There are countless reasons to spend the weekend in Knoxville.
Nestled just one hour north of the spectacular Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Knoxville often gets overlooked by its more famous neighboring cities and attractions.
That’s a shame, though, as Knoxville is an absolute gem, jam-packed with fun things to do year-round, vibrant energy, and scenic views.
Here’s what you can expect when spending three days or the weekend in Knoxville:
- Beautiful mountain scenery
- A family-friendly atmosphere
- Excellent foodie and nightlife scenes
- Fun games at the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!)
- Southern hospitality and charm
All in all, Knoxville makes for an awesome weekend getaway.
To help you discover this underrated Tennessee city, we put together the perfect weekend in Knoxville itinerary with the best things to do, places to eat, nightlife, and more! ⬇️
The Best 3-Day Weekend in Knoxville Itinerary
We included a bit of everything in this 3-day Knoxville itinerary for every type of traveler — outdoor enthusiasts, couples, families, foodies, history buffs, solo adventurers — to make it easy to do just that!
That said, please note that our Knoxville weekend itinerary assumes you’ll arrive in the early evening and have two full days to spare in Knoxville.
If your timeline is different, feel free to mix and match activities to suit your schedule!
Day 1 in Knoxville
☀️ Get a 360 view in the Sunsphere Tower
The giant, shiny gold disco ball-topped structure was built especially for the 1982 World’s Fair.
Today, it’s one of the most popular things to do on any weekend in Knoxville itinerary, showcasing some of the city’s best views.
From the fourth-floor observation deck, visitors enjoy a 360-degree view of Knoxville and the Great Smokies, including the Tennessee River and UT campus.
If you arrive before 5:00 pm on Friday, head directly to the iconic Sunsphere (if you don’t make it in time, go Saturday morning; it opens at 9:00 am!).
Observation deck admission is just $5 and children under 12 are free. The Sunsphere is closed on Mondays and daily from 1:30-2:30.
🦪 Dinner in Market Square
After (literally!) getting the lay of the land, the next item on your Knoxville weekend itinerary is dinner.
We know…oysters aren’t exactly synonymous with Knoxville restaurants, but trust us!
Stock & Barrel is infamous for having a long wait and doesn’t take reservations.
So, have the best of both worlds by putting your name in, then walking around the corner to The Brass Pearl for a cocktail and oysters.
🌆 Rooftop drinks and live music
Practically adjacent to The Brass Pearl are several excellent bars and live music venues. You can hop around to find your favorite, but there are a few standouts.
- Preservation Pub — live music 365 nights a year
- Scruffy City Hall — owned by the same folks as Pres Pub next door, each floor of the tri-story building has a unique vibe
- Alice in Appalachia — an immersive Alice in Wonderland-themed bar
Day 2 in Knoxville
🛒 Shop local at the Market Square Farmers Market
If you’re visiting from May through mid-November, the Saturday morning Market Square Farmers Market needs to be on your weekend in Knoxville itinerary!
Head over around 9:00 am when it opens, grab a coffee and pastry from one of these awesome Knoxville food trucks, then browse.
You’ll find fresh produce, meats, baked goodies, flowers, artisan crafts, and more, all from makers and growers within a 150-mile radius of Knoxville. Oh, and pick up lunch to go for your next stop!
Visiting mid-week? The market is also held on Wednesdays from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.
📻 Blue Plate Special
After the market, stroll five minutes to the Knoxville Visitors Center.
There are tons of souvenirs to browse here, but head to the WDVX radio studio for the Blue Plate Special.
This music performance is broadcast live on the radio six days a week from 12-1:00 pm, and it’s totally FREE!
The event showcases a vast range of artists, and you can enjoy it with BYO lunch.
Nashville and Memphis may be more well-known as great music cities, but Knoxville definitely holds its own!
🍻 Knoxville Ale Trail tour (family-friendly!)
Now it’s time to see what Knoxville’s thriving brewery scene is all about!
First, download the FREE digital Knoxville Ale Trail Passport.
As you visit participating breweries, you’ll get digital “stamps” that you can redeem for prizes including a pint glass and t-shirt.
There are about two dozen participating breweries and many are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to create a self-guided tour.
Several breweries are clustered together just a few minutes north of the Visitors Center, such as:
- Geezers Brewing Co.
- Xul Beer Company (next to Geezers)
- Crafty Bastard Brewery
- Barrelhouse by Gypsy Circus Cider
- Next Level Brewing
Most breweries have dog-friendly patios with yard games, frequent live music and food trucks, and an overall family-friendly vibe.
Knoxville Brew Tours offer weekend bus tours, and the latter offers a downtown walking tour, which is also offered Monday-Friday.
Tours visit a minimum of four breweries, all Ale Trail Passport participants, and include three tastings per brewery, snacks, and a souvenir mug. The Brew Tours option starts and finishes at Knox Brew Hub, where you redeem your passport for prizes!
Note: While individual breweries are family- and dog-friendly, the tours are not.
🔥 Dinner & a night out
Treat yourself to an upscale dinner at J.C. Holdway, headed up by one of Tennessee’s only James Beard-winning chefs.
The restaurant puts a modern twist on classic Appalachian dishes, serving wood-fired, contemporary small plates.
If you want something with a view, head to Calhoun’s on the River, a popular BBQ joint on the waterfront. Reservations are highly recommended for both restaurants.
After dinner, choose your own adventure.
Of course, you can always find live music at dozens of hotspots across the city. Check the Visit Knoxville Live Music Calendar for the most complete, up-to-date info.
Day 3 in Knoxville
Depending on when you’re heading home, you have some choices to make about the final day of your Knoxville weekend itinerary.
