13 Most Charming Small Towns in Tennessee

Renowned as a naturally beautiful state, Tennessee's small towns brim with Southern charm, historically-significant architecture, and some of the friendliest locals in the nation. The best of it all can be experienced by visiting one of these charming towns.

Jonesborough

Aerial view of Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough.
Aerial view of Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough.

Tennessee's oldest town, founded in 1779 is small in size but big in personality, where live music, great shopping, and almost two and a half decades of history can be experienced in the concentrated lively downtown area. Music on the Square is a free live music series every Friday night from May through September, while the Brews & Tunes takes place on Sunday afternoons. The nearby city dwellers come to Jonesborough for unique housewares crafted by local and regional artisans at the "Made Around Here Market". Most known for its International Storytelling Center, the "storytelling capital of the world" also hosts the National Storytelling Festival each October. There is also the Chuckey Depot Museum (1906), carriage rides along the historic Main Street, and little ice cream and candy shops to complement the true small-town appeal. 

Columbia

Columbia TN
Columbia Tennessee. Image credit: Matt Locke via Wikimedia Commons

Former residence of the nation's 11th president, lovers of antebellum homes will rejoice visiting the charming town of Columbia with many historic buildings. Part of the Maury County, known for having more antebellum houses than anywhere else in the state, the town is a small epicenter of Southern hospitality and community pride. The Maury Historic Christmas Home Tour during the first weekend of December is a real Southern holiday experience. The landmarks include the Chickasaw Trace Park, President James K. Polk Home and Museum, Elm Springs, Bleu 32 Vintage Marketplace, and the magnificent architecture of Athenaeum, the only all-female educational institution that operated in the same location from the 1830s to the Great Depression. The iconic courthouse square, Columbia Town Square, is an atmospheric gathering place with Muletown Coffee for a freshly roasted Cup O' Joe.

Franklin

Franklin, Tennessee
Civil war landmarks in historic Franklin, Tennessee.

Founded in 1799 and named after Benjamin Franklin, the charming town is set 20 miles south of Nashville for a concentration of southern charm in a small-town atmosphere. Possessing four National Register historic districts and seven local historic districts, the old spirit is best explored via a ghost tour of one of the old plantation houses dating back to the Civil War as a fun family time. A former recording studio is now a hotel, while the Dark Horse is where Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood have made recordings. The colorful historic district is great for taking strolls, shopping, dining, and people-watching over a cuppa Joe from a terrace. For art fans, there is the Franklin Theatre and The Factory with the best artsy sculptures, such as the Franklin-made 20-foot-high man "Rusty Mechanism" of recycled metal parts with a gold heart.

Dayton

Dayton, Florida
Dayton, Tennessee. Image credit: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1820 as Smith's Crossroads, Dayton was renamed after a city in Ohio in 1877. The town is most known for being the place of the decision on whether evolution should be taught in state-funded schools, known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, in 1925. One can revisit the memories at the Rhea County Courthouse, followed by the Scopes Trial Museum. The charming Dayton Coffee Shop & Restaurant exudes southern charm and community with delicious grub and unique trinkets. There are more antique stores, restaurants, hiking opportunities, the Monkey Town Brewing Company, and Chickamauga Lake, known nationally as the bass fishing destination. 

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Busy street in summer time with tourist and cars in Gatlinburg.

With around 4,000 locals who enjoy their gorgeous southern home, Gatlinburg attracts some12 million visitors each year for the quaint mountain-town escape in eastern Tennessee, also referred to as the "gateway to the Smoky Mountains." Aside from the gorgeous scenery, the town is known for great shopping and adventurous activities, such as exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, seeking out waterfalls, and riding mountain coasters. There are also many museums and a massive aquarium, while Dollywood, full of all things Dolly Parton, is just a short drive away in Pigeon Forge.

Bell Buckle

The cute town with a cute name right out of an old movie, its centerpiece, describes the town as "close to home, but a world away." With some 500 residents, Bell Buckle possesses the classic small-town feel, coupled with Victorian-era homes and churches and shops with quilts, handicrafts, and antiques. From authentically "distressed" window frames with single pane glass and peeling paint to artisanal goat milk soap, one can find everything in Bell Buckle. The RC Cola Festival and the Moon Pie Festival in June present the town's culture at its best with lively celebrations along the streets, while the old-fashioned Christmas events take place throughout December. The local Bell Buckle Café offers hearty southern grub, while the Bell Buckle Coffee Shop & Book Swap is refreshing and atmospheric. 

Granville

Clover Street in Granville, Tennessee, USA.
Clover Street in Granville, Tennessee, USA. Image credit: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons.

