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The Ultimate Knoxville Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re looking for a super-detailed Knoxville travel guide, one that answers all your questions about when to go, what to do, and where to eat, drink, and stay, then you are in luck!

This East Tennessee city is the third largest in the state, well-known for its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is the home of the University of Tennessee. Go Vols!

That’s hardly all, though. Knoxville’s geography puts it in Appalachia, lending the city a rich, fascinating history closely tied to both bootlegging and warm hospitality.

Knoxville skyline with knoxville sunsphere and park

Combine all that with the abundant natural beauty of the surrounding mountains, and you have a city that truly offers something for everyone.

We’re going to take you beyond just the typical tourist attractions in this Knoxville travel guide.

Discover the city’s lesser-known sides, from its vibrant arts culture and seasonal festivals to the thriving craft brewery scene and so much more.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, check out some of our top Knoxville articles.

Knoxville Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Scruffy City

Whether you’re visiting for the first time on a day trip or considering moving here, this Knoxville travel guide covers everything you need to know.

Best Times to Visit Knoxville

Henley Bridge in Knoxville Tennessee at night with lights
Henley Bridge

There’s truthfully no “bad” time to visit Knoxville, but choosing the right time for you can enhance your experience.

The city has a humid subtropical climate with hot, muggy summers and mild winters.

Notably, the closer you get to the Smokies, the cooler and wetter it gets.

Fun fact: The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the wettest regions in the US, with higher elevations getting well over 100 inches every year.

We recommend visiting Knoxville in the spring and fall seasons. During these seasons, the weather is pleasant, the scenery is especially beautiful, and outdoor activities are in full swing.

What’s Knoxville Weather Like?

downtown knoxville in winter with snow and trees covered in holiday lights like candy canes
Knoxville in Winter / Credit: Downtown Knoxville

We can’t give you a Knoxville travel guide without deep-diving into the weather!

Knoxville’s weather is characterized by hot, humid summers and cool but fairly mild winters. Summer temperatures can soar into the 90s, although upper 80s are more the norm.

Winters are a bit milder, with temperatures averaging in the mid-40s to mid-50s.

Knoxville gets an average of 4.5 inches of annual snowfall, and it often doesn’t stick for more than a day or two. By comparison, Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smoky Mountains that sits over 500 feet higher than Knoxville, gets over 9 inches of snow per year on average.

With all of that said you should always be prepared for rain showers in Knoxville, especially in the spring and summer.

Knoxville Seasonal Events

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

Thanks to the mild year-round weather and four distinct seasons, Knoxville hosts several awesome events and festivals. Any month of the year, you can almost guarantee you’ll find a fun one to check out.

  • Hola Festival (September): Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Oktoberfest (late September-early October): Enjoy traditional German music, food, and of course, Knoxville’s booming craft beer scene
  • Big Ears Festival (March): Huge multi-day festival incorporating multiple genres, visual arts, film, and more
  • Dogwood Arts Celebration (April): Month-long celebration showcasing the beauty of blooming dogwood trees
  • Bike Boat Brew & Bark (early June): Celebrating several unique aspects of Knoxville, including outdoor activities, breweries, and dog-friendliness
  • Concerts on The Square (summer): FREE outdoor concerts in Market Square on Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • College football season (September-December): Don your Tennessee orange and try to catch a home game when the Volunteers take the field
  • Christmas in the City (November-December): Several events highlighting why Knoxville is a fantastic Christmas destination

Top 5 Things to Do in Knoxville

Street in Old City Knoxville with shops and restaurants and people walking down the street
A sunny day in Old City Knoxville

1. Stroll Market Square

Market Square is the vibrant heart of downtown, always bustling with activity. Lined with an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes, shops, and live music venues, no Knoxville travel guide is complete without mentioning this square.

Depending on the time of year you visit, there are endless ways to enjoy Market Square.

  • Browse the farmer’s market for local goodies on Saturdays and Wednesdays in the summer and fall
  • Check out some of the city’s nightlife hot spots, including Scruffy City Hall
  • In the summer, let your kiddos run through the splash pad
  • Catch a spring festival, whether it’s the St. Patrick’s Day parade or ‘Mardi Growl’
  • Stroll Gay Street’s historic buildings and art galleries (just one main block over from Market Square)
  • In winter, go ice skating at Holidays on Ice

2. Visit the Sunsphere

After being closed for many years, the iconic Knoxville Sunsphere reopened its observation deck in 2022.

Now (and like it was for decades before), it’s one of the best things to do in Knoxville.

The distinct-looking tower sits in World’s Fair Park, overlooking the entire city. If you go up to the 4th-floor observation deck (which you should!), you’ll also enjoy great views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tickets to the observation deck are just $5, making this one of the cheapest things to do in Knoxville. As a nice little bonus, you can easily walk over to the Sunsphere from Market Square.

Fun fact: the Sunsphere was built specifically for the 1982 World’s Fair, much like Seattle’s Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower.

3. Ijams Nature Center/Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

Every Knoxville travel guide will tell you that the city is scenic and lively. However, it also has an impressive amount of open space dedicated to nature and recreation.

At the heart of it is Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, 1,000 acres of parks and nature preserves. There are also 60+ miles of hiking and mountain biking trails and a 600-acre wildlife area. The best part? It’s all just minutes from downtown.

Ijams Nature Center is part of the Urban Wilderness, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts in and of itself.

Here, you can hike, bike, swim, paddle, explore historic sites, go rock climbing, and more. Navitat, the popular canopy zipline adventure, is also at Ijams.

