The essential guide to visiting Tennessee

Why you need to visit Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park And Observation Mountain. Big, vibrant cities and charming little towns. Country music in Nashville and the blues in Memphis. Tennessee Whiskey And Nashville Hot Chicken.

Best time to visit

Spring: Warm weather brings colorful wildflowers, blooming magnolias, and blooming redbuds. Take advantage of the flowering boom Flower & Party foodI to Dollywood or that of Nashville Apple wood. In April, Mule Day In Colombia features cattle drives and Appalachian music, crafts and food.

Summer: There is much debate over whether these insects that glow at night are fireflies or lighting bugs, but regardless, you’ll find them making Tennessee summer nights a little brighter, especially in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The state is geographically landlocked, but visitors can still make a splash by launching a boat in the Nashville area. Percy Priest Lake, whitewater rafting along East Tennessee Nolichucky River, or chase over 150 stunts Cookville.

Thousands of synchronous fireflies illuminate the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with unique flash patterns.


Autumn: Leaf lovers will love the orange, red, and gold hues of Tennessee in the fall. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers more than 800 miles of trails to explore on foot or take a scenic drive along the Natchez Trace Walk which begins in Nashville and winds south to Mississippi. Thanks to color-blind viewfinders installed at overlooks across the state, more people can see fall foliage.

Winter: Cozy up during the colder months at one of the state’s mountain hotels and resorts. Many flock to Gatlinburg in winter for a stay in a chalet in the mountains or skiing in Ober. Other overnight choices include cabins Windy Hill Farmthe luxurious wellness complex Blackberry farm, Or Café Ridge Resorta new mountaintop retreat with a spa, fly fishing and accommodations.

Terrain characteristics

Big cities: Music is the common thread throughout Tennessee’s largest cities, with country artists performing at every honky-tonk in Nashville. Broadway and the blues screaming in Memphis Beale Street. Adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Chattanoogaclimbing and mountain biking, and Knoxville– the house of University of Tennessee—for its forest hiking trails.

Athletes participate in the swimming portion of an Ironman in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Built in 1891, Chattanooga’s Walnut Street Bridge spans the Tennessee River. It is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

Photography by Jacob Kupferman, Getty Images

Small towns: Johnson City is a starting point for hiking and biking, as well as some sites linked to 20th century gangsters like Al Capone. Visit Franklin for his charming main street lined with shops and restaurants, as well as battlefields, hospitals and historic homes linked to the American Civil War.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail: THE Tennessee Whiskey Trail mapping 26 of the state’s distilleries, including the famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg. Visit the Nearest green distillery in Shelbyville, which honors Daniel’s original mentor and the first known African-American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green.


By plane: Nashville International Airport (BNA) is the state’s largest airline, with 19 airlines offering routes throughout the United States and nonstop international flights to London, Canada and Cancun. Memphis International Airport (MEM) offers nonstop flights to cities in the United States and Cancun. Smaller regional airports include McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville and Chattanooga Airport (CHA) in Chattanooga.

By car: Tennessee has more than 1,200 miles of interstate highways, allowing travel by car to major cities and neighboring states. Main routes include I-65 north to south, I-40 east to westand the slow, scenic Natchez Trace Parkway that winds from Nashville to Tupelo, Mississippi.

By train: Tennessee has a passenger rail line connecting Memphis to Chicago and New Orleans via Amtrak.

Know before you go

Cultural history: Tennessee is the ancestral homeland of two indigenous groups: the Tit to the west and Cherokee in the East. The name Tennessee is derived from a Cherokee village called Tanasi. THE Trail of Tears National Historic Trail crosses the entire state. To learn more about Tennessee’s indigenous history, check out the mounds at Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park in West Tennessee and Mound Bottom State Archaeological Area near Nashville, or visit Sequoyah Birthplace Museum which delves into the history of the Cherokee of Tennessee.

Tennessee was the last state to join the Confederacy during the American Civil War, although Easterners remained loyal to the Union. Outside of Virginia, Tennessee saw the most fighting of any state. Many preserved sites can be visited today, including one of the deadliest battlefields of the war, Shiloh National Military Park.

Tennessee voted decisively to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Nashville History Hotel l’Ermitage housed lobbyists from both sides of the suffrage movement and has historical artifacts throughout the property. The state also has tragic importance in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Following the Brown v. Education Council The Supreme Court’s decision declaring state-sanctioned segregation in public schools unconstitutional, Clinton High School in East Tennessee became the first in the South to integrate classes. Learn more about the tumultuous transition to Green McAdoo Cultural Center.

Kitchen: No one leaves Tennessee hungry. Southern soul food and Memphis-style barbecue are the main draws for visitors. Try a signature “meat and three” plate, choosing between a protein option, usually including fried chicken, catfish or roast, and a collection of vegetables. We’re using the term “veggies” loosely here, because the options include everything from mac and cheese to baked apples and fried okra.

Festivals: This musical state hosts a range of melodious festivals including Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, CMA Festival in Nashville, and Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis (on hiatus for 2024).

LGBTQ+: In the 2023 24/7 Wall St. report on LGBTQ+ friendly states, Tennessee ranked last. Conservative state lawmakers have passed discriminatory bills affecting transgender people and banning public education institutions from requiring implicit bias training. Larger cities like Nashville and Memphis regularly host pride events, like the Nashville Pride Pageant and the Nashville Pride Festival every June, or run the Rainbow Dash 5K in Memphis every March.

How to visit sustainably

Outside: Tennessee State Parks has implemented “Go green with us”, which focus on conservation and sustainable operations. The program encourages visitors to reduce their energy use by turning off lights when not needed, planting trees to provide shade, and unplugging appliances when not in use, as well as efforts such as planting community gardens and using sustainably produced and packaged products.

To eat: With ample farmland in Tennessee, it’s not difficult to find restaurants that source their ingredients locally. Try the one in Nashville Honey, which saved more than 12,000 pounds of compostable materials from landfills in 2023, or The old mill in Pigeon Forge. Dating to 1830, The Old Mill grinds 700,000 pounds of corn, grits and other grains each year for use in making breads, sweets and spirits. In addition, the restaurant makes its own ice cream, jams, sweets and even pieces of pottery to serve.

Accommodation: Southall Farm & hostel in Leiper’s Fork collects rainfall to water its grounds and serves locally grown produce and meats in its restaurants.

What to read and watch

Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, by Dolly Parton. The country music icon’s autobiography details his rags-to-riches story, growing up in the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.

There are many music-themed shows and biopics that focus on Tennessee artists, both real and fictional, including the story of Johnny Cash in Walk the linethe TV series Nashvilleand the blockbuster of 2022 Elvis.

Love & Whisky: the remarkable true story of Jack Daniel, his master distiller Nearest Green, and the unlikely rise of the nearest uncle, by Fawn Weaver. This Summer 2024 release explores the forgotten story of the slave who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey.

(For more tips on what to do in Tennessee, check out our Explorer’s Guide.)

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