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15 Free Things to Do in Knoxville: Fun Activities on a Budget

On a budget and looking for some free things to do in Knoxville? You’re in luck!

This East Tennessee city is brimming with exciting activities that won’t cost you a dime. 

Maybe you’re a Scruffy City local looking for something new. Or, perhaps you’re a visitor seeking out memorable experiences that won’t break the bank. Either way, there’s no shortage of free things to do in Knoxville year-round.

Aerial View of the Sunsphere in Knoxville TN at sunset

Nestled at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville offers a blend of natural beauty and big-city amenities (plus Southern hospitality!).

From outdoor adventures and historic sites to parks and even festivals, this vibrant city has something FREE for everyone. 

Let’s dive into some fun free things to do in Knoxville!

Top Free Things to Do in Knoxville

1. Take a Stroll Through Market Square

people ice skating in downtown Knoxville on Market Square
Ice Skating in Market Square / Credit: Downtown Knoxville

In the heart of downtown Knoxville, Market Square buzzes with energy year-round. Trendy restaurants and coffee shops, eclectic boutiques, and galleries line the square. And you never know what types of fun special events you’ll find. 

Simply taking a leisurely stroll to soak in the vibrant atmosphere and people-watch is one of the best free things to do in Knoxville.

However, you can also visit the farmers’ market (Wednesdays and Saturdays, May through November) or, in the winter, go ice skating! There’s also a seasonal summer fountain kiddos love to splash in. 

Year-round, you may catch street performers, live music, or even a festival on any given day. 

2. Explore the Knoxville Museum of Art

Exterior of the Knoxville Museum of Art in Knoxville at night
Credit: Knoxville Museum of Art

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA), showcasing a diverse collection of regional East Tennessee art. You’ll also find a small curation of works from national artists. 

Across its three floors, the museum has both permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as a gift shop and a children’s area. It also hosts a diverse range of events, with a little of everything.

For example, there’s a monthly book club, drawing classes, a concert series, and kids’ art workshops. 

Note that some special events may require a small admission or materials fee. These include things like Soundscapes at the KMA or art workshops.

3. Visit World’s Fair Park

the the sunsphere in front of the lake in knoxville tn
Knoxville Sunsphere

The park itself, along with some of its most important structures, hold historical significance.

This was the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, and the only things remaining are the iconic Sunsphere and Tennessee Amphitheater. 

Beyond the historic appeal, World’s Fair Park has several free things to do in Knoxville. Stroll along the lakefront, walk or bike the paved trails, and let the kids run wild at the playgrounds. The fountains are on seasonally, from spring through early fall. 

The park also hosts countless events year-round, many of them also free.

Going up to the Sunsphere’s observation deck costs $5 for adults. It is, however, free for children. 

Bonus: If you check out the KMA, you’ll already be at World’s Fair Park!

4. Ijams Nature Center

walkway on the quarry at Ijams nature center in knoxville tn
Ijams Trail / Credit: Eric Delagrange via AllTrails

Many free things to do in Knoxville take you into The Great Outdoors, but you don’t necessarily even have to leave the city. 

Head to Ijams Nature Center, where you can embark on several types of outdoor adventures.

With over 300 acres and 12+ miles of trails, plus river access, a quarry, a rock climbing crag, playgrounds, and more, Ijams is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Amazingly, Ijams is also dog-friendly!

Most of the activities at the nature center are completely free, but there is a $5 daily parking fee for non-members. For a reasonable fee, you can rent gear from the visitor center, including kayaks or bicycles, depending on the season.

We encourage you to make a donation if you’re able to, as Ijams provides an incredible resource for Knoxville. 

5. Knoxville Botanical Garden

Garden in Knoxville with yellow and red flowers and lots of greenery
Credit: Knoxville Botanical Gardens

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city…without ever leaving it!

At the Knoxville Botanical Garden, you can immerse yourself in the tranquility of pristine themed gardens and winding walking paths.

