Red pandas and jellyfish: You've never had a Knoxville trip like this
Have you ever struggled with weekend plans?
Do you ever look at a Google map and scour the big cities closest to you? Do you ever type in the search bar: best weekend trips within 4 hours from me?
I do that often and when I do it looks like this:
Knoxville always seemed to be one of the underdogs on this list. So, we partnered with the Knoxville CVB to explore what they had to offer visitors. Once we visited, we fell in love with this sweet location right off I-40.
As we began talking about Knoxville, people started doing one of two things:
- sharing how much they loved the city, or
- asking us WHY KNOXVILLE?
So we compiled the biggest questions we were getting about Knoxville and decided to answer them here for you.
1. Where to stay in Knoxville?
We stayed at Hotel Knoxville. It is undergoing renovations so I wouldn't recommend staying there now. But once the reno period is over, expect a gorgeous Delta Hotel by Marriott, the first ever in Tennessee. With views of the river, this will be a prime spot after the improvements are complete.
Other conveniently located hotels to check out:
Hilton on Church Street (next largest hotel after Hotel Knoxville)
Oliver Hotel (small boutique hotel with rooms overlooking Market Square)
Crowne Plaza (near Visitors' Center)
Hampton on Main Street
2. Where to eat in Knoxville?
The list is surprisingly long! Knoxville rivals the big cities when it comes to the foodie scene. With top chefs and designer spaces scattering the landscape of the city, Knoxville beckons food lovers to come, sit, and leave your week behind.
Calhoun's on the River (food + water views are always my fave)
Downtown Grill and Brewery (local fave, eat on the patio and people watch)
Places we missed but will have to try next time:
Oli Bea (foodie breakfast menu)
Lonesome Dove (high-end date-night joint)
Yassins (quick bite, heard rave reviews about their falafels)
3. What to do in Knoxville?
We've finally reached the meaty center of the article: the crux of your trip. What is there to do in Knoxville? We're so glad folks asked.
Here's a handy list for you.
1. Visit the red pandas, the elephants, the tigers, and more at Zoo Knoxville.
2. Walk the lush nature trails in Ijams. Yes, it is stroller-friendly!
3. Go for a swim or paddle in the cool, deep waters of the Mead’s Quarry Lake at Ijams. See if you can spot the freshwater jellyfish. Don't worry, they don't sting!
5. Bring your closed-toe shoes along so you can do Navitat at night! Zip through the forest under the sparkling, white-stringed lights, and listen to the evening songs of the local owls.
9. Have drinks and dessert while bowling the night away at Maple Hall. Be sure to stop by and listen to live music upstairs in their 21+ lounge.
10. Arts and crafts lovers need to stop by the Basement Community Arts Studio for some hands-on fun!
13. Make some memories by taking a picture in front of the "Greetings from Knoxville" mural, located at Too Fancy's print shop.
14. Rent a kayak or paddleboard from Outdoor Knoxville and hit the river!
15. Buy some souvenirs for folks you love at one of the shops downtown. 16. Mast General Store was our favorite!
17. Don't worry about the 25 pounds this dessert will pack on. Stop by the Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain downtown for a step back in time to old-fashioned milk shakes and ice cream sundaes.
18. Love old bookstores? Stop by Book Eddy to browse a cool collection of books and records.
20. Stay in town, but head out for a beautiful regional hike! Popular waterfall hiking trails within driving distance include: Burgess, Fall Creek Falls, Standing Stone, Cummins Falls, and Rock Island.
To see what's happening in the city right now, check out Visit Knoxville's event calendar.
4. How long will it take to see all of Knoxville?
You can customize your trip to be a quick day trip, a full overnighter or a relaxing weekend getaway. And Knoxville isn’t huge, so there isn’t a lot of traffic or drive time to eat away your vacation hours.
5. What's the best plan for seeing Knoxville in a weekend? Here's your 3-day itinerary.
Need an easy plan? That’s our superpower! Here’s an easy itinerary so you can take a last-minute getaway and still have a blast!!
BREAKFAST: Wild Love Bakehouse
- Stop by Book Eddy for a quick read (opens at 11am)
- Snap at picture at Kbrew mural
- Ijams nature walk/swim OR Outdoor Knoxville for a river craft rental
LUNCH: SoKno Taco
- WDVX Blue Plate Special: if you arrive in town Monday-Saturday, stop by here between 12-1pm for a FREE live radio show concert. Located at the Visitors’ Center, you can pick up brochures and information on local attractions, too!
- Take a glass-blowing workshop (book reservation ahead of time) at Pretentious Glass Company
DINNER (and bowling): Maple Hall
- Explore downtown and Market Square on foot
BREAKFAST: Pete’s Diner
LUNCH: Pizza Palace
BREAKFAST: Oli Bea
- Before leaving town, pick a local hike
- Head home
Knoxville will surprise you
Don't rule out a destination just because you are uninformed about its offerings. Dig a little. Risk a little. When you discover the underdogs are really gems, you'll earn your wanderlust wings.