15 Best Things to Do in Knoxville (TN)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

The great city of Knoxville is nestled in the state of Tennessee where it is also blessed by an abundance of beautiful surrounding landmarks like the Tennessee River, the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains, and the equally breathtaking Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You can learn all about the history and culture of Tennessee on a trip here, with gems like museums, history centers, parks, fairs, and theaters, as well as a range of historical buildings and monuments.

Knoxville was a prominent location during times such as the Civil War, and as such this history is showcased throughout the city through a range of beautiful historical attractions that will capture the imagination of history buffs.

For anyone travelling with children, Knoxville also won’t disappoint, with museums, educational exhibits, and the mighty Knoxville Zoo.

There is even a dedicated theater called the Children’s Theater that is run by children, for children.

Lets explore the best things to do in Knoxville:

1. World’s Fair Park

World’s Fair ParkSource: mapio
World’s Fair Park

World’s Fair Park was the venue of the World’s Fair in 1982 and is now, all these years on, still one of the most loved attractions in Knoxville.

The park is made up of grassy knolls, fountains, and paved walking trails, and if you want to come here in the summer months then you are in for a treat.

When the weather heats up, you can cool down in the quirky fountains and geysers that are set up here or you can just catch some of the live music events that take place here over holiday periods.

There is also a sunsphere observation deck in the park where you can look across at the Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee River and enjoy some of the local landscapes.

2. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

McClung Museum of Natural History and CultureSource: president.tennessee
McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is easily recognizable thanks to the dinosaur that welcomes guests on the front lawn called Monty.

The aim of the museum is to showcase the best of the local historical and archeological background of Tennessee, and to that end you can find fossils and dinosaur bones on display as well as exhibits that delve into periods such as the Civil War.

3. Tennessee Theater

Tennessee TheaterSource: flickr
Tennessee Theater

The Tennessee Theater dates from 1928 when it was charmingly referred to as a ‘movie palace’. Nowadays the theater is still an icon thanks to its Spanish-Moorish style of architecture, and you will find period antiques here like the original crystal chandeliers as well as marble floors and Asian textiles.

If you are looking for some culture in Knoxville, then this is one of the best places to find it, as you can expect classic films, musical concerts, and Broadway shows.

The Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra also play here.

4. Mabry-Hazen House Museum

Mabry-Hazen House MuseumSource: flickr
Mabry-Hazen House Museum

The Mabry-Hazen House Museum is located on the gorgeous Mabry Hill and used to be the home of one of the most famous families in Knoxville.

The house dates from 1858 and has a huge collection of antiques that used to belong to the Mabry-Hazen family and will give you a unique insight into how people would have lived in Tennessee in days gone by.

The home was also used by Union and Confederate forces and has a key role during the Civil War, meaning that history buffs shouldn’t miss the chance to visit if they are in the area.

5. Knoxville Zoo

Knoxville ZooSource: flickr
Knoxville Zoo

For a look at some of the most beautiful wildlife in Knoxville, head over to the Knoxville Zoo where you can find over 900 animals in one place.

Species here come from all over the world and are grouped according to their habitats, and you can experience exotic animals like Komodo dragons and Khaleesi.

There are also animals encounter sessions where you can get up close to the wildlife, and there are also other attractions like splash pad, a theater, and a carousel.

6. East Tennessee History Center

East Tennessee History CenterSource: knoxvilletennessee
East Tennessee History Center

For a look at the amazing history in the United States, head to the East Tennessee History Center where you can learn all about it firsthand.

Here you will find a range of exhibits including interactive galleries and personal stories that will take you back 300 years before leading you up to the present day.

Many of the displays here are designed with children in mind in order to present an engaging learning experience to young minds, and to that end this is the perfect place to come if you are looking for a rainy day activity in Knoxville.

7. Old City

Old CitySource: flickr
Old City

Old City is the name given to the historical downtown area of Knoxville, and is one of the best loved corners of the city.

Here you will find quirky venues such as small coffee house as well as vibrant art galleries, or you can enjoy some typical Tennessee dishes in one of the local restaurants here.

In the evening, you won’t be bored, as there is a widespread live music scene here, and many of the buildings in this area are some of the oldest and most historically significant in the city.

