The Biggest Cities In Tennessee

By Oishimaya Sen Nag on August 25 2020 in World Facts

Memphis, the second largest city in Tennessee. Image credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
  • Today, Nashville is a hub for music, publishing, healthcare, transportation, banking, and education within the state.
  • Historically, Memphis played a significant role in the American civil rights movement.
  • Knoxville is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

State of Tennessee

Tennessee is a US state in the country’s southeastern region. It occupies 42,180 square miles (109,247 square km), making it the country’s 36th largest state by landmass. With a population of about 6,829,000, it is the 16th most populous US state. Tennessee is subdivided into 95 counties and contains 346 municipalities either designated as cities or towns. Just over 66% of the state’s population resided in urban areas in 2015.

The Five Most Populated Cities in Tennessee 

Nashville, Tennessee. Image credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

1. Nashville - 694,144

Nashville, also the state capital, is the most populous city in Tennessee and the 23rd largest in the country. It is located along the Cumberland River and serves as the county seat of Davidson County. The city was founded in 1806 and named after Francis Nash, a general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Today, Nashville is a hub for music, publishing, healthcare, transportation, banking, and education within the state. Several institutions of higher education, including Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, and Belmont University, are located in Nashville. 

Memphis, Tennessee. Image credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

2. Memphis - 651,073

The 28th largest city in the country, Memphis is located along the Mississippi River, in the southwestern part of Shelby County, where it serves as the county seat. Historically, the city played a significant role in the American civil rights movement: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. occurred in Memphis in 1968. Today, the city is prominent for education, art, entertainment, commerce, and media. FedEx is the largest employer in the city, and the Memphis International Airport is the world’s second-busiest cargo airport—the busiest in North America. Memphis barbecue has become world-renowned, and the city hosts an annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which is the largest barbecue contest in the world and attracts thousands of visitors. 

Knoxville, Tennessee. Image credit: CrackerClips Stock Media/Shutterstock

3. Knoxville - 187,603

Knoxville is Tennessee’s third-largest city, also serving as the county seat of Knox County. The city was founded in 1791 after being first settled as a trading post in 1786, and it served as the state’s first capital. Knoxville is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The headquarters of several regional and national corporate companies are located within the city. Knoxville is also home to the main campus of the University of Tennessee. 

Chattanooga, Tennessee. Image credit: Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

4. Chattanooga - 182,799

Chattanooga is located in Hamilton County in southeastern Tennessee and is situated along the Tennessee River. It is a transit hub and is served by numerous highways and railroads. Surrounded by ridges and mountains, the city offers a number of outdoor activities to residents and visitors. In fact, Chattanooga has been nicknamed "Scenic City." American bandleader and composer Glenn Miller’s song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" has made the city known around the world. 

Clarksville, Tennessee. Image credit: Real Window Creative/Shutterstock

5. Clarksville - 158,146

Clarksville serves as the county seat of Montgomery County. It was established in 1784 and later incorporated in 1807. It was named after Revolutionary War soldier George Rogers Clark. Austin Peay State University is based in Clarksville.

Legal Requirements to Be a Tennessee Municipality

Although some municipalities in the state are referred to as "cities" while others are called "towns," the terms do not have any legal significance in the state. Municipalities with at least 1,500 residents are required to incorporate, either under the city manager-commission or the mayor-alderman charters. At least 5,000 residents are needed for a city to form under a modified city manager-council charter.

The 10 Biggest Cities in Tennessee by Population

RankCityPopulation
1Nashville-Davidson694,144
2Memphis651,073
3Knoxville187,603
4Chattanooga182,799
5Clarksville158,146
6Murfreesboro146,900
7Franklin83,097
8Jackson67,191
9Johnson City66,906
10Bartlett59,440
11Hendersonville58,113
12Kingsport54,127
13Smyrna51,586
14Collierville51,040
15Cleveland45,504
16Spring Hill43,769
17Gallatin42,918
18Brentwood42,783
19Columbia40,335
20Germantown39,225
21Mount Juliet37,029
22Lebanon36,479
23La Vergne35,716
24Cookeville34,706
25Morristown30,193

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