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Visiting Chattanooga in Winter: Fun Things to Do & Cozy Places to Stay

Although some often think of Nashville or the Great Smoky Mountains when they hear about winter in Tennessee, Chattanooga in winter is pretty magical, too!

To begin with, did you know Chattanooga’s nickname is Scenic City? Intersected by the Tennessee River and surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains, postcard-perfect landscapes and outdoor fun surround Chattanooga.

view from lookout mountain overlooking the tennessee river and chattanooga with the battle cannon and leaves red
View from Lookout Mountain

While winter may be low season in other nature hot spots, the fun never stops here, even when it’s freezing out. The city offers countless ways to enjoy the crisp, cold winter season, from hiking to cruising the river.

Chattanooga offers loads of fun indoor activities as well so you can stay cozy. With bustling markets, museums, theaters, lively bars, and much more — this relatively small city will keep your things-to-do list full.

Best of all, though, many favorite local businesses get festive for the holidays.

In addition to festive decor, you’ll find an impressive list of holiday events from the aquarium to inside train carriages, the Choo Choo Hotel, and more.

Are you intrigued in spending this winter in Chattanooga?

Well, then, what are you waiting for…let’s dive into everything Chattanooga has to offer this winter!

All About Visiting Chattanooga in Winter

Things to Do in Chattanooga this Winter Season

1. Celebrate With Holidays at the Choo Choo

the entrance at the chattanooga choo choo with a large christmas tree deocrated for winter in chattanooga
Image: Chattanooga Choo Choo

No place in Chattanooga offers a dose of holiday spirit quite like the iconic Choo Choo. Much more than a historic hotel, it’s more like an entertainment district, really.

Arguably, the main attraction of Holidays at the Choo Choo is the ice skating rink.

Called Ice on the Landing, it’s the city’s ONLY ice skating rink (really). So, you can see why it’s one of the most popular activities in Chattanooga during winter.

Listen to holiday music and savor a hot drink and sweet treats. For great photo-ops, look around the grounds to discover more winter decorations and a few surprises.

Note that in 2023, Ice on the Landing moved to the First Horizon Pavilion. Previously, the skating rink was always in Glen Miller Gardens.

Indoors, the Choo’s Choo’s holiday season means appearances from Santa, over-the-top decor, and an incredible selection of pop-up shops.

Santa and Mrs. Clause at the Choo Choo in Chattanooga
Santa at the Choo Choo / Credit: Chattanooga Choo Choo

Oh, and make sure to enter through the hotel lobby to see the majestic 28-foot-tall Christmas tree!

When you’re hungry, dive into elevated Southern food at celebrity chef-owned Nic & Norman’s. Or, there’s also more casual pub fare at Frothy Monkey, a popular Nashville-based restaurant.

Finally, what lifts your spirits more than, well, spirits? Adults won’t want to pass up a drink at the hotel’s incredible bars. Pour your own pint of beer at American Draft, sip fine spirits at the Gate 11 Distillery, or catch happy hour at the Backstage Bar before hitting the adjacent comedy club.

2. Book a River Cruise

the southern belle river cruise on the river in chattanooga
Credit: Southern Belle

Being right in Chattanooga’s front yard, the Tennessee River is ideal for spending a few hours on the water.

A cruise on the Southern Belle offers a unique vantage point of the city — especially during the holidays!

Starting just after Thanksgiving, you can book one of three special Christmas-themed river cruises:

  • Breakfast With Santa
  • ‘Tis the Season Luncheon
  • Christmas Carol Dinner Cruise

Each cruise includes food, drinks, live entertainment, and lots of holiday cheer.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the Southern Belle also offers a packed schedule of additional cruises. It’s the perfect activity to take out-of-town guests or to enjoy a special date night!

And if you’re in town for New Year’s Eve, consider ringing it in on the water. The “New Year’s Eve on the River” cruise comes with all-inclusive champagne!

3. Go on Winter Hikes

Since snow is a rare occurrence in the city, Chattanooga in winter offers a great opportunity to hit the trails.

In fact, with less foliage on the trees, winter offers better, unobstructed views! (And, aside from a few particularly popular hikes, the trails tend to be less visited, too).

The Bluff Trail on Lookout Mountain is a perennial fan favorite. With sweeping views and fascinating Civil War History, it’s no surprise that this is a popular fall hike in Tennessee!

