I spent four and a half years at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee and I learned a lot in and out of the classroom. I will share my favorite places in Knoxville and my recommendations for things to do in the area. Knoxville and East Tennessee are very underrated and don’t get a ton of tourists so you can get the chance to explore the area without being crowded with huge crowds like you would in Nashville.
The University of Tennessee
You can’t visit Knoxville without stopping by the University of Tennessee. From game days to just exploring the campus it is worth stopping by some of the more iconic landmarks of the university.
The Rock – seeing the rock is worth a stop. This is a rock right near the Haslam College of Music on which people write all sorts of messages. People paint it to raise awareness of things, spread the word about their organization, and celebrate game days and other events on the campus. It is even rumored that there have been a few proposals painted on the rock though I have never seen one for myself.
Neyland Stadium or Thompson Boling Arena – You can’t come to Knoxville without taking in a game at either Neyland Stadium (football) or Thompson Boling Arena (basketball). Neyland Stadium is one of the largest college football stadiums in the country. It holds more than 100,000 screaming Vol fans (and a few for the other team as well), and it is unlike any other stadium when the team is winning. The crowd can even be heard from across the river with fireworks and cannons going off with every touchdown. Make sure to go early for some tailgating and partake in the vol walk, wishing the players luck as they walk down to the stadium; you can sometimes even catch a glimpse of Peyton Manning if you’re lucky.
Ayres Hall – If you are going to see a postcard of the University of Tennessee, it would probably be of Ayres Hall. It is one of the most iconic buildings on campus and one of the most beautiful I might add. It is worth a trip up the hill after a walk down pedestrian walkway to see the famous building and get a beautiful view of the surrounding area. Plus, the stairs are quite a workout!
Fort Dickerson + Ijams Quarry – always a great place to go in the summer or fall when it’s still hot. They each have their perks. Fort Dickerson is bigger and definitely where to go if you want to do a little cliff jumping or rock climbing but it can be a bit hick filled since its more of a local place. Ijams Quarry is my favorite of the two. It’s really easy to get to you can drive right up, there are bathrooms and equipment for rent. This gives you the ability to paddleboard or kayak. Usually, my friends and I would rent a paddleboard, which was about $12 for an hour, and we would paddle around but mostly sit and talk and swim when we wanted to. Going to the quarry was a great thing to do on Sundays when it was warm and helped with getting over the Sunday scaries.
The Smoky Mountains – The Smoky Mountains are an excellent perk of being in Knoxville. It’s great to have a place only 40 minutes away to hike and get a taste of nature. If hiking isn’t your style, try out Cades Cove, which is an 11-mile drive through the mountains with beautiful views and historical building sites. There are also hiking options along the way if you want to get out and stretch your legs or do a little more. Here’s a link to another blog that details more hikes in the Smoky’s https://www.outdoorproject.com/travel/16-must-do-hikes-great-smoky-mountain-national-park
Ijams Nature Center – Another great way to spend an afternoon is at Ijams Nature Center. Outside of the quarry there are tons of paths and a lake you can walk around. There’s even a path that goes down by the river where you can glimpse the occasional paddleboard or kayaker.
The Bluffs – This is a little place that only people from Knoxville know of. It’s in an area up above UT hospital where you can hike to a cliff’s edge. It has a beautiful view of the river, city, and university. Going there at sunset gives a great view and is worth the short hike! You can find the location on Google Maps, and there is a small dirt lot to park in. Make sure to bring a flashlight if you do go near sunset as it can be dark in the woods.
Worlds Fair Park – Another significant monument in Knoxville, as you can probably tell from most photos, is the sun sphere. This golden globe was built for the world’s fair many years ago, and Worlds Fair Park is a great place to see it. On top of large fields in the park, there is a playground, event halls, a museum, and a large reflecting pool. If you want a great view of Knoxville, you can take the elevator up to the top for free. From the top, you can see a magnificent Knoxville skyline. This is another great place to go at sunset.
Near Campus – Other than on campus dining (Qdoba, Chick-fil-a, Subway, Salad Works, etc) there aren’t a ton of dining options around campus. There are three sit down restaurants of note like options that are not typical chains and those are Copper Cellar, Sunspot and Fieldhouse Social. There are also your typical chains like Panera, Zaxby’s, McDonalds, Moes, Cookout, etc.
Downtown & More – There are a lot of great restaurants in the Knoxville area. If you are looking for something casual with cheap drink, Downtown Grill and Brewery and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern are great. Most of the restaurants in Market Square are great as well, Tomato Head being my favorite (I get the bacon salad with tofu instead of bacon, and it’s incredible). If you are looking for a fancier place to eat Emilia’s in Market Square is fantastic and has vegan and vegetarian options that aren’t on the menu. Another excellent place is Lakeside Tavern is about 20 minutes outside of downtown, but it is worth the drive. It is on a beautiful lake, and the food is delicious, they also have outdoor seating in the warmer months. If you are looking for something to do on Sundays, most people go to brunch; my personal favorite is Balter Beerworks, which has great mimosas and reasonably priced meals with a buffet.
Market Square – If you don’t go to Market Square while you are in Knoxville, you are truly missing out on one of the best areas in the city. There is a reason why they film there every time the Bachelor is in town for home-town dates. It is beautiful with tons of fantastic restaurants and a few shops. My favorites are Emilia’s, Tomato Head, Soccer Taco, and Tupelo Honey.
When it comes to bars in Knoxville it really depends on what you are looking for. It has all types of vibes from college bars to young professional bars to bars that your parents would love.
The Strip – If you want something with a college feel the bars on the strip (near campus) are a must. Cool Beans and Hannas are fairly strict with IDs so you don’t need to worry about 18-year-olds all over the place. Cool Beans is relaxed with cheap drinks and a bar game like beer pong and pool. Hannas is a relaxed bar downstairs and on the patio with more of a club vibe upstairs. If you are looking for an all-ages crowd, with proper ID (wink-wink), you can check out Uptown and Literboard on the strip. Literboard is like Hannas a more relaxed bar on downstairs and a club-esque dance-floor upstairs. Uptown is all dancing with live bands playing there every once in a while. Other bars around the strip of note are Half Barrel, Tapp’d, The Hill, and Fort Sanders Yacht Club.
The Old City – If you are looking for a more young professionals vibe going to the Old City is the move. Men have to pay to get in but they are worth it. Start the night at Pour and then as you get drunker move to Southbound or Hannas for some dancing. Barleys, Pretentious Beer Co. and Jig and Reel are also a ton of fun if you’re looking for a more low key night. If you are looking for something that is more country check out Wagon Wheel.
Cotton Eyed Joes – about half an hour out of downtown you will find Cotton Eyed Joes. When you think of Tennessee hoe down this is what you think of it is the iconic country bar in the area. They have different events different days of the week from Ladies Night to College Night to Karaoke but their main highlight is traditional country line dancing. Sundays are my favorite days to go. These are college nights. They have free pitchers of beer from 6pm until around 9pm and they give free line dancing lessons so you’re all prepared to do your best Footloose and Copperhead Road line dances.
Other attractions in the area:
The Old City (Bars and Restaurants)
Gay Street (Restaurants and Tennessee Sign)
Path Next to the River (Calhoun’s)
Gatlinburg + Pigeon Forge
Ole Smoky Moonshine