Wanderlust {Knoxville}

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the boys are already knee deep in planning our grand tour of Tennessee for next spring!  We’ll kick off the week in Chattanooga and then head to Knoxville.


I’ve never been to Knoxville and would love to hear your suggestions for…

  • where to stay
  • where to eat
  • what to see / do
  • thoughts, tips and tricks for Dollywood as there is a good chance that will land on our itinerary

I can’t wait to see what y’all have to say!


Dixie Delights Tour of Tennessee

in collaboration with
Dollywood  |  Visit Nashville  |  Memphis Travel

Part 1 – Read House, Ruby Falls, Rock City + More
Part 2 –  Wild Cave Expedition, Tennessee Aquarium + More

Part 3 – Dollywood + Dixie Stampede
Part 4 – Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort

Part 5 – a quick morning in the city

Part 6 – Hattie B’s, Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame
Part 7 – Hermitage Hotel, Wildhorse Saloon, Draper James

Part 8 – Peabody, Beale Street, Graceland
Part 9 – BBQ, Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio


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20 thoughts on “Wanderlust {Knoxville}

  1. So funny! I flew into Knoxville yesterday and are are staying in Pigeon Forge. I think I posted the link to my post on Cade’s Cove on your Chattanooga post but that is near Knoxville. We are going to Elkmont today (In the early 1900s it was where Knoxville’s elite had summer homes. It’s basically a ghost town now and part of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.) It’s a neat place to explore and hike. I thought I had a blog post on it but I guess it fell through the cracks in the draft pile. Definitely one coming soon. Visit at least one cavern (Tuckaleechee is in the Townsend area http://lifeonthebaybushblog.com/2014/08/tuckaleechee-caverns.html) and is cool. It definitely has a “this place hasn’t changed in the last 40 years vibe” though. I think we are going to do Dolly’s Splash Country this time instead of Dollywood since we’ve never tried it. Dollywood is fun though and has more large rollercoasters than you would expect. They also have an onsite Hotel now.
    Hope that helps!

  2. I follow a travel blog called Camels and Chocolate. Kristin is from Nashville and has extensive posts on Knoxville – and Nashville if you’re interested – along with some state parks in Tennessee. Hopefully that helps!

  3. Love everything in the Market Square area! The Oliver Hotel is absolutely lovely and they have a hidden bar off of the lobby, The Peter Kern Library. Definitely swing by Magpies at some point for some delicious treats…their motto is “All butter, all the time”, so you know its good. Tupelo Honey Cafe is yummy and right around the corner from The Oliver. All of the Bliss stores are great, they are some of my favorites. Walk around campus! Know that you aren’t UT fans, but the stadium is pretty impressive. Go Vols! If you are willing to make a 10 minute drive outside of Knoxville, go to Litton’s in Fountain City for the best burger of your life! If the dogwoods are in bloom, there is a beautiful dogwood trail in Sequoyah Hills area. I absolutely loved the four years I spent in Knoxville and hope you enjoy your time there too!

  4. Katie is in grad school there and loves it. The Hyatt downtown is great and agree Market Square is a must. She is out right now, home taking a class at Kennestone. Will pick her brain when she gets home ;-)

  5. If you are going to the mountains, you must hike Abrams Falls (it is easy and can easily be done on the same day with Cades Cove). Dollywood is a one-dayer. If you are staying there, my experience is that Gatlinburg offers slightly nicer accommodations than neighboring Pigeon Forge. If you want the ultimate luxury, foodie experience while still being in the mountains, Blackberry Farm is the way to go: http://www.blackberryfarm.com ! Knoxville-proper holds a special place in my heart as I went to UT for undergrad. I second the recommendations about Tupelo Honey and Litton’s (expect to wait if you go to those spots). No Knoxville food experience would be complete without a Petro (a gourmet Frito/Chili Pie) or steamed sandwich from Sam and Andy’s (think Firehouse but they were first and so much better). These are quick lunches and not so healthy (that’s why I gained the freshman 30), but so fun! For a seated but still kid appropriate meal, I love Calhoun’s’ on the river and whole river area. There is and has always been a great food scene in Knoxville. So much so that has always been a test-market for new restaurant chains and items on their menus. But is the local independent places that really shine! Too many to name, but once you know the area of town you pick, I am sure you will get ample suggestions. There used to be a really cool park near the World’s Fair/Candy Factory area but not so sure if it still there. One day I dream of taking my midwestern kids there to do all of this–in the meantime, I will live vicariously through you!

