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Tennessee: Five Best Places to Visit in the Volunteer State

Updated on November 7, 2011
State Capitol. Nashville.
State Capitol. Nashville.
Memphis.
Memphis.
Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains.
Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains.
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville.
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville.
Sunken Trace. Natchez Trace Parkway.
Sunken Trace. Natchez Trace Parkway.
Graceland, Memphis.
Graceland, Memphis.
Mount LeConte from Pigeon Forge.
Mount LeConte from Pigeon Forge.
Andrew and Rachel Jackson Tomb. The Hermitage.
Andrew and Rachel Jackson Tomb. The Hermitage.
Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg.
Who needs to go to Athens to see the Parthenon?  Nashville's Centennial Park.
Who needs to go to Athens to see the Parthenon? Nashville's Centennial Park.
Lorraine Motel, Memphis. Wreath is location where MLK was assisnated.
Lorraine Motel, Memphis. Wreath is location where MLK was assisnated.

1. Nashville. It comes as no surprise that Nashville was given the nickname “Athens of the South”. Its full scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, built in 1897, the only one of its kind found in Centennial Park is something that should be missed by the visitor. Don’t confuse this building with the Tennessee State Capitol, another beautiful building with unique architectural qualities which dates to 1859. Designed by William Strickland the building’s cornerstone was laid in 1845 and sits atop a knoll with excellent views of the downtown skyline. The Greek Revival structure was finally completed in 1859. Two more sites shouldn’t be missed on any trip to Nashville and those include The Grand Ole’ Opry, also known as Ryman Auditorium, country music’s holy grail and greatest shrine. The 2,000 plus seat theater was originally built in 1891 as a tabernacle and was reopened in 1994 to audiences. The home of Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage, sits east of Nashville in Davidson County. The Greek Revival home was first built in 1835. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, and his wife, Rachel, are buried on the grounds.

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is the state’s best known natural feature is preserved in the nation’s most heavily visited national park shared with North Carolina. The main access point into the park is through Gatlinburg (see below) which is hard to avoid if you are approaching the mountains from the Tennessee side. The park is a naturalists paradise with hundred of species endemic to the mountains only although in the last century environmental concerns and air pollution have marred some of the original beauty that brought attention to this area. The woolly aphid was done visible damage to the spruce and fir forests above 5,000 feet. Try not to let this dissuade you from going as the vistas are still sweeping and the fall colors not to miss. Clingmans Dome (6,648’), the highest peak in the park and the state of Tennessee has road going to the summit and should not be missed. There area number of beautiful waterfalls that are also easily accessed from roadside pullovers, most notably Abrams, Rainbow, and Laurel Falls. Hiking is popular and the park is criss-crossed by hundred of miles of trails including the Appalachian Trail.

3. Memphis. Best known for its blues music, world headquarters of FedEx, and barbequed ribs the biggest tourist draw in this city on the Mississippi, Tennessee’s largest, remains the home of Elvis Presley, Graceland. Built in 1939 Graceland is one of the country’s most frequently visited private home with more than 600,000 visitors a year. It is the ultimate shrine to The King and many of the visitors are better described as pilgrims. However Memphis has more to offer than Elvis and a few other places should not be overlooked in the city. The Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, is the location where Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968 and the iconic photo of King’s cadre pointing to where the shots were fired was taken on the second floor of this building. It narrowly escaped demolition in the early eighties when people fought to preserve the building because of the historical significance. A wreath hands from the location where King was assassinated. Beale Street is the home of the Mississippi blues and a place where this music, like jazz, unique to the United States, is still celebrated with a month long music festival at Tom Lee Park. The Beale Street Music Festival occurs in May and draws large crowds to the city and features a wide venue of different music.

4. Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg. These two towns are gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so don’t be surprised if you see throngs of tourists, tourist traps, hotels, and anything from exotic reptile gardens to try-your-luck at gold panning venues. Anything goes here because these two places live and die by tourism alone. The biggest draw is probably Dollywood, the theme-based park owned by country music star Dolly Parton, and the water park counterpart, Dollywood’s Splash Country. If this hillbilly Disneyland is not your thing there are other major tourist venues such as outlet shopping and music theaters. However, this place is really about the mountains and scenery. Pigeon Forge is five miles from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance on U.S. Route 441. The views of Mount LeConte (6,593’) from this location are spectacular and the mountain rises more than a vertical mile. At the gate of the park is Gatlinburg. The rustic-themed buildings attempt to bring a measure of serenity to the otherwise frenzy of tourism but Gatlinburg is what it is – a tourist trap and gateway to the Smokys. If it’s not your thing, you can simply by pass it and rive into the park. Gatlinburg otherwise has its bases covered and comes complete with an aerial tramway, ski-resort (in season) – the only one in Tennessee, aquarium, an obligatory Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not Museum, and the Gatlinburg Space Needle.

5. Natchez Trace Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches from southern Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee with last hundred of the 440 mile parkway in Tennessee. Now a scenic byway with no commercial vehicles allowed, the Parkway follows the route of the old thoroughfare used by Native Americans and then by early American settlers. Later it was developed by the Jefferson administration to serve as a postal road and a link to the lower Mississippi territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. It served as the only land based link connecting the lower Mississippi with the eastern seaboard until steamboat transportation was more fully developed. Today the Natchez Trace Parkway is a beautiful roadway that interprets the historical, pre-historical, and natural significance of the “Old Trace”. It’s a must-do scenic drive and included among the highlights in the Tennessee section are Sunken Trace, McGlamery Stand, Dogwood Mudhole, Meriwether Lewis wayside, Phosphate Mine, Swan View Overlook, Fall Hallow, Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area, Sheboss Place, Tobacco Farm, Jackson Falls, Baker Bluff Overlook, Gordon House Historic Site, Water Valley Overlook, Tennessee Valley Divide, and Garrison Creek.

show route and directions
A markerNashville, Tennessee. -
Nashville, TN, USA
get directions

B markerGreat Smoky Mountains National Park -
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 3099 Winfield Dunn Pkwy, Kodak, TN 37764-1534, USA
get directions

C markerMemphis, Tennessee -
Memphis, TN, USA
get directions

D markerPigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee -
Pigeon Forge, TN, USA
get directions

E markerFranklin, Tennessee (Natchez Trace Parkway) -
Franklin, TN, USA
get directions

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