Knoxville Tennessee Travel Guide

December 9, 2021

We recently spent a weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee, and had such a fun time exploring this one-of-a-kind town! From the beautiful nature and rich history to delicious restaurants and fun boutiques, Knoxville is the perfect city for a weekend getaway with the family, so I wanted to share this Knoxville travel guide with you.

About Knoxville

Located in the eastern part of Tennessee, Knoxville first began to rapidly boom with the expansion of the railroad in 1855. Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and is one of the biggest cities in Appalachia. Serving as one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains, there’s plenty of wilderness and outdoor activities to be found. Knoxville is also home to a booming arts and culture scene, earning it the nickname of “The Maker City.”

How to Get There

Knoxville is close to the borders of several Southern states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky. From our historic home in Greensboro, it’s only a 4.5-hour drive! If you’re coming from farther away, the McGhee Tyson Airport is a domestic hub for Tennessee, or you can make the 3.5-hour drive from either the Nashville or the Atlanta international airports.

When to Visit Knoxville

We visited Knoxville in early December and got to take advantage of all of the wonderful holiday activities and decorations that were up throughout the town, but Knoxville is truly a year-round gem! The coldest months are December – February, with lows around 30 degrees and highs around 50. In the summer, the average highs are in the high-80s, with a nice mountain breeze to keep you from getting too hot.

Want to plan your trip around a specific event? Here are a few of the fun festivals and activities that take place in Knoxville year-round:

  • Spring: Mardi Growl Dog Parade, Big Ears Festival, Knox Shamrock Fest, Chalk Walk, Dogwood Arts Festival, Open Streets, Children’s Festival of Reading
  • Summer: Bike Boat Brew & Bark, Knoxville Brewfest, Knox Pridefest, Celebration of the 4th, Germanfest, Movies Under the Stars
  • Fall: Big Kahuna Wing Festival, Tennessee Valley Fair, Greek Fest, Boo! At The Zoo, Veterans Day Parade
  • Winter: Christmas in the City, Holidays on Ice, Downtown Peppermint Trail, Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt, Fantasy of Trees, Chocolatefest, Zoo Lights

Knoxville Travel Guide

In this Knoxville travel guide, I’m going to share my favorite place to stay, the best things to do, and where to eat in Knoxville, Tennessee. Keep reading to plan your Knoxville travels and get my best recommendations for Tennessee’s Maker City!

Where to Stay: Cumberland House Knoxville

During our trip to Knoxville, we stayed in the Cumberland House Knoxville, a Tapestry Collection hotel by Hilton. Located in Downtown Knoxville, the hotel is just across the street from the World’s Fair Park and the University of Tennessee. We loved staying here because it gave us a unique and local experience, while still knowing that we had the expertise of a national brand backing up our wonderful stay. If you are looking for an authentic local experience, I highly recommend Cumberland House! 

The hotel design was inspired by Knoxville’s heritage in textile manufacturing. From the overall hotel to the individual rooms, the design is inspired by Knoxville’s history as a textile manufacturing hub. Rich colors and antique decor pieces make the hotel a treat to look at, as well as a beautifully rejuvenating place to relax between exploring all that Knoxville has to offer. I adored all of the antique sewing machines in the lobby. There were one-of-a-kind art pieces incorporating thread, buttons, and scissors throughout the hotel.  The rooms include large bathrooms, plenty of storage, streaming enabled HDTVs, WiFi, Keurig coffee makers, a mini-fridge, and a spacious desk, even though there wasn’t much work getting done between all of our fun activities!

One thing that we really enjoyed about the hotel is visiting the restaurant and bar in the Cumberland House, the Tussie Mussie. The restaurant’s menu features Appalachia-inspired dishes creating complex flavors from simple, local ingredients. As another nod to Knoxville’s history, every day at 18:55 military time (6:55 p.m.), a train bell rings in the lobby, commemorating the first passenger train to go through Knoxville in the year 1855. When you hear the bell ring, head to the bar to sample some of the signature cocktails and get a discount on your next one!