  6. My son is at UT and I agree it’s a great campus to visit! Market Square has some unique shops and restaurants. Calhoun’s Restaurant is behind campus and on the river and next to it is Tenn River Boat, which you can take a cruise down the river. Also Three Rivers Ramber, an old steam engine train that you can make reservations for a ride. The Sunsphere which is from the 1982 World’s Fair is neat to go to the top for a nice view and is free and always open. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is also nearby. Not sure when your coming in the spring but you may be able to catch a UT bball game. Are you coming to Nashville as well?

  7. There is a very nice Hampton Inn right downtown and walking distance to Market Square. My daughter got engaged at Tupelo Honey a few years ago while we (Alabama fans) and now husband (UT fans) were all having brunch before the Alabama/Tenn game.

  8. So excited about your visit to Knoxville. That is my home town. All of the above suggestions are spot on. Let me know when you plan to be in town. I am happy to make sure you have a wonderful place to stay and places to eat. My email is [email protected]. The Knoxville Museum of Art is downtown & free to see. Eat lunch at Tomato Head. There is also the Knoxville Chocolate Company on the World Fair’s property in the old candy shop factory. Check out Ijams Nature Center and the Knoxville Zoo. We have a local hockey team The Ice Bears. I can also tell you where to go to Mass if needed. There is a Lily Store if you need a fix. Stop my husband’s family business Stokes Lighting on Papermill for any decorative lighting for your home. We have been in business for 83 years. Don’t leave without a cookie from Moonshine cookies. I hope you will love your visit. Would love to meet you in person.

  9. My kids have been to Dollywood four times, but I haven’t. They love it. Sometimes they do special tickets that get you in after 4pm today and all day tomorrow. There’s also now an official Dollywood hotel geared to families. The Margaritaville hotel is also close by and has a shopping area and restaurants in the complex area that you can walk to. Downtown Gatlinburg is full of touristy shops and the Ripley’s Aquarium is great. Knoxville is a fun college town full of things to see and places to eat. The UT campus and Neyland Stadium are beautiful and impressive to see. The architecture is great, and the energy is something to feel.

  10. We live about 2 and a half hours from Pigeon Forge/Knoxville area. We go often throughout the year. I agree with those who have commented above, Market Square is a beautiful area. It literally has your name written all over it. There are so many things to do in and around those two localities. So many places to eat. Tomato Head, Tupelo Honey, Calhouns on the River just to name a few.

    In Pigeon Forge, there are so many places to stay, but I think you and your family will love to stay on property at Dolly’s Dreammore Resort. It so simply southern. Beautiful inside and outside. There is also a Margaritaville Hotel and Restaurant at the Island in downtown Pigeon Forge. Its a newly constructed area with a sky Wheel to enjoy the sites of Pigeon Forge. We’ve done the daytime ride, but I think it would be an awesome ride at night with everything all lit up. They also have a water fountain light show set to music that is pretty. There are a couple of little local restaurants as well as a Mellow Mushroom, Paula Deen’s, Cinnabon, pretzel company and yogurt store.

    In Pigeon Forge, there are so many places to eat as well. Everything from chain restaurants to local eateries. Tons of breakfast pancake houses. The Old Mill is a local favorite. It is a part of history in Pigeon Forge and still a working grist mill. The Old Mill serves true southern dishes for both breakfast and lunch. Across the street, there is the Old Mill Pottery Café, which serves items such as sandwiches, salads, catfish and everything in both restaurants serve the food on handmade pottery dishes. There is even an Old Mill Creamery ice cream shop on property.