We’ve included a full day of activities in Knoxville below for your third day, but you can also take a day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Dollywood theme park, each under an hour away.
🌿 Ijams Nature Center
Grab coffee and donuts near your hotel (we love Status Dough and the Gay Street K Brew location) and head to Ijams Nature Center, an outdoor lovers’ paradise just 10 minutes from downtown — that feels like it’s worlds away.
Explore 12+ miles of Knoxville hiking and biking trails, get an intense workout in at the unique Primal Playground, take a dip in the creek, or rent a kayak, paddleboard, canoe, or tube.
Kiddos LOVE the Nature Playscape, and there’s also Navitat, a zipline adventure park with a variety of trails and obstacle courses.
For adults, there’s even a beer garden!
Best of all, Ijams is free to enjoy, with the exception of Navitat and boat rentals (and beer, of course!).
☔️ Rainy day alternative: Shopping in Old City
Rain is not uncommon in East Tennessee in any season, so it’s a good idea to have a Plan B for anything outdoors on your weekend in Knoxville itinerary.
If the weather isn’t favorable, browse the shops in a part of town known as Old City.
The former industrial hub has an eclectic, artsy vibe and tons of character, with many of the businesses occupying converted warehouses.
There are dozens of cool galleries and boutiques with everything from clothing to home goods.
Local favorites include Jack’s of Knoxville, Magnolia Records, and Mid Mod Collective.
🍺 Brunch & beer in Old City
After working up an appetite, grab lunch and beer in Old City.
Pretentious Beer Co. is a unique, very unpretentious spot serving craft beer in glasses hand-blown onsite.
It’s one of our favorite breweries in Knoxville!
There’s a fast-casual Asian food concept at Pretentious or head down the street for some German-style food & beer at Schulz Bräu Brewing Company.
🖼 Knoxville Museum of Art
The free Knoxville Museum of Art is a great way to wind down a busy day (it closes at 5:00 pm).
Located in World’s Fair Park, the museum showcases mostly local Tennessee art, with a sprinkling of global contemporary pieces.
If you didn’t have a chance to explore World’s Fair Park when you visited the Sunsphere, this is a good time to do that.
🍱 Quick, casual dinner at Marble City Market
Before heading home, wrap up your weekend in Knoxville itinerary with a bite at Marble City Market.
This fun food hall concept features several local food vendors, plus a cozy bar.
Other Fun Things to Do with 3 Days in Knoxville
If you have more time or want more options, here are a handful of other unique things to do in Knoxville in 2-3 days.
🦒 Get wild at Zoo Knoxville
53-acre Zoo Knoxville is home to some of the world’s most amazing animals, including the endangered Red Panda and Arakan forest turtles.
There are 11 unique habitats, housing over 1,200 animals.
Zoo Knoxville is open daily from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and admission ranges from $22-27.
🌸 Knoxville Botanical Gardens
Spend an afternoon strolling the FREE, picture-perfect Knoxville Botanical Gardens.
Pick up a walking tour map from the visitor center and spend an hour or so literally stopping to smell the roses. Dogs are also welcome!
There are over 26 points of interest along the way, with highlights including the Bamboo Forest, Pollinator Garden, and the serene Secret Garden.
🍔 Take a food tour
Whether you’ve never experienced a food tour or you’re a frequent flyer, we highly recommend Knoxville Food Tours.
Not only will you get to sample several of the city’s very best restaurants, but the tour is also led by a local historian who shares fascinating tidbits about Knoxville.
Tours last 2.5-3 hours, involve walking just over one mile and take place rain or shine.
🎭 Catch a show at the Tennessee Theatre
Cap off a day of exploring Knoxville with a live performance at the historic Tennessee Theatre. It’s been open since 1928!
Depending on your trip dates, you may be able to catch a play, concert, symphony, or comedy show.
Best Places to Stay for a Weekend in Knoxville
As most attractions in Knoxville are centered around the downtown core and university, we highly recommend staying in this area.
Several hotspots are within walking distance including Market Square, Gay Street, and World’s Fair Park, plus you can take advantage of the free trolley.
💎 Luxurious stays ($$$)
The Tennessean — A popular, dog-friendly downtown hotel with an Old World vibe featuring amenities like marble floors and massive bathrooms.
The Oliver Hotel — Intimate 28-room boutique hotel situated steps from Market Square and offering complimentary loaner bikes, plus it’s home to the Peter Kern Library speakeasy. We personally love this hotel!
🧡 Mid-range & boutique ($$)
Embassy Suites — In the heart of downtown, this beautiful hotel features a rooftop pool and bar, plus complimentary breakfast and a virtual TopGolf simulator.
Graduate Knoxville — A hip, colorful Vols football-themed hotel two minutes from campus and featuring an onsite cafe, bar, and gym with Peloton bikes.
🏨 Hotel Chain ($+)
Tru by Hilton — Although not downtown, this Knoxville hotel is just a 15-minute drive away and includes free hot breakfast and a game room.
🧙♀️ Unique stay in Knoxville
Ancient Lore Village — Right out of a storybook, this medieval village just 15 minutes from downtown has axe throwing, guided tours, and archery on-site!
From outdoor activities right in the city to museums to local farmer’s markets and a thriving craft beer scene, we believe this city has something for everyone to enjoy year-round.
That said, this itinerary might look a bit different if you are visiting Knoxville in winter!
Have you ever been to Knoxville before? If not, we hope you make the most of this wonderful 3-day itinerary!
Let us know how you plan to spend your weekend trip to Knoxville in the comments! 👇