Many of the gardens and displays at the 44-acre property change seasonally, but you can explore a bamboo forest, rose gardens, wooded hiking trails, sunflower fields, and more.

The botanical garden hosts several special events and workshops throughout the year, both free and paid. Talks, demonstrations, and guided plant or bird walks tend to be free, while special workshops where you make something and bring it home typically require a fee. 

Just like with the Ijams Nature Center, the botanical garden is truly free, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation if they’re able. 

6. Ride the (FREE) Downtown Trolley

KAT Free Trolley in Knoxville TN
Credit: Knoxville Area Transit

Downtown Knoxville and the area surrounding the university campus is exceptionally walkable. Even more so thanks to the Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) free trolley!

The trolley operates every half-hour Monday through Saturday, with one exception. It does NOT run when there’s a Vols home game, but that’s because there’s a special football shuttle service (not free). 

In addition to being a practical solution for getting around downtown, riding the trolley is one of the best free things to do in Knoxville in its own right. I’s great for people-watching, and lets you get the lay of the land while you sit back and literally enjoy the ride. 

7. Catch the WDVX Blue Plate Special

Band singing for the Blue Plate Special Event in Knoxville TN
Blue Plate Special / Credit: Visit Knoxville

It’s no secret that live music is a big deal in Knoxville, but many people don’t picture the local radio broadcast when they think of music venues. 

That would be a mistake, though, because WDVX 89.9 hosts a live performance radio show–with a musical artist–five days a week. 

The Blue Plate Special brings all sorts of music genres and artists, ranging from up-and-coming to headliners. Past artists include Old Crow Medicine Show, Ricky Skaggs, and countless others. 

If you’re interested, simply head to the Knoxville Visitor Center and grab a seat (Friday shows are at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria). You’re even welcome to bring your lunch (hence the name Blue Plate Special!), making it one of the most unique free things to do in Knoxville. 

8. Explore the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture

Ewing Gallery of Art in downtown Knoxville TN with patients on wall in gallery
Credit: Ewing Gallery & UT Downtown Gallery

Art aficionados won’t want to miss the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture, located on the university campus.

The gallery is jointly managed and funded by the UT School of Art and its College of Architecture and Design. 

It serves as a significant cultural resource for the region, showcasing an impressive collection of contemporary art and architectural designs

Visitors can browse the 5,000-item permanent collection or explore one of the rotating exhibits, which often feature works from students. 

9. Join the First Friday Art Walk

In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, Knoxville has a thriving arts culture and community. In fact, USA Today named the city one of the top arts districts in the country (more than once!).  

The monthly First Friday Art Walk is a wonderful introduction to the local art scene—not to mention one of the best free things to do in Knoxville. You’ll have the opportunity to visit several galleries, studios, and boutiques, mingling with local artists and enjoying some goodies along the way.

Many downtown Knoxville coffee shops and restaurants host exhibits, so they often run some fun specials, too. 

Although the exact setup changes slightly every month, you can also typically expect to find live music, pop-up galleries or installations, and performance art.

10. Spend a Day at Volunteer Landing

People biking along the Neyland Greenway in  Volunteer Landing in Knoxville TN
Neyland Greenway in Volunteer Landing / Credit: City of Knoxville

Despite being one of the smallest parks in Knoxville (just 12.5 acres), Volunteer Landing offers no shortage of fun activities. 

The picturesque park sits right on the Tennessee River, so you can’t go wrong with simply taking in the views. One of the most popular free things to do in Knoxville is watch boats and paddlers drift by, especially during sunset. 

You can fish from Volunteer Landing, and there are put-ins and take-outs here for paddlers and boats. The Neyland Greenway runs through the park (pictured above), so you’ll also see lots of people biking, running, or walking their dogs. 

There’s also a playground and, in the summer months, a popular splash pad for the little ones. 