    We love riding up into Gatlinburg, night time is our favorite. There is just something about the town lit up. Ripley’s aquarium is located in Gatlinburg as well as several other Ripley’s attractions. There are tons of places to eat. Mostly chains restaurants, but several local eateries as well. Johnny Rockets, Bubba Gumps, Calhouns, Texas Roadhouse, Bennets BBQ just to name a few. There are lots of fudge shops, ice cream shops and candy stores. And some of the most popular attractions are the moonshine and whiskey breweries and store. Several places to sample and purchase homemade wines and moonshines. There is an awesome chairlift ride and a gondola ride to the top of the mountain. You must, must, must eat breakfast at the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg, but its cash only.

    You can even kayak, white water raft and tube in several locations in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. There are so many places to play putt putt golf and ride go karts. And of course, there is the Wilderness of the Smokies resort which I remember you guys staying before.

    If you go during baseball season, be sure to take the boys to see the Tennessee Smokies play baseball. The smokies are an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Tickets are very inexpensive and they serve some awesome game food and entertainment.

    I could literally go on and on about this area. So much to do an see. We love this area and find this to be such an escape for us when we need down time as a family for a little getaway.

  11. Also, you need to visit Cruz Farm in Knoxville. homemade ice cream, milk and etc. and the farmers market at market square is unbelievable.

  12. My favorite place to eat when I was in school there was Calhoun’s on the River. There was a great steak place down Chapman Highway that Peyton Manning always used to go (I’ll have to look into the name of that one). Y’all will have fun!

  13. If you are going to Dollywood, Dolly’s DreamMore Resort is a wonderful place to stay. We also love Calhoun’s on the River.

  14. I’ve lived in Knoxville for 13 years now. Depending on what time of year you’ll be here, tubing the river in Townsend is a blast! I also second Ijams with your littles, they have a “Treetop Adventure” ropes course (Navitat) there now that looks so fun! You can also rent bikes or paddleboards downtown and explore the river. Market Square and Gay Street are also fun to walk around and explore – lots of restaurants and shops. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg has lots of mini golf, go carts, Ripley’s type things (aquarium/fun houses), and touristy type stuff – but lots and lots of traffic. We prefer the quieter side of the Smokies and drive in the back way through Maryville, it’s gorgeous! If you want a fun thrill, take a drive on the Tail of the Dragon – one of the curviest roads around and you’ll see tons of motorcycles and sports cars.

  15. These are all great suggestions! Market Square is definitely worth the time. We always stay at the Crowne Plaza downtown (& this is also where the house the UT football team on game days & my kids are always thrilled to catch a glimpse of them there).
    Do plan around the football schedule, home game days are madness there!

    We’ve also enjoyed staying at the Holiday Inn by World’s Fair Park (take the boys up to the top, it’s the coolest view & I’m pretty sure it’s free). From this (newly renovated) hotel you can walk right up to the sun sphere, the little Art museum, the South’s Finest Chocolate factory & I THINK there’s a really good restaurant in the back of Worlds Fair park (it’s one where you can go to a part of the restaurant & grill your own steak, it’s interesting). Calhoun’s on the River is always great (except on game days, it’s crazy).

    My kids LOVE Dollywood. If you’ve ever been to Opryland in Nashville you will definitely enjoy it. It’s comparable to Six Flags, but with a backwoods, hillbilly feel. ;) If you go there DO STAY at the brand new Dollywood Dreams Resort! It’s worth every penny AND you get shuttle service to the parks & fast passes for resort guests only. ;)

    It’s beautiful in that area, especially in the fall.

  16. You also need to check out the ZTA house on campus at UT. It was featured this year in Southern Living.

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