Chattanooga has been named one of the top places to visit in the United States, and for a great reason.
The southern city in Tennessee mixes outdoor adventure with laid-back charm, so you can enjoy a mixture of the two, and so that all of your traveling companions can find something that perfectly suits their tastes. The riverfront, the mountains, the history, the restaurants, the arts…it’s all right there for you to explore.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Chattanooga:
1. Ride the River
It’s hard to visit Chattanooga and not get on the river! It accounts for so much of the city’s character and gorgeous scenery.
There are a ton of options for you to choose from, though, when it comes to how you see the Tennessee River Gorge.
You can easily charter a yacht, rent a party boat (which is a very small boat powered by the sun and pedals, and you and your dozen or so friends are encouraged to come out, drink and pedal all at the same time), take a tour on a speed boat, go rafting, etc.
Though it may be hard to make your decision, you won’t have a hard time finding a recreation company that’ll get you out on the water — there are tons of them and they’re all waiting to cater to visitors’ every need.
2. Take a City Tour
A great way, of course, to start out any visit to any city is to get a brief overview of the area from a professional.
There are several options for this in Chattanooga, whether you want to be part of a group led by an actual tour guide, or you’d rather have a more private experience with a local.
Whatever your taste, there are also plenty of tour modes of transportation to choose from, whether you want to walk, take a bus or even zip around town on a Segway!
3. Take a Ghost Tour
If you’d prefer your tour to have a little more excitement and maybe something slightly scary, sign up for a ghost tour.
In fact, those provided by Chattanooga Ghost Tours Inc.
, have been named one of the Top 10 ghost tours in the Untied States.
They claim that you’ll actually get to talk to and see ghosts and spirits while on the tour, nightly, in the downtown area of the city.
In addition to the downtown tour (which is open to both adults and kids), other tours take you to a haunted cemetery and tavern.
4. Go to a Whiskey Tasting
If you’re going to be in Tennessee, you’re going to need to go to the oldest registered distillery in the United States.
The name’s Jack Daniels, and they still make the entirety of their Tennessee whiskey right there on site.
There are several different tours you can choose from, but all are led by experts with tons of stories to share, while you enjoy a taste of some of the best Tennessee whiskey in the world.
5. Head to the Chattanooga Zoo
Great for travelers with kids (or those that are kids at heart, or who even just want to enjoy a beautiful setting), the Chattanooga Zoo is known as the “Best Little Zoo,” because it makes a real attempt to allow visitors to connect with the animals and the wildlife that they’re seeing, rather than just peering at animals behind plate glass before being hustled along by the crowd.
There are more than 300 animals living there, with more than 200 species, with a fair share of endangered species as well.
However, what’s really going to shock you is the price.
Adults are just $10 a ticket, and kids are just $7, making it by far one of the cheapest zoos in the entire country.
6. Hike Audubon Acres
If you’d rather get out of the city and see a little nature, but you want to do so in a way that’s totally convenient, maybe try Audubon Acres on for size.
There are more than five miles of hiking trails, making for an easy and not too challenging hike, and there are 130 acres along the South Chickamauga Creek.
The small visitor center has an archaeological museum, and there are even historic spots on the property — such as a a site significant to the Trail of Tears.
Plus, if you visit during the summer, you can hit the creek for canoeing, kayaking and swimming.
7. Stroll Through the Art District
If you want to enjoy a nice little slice of Chattanooga neighborhood, go to the Art District, which is easily accessible from downtown.
You’ll not only find what you probably typically think of as art, but also great restaurants and awesome views.
Perched on a hill overlooking the river, you’ll pass lovely handicrafts at various local stores, plenty of mouthwatering treats and even a cute little bed and breakfast.
A small spot, this area of the city is definitely worth visiting, even if it’s just for a few hours in the morning, lunch or a nice walk at night, if you want to stroll a bit before grabbing dinner at one of the district’s quaint restaurants.
