12 Things to do in Tennessee - 2023 Travel Guide

Last Updated On January 13, 2023

Welcome to the beautiful state of Tennessee! Whether you're a resident or just visiting, there are plenty of exciting things to do and see in this diverse and vibrant state. From exploring the great outdoors to immersing yourself in the rich cultural and musical history of the region, Tennessee has something for everyone. In this article, we'll highlight some of the top things to do in Tennessee to help you plan your trip or simply make the most of your time in this wonderful state.

1. Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-see for any visitor to Tennessee. Located in the eastern part of the state, this beautiful park is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, as well as stunning landscapes that range from rolling hills to towering peaks. Whether you're interested in hiking, fishing, or simply taking in breathtaking views, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect place to do it. There are also several historic sites located within the park, including the famous Appalachian Trail, which stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, Waynesville, NC

Photo by A n v e s h on Unsplash 

2. Explore Nashville

Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, is known as the Music City for good reason. It's home to a thriving music scene that spans a wide range of genres, including country, rock, and blues. If you're a music fan, be sure to check out some of the city's legendary music venues, such as the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. In addition to its music scene, Nashville is also home to a number of other cultural attractions, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, and the Tennessee State Museum. Be sure to take some time to explore the city's vibrant food and drink scene, as well, with a variety of delicious restaurants and bars to choose from.

Nashville, TN, USA

Photo by Matthew Jungling on Unsplash 

3. Go fishing in the Tennessee River

The Tennessee River is a popular spot for fishing, with a variety of species of fish to be found in its waters. Some of the most popular species to fish for in the Tennessee River include largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, and bluegill. There are a number of ways to fish in the Tennessee River, including from the shore, from a boat, or by wading into the water. If you're new to fishing, there are a number of guided fishing trips available that can help you get started and provide all the equipment you need. Be sure to check with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for any fishing regulations and licensing requirements before you head out on your fishing adventure.

Tennessee River, Knoxville, United States

Photo by Chase Baker on Unsplash 

4. Take a trip to Memphis

Memphis, located in western Tennessee, is known for its rich history and cultural attractions. If you're visiting Tennessee, be sure to take a trip to Memphis and check out some of the city's top attractions. One of the most popular things to do in Memphis is to visit Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. The mansion, which is now a museum, is a must-see for Elvis fans and offers a unique look into the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll. Other popular attractions in Memphis include the National Civil Rights Museum, which is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; the Memphis Zoo; and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Be sure to also check out some of the city's excellent restaurants and bars, which offer a range of delicious food and drink options.

Mud Island Park, Memphis, TN

Photo by Terrance Raper on Unsplash 

5. Visit Graceland

Graceland is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Memphis, Tennessee. Located just a few miles from downtown, Graceland is the former home of Elvis Presley and is now a museum dedicated to the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll. Visitors to Graceland can take a tour of the mansion, which has been preserved as it was when Elvis lived there. The tour includes Elvis' living room, kitchen, den, poolroom, and the famous Jungle Room. In addition to the mansion, visitors can also tour Elvis' aircraft, the Lisa Marie, and visit his gravesite. The Graceland complex also includes a number of other attractions, including the Elvis Presley's Memphis entertainment and exhibit complex, which features exhibits on Elvis' life and career, as well as a number of restaurants and gift shops.

Visit Graceland

Photo by Salomé Guruli on Unsplash 

6. Take a Scenic Drive

There are many scenic drives in Tennessee that offer stunning views of the state's natural beauty. Some popular options include:

  • The Natchez Trace Parkway: This 444-mile scenic drive follows an ancient Native American trail through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Along the way, visitors can enjoy beautiful views of the countryside, as well as stop at historical landmarks and recreation areas.
  • The Great Smoky Mountains National Park: This popular national park is home to a number of scenic drives, including the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and the Cades Cove Loop. These drives offer breathtaking views of the park's mountains, forests, and streams.
  • The Dragon: This 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 129 in eastern Tennessee is known for its 318 curves and is a popular destination for motorcycle enthusiasts. The drive offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Other scenic drives in Tennessee include the Cherohala Skyway, which runs through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, and the Foothills Parkway, which runs through the Great Smoky Mountains.