11. Check Out the Murals in Strong Alley

Dolly Parton Murale on a wall in downtown Knoxville TN
Beautiful Dolly Parton Murale in Knoxville

Luckily, the most photographed spot downtown also happens to be one of the best free things to do in Knoxville. 

Strong Alley is a sensory feast with dozens of colorful, elaborate murals, plus some street graffiti, all quite different. It’s essentially walking through a life-size public art installation. 

Best of all, it’s conveniently sandwiched right between Gay Street and Market Square, so you can easily squeeze in a quick visit, even if you’re short on time. 

12. Stroll Through the University of Tennessee Gardens

landscape with flowers and shrubs at the UT Gardens in Knoxville
Credit: UT Gardens

This isn’t just another botanical garden. The UT Gardens actually comprise the state botanical garden of Tennessee. And yes, visiting is free!

While very similar to the Knoxville Botanical Garden in many ways, the UT Gardens place a stronger emphasis on horticulture research and education. 

So in addition to beautiful, tranquil spaces, the gardens here have a lot to teach. They’re even often called an “outdoor learning laboratory.” Throughout the year, you’ll find experimental gardens and experimental plant or flower varieties. 

You can stroll through the gardens seven days a week, year-round. If you want a more in-depth experience, consider signing up for a workshop or special event, or even volunteering.

Adult workshops include topics like wreath-making and adult summer camp, while special events vary a ton. On the events calendar, you’ll find seed exchanges, how-to gardening lectures and demos, plant sales, and seasonal events like Howl-O-Ween and a holiday gala. 

Like many other free things to do in Knoxville, there may be an admission fee for special events. 

13. Attend a Free Concert or Festival

entrance to the dogwood arts festival in knoxville tn
Credit: Dogwood Arts Festival

With so many different “scenes” and cultures throughout the city, plus mild year-round weather, there’s always a fun event going on in Knoxville.

For live music, in addition to bars and other local hot spots, you can catch open mic night at Scruffy City Hall on Mondays and Writer’s Round Knoxville at Barley’s Taproom in Old Town. Come summer, there are also the free Concerts on the Square. 

One of the best free things to do in Knoxville is attend a seasonal festival, and locals are spoiled for choice with all the options.

The Dogwood Arts Festival in April and the Bike, Boat, Brew & Bark Festival in June are both non-traditional festivals, with several events spread throughout the city across multiple days. In both cases, many events are totally free!

14. Explore Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

Urban Wilderness Map and locations in Knoxville TN
Credit: Visit Knoxville

With all the incredible natural beauty and rugged terrain, sometimes it’s hard to believe that you’re in the heart of Knoxville. That’s especially true in the Urban Wilderness, mere minutes from downtown.  

Feel like you’re getting off the beaten path as you explore the huge network of parks, trails, waterways, and wildlife preserves spanning well over 1,000 acres. 

You can hike, run, bike, go rock climbing, paddle, swim, play disc golf, explore historic sites, work out on a “Primal Playground,” and channel your inner child on a traditional playground. It’s easy to see why this impressive area is one of the best free things to do in Knoxville.

Five individual parks, including the Ijams Nature Center, make up the Urban Wilderness, so you’ll never have to say “I’m bored” again. 

15. Tour the Marble Springs State Historic Site

the last home of John Sevier at Marble Springs  State Historic Site in Knoxville
Credit: Marble Springs State Historic Site

Step back in time at the Marble Springs State Historic Site, the one-time estate of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier.

Side note: if you’ve ever wondered how Sevierville got its name, now you know!

Even if you know nothing about Sevier, the man was fascinating, and Marble Springs offers a little glimpse into that. He had a whopping 18 children, served as governor for six terms, and was a war hero, among other things. 

Today, the self-guided tours of Sevier’s former home and farm are among the best free things to do in Knoxville, particularly for history buffs. 

Learn about the real American frontier as you explore the historic buildings, which include a spring house, tavern, loom house, and kitchen.