8. Walk the River
If you’d rather walk beside of the river, than be on it, you want to go to the Tennessee Riverpark.
One of the best green spaces in the city, it has 10 miles of beautiful waterfront.
You can even hop on one of the piers, if you like to fish, or you can watch the boats come in and out from the boat ramp.
In addition, the park is home to outdoor art pieces, and even a marsh that is great for birdwatching.
The end of the park is right within downtown Chattanooga, and you can take it all the way up to the Chickamauga Dam.
9. Visit the Tennessee Aquarium
You wouldn’t think it, but Tennessee is home to the largest freshwater aquarium in the world, the Tennessee Aquarium.
Built a little over 20 years ago, the attraction is in town parts, one freshwater, and one saltwater.
It’s easily one of the most popular attractions in the city, and has all of the interesting and eclectic sea creatures that you’d expect from a world-class aquarium.
10. Climb Lookout Mountain
Just like the river, Lookout Mountain is a can’t-miss when you’re in Chattanooga, as it practically looms over the city and partially separates the state from its southern neighbor, Georgia.
There’s a 4,100-foot-long walking trail with gorgeous landscaping and fantastic views of the entire city and its surroundings, including the river.
In addition, it’s set inside the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, so you can brush up on your Civil War history while you’re there.
This is where you’re going to get the best Instagram photos during your entire trip to Chattanooga, that’s for sure!
11. See Ruby Falls
Set inside of Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is inside a cave and highly fascinating.
Both the waterfalls and the caves are referred to as Ruby Falls, and the cave version is the deepest commercial cave in the country, and also the largest underground waterfall in the country, at 145 feet tall.
Of course, you can’t just go wondering around the caverns underground by yourself, but you can book a guided tour and check out Ruby Falls (both versions) for yourself.
In addition, there’s nearly always some kind of event or special occurrence going on there, so see what’s up before you go and plan to attend if it catches your eye.
12. Walk Walnut Street Bridge
Again, Chattanooga sets a record for itself, and it’s both surprising and fascinating to hear.
This time, they boast the longest pedestrian bridge in the world.
It’s the Walnut Street Bridge, which at one point was going to be torn down.
It connects the southern and northern sides of the city, which, at the time of construction was a huge deal, as the two areas of Chattanooga were very racially segregated.
It was in the late 1970s that the bridge was closed to automobile traffic, and now it’s a great pedestrian bridge for awesome views, and some pretty fantastic events, like an annual wine tasting and annual country music festival.
Oh, and yet another fun fact — it’s the first non-military bridge on the Tennessee River.
13. Go Climbing in the City
When you hear rock climbing, you’re probably thinking of going out to a mountain or somewhere in the wilderness to scale the side of a cliff.
One of Chattanooga’s more modern attractions, though, gives you the thrill of the climb, right within the convenience of the city.
High Point Climbing and Fitness is a rock climbing facility that features both indoor and outdoor climbing walls, that go up to 60 feet in the air.
It’s one of the largest fitness centers in the country, and can accommodate both novice and experienced climbers.
Not too sure of your skills? You can sign for a class and learn the ropes (quite literally!).
14. Explore Raccoon Mountain
You’re going to have to drive out of the center of the city for this one, but it may be worth it for the adventure. Raccoon Mountain Caverns have more than five miles of mapped cave systems, and the cave is always expanding, people are always discovering new passageways and caverns and it’s just an overall fun activity for the whole family.
Beyond exploring the underground, you can enjoy go-karting or just chilling in the relaxed setting.
15. Play Ball
What’s better in the summer than a baseball game? Not much.
Enjoy the great American past time even in a city where there’s no major league team, when you head to AT&T Field, where you can see the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league team that’s a Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
While you may wonder what the perks are of going to a minor league game over a major league game, there are actually quite a few.
Crowds are thinner, tickets are cheaper, seats are lower and you can have a great up-close-and-personal experience with the game.
