Aerial view of Jonesborough, Tennessee.

6 Of The Most Charming Small Towns To Visit In Tennessee

While well known for its rich cultural heritage (hello Nashville!) and the stunning natural beauty of places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee also offers adventurous travelers no end of attractive small towns to visit. The best of them provide a little bit of everything visitors look for in a destination and boast a compelling blend of natural beauty, historical significance, and cultural richness that reveal plenty about the “Volunteer State” and its citizens. From the storytelling capital of the USA, Jonesborough, to the tranquil Smokies retreat of Townsend, as well as the lakeside allure of Dandridge and the rich forests surrounding Tellico Plains, these six most charming small towns in Tennessee offer no end of fun things to do.


Historic buildings in Rogersville, Tennessee
Historic buildings in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Located in northern Tennessee, Rogersville boasts one of the most charming downtown districts in the South. Part of the National Register of Historic Places, Rogersville Historic District is a delightful area to explore on foot, its layout unchanged since it was laid out around 1786. Notable buildings include the Hawkins County Courthouse, dating from 1836, and Overton Lodge, constructed in 1840. Just outside the downtown core, the Swift Museum is dedicated to the town's rich history and offers interesting insights into local heritage, while the Local Artists Gallery showcases the work of regional creatives.

Events like the Heritage Days celebration, organized by the Rogersville Heritage Association, offer a good excuse to visit. Held over three days each October, this fun festival features craft vendors, live music, and tasty local foods to enjoy. For a truly memorable visit, book a night or two at the historic Hale Springs Inn, built in 1824 and still going strong.

Tellico Plains

Tellico Plains, Tennessee
Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Image credit: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons.

Its location off the I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga makes Tellico Plains an ideal place to visit for a day trip or a stop-over on a longer road trip. The big draw here is the town’s stunning Appalachian wilderness setting, as well as its proximity to Cherokee National Forest, a 650,000-acre site that offers fun hiking, fishing, and camping experiences. Be sure to include a visit to Bald River Falls on your itinerary; this spectacular cascading waterfall is a favorite spot for photographers, especially during the autumn months.

Tellico Plains is also where you can pick up one of Tennessee’s most popular scenic drives, the Cherohala Skyway. Stretching for 43 miles, this National Scenic Byway starts in Tellico Plains and winds its way through the Smoky Mountains to Robbinsville, North Carolina, with plenty of scenic viewpoints along the way. Another must-visit is the Charles Hall Museum with its displays and artifacts relating to Appalachian history.


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

It’s for good reason that Townsend is known as "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies." Located mid-way between Gatlinburg and Maryville, this charming Appalachian community is a lot less commercial than its neighbors, making it an ideal base from which to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park… without the crowds. A highlight of a visit is the Tuckaleechee Caverns with its impressive underground waterfall (guided tours are available). Hiking is popular here, too, with numerous routes accessible from the town, along with bike and horse riding trails.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is another must-visit. Highlights here include exhibits about the railways and logging that opened the region up to settlement, including a restored locomotive and logging caboose.


Aerial view of Jonesborough, Tennessee.
Aerial view of Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Tucked away in the north of Tennessee, close to the state border with Virginia, Jonesborough’s location close to the junction of the I-81 and I-26 highways means this charming town is easy to get to. Founded in 1779 before Tennessee was even a state (that event occurred 25 years later), Jonesborough's rich heritage is visible in its well-preserved architecture. A highlight is Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum, housed in the town's oldest commercial building and providing a fascinating glimpse into life in the late 1700s through artifacts and exhibitions.

Jonesborough is also celebrated as the "Storytelling Capital of the World" as it’s home to the International Storytelling Center. In addition to hosting the annual National Storytelling Festival, which draws visitors and storytellers from across the globe, this first-rate cultural facility also offers year-round programs to preserve and advance the art of storytelling.


Gay Street in downtown Dandridge, Tennessee.
Gay Street in downtown Dandridge, Tennessee. Image credit: AppalachianCentrist via Wikimedia Commons.

Dandridge is located just 30 miles east of Knoxville on the shores of Douglas Lake. Tennessee's second oldest town (Jonesborough’s the oldest) was founded in 1783 and is notable as the only town in the USA named after George Washington’s wife, Martha Dandridge Washington. One of the prettiest and best-preserved main streets in the South, it’s great to explore on foot, especially if you include landmarks like the Jefferson County Courthouse, an attractive building constructed in 1845, on your walking tour.

The man-made Douglas Lake is another big draw and is popular for boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as for enjoying a lakeside picnic or family outing. A quirky attraction that’s fun to check out, Bush's Visitor Center features exhibits relating to North America’s best-selling baked beans.

Leipers Fork

A scene from Leiper's Fork, Tennessee
A scene from Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. Image credit: 4kclips -

Although more a village than a town -its population is only about 600 people - Leiper's Fork is well worth including on any Tennessee travel itinerary. Just 26 miles southwest of downtown Nashville, this often-overlooked community offers a memorable slice of authentic Southern life. Highlights include its quaint collection of unique shops and galleries, including the Leiper’s Creek Gallery with its displays of work by local artists. Although a short drive outside the village, Leiper's Fork Distillery offers a deep dive into the craft of Tennessee whiskey making with guided tours, sampling, and shopping.

Other fun things to do in Leipers Fork include taking in a show, a movie, or even a c concert at the famous Lawnchair Theater or using the village as a springboard to explore the scenic beauty of Middle Tennessee.

The Final Word

These six Tennessee small towns encapsulate the very essence of the Volunteer State. From the historic streets of Jonesborough to the lovely scenery around Townsend and from the village-like appeal of Leiper’s Fork to the lakeside fun to be had in Dandridge, each of these great places to visit in Tennessee offers a unique slice of Southern hospitality. Be inspired by this list of six of the most charming small towns to visit in Tennessee.

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