Alternatively, for a more rustic, backcountry option, head to Prentice Cooper State Forest. Here, check out the views at Snooper’s Rock or the little-known Mullens Cove, which only showcases its full panorama in wintertime.

The colder months are a great time to chase waterfalls, too! Wildly popular Ruby Falls is always a fun thing to do (who doesn’t want to see a 145-foot cascade in a cave?).

Lula Falls (only 12 miles outside the city) flows year-round. Or, drive out to Greeter Falls for a look at three thundering cascades.

4. Follow the Trail of Lights

map of the holiday trail of lights showing the different locations
Map of the Holiday Trail of Lights courtesy of Visit Chattanooga

Looking to take in the absolute most of Chattanooga’s winter cheer? Follow the city’s Holiday Trail of Lights to see the city’s best holiday attractions!

From simple, yet delightful, pleasures like twinkling snowflakes on the Walnut Street Bridge, to family-friendly treasure hunts and shopping, the map features a little of everything.

Some places to view the trail of lights are free, like the beloved EPB Holiday Windows. Others, though, you’ll need to schedule in advance, like craft workshops at the Read House and special holiday dinner trains.  

5. Holiday Fun at the Aquarium and Zoo

asian lantern festival at chattanooga zoo in chattanooga in winter
Credit: Chattanooga Zoo

Chattanooga’s always-popular aquarium and zoo both throw lively winter events.

At the Tennessee Aquarium’s Holidays Under the Peaks, check out the Christmas tree display. It’s synced to illuminating electric eels!

You can also check the schedule for scuba-diving Santa (“Scuba Claus”) – swimming alongside fish on December Saturdays. Finish your visit with a showing of Polar Express in the IMAX 3-D theater.

A scuba diving Santa, Christmas eels, and a 3-D version of a holiday classic…Chattanooga in winter sure is memorable!

The Chattanooga Zoo also embraces the holiday spirit, but differently than you might expect.

Instead of holiday-themed light and animal displays, the entire zoo transforms for the Asian Lantern Festival.

It’s sensory spectacular, with larger-than-life interactive displays, illuminated animals, and sweet treats.

Of course, the 30+ traditional Asian lanterns are the star attraction.

6. Warm up in Chattanooga Cafes

With the go-go of the holidays, a moment of peace with a warm drink can really hit the spot.

And thankfully, Chattanooga has several charming cafes to get you warm.

Coffee aficionados will want to check out hip Velo Coffee Roasters.

As the name implies, Velo roasts its own beans, but that’s not all. The shop also pulls top-notch espresso and crafts imaginative drinks think carbonated cold brew with hops.

Cozy Rembrandt’s Coffee House is a beloved Scenic City favorite, serving baked goods in a European-style cafe.

And downtown, you’ll find super cute Sleepyhead Coffee, which serves vegan options (even pastries!) in an airy, plant-filled shop.

7. Explore the Chattanooga Art Scene

hunter museum of american art on top of a hill with  water refelction underneath in chattanooga
Credit: Hunter Museum of American Art

Chattanooga has a flourishing art scene, and cold, wintry days present the perfect time to dive into it.

First, head to the unique Bluff View Art District, perched on cliffs high above the river. The stunning Hunter Museum of American Art is front and center in the district where you can see paintings, photography, and sculptures across frequently rotating exhibits.

Next, head over to the River Gallery, inside a quaint, turn-of-the-century house.

And finally, pop over to the neighboring property, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, to marvel at the collection of unique finds. If it’s aesthetic and decorative, you’ll find it here.

In the evening, it’s time to dress up and hit the entertainment district. The glamorous Tivoli Theater seems to be plucked straight from a European city, hosting various events including rock concerts, plays, classical music, and even drag nights! 

8. Board a Vintage Train

Hiwasee holiday train in chattanooga with seats and decorations for christmas
Credit: Tennessee Railroad Valley

Is it just us, or do trains during the holidays seem more magical?

If you’re in Chattanooga in winter, riding one of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Christmas train rides is an absolute must.

Bring the kiddos to the famous North Pole Limited, complete with a visit from Santa, of course. Or, make it a romantic night on the dinner train, enjoying a 4-course meal in restored vintage train cars.

Also, if you’re looking for something in between, check out the Christmas tea trains or Hiwassee Holiday. This family-friendly alternative to the Polar Express includes writing a letter to Santa, plus cookies and milk. In addition, yes, Santa himself will make an appearance!