16. Zip Down Lookout Mountain
If you’re headed to Lookout Mountain or Ruby Falls, make sure to stop at Ruby Falls ZIPStream Aerial Adventures.
You’ll get all the adrenalin you can handle when you’re zipping through the trees! The course isn’t just a zip line, though.
Instead, you’ll go through in-air obstacle courses, that require you to climb through the forest, using ladders, nets, bridges, tunnels and more.
It’s not only a fun family activity, but it’s also a great idea for a business retreat or trust activities for a group!
17. Create and Discover at This Museum
Head to the Creative Discovery Museum if you have an eager learner that’s elementary school age.
This museum is specifically created for kids to explore and learn through play.
There are tons of activities all across the venue, from art lessons to science experiments to music time.
It’s all fun and all with a purpose, so you and your child can enjoy learning together, while still having an awesome time.
18. Visit Chattanooga National Cemetery
If you’re not terribly worried about having a roaring good time filled with giggles and laughter, like what’ll ultimately happen at the Creative Discovery Museum, and are more into the solemn, scholarly, historic learning side of Chattanooga, you may appreciate a visit to the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Set on 120 acres, it was first established in 1863. It’s the largest national cemetery in the state, but that’s not the only thing that makes it interesting.
It’s also one of the few national cemeteries where you can see three different Civil War Battle sites — Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga.
19. Jump Out of a Plane
Okay, back to the adrenaline rushes and tons of fun! If you’ve always dreamed of skydiving, but never had the guts, this may be your lucky opportunity.
The Chattanooga Skydiving Company gives you a great tandem skydiving experience, as you’re strapped to an instructor before leaping from the plane.
You’ll get to see the Tennessee River Gorge, Lookout Mountain and the Sequatchie Valley, all from the very best seat in the house — the open air. You’ll have to drive about half an hour from downtown to get to the takeoff spot, but no worries.
You’re in great hands with this family that’s been teaching skydivers since 1960.
20. See Some Art
If you visit the Bluff View Art District, you’ll want to stop in the Hunter Museum of American Art.
Established in 1952, the museum is set within a 1904 classical revival mansion that was designed by none other than the son of U.S. President James A. Garfield.
Much of the art you’ll see on display actually is from the Hudson River School.
Genres of art that you can view include modernism and American impressionism.
In addition to the galleries, which were expanded twice over the life of the museum, there are also lots of educational programs to choose from.
21. Smell the Roses
If you’re more of a plant person than someone who’s into animals or art, then head to the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, where you can see tons of different varieties of not only plants, but also wild animals.
Lots of the plants on display are what you would see right within the southeastern United States.
There are 14 miles of trails, a boardwalk (where you can spot blue heron), a butterfly garden, children’s areas, canoes and even a library.
22. See Some More Art
But back to the art…Gallery 1401 is in the Southside neighborhood, and you’ll see a ton of different art styles and trends within its walls.
There are more than 40 artists on display, including some that are internationally recognized.
You’ll see classic works, impressionism, realism and more.
In addition, there are all kinds of artistic mediums as well, beyond your traditional paint on canvas.
See multimedia art, sculptures, hand-blown glass, photography exhibits, etc.
23. See Some Trains
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was built almost 50 years ago, and was part of the National Railway Historical Society.
There’s a reconstructed rail line, and you can even ride on the track, on a daily service that’s highly educational as well as fun.
24. Shop at Chattanooga Market
Visiting farmers markets in various destinations can teach you a lot about the city you’re visiting.
Stop by the Chattanooga Market, an open-air pavilion filled with vendors selling not only farmers market-type items, but also arts and crafts.
There are 300 vendors, and thousands of people visit each weekend.
You can be assured that each and every item sold there is created, grown or hand-made by the person selling it, per the market rules.
25. Take Flight
If you don’t want to jump out of a plane, at least see the city from up above, from the comfort of a hot air balloon.
The Chattanooga Balloon Company offers rides that are one mile long, and that take you as far as 10 miles, following the Tennessee River Valley.