.

The WDVX Blue Plate Special is a live performance radio show held at noon at the WDVX studio inside the newly remodeled Knoxville Visitor Center. From blues to bluegrass, country to Celtic, folk to funk, rockabilly to hillbilly, local to international, it all part of the live music experience on the WDVX Blue Plate Special. The show is free and you’re welcome to bring your lunch.

WDVX Blue Plate Special – What a treat! Drop in for the free live performance radio show held at noon, Monday through Saturday, at the WDVX studio inside the Knoxville Visitor's Center. Bring your own lunch and enjoy this delectable morsel of Tennessee music, going strong after 20 years.

Poke your head into the Tennessee Theatre, a 1920s-era movie palace, also located in downtown. Grand and opulent, admire Czechoslovakian crystals in the French-style chandeliers, Italian terrazzo flooring in the Grand Lobby and Oriental influences in the carpet and drapery patterns. The theater had a $30 million renovation and reopened in 2005. Tom Mix, Glen Miller, Helen Hayes, the Ziegfield Follies, Desi Arnaz and Frank Capra are some of the luminaries who have graced its stage.

Nearby, the Bijou Theatre traces its roots to 1801 when it was a hotel. Over the next 200 years, it was a vaudeville house, a bordello, a movie theater, and was briefly owned by a church. In 2006, the doors opened to a renovated theater that now showcases music, dance troupes and films, plus rotating local art. Some of the stars who played the Bijou include the Marx Brothers, Tallulah Bankhead, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow. Owner Martha Boggs says she does a lot of “chalkboard specials” of what she lovingly calls “foothills cuisine.”

Zoo Knoxville is home to about 800 animals and welcomes over 400,000 human visitors each year. This gem puts the spotlight on their three Sumatran tiger sisters.

The City of Oak Ridge was established under a cloak of great secrecy by the U.S. government in 1942 to serve as a home base to the Manhattan Project, which was designed to produce the world's first atomic weapons. Chosen for its remote locale, the entire city had to be built almost from scratch on 60,000 acres to handle the influx of employee/residents, which ballooned from 3,000 to 75,000 within three years, making it the third largest city in the state at the time – and it did not appear on any map! Very few of the employees, most of whom were women, knew what was being built at the time or exactly what they were getting into. You can get the full story at the American Museum of Science and Energy.

Plan your next trip to Dandridge, TN and be sure to visit Bush Beans Visitor Center for a free tour and fun! You can guess your weight in beans and have your photo taken with Duke, star of their TV commercials. 

Bush's Beans Visitor Center – what a hoot! Have lunch and don't skip the pinto bean pie – then take in the fascinating history of this family-owned business. Have your photo taken with Duke, the golden retriever and star of Bush's TV commercials.

For history fans, there is a wealth of museums in and around Knoxville.

The Green McAdoo School in Clinton was the community's segregated elementary. Today, it is a center dedicated to the "Clinton 12,” an all-but-forgotten group of students who led integration of a Tennessee school more than 50 years ago. Ten of the 12 are still living, many in the area.

The Musuem of Applachia is in Clinton, 20 miles north of downtown, has a remarkable collection of hundreds of thousands of memorabilia crafted into a pioneer mountain farm-village that lends voice to the people of Southern Appalachia. Opened in 1969, there are many festivals and special events on the property throughout the year.

The Appalachian Arts Craft Center, very close to the Museum of Appalachia, is one of the oldest craft centers in Tennessee, offering the wares of more than 70 local artists.

Drop into the Coal Creek Miners Museum to learn about the rich history of the miners that lived, worked and died in Coal Creek, Fraterville and Briceville.

The Knoxville Museum of Art has a primary focus on Southern Appalachian culture and artists from the East Tennessee region. “Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee” is a permanent exhibition that highlights the works of noted native artists such as Catherine Wiley, whose stunning Impressionistic paintings are memorable.

The Museum of East Tennessee History has interactive exhibits plus regional art, textiles and Civil War artifacts.

Dining

There are more than 80 restaurants in downtown Knoxville alone and plenty of fabulous choices in the surrounding area. Here are a few options:

Bistro By The Bijou is a cozy restaurant with a seasonal menu.

Calhoun's on the River offers ribs, barbecue, craft beer and burgers – they have it all in a great setting.

Angelo's at the Point is a lovely spot featuring fresh seafood and steaks with a lakeside view in Dandridge.

The French Market Creperie in downtown Knoxville has a totally charming atmosphere in an historic building with terrific crepes, croissant sandwiches, omelets and wine – very French and lovely. Owners Allen and Susan Tate are fastidious on the details, using only flour imported from France and all local eggs from free-range hens.

If you have time, investigate the Knoxville Ale Trail. There are 15 breweries operating with more coming soon. The Great Valley Wine Trailis a group of four wineries located in the beautiful East Tennessee area.

Visittnvacation.com and visitknoxville.com for more information.

Cynthia Calvert
Author: Cynthia CalvertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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A trained journalist with a masters degree from Lamar University, a masters from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as extensive coursework toward a masters of science in psychology from the University of New Orleans, Calvert founded the Tribune Newspapers in 2007. Her experiences as an investigative, award winning reporter (She won Journalist of the Year from the Houston Press Club among many other awards for reporting and writing), professor and chair of the journalism department for Lone Star College-Kingwood and vice president of editorial for a large group of community weeklies provides her with a triple dose of bankable skills that cover every aspect of the journalism field. Solid reporting. Careful interviews. Respect and curiosity for people and places.

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