Nothing comes close to a fun-filled road trip in the Southeast of the United States. Whether you are looking for a quiet riverside escape or a secluded family vacation in the middle of the backcountry, Tennessee has it all and then some. This landlocked state is known for its musical heritage and for hosting the most visited national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
But there is a long list of touristy delights to experience in Tennessee, especially when you tour the small, often overlooked towns. Scenic natural beauty, iconic historical landmarks, incredible outdoor adventures, and trademark Southern hospitality paint a picture of what to expect in the Volunteer State. If you are hoping for a jam-packed 48-hour stay, these are the best small towns in Tennessee to visit.
It might not be the popular French city ranked among the world’s most romantic destinations, but Paris, Tennessee, has various charming attractions you will love. Like its famous namesake, this little location on the northwestern side of the state houses the Eiffel Tower. At nearly 70 feet tall, this is a smaller replica of the original inside the family-friendly Eiffel Tower Park and offers magnificent photo ops when lit. For the outdoor inclined, Westfalia Farms has a tranquil environment with rolling green hills in the background. The farm has acres of hay fields with cattle, horses, and free-range chickens, presenting an authentic feel of rural Tennessee.
Meanwhile, McNeil Park hosts the town's central hub of sporting events, providing recreational facilities for softball, baseball, and soccer enthusiasts. One of the best times to visit the region is during the annual World’s Biggest Fish Fry festival, a week-long event full of fun, family-friendly activities. But before that, remember to make a reservation at the Hampton Inn by Hilton for a cozy stay in Paris.
Gatlinburg’s claim to fame is being a popular getaway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But this tiny alpine town of about 3,800 draws visitors with unique charm, providing the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. While you have countless options, Anakeesta is definitely among the highlights. This exciting outdoor adventure park offers adrenaline-filled ziplining, treetop adventures, and gondola rides with epic views of the Smoky Mountains. Also, the state-of-the-art Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies enables marine guests to interact with sea turtles, sharks, penguins, and stingrays. The glass-bottom boat ride is a crowd favorite at the exquisite facility.
Downtown Gatlinburg features quiet streets with quaint shops and cafes like Maddi Mae's Café & Creamery, ideal for a lazy afternoon walk. But if you fancy a classic scare, you can visit the Mysterious Mansion for a spooky experience. This old haunted mansion will take you through scary twists and turns, culminating in a dead end and secret exits. For your accommodation, you can check into the Gatlinburg Mountain Inn to be close to the main points of interest in town.
Bristol is renowned for being the “Birthplace of Country Music” and was officially recognized in 1998 by the U.S. Congress. You can feel the area’s musical prowess by visiting historic Paramount Bristol in the heart of downtown. This multi-use performance art venue will not only impress you with its fascinating live performances but also the opulent Art Deco style of its interior. But there is more to Bristol than its rich musical heritage, including Steele Creek Park. This over 2,000-acre lakefront nature space delights with almost 20 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails, a nature center, picnic areas, a mini train, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Another popular spot is Bristol Motor Speedway, a hub for racing fans that hosts NASCAR races. Even if you are not a racing enthusiast, the charged-up atmosphere around the massive speedway and heart-stopping vroom from the cars are worth experiencing. If you have a penchant for retail therapy, The Pinnacle stands out as the go-to shopping destination, and for a remarkable lodging experience, consider the Bristol Hotel.
Sevierville is a small community of approximately 18,700 about 40 minutes from Knoxville, with several attractions around the great outdoors. RainForest Adventures Zoo ranks among the top attractions in the town and houses hundreds of temperate and tropical animals, reptiles, and birds representing over 100 species. Sevierville is famous for being the birthplace of country music artist Dolly Parton and honors the icon in the charming downtown with a life-size bronze Dolly Parton Statue holding a guitar.
Elsewhere, Sky High Air Tours delivers one of the best experiences in the town. This involves a thrilling flight 1,000 feet in the air in an open cockpit biplane with spectacular vistas of the Smokies. But if you prefer something lowkey, you will love the shopping opportunities at Tanger Outlets Sevierville. Finally, remember to book a stay at Mountain Aire Inn Sevierville before exploring the town.