4. Explore Old City

Adjacent to downtown proper, think of Old City as the cool big brother— edgy, hip, and a bit mysterious.

This historic neighborhood gets overlooked by many Knoxville travel guides, but that would be a mistake. It’s rich in character and well-preserved architecture, so it’s well worth just strolling around (we’re all for free things to do!).

Old City is also home to dozens of excellent coffee shops, bars, brunch spots, boutiques, and art galleries. In fact, many of the businesses in Old City combine more than one of the above!

Pretentious Beer Co./Pretentious Glass Co., for example, serves as both a brewery and a glass-blowing studio and is on our list of unique things to do in Knoxville.

If the timing works out with your visit, pop into the Old City Market. It’s on the second Sunday of every month from April through December.

5. Get Wild at Zoo Knoxville

Scruffy City is a haven for animal lovers, too. Head to Zoo Knoxville, where you can see over 900 animals from all around the world.

Located in East Knoxville, the zoo offers a fun, educational day out for visitors of all ages. We even highly recommend it as a unique date idea!

Explore Grasslands Africa or Asian Trek, or let your little ones run wild in the designated children’s zones. You’ll find a petting zoo, playgrounds, a train ride, and even a seasonal splash pad.

Knoxville Tours

One of the best ways to make sure you hit all the highlights is to book some of the best Knoxville tours.

Even on a short visit, you can hit several breweries, sample moonshine, float down the Pigeon River, and take in a live show…all in one day!

Booking a tour is an especially smart way to explore the city if you’re not planning to rent your own car. Let someone else handle the driving and logistics!

Sample One-Day Knoxville Itinerary

People sitting outside at the biergarten at Shulz Brau Brewing in Knoxville TN
Schulz Bräu Brewing Company

As you just saw, there are tons of awesome things to do in Knoxville. In this section, we want to highlight how many of them you can easily fit into just a single day.

Of course, feel free to copy this itinerary exactly if it fits your interests. But we also encourage you to make it your own, mixing and matching what suits you best to create your own personalized Knoxville travel guide.

Quick note: this itinerary assumes you’re staying downtown and that you have one FULL day to spend in Knoxville, starting bright and early.


Start your day by grabbing some coffee and pastries or a light breakfast at a downtown cafe. We recommend K Brew or Coffee and Chocolate. Don’t worry, you’ll sit down to brunch a little later!

While you’re sipping your coffee, download the Downtown Mural Walking Tour Map. Stretch your legs by exploring Market Square and Gay Street, searching for a few murals, and popping in and out of shops. Don’t miss Mast General Store!

Depending on the time of year, any number of events may be going on: live music, the twice-weekly farmers’ market, or a street festival.

Then, a little before lunchtime, start heading toward Old City (it’s easy walking distance from Market Square).


Old City is a mecca for foodies, so you can’t really go wrong anywhere.

Our top brunch recommendations are Potchke and Southern Grit. If you happen to be in town on Saturday morning, then head to Kaizen for the wildly popular Japanese-style tapas.

If you enjoy craft beer, you’re already in a hub of several great breweries. Right next door to Kaizen is Pretentious Beer Co., while the Crafty Bastard and Xul are also nearby.

After downing a few brews, stroll around Old City, checking out some of the funky galleries and shops. When you’re ready, make your way back toward downtown.


Head to the Sunsphere, which is a 20-25 minute walk from Old City (the perfect way to burn those beer calories!). It closes at 5pm (4pm on Sundays), so just keep that in mind.

After taking in the views, walk down to the river. Bonus if it’s during sunset!

You’re ultimately heading back to Market Square but strolling along the river to get there.

Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall are musts in Market Square, so check the live music lineup and settle in with a drink. There are dozens of fun bars in this area, so hop around finding your favorites.

If you’re up for dinner outside of bar food, Stock & Barrel is one of the most popular restaurants in the city (reservations are highly recommended!). When you’re ready to call it a night, simply walk over to your hotel!

With more time in Knoxville, you can, of course, pack a lot more in. Some of our top choices include hiking or swimming at Ijams Nature Center, taking a Tennessee Riverboat Co. sunset cruise, and booking a walking food tour.

Where to Stay in Knoxville

The oliver Hotel in Knoxville TN
Credit: The Oliver Hotel

We highly recommend staying in downtown Knoxville, especially for first-time visitors.

We’ve mentioned (and love!) several vibrant neighborhoods throughout this Knoxville travel guide, but nothing beats the convenience and walkability of downtown.

With that in mind, here are our top hotel choices.

If you’re more the vacation rental or cabin type, Knoxville has plenty of those, too!

Getting Around Knoxville

strolling downtown knoxville with Pretentious Glass company sign
Strolling Knoxville outside Pretentious Beer Co.

Although you’ll want a vehicle for exploring outside of downtown (and taking a day trip to the national park), Knoxville’s core is extremely walkable.

If you’re mostly sticking to downtown, you can easily get away with not renting a car. Just catch an Uber or Lyft from the airport (there are no public transportation options).

Also, if you get tired of walking, Knoxville has a free trolley. Three routes cover the downtown and university campus areas: the Blue, Green, and Orange lines. Note that they do not run on Sundays, or Saturdays when there’s a home game at UT.

For those who prefer to have their own vehicle, the best place to pick up a rental car is the airport. And, as a huge bonus, parking is FREE just about everywhere downtown after 6:00 PM and on weekends.

What do you think about this ultimate travel guide for Knoxville? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know in the comments below! ⬇️