Regarded as a hidden gem of Tennessee, the small and charming Granville is the birthplace of former U.S. Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (father of Al Gore). Also nicknamed "Tennessee's Mayberry Town," the historic town is known for its scenic banks of the Cumberland River, only an hour east of Nashville. One can explore the slow and friendly pace of the yesteryear in town via a popular $5 town tour ticket from Sutton General Store. The must-visit highlights include the Granville Whiskey Decanter Museum, Whistle Stop Saloon, I Love Lucy Museum, Sutton Homestead, and Pioneer Village.

Hohenwald

Aficionados of the Lewis and Clark story will revel in visiting the historic and outdoorsy Hohenville. The charming town inside comes complete with the Natchez Trace wine trail and the quintessential experience of visiting one of the nation's largest refuges for African and Asian elephants, right in its tiny perimeter. For more historical discoveries, there is the must-visit Meriwether Lewis Site from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, whose burial grounds of 1809 are seven miles east of the town. Just an hour southwest of Nashville, people come for the outdoor escape into the Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve and the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway. One can stay at the Natchez Trace RV Campground, complete with a unique Petite Retreats tiny house. 

Leiper's Fork

Leiper's Fork
Willow trees on Leiper's Fork Road near Nashville, Tennesee.

When looking at the 1,100 acres of Leiper's Fork from the air, one will see one Main Street with land spreading all around. Reachable from Nashville in just forty minutes, people come for the charming town appeal to chat with friendly locals over a pint of cold beer on a summer's afternoon and visit Puckett's for a live show. The home-grown feel of porches, fire pits, and community spirit are tuned up by the 650-some residents with renowned art galleries, a whiskey distillery, and meat-and-three restaurants. One cannot deny the town's charm, chosen as the vacation home by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton.

Lynchburg

Lynchburg
Hardware stores in Lynchburg. Editorial credit: Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock.com

Named for the pacifist Quaker, John Lynch, the lively town will be heard before it is seen. The historic Courthouse Square is the main gathering place with music, singing, and the aroma of caramel corn in the air. The wooden sidewalks lead to all kinds of stores and eateries, with the MoonPie General Store as the famed specialty shop in sweet old-fashioned Moon Pies. The Barrel House BBQ is a popular dining option, along with Miss Mary Bobo's Southern for local cooking, providing an exclusive southern dining experience since 1908. There are also the beloved Jack Daniel's Distillery and the Lynchburg Winery. The old Lynchburg jail nearby now comprises the Moore County Jail Museum, where one can see the original cells for the price of one dollar.

Paris

Paris, Tenneessee
Eiffel Tower Replica in Paris, Tennessee.

While the Eiffel Tower in Paris may be grand, the 70-foot replica in Paris, Tennessee, set north of Jackson, includes a splash park, swimming pool, and a quaint environment innate to the southern towns. A true place to be for the foodies, the culinary experience is unreal with the large fish next to the "Welcome to Paris in West Tennessee, Home of the Biggest Fish Fry," stating the fact. The namesake event takes place in the last week of April, while the Tennessee River and Paris Landing State Park are known for an abundance of catfish. The outdoorsy types can enjoy days-worth of camping, boating, sailing, hiking, and swimming within the natural surroundings of the river and Kentucky Lake. In-town, the Henry County Courthouse is an eye-catching Romanesque-style building in operation from 1897 to the present day.

Tellico Plains

Tellico plains
Bald River falls near Tellico Plains. Editorial credit: Larry Porges / Shutterstock.com

As one of the state's most beautiful towns, Tellico Plains is a real gem of Appalachia with 900 residents for a tranquil environment. Once a Cherokee settlement called Great Tellico, one of the most important Native American towns of its era, it is now home to the Cherokee National Forest, renowned for hiking opportunities. Rich in history, the crossroads comprised an important trading route, while the European immigrants used the region's fertile land for agricultural potential. There are more peaceful parks and natural areas in town to wander through, along with a bakery, creamery, small galleries, an art center, shops, restaurants, and a highly rated museum and visitor center, innate to small mountain towns. The Tellico Beach Drive-In is a popular pit-stop near the must-visit natural landmark, the Bald River Falls.

Townsend

Townsend, tennessee
Aerial view city of Townsend in Tennessee next to the Smoky Mountains.

The charming town of Townsend is taken advantage of as the most peaceful point of entry into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an outdoor escape from the urban Knoxville just 30 miles away. Gorgeously back-dropped of The Smokies, the 6-mile round-trip hike via the River Walk trail alongside the Little River followed by cooling off in the river's waters during summer comprises a great day out. Calling to the explorers, the Townsend's Tuckaleechee Caverns is one of the best cave systems in the United States, while the scenic 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road offers a natural and socially historic drive. With camping and outdoor adventures, Townsend is the perfect getaway into Appalachian life, ways of which can be learned by visiting the cultural highlight of the town, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

While some towns are more lively than quaint, these charming towns of Tennessee offer the real taste of Southern culture. The atmospheric downtown areas brim with eclectic shops and authentic eateries, while the endless activities of the great outdoors are accessible right from one's doorstep. 

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