Lastly, the “Holiday Lights Train” offers a rare nighttime train ride.

Whichever option appeals to you most, just make sure to reserve in advance. Entire trains often sell out, especially closer to the holidays.

9. Check out the Holiday Market

It’s no secret that Chattanoogans love their markets. In fact, the city hosts variations of its wildly popular weekly market all year.

But for an all-out, holiday-themed affair, don’t miss the Holiday Market. It’s held on December weekends at the convention center, and includes 200+ vendors.

Whether you’re shopping for one-of-a-kind gifts, adding a special something to your own collection, or just want to browse, the selection is impressive.

Don’t miss the food vendors for a delicious bite to wind down (or kick-start) your shopping. You can even find boozy beverages, making this even more of a social event.

Where to Stay in Chattanooga this Winter

There are some incredible cabins in Chattanooga to cozy up in this winter. But if a hotel is more your style, we recommend some of these below:

The Hotel Chalet at The Choo Choo

a queen sized bed and couch inside the hotel chalet at the choo choo inside a train car with modern design
Image: The Hotel Chalet at The Choo Choo via Booking

Want to be in the heart of it all? Then consider staying at The Hotel Chalet at The Choo Choo.

Fresh off a $19 million, 2-year renovation, the hotel re-opened in fall 2023. Previously known as the “Choo Choo”, it has since been renamed.

There’s truly no other accommodation quite like it. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to stay in restored vintage train cars.

Depending on which “room” you book, you may be in a 1930s Victorian or a 1960s Mid-century car.

Making it an even more appealing option, there are several entertainment options right on the property.

Go to dinner at Elsie’s Daughter, then grab a drink and sit around one of the courtyard fire pits. If a fireside cocktail doesn’t practically define Chattanooga in winter, we don’t know what does.

🏨 More about Hotel Chalet at the Choo Choo

The Dwell Hotel

The Dwell Hotel front entrance with door man waiting to open the door to the hotel in Chattanooga in winter
Image: The Dwell Hotel via Booking

This historic boutique hotel is best described as “swanky.”

The Dwell Hotel is right in the center of Chattanooga, making it highly walkable to many of the city’s top attractions, such as the Tennessee Aquarium.

It’s decidedly upscale, but also retro and a bit playful. The hotel’s interior design is gorgeous, both in the lobby and the rooms. Expect eye-catching Mid-century decor, with plenty of art, plants, and designer furniture.

Modern amenities and downtown views make The Dwell feel exclusive, even though the vibe is super welcoming and chill. Think luxurious soaking tubs and rainfall shower heads. Many rooms also have private balconies and fireplaces.

🏨 More about The Dwell Hotel

Chanticleer Inn Bed & Breakfast

front view of the Chanticleer Bed and Breakfast at night in Chattanooga with stone siding, trees, and cozy lighting
Image: Chanticleer Inn B&B via

Looking for some tranquility during your visit to Chattanooga this winter? Then perhaps you’d like to stay at the Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast.

Located on amazing Lookout Mountain, this B&B has a small-town feel. Yet, downtown is only a 10-minute drive away.

The hotel knocks both the “bed” and “breakfast” parts out of the park. 20 unique rooms are perfectly homey with an old-school aesthetic, but clean and with modern amenities.

Guests also rave about the food, which goes far beyond typical hotel fare. Expect eggs benedict, breakfast burritos, fresh fruit, and more.

🏨 More about the Chanticleer Inn Bed & Breakfast

What to Wear & Pack for Chattanooga in Winter

Yes, it’s nestled in the mountains, but don’t expect much snow or ice in Chattanooga in winter.

Low temps hover just above freezing, with average highs in the low 50s.

Being in the Appalachians, the city gets frequent rain year-round, but it really picks up come December. It’s almost certain that a few days will be damp and chilly. 

Outside of that, Chatt weather is crisp and enjoyable, albeit typically overcast. With some warm gear, it’s ideal for exploring outdoors, walking around town, and enjoying a hot beverage.

Here are some things to pack!

  • A favorite coat. You’ll want to bundle up in the evenings
  • Umbrella and/or rain jacket. We can all but guarantee you’ll need them!
  • Extra shoes. Chattanooga gets muddy, even if you stay in the city.
  • Casual going-out clothes. The city’s vibe is casual and outdoorsy. Think flannels and boots.