Take a Scenic Drive in Tennessee

7. Visit the Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is a popular attraction located in downtown Chattanooga. It is home to a wide variety of animals, including fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Some of the highlights of the aquarium include:

  • The River Journey: This exhibit takes visitors on a journey through the Tennessee River, starting at the mountain streams and ending in the delta. Along the way, visitors can see a variety of animals, including river otters, alligators, and giant catfish.
  • The Ocean Journey: This exhibit takes visitors on a journey through the world's oceans, starting at the shallow coral reefs and ending in the deep sea. Along the way, visitors can see a variety of animals, including sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
  • The Butterfly Garden: This exhibit is home to a variety of colorful butterflies from around the world. Visitors can walk through the garden and watch the butterflies flutter about.

In addition to the exhibits, the Tennessee Aquarium also offers a variety of educational programs and activities for visitors, such as behind-the-scenes tours, animal encounters, and special events.

Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, United States

Photo by William Scruggs on Unsplash 

8. Go Rafting

Go rafting is a suggestion for an activity to do in Tennessee. Rafting can be a thrilling and exciting way to explore the state's natural beauty, especially if you enjoy outdoor adventures and water sports. There are many rivers in Tennessee that offer rafting opportunities, such as the Ocoee River, the Pigeon River, and the Nolichucky River, to name a few. Before embarking on a rafting trip, it's important to be properly prepared and equipped, and to follow all safety guidelines and instructions provided by the rafting company or guide.

Go Rafting in Tennessee

9. Visit the Civil War Battlefields

Visit the Civil War battlefields in Tennessee for a glimpse into the state's history and the impact of the war on the region. There are several battlefields to visit, including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Stones River, and the Battle of Chickamauga. You can tour the battlefields on your own or join a guided tour to learn more about the events that took place there. This is a great way to learn about the history of Tennessee and the United States while also getting some fresh air and exercise.

Visit the Civil War Battlefields in Tennessee

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash 

10. Explore the Underground Caves

There are several underground caves to explore in Tennessee, including:

  • The Lost Sea: Located in Sweetwater, Tennessee, this underground cave is home to the largest underground lake in the United States. Visitors can take a tour of the cave and see the crystal clear waters, as well as the cave's unique flora and fauna.
  • Raccoon Mountain Caverns: Located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, these underground caves offer both guided and self-guided tours. Visitors can explore the cave's stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological formations.
  • Cumberland Caverns: Located in McMinnville, Tennessee, these underground caves offer a variety of tours, including a "Wild Cave" tour for those looking for an adventure. Visitors can also attend concerts and other events in the cave's Volcano Room.
  • The Caverns: Located in Pelham, Tennessee, these underground caves offer guided tours and a variety of music events in their natural amphitheater.

Exploring these underground caves is a unique and exciting way to experience Tennessee's natural beauty.

Underground Caves tennessee

11. Go Skiing

Skiing in Tennessee can be a fun and exciting winter activity. The state has several ski resorts that offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports. Some of the popular ski resorts in Tennessee include Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park, Ski Beech, and Cataloochee Ski Area. Skiing in Tennessee offers the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery and experience the thrill of sliding down the slopes. It is important to follow safety guidelines and always wear appropriate ski gear when participating in this activity.

Go Skiing in Tennessee

Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash 

12. Visit the Tennessee State Capitol

There are many things to see and do at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. Some of the highlights include touring the historic building, learning about the state's history and government, and visiting the Legislative Plaza. The Capitol building is home to the Tennessee General Assembly, and visitors can observe the legislative process in action by attending a session of the House or Senate. The Capitol is also home to many beautiful murals and artworks, as well as a museum dedicated to the history of Tennessee. In addition to touring the Capitol, visitors can explore the surrounding Legislative Plaza, which features a number of sculptures, memorials, and green spaces.

Tennessee Capitol Building as viewed from Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Downtown Nashville.

Photo by Brandon Hooper on Unsplash