This quaint riverfront community neighboring Knoxville boasts lovely natural surroundings with scenic views of the Tennessee River. It is home to unique experiences, including a stay at the windy Hill Farm and Preserve. Ranked among the most romantic Tennessee getaways, this all-inclusive resort promises an unforgettable experience, featuring wine hiking, farm-to-table dining, whiskey tastings, and hunting excursions. Additionally, Loudon has a vibrant wine scene, which you can sample at the award-winning Tennessee Valley Winery. There are at least wine varieties to taste at the venue in a serene green atmosphere.
If you appreciate the Silver Screen, you can head to the LoCo Drive-In for a unique movie experience and watch the latest blockbuster on a 35 by 63 foot, 4K LED screen. Exploring the historic downtown, you can stroll through quiet streets with restaurants and shops. General Store Antiques has a cute collection of souvenirs that you can buy.
One of the reasons Pigeon Forge is among the best towns in Tennessee is its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While most tourists come to experience the country’s most popular national park, the city has many other attractions. You can start at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s exciting theme park with fun rides, a water park, and a museum with interesting memorabilia about the iconic country musician. The Titanic Museum is another top site in the area and hosts a collection of at least 400 pre-discovery artifacts spread across twenty galleries.
You can tour Parrot Mountain and Gardens to enjoy the open spaces if you prefer the outdoors. This tranquil Bible-inspired sanctuary for parrots has a relaxed atmosphere and offers the opportunity to interact with rare birds. While there are numerous B&Bs to accommodate the thousands of visitors coming into town, Ramada Pigeon Forge North delivers a remarkable experience.
This small town in Polk County is known for its endless river adventures along the Ocoee River. Several local outfitters offer visitors an exciting way of experiencing Ducktown’s natural beauty, including Ocoee Rafting. You can enjoy a thrilling river rafting trip along five miles of rapids and whitewater along the Ocoee River. More thrills are available with Wildwater, ranging from adrenaline-filled zipline canopy tours to whitewater rafting excursions.
American historians will be intrigued by the Ducktown Basin Museum, which once hosted the headquarters of the Tennessee Copper Company and Cities Service. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can explore about 16 relics from the defunct copper mine. After a day of adventure, you will find a cozy spot to rest and rejuvenate at the Company House Bed & Breakfast.
Sewanee is a small college town and home to The University of the South. Despite a modest population of less than 3,000, Sewanee has a vibrant atmosphere thanks to its youthful student demographic. It also features gorgeous natural landscapes, and one of the best places to experience this is at Sewanee Natural Bridge. Spanning 50 feet long and at a 25-foot height, this geological wonder never fails to leave first-timers in awe. You can explore more open spaces along the Mountain Goat Trail, a scenic 5-mile path traversing wooded areas in Sewanee’s backcountry.
If you want to experience the upbeat personality of the town, you can head to Shenanigans. The trendy bar and grill is a popular meeting point and serves excellent draft beer and wine with live music nights. For accommodation, the Sewanee Inn impresses with its casual elegance and stunning mountain views.
Popularly known as the “Catfish Capital of the World,” Savannah is a tiny locality along the east bank of the Tennessee River. It is an excellent getaway if you want to appreciate the beauty of the river, and you can start at the Tennessee River Museum. The impressive facility houses a range of artifacts detailing the river's history and its role and influences on the land and people surrounding it.
If you are vacationing with kids, they will have an entertaining experience at Tennessee Street Park, a 5-acre hub of recreation opportunities with children’s play areas, manicured gardens, splash pad, and walking trails. The lively town has more family-friendly fun thanks to venues such as the Savannah Bowling Center and the Savannah Skating Ice Rink. When the young are tired from the fun and games, you can book them a stay at Savannah Lodge Hotel for a deserved rest.
If you are a fan of Tennessee whiskey, you will be intrigued to know that Lynchburg is home to the iconic Jack Daniel’s whiskey brand. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery provides a deep dive into the history of the famous whiskey maker by offering three tours, each with tastings and unique narrations about the brand’s history. Meanwhile, the Moore County Old Jail Museum provides a perspective into the small town's past. It operated as a prison in the 1890s and 1900s and houses interesting artifacts from the era worth browsing.
Furthermore, the South is famous for its cuisine, and Lynchburg is home to some delicious Southern foods. One of the best places to sample them is the historic Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant, which has been tantalizing taste buds since the early 1900s.
A weekend getaway in small-town Tennessee is the best way to experience the heart and soul of the state. From wild outdoor adventures, unique historical heritage, and picturesque natural beauty, these small towns in Tennessee expose a unique side of the state that you would not find in big cities like Nashville.