It’s not often you come across a landlocked state in the southeastern U.S. packed with so many things to do, but Tennessee deserves your attention, especially if your family has conflicting interests that never seem to jive on vacation. If you’re looking for kid-friendly reasons to visit, you’ll find them in the abundant nature of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the up-tempo music cities of Nashville and Memphis, and the countless opportunities to uncover American history that can be discovered along the way.
Whether it’s music that ranges from classical and jazz to gospel and country; bountiful hiking trails and opportunities for swimming, spelunking, rafting, biking, and boating; or the nearly 1,500 Civil War battles that were fought in this state alone — there are so many ways to make memories in Tennessee. If you’re looking for vacation ideas for the whole family, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place.
While Nashville is sometimes called the “Country Music Capital of the World,” that only scratches the surface of what this cosmopolitan city has to offer vacationing families. The Music City also boasts a variety of affordable Southern cooking and international fusion cuisine appealing to all tastes. Sightseeing options include city tours, tours of country stars’ homes, and more.
Things to Do in Nashville
- Grand Ole Opry. A 1920s radio show put Nashville on the map as the country music capital, growing into a venue and tradition that continues to host country performers, such as Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. Tours are available seven days a week. If you’re a fan, you should also visit the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- The Parthenon. Nashville has some great museums, and The Parthenon is one of them. Yes, it’s a facsimile of the structure that once stood in Athens, including a spectacular 42-foot statue of Athena. It also serves as a museum with an impressive permanent art collection.
- Belle Meade Historic Site. Located a few miles southwest of downtown Nashville, this Greek revival-style mansion was built in 1853 and displays the bullet holes earned during the Civil War. This historic mansion is centrally located on the plantation’s 30 acres of well-manicured grounds. Guided tours of the mansion give insights into Civil War history and the road to emancipation.
2. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg Area
Pigeon Forge is a beautiful town nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you want to eat at a family-friendly restaurant, play laser tag or mini-golf, or explore the abundant opportunities to enjoy the nature available in the mountains, you’ll find it all here. The town is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What’s more, you’ll find a number of 18-hole golf courses in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas.
Things to Do in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg Area
- Dollywood. Against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dolly Parton’s Dollywood is a theme park extravaganza that features rip-roaring rides, delectable fare, and stellar entertainment. Besides roller coaster rides and water slides and outdoor pools in a 35-acre water park, you’ll also find a lot of live music and craftsmen showing their skills at the amusement park. Pigeon Forge is close to Sevierville, where Dolly Parton was born.
- Extreme adventures. If your family is older or more adventurous, you can try extreme adventures, such as whitewater rafting, free falling at an indoor skydiving facility, or rolling downhill in a gravity park.
- Great Smoky Mountains. The possibilities in the mountains include great hikes and thousands of acres filled with abundant wildlife including black bears, and Cades Cove, the most visited area of the Great Smoky Mountains, which is known for its beautiful landscapes.
Nestled beside the Tennessee River among the mountains, Chattanooga strives hard to live up to its reputation as the Scenic City. You can enjoy beautiful views and attractions on Lookout Mountain, where you can see seven states on a clear day. It’s a short drive to other cities, such as Nashville and Bowling Green, as well as several state parks. And since it once stood amid the brutal action of the Civil War, it’s a great educational and historic destination for families.
Things to Do in Chattanooga
- Tennessee Valley Railroad. Chattanooga was the grand central station for southern railway travel in the 19th and 20th century. In the railroad museum, you’ll find restored trains and a mobile museum that features a series of passenger cars built in the early 1900s powered by either steam or diesel engines.
- Chickamauga. Found on Lookout Mountain, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park allows you to explore terrain once crossed by Civil War troops. This is the oldest and largest of America’s Civil War parks and includes several sections of land north and south of the Tennessee-Georgia border.
- Ruby Falls. This natural landmark is home to the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the USA. Descend 26 stories by elevator into the cavern, and then explore on foot with guided tours along the scenic path to the breathtaking waterfall — passing stalagmites, stalactites, drapery formations, flowstone, and more. After viewing waterfall, you can try your hand at zip lining, rushing over 700 feet of treetops.
Whether you want to hear original blues or the rocking sounds of Elvis, the largest city in Tennessee is the place to be. Its cosmopolitan spirit is magically intertwined with its abundant Southern charm, which offers and a big welcome for family groups. Named for an ancient Egyptian city, Memphis even boasts its own gleaming 320-foot pyramid right on the riverbank. Made of gleaming steel instead of stone blocks, it’s two-thirds the size of the world’s largest pyramid in Egypt. A trip to the Memphis Zoo is also popular with many families.
Things to Do in Memphis
- Graceland. The Elvis Presley mansion is one of the most-visited private homes in the country for a good reason. You’ll see the King’s famous jungle room, pink Cadillac, record collection and shoes, a game room with pinball machines, and gifts sent to him from ardent fans.
- National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is built around the notorious Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. It documents the civil rights leader’s life and death, as well as the country’s entire civil rights movement. The most well-known exhibit is an authentic 1955-era city bus that you can walk inside to view a statue of Rosa Parks.
- Pink Palace. The Pink Palace is, well, eclectic. Clarence Saunders built the mansion in the 1920s using pink Georgian marble blocks. Saunders is the genius who came up with the concept of the supermarket. Among the displays of dinosaur bones and mineral collections, you’ll find a walk-through replica of Saunders’ self-service grocery store: the Piggly Wiggly.
Knoxville prides itself on offering things to do for kids of all ages. It boasts that it has a walkable downtown with plenty of kid-friendly activities, attractions, tons of history, arts and culture — so they can learn while having fun! The third-largest city in the state offers a unique mix of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cultural attractions.
Things to Do in Knoxville
- Pet-friendly nature. The city goes out of its way to say you should bring your dog (or dogs) with you. They’ll be greeted with welcome signs, fresh bowls of water, many walking trails, waterholes, and dog-friendly patios where you can relax together.
- Sunsphere. Standing 26 stories tall, the Sunsphere is an iconic part of the city skyline, originally built for the 1982 World’s Fair. Each pane of glass in the Sunsphere is made with 24-karat gold, giving the sphere its reflective gold color.
- Zoo Knoxville. The acres of spine-tingling adventure include the new Asian Trek experience, where you’ll find Tiger Forest and Langur Landing & Gibbons Trails, with Arya the Tiger, Opie the Langur, and Georgie the Gibbon.
Find a Family-Friendly Rental in Tennessee
There is a lot to see and do in Tennessee that can turn a humdrum family vacation into an unforgettable time. We provide a better way to find the right vacation rental for your needs, compiling the best results from the leading travel sites — so you can focus less on where you’ll stay, and more on all the fun you’ll be having!