The Cumberland House also offers guest the use of their signature bicycles. They also provide helmets. We rode the bikes over to World’s Fair Park and we actually say the famous Clydesdale horses while we were there! We loved the proximity to the Sunsphere and seeing it out of our window when we woke up each morning.

Mother and son riding bikes outside of the Cumberland House hotel in Knoxville

Where to Eat

The French Market

The French Market is an authentic French crepe restaurant in Downtown Knoxville, but their menu includes so much more than just crepes and is great for any meal, breakfast through dinner! I got a savory Dutch-Style Ham creme, with Swiss cheese cooked into the batter, caramelized onion, and sauteed mushrooms. The cheese got all toasted on the outside of the crepe and it was unreal! Harper got the Nutella crepe, and Erik got the strawberries and cream, both of which were equally fantastic. In addition to our crepes, we had amazing French onion soup and frites, phenomenal lattes, and fresh-squeezed orange juice! The entire place has a lovely Parisian vibe, with cafe-style seating and light turquoise accents all around. If I go back to Knoxville, I would definitely make a point of returning here!

Myrtle’s Chicken & Beer

As a Southern girl, you know I had to find a good fried chicken restaurant in Knoxville! Myrtle’s Chicken & Beer definitely didn’t disappoint. We got hand-breaded jumbo tenders, amazing collards, and the creamy pimento mac-n-cheese. It’s probably the best side ever! Myrtle’s Chicken & Beer is the perfect comfort food restaurant, with Southern specialties all over the menu, plus a hometown feel with craft beers and a welcoming interior.

What to Do in Knoxville

Tour Blount Mansion

Knoxville is home to lots of incredible history. One place it’s especially highlighted is in the Blount Mansion, which was once home to William Blount, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. The mansion is Knoxville’s oldest operating museum and a National Historic Landmark. We took a tour of the 18th-century house and learned more about the heritage and history of both Tennessee and Knoxville!

Zoo Lights at Zoo Knoxville

Zoo Knoxville is a 53-acre zoo that is home to approximately 800 animals. Every year around the holidays, they put on a light extravaganza called Zoo Lights, featuring colorful lanterns, light displays, and festive food and drinks. This is only the second year of Zoo Lights, and already they’ve developed such an incredibly festive and beautiful experience. The light displays are specifically themed to highlight the animals of the zoo, and the food is delicious too, with options including Chicken Tinga Nachos, white truffle parmesan fries, peppermint fudge brownies, funnel cake fries, and more! This event was a great way to experience the zoo and partake in some holiday fun!

Candlelight Christmas Tour at Historic Ramsey House

There’s no shortage of historic homes in Knoxville for you to explore, whether you’re a history buff or architecture lover. We visited the Historic Ramsey House for their Candlelight Christmas Tour, taking in the beautifully preserved stone home which has been delightfully decorated with greenery and, you guessed it, candles! Get a sense for what the home would look like all lit in candlelight during this festive tour. The house itself offers a representation of early life and culture in Tennessee, and is situated on over 100 acres of beautiful country landscape.

Tennessee Theatre

Did you know that the official state theatre of Tennessee is located in Knoxville? The Tennessee Theatre was built in 1928 in downtown Knoxville and was considered Knoxville’s first skyscraper. After reopening in 2005 as a performing arts center, today the theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts performances from classical music, Broadway, dance, and current favorite artists! We enjoyed a private tour of the theatre to learn about the theatre’s history, get the inside details on the historic renovation, and find out about some of its most fun and famous performances. Public tours reopen in the summer of 2022, but until then, definitely check out a performance at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville!

If you’re looking for a great place to visit with fun and activities for every member of your family, Knoxville, Tennessee is a wonderful option. With an artistic history and natural wonders around every bend, there’s something for everyone in the Maker City. I hope this Knoxville travel guide helped give you some ideas of what to do on your own trip to Knoxville!

Want more travel recommendations? Check out these travel guides to other popular destinations in the South:

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