8. Ijams Nature Center

Ijams Nature CenterSource: tripadvisor
Ijams Nature Center

For anyone who is a nature lover, the Ijams Nature Center is not to be missed on a trip to Knoxville.

The center is the brainchild of Harry Ijams who opened it originally as a sanctuary for birds, although the area has now grown to include 300 acres of land and is now a wildlife preserve as well as an educational center.

Amazingly, the center is only 3 miles outside of Knoxville, and yet it can feel like another world as you explore creeks, groves, and hiking trails.

There is also a rock climbing section of the center, or you can choose to go on a relaxing canoe ride.

9. Blount Mansion

Blount MansionSource: flickr
Blount Mansion

Head back in time to see the story of Knoxville firsthand at the beautiful Blount Mansion.

The home belonged to William Blount, most well known for signing the U.S Constitution and for being the Governor of the Southwest Territory.

The house dates from 1792 and William Blount’s presence here is actually the reason why Knoxville is the capitol of Tennessee.

Nowadays the home has been turned into a museum and you can see displays that will take you through not just the history of the house itself, but also through the background of this amazing city.

10. Market Square Farmer’s Market

Market Square Farmer’s MarketSource: flickr
Market Square Farmer’s Market

The Market Square Farmer’s Market is known for being part of a wider project in the city called Nourish Knoxville which aims to promote collaborations between the local community and farmers.

To that end, local vendors set up here every week to sell their wares, all located in the historical setting of Market Square in the downtown area of Knoxville.

All produce sold here comes from the region and you can either buy fresh raw ingredients or pick up some delicious cooked dished or baked goods.

11. James White Fort

James White FortSource: flickr
James White Fort

James White was the founder of Knoxville, and now you can see how he would have lived by visiting his former house, known as the James White Fort.

The home is the perfect place to learn all about frontier life, and you can enjoy hands on displays here like cooking, spinning, and even blacksmith workshops.

There are also special holiday events here at this working life museum such as ghost tours around Halloween, so make sure to check out what is on when you are in town.

12. Knoxville Museum of Art

Knoxville Museum of ArtSource: flickr
Knoxville Museum of Art

The Knoxville Museum of Art has been in operation for 25 years and has the mission statement of celebrating and promoting art from the Tennessee area.

The building is a work of art itself as it is made of marble mined in Tennessee, and it also has the claim to fame of having the largest glass installation in the world called the Cycle of Life.

You can find the work of artists from all over the state of Tennessee here as well as pieces by up and coming talent from the region.

13. The Muse Knoxville

The Muse KnoxvilleSource: knoxnews
The Muse Knoxville

The Muse Knoxville is a favorite of children in Knoxville, making it a great place to visit if you are traveling with younger visitors.

The facility is a mix of art and science galleries and spans 4,000 square feet.

The facility is split up into themed educational sections like construction, nutrition, and science and most of the exhibits are interactive so that children can learn by doing.

There is also a planetarium that is the only one available in Knoxville, so if you want to explore the solar system, then this is not to be missed.

14. Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Women’s Basketball Hall of FameSource: commons.wikimedia
Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

If you like basketball then you can’t miss the chance to pay homage to some of the basketball greats at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Here you will find memorabilia from 139 inductees into the hall of fame, and learn all about their backgrounds and contribution to the sport.

There are also interactive displays here such as courts where you can try out your some of your own basketball skills.

15. Knoxville Children’s Theater

Knoxville Children’s TheaterSource: knoxvillechildrenstheatre
Knoxville Children’s Theater

Knoxville Children’s Theater is known for being one of the best places to bring youngsters if you are in town.

The theater is located in the historic downtown area of Tennessee and aims to celebrate culture and the arts through a series of performances by children, for children.

You can enjoy a diverse range of shows, from more serious pieces, to musicals, and if you want you can even attend a class or a workshop here.

The theater performs all year round so make sure to check out local listings to find out what is one when you are in town.

15 Best Things to Do in Knoxville (TN):

  • World’s Fair Park
  • McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture
  • Tennessee Theater
  • Mabry-Hazen House Museum
  • Knoxville Zoo
  • East Tennessee History Center
  • Old City
  • Ijams Nature Center
  • Blount Mansion
  • Market Square Farmer’s Market
  • James White Fort
  • Knoxville Museum of Art
  • The Muse Knoxville
  • Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Knoxville Children’s Theater