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Deemed the “Scruffy Little City” in 1980 by a Wall Street Journal writer (it was the smallest city to be chosen to host a World’s Fair), Knoxville embraces its moniker. It’s a unified, community-minded city, with a laid-back vibe and lots of local art and eats. A prime destination for travelers of all ages, Knoxville boasts plenty of greenways, parks, live entertainment and independent art galleries. From sports at the University of Tennessee to trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, visitors find a wealth of options for exploration here.
REASONS TO GO:
Outdoor Adventure: About a 45-minute drive from Knoxville lie the trails, waterfalls and wildlife of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The restored 19th-century settlement in Cades Cove is a historical highlight within the park and a great spot for wildlife viewing. For those who want to stick closer to town, Ijams Nature Center celebrates both wilderness and community with 300 acres of protected wildlife habitat, 10 miles of trails and public programming throughout the year. The Ijams Canopy Experience even takes you into the trees via a thrilling zip-line ride.
Catch It Live: Two of Knoxville’s downtown historical theaters still host live music, theater and stage performances. Visit the 1909 Bijou Theater for an intimate setting or the circa-1920 Tennessee Theater movie house for larger shows. Both venues also show classic movies for those who want a taste of Old Hollywood as it was meant to be seen.
Campus Life: The local enthusiasm for the University of Tennessee Vols is contagious. Catch a variety of collegiate sports games throughout the school year at Neyland Stadium. The university is also an important source of creative energy in the community; check the school’s website to see what’s new at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, the Ewing Gallery and the Clarence Brown Theater.
Hello, Dolly(wood)!: Dolly Parton’s theme park tribute to Appalachian Culture is all about fast rides, down-home eats and country music. The park includes various family-friendly attractions, including five huge annual music festivals, 15 shows and the Splash Country Water Adventure Park, open during summer months. Souvenirs are a work of art here, as artisans craft handmade candles, blown glass, pottery, candy and leather goods on site.
To Market, To Market: Kids can play in the fountains and open spaces while parents peruse the farmers’ market and boutique shops of Market Square. With a range of local restaurants and unique events like the International Biscuit Festival and Shakespeare on the Square, Market Square is the hub of Knoxville’s local flavor.
Where in the World’s Fair: World’s Fair Park is a versatile urban space housing most of the structures from the 1982 World’s Fair. Various lawns and walks host events and festivals, with the iconic 266-foot Sunsphere tower at the center of it all. The Sunsphere observation deck affords visitors stunning views of the city and the Great Smoky Mountains.
WHEN TO GO: Knoxville’s four seasons each have their highlights. Look for festivals and interactive water features in city parks during the warm summer months. Autumn boasts brilliant changing leaves, especially in the mountains. Spring sees the blossoming of the dogwood flowers, while winters are mild enough to continue the outdoor fun.
TRAVEL TIP: Fall is a great time to visit Knoxville. However, Vols football and beautiful leaves draw big crowds, so make your hotel reservations well in advance and give yourself plenty of extra time to get around the bustling city.