Established in 1796 after becoming the country’s 16th state, Tennessee exemplifies everything that’s good about the Southern United States. Known as “The Volunteer State” for its role in providing troops to fight the British in 1812, Tennessee is renowned for its warm hospitality, particularly in its many friendly small towns.
In fact, visitors will find that the most welcoming towns in Tennessee are often those deeply connected to the state’s rich culture and history. These towns will not only offer you a warm welcome, they’ll also provide you with no end of fun things to do and points of interest to visit. Read through this list for ideas and inspiration as you plan your Tennessee travel itinerary.
Where better to begin your exploration of the most welcoming towns in Tennessee than in the hometown of one of the USA’s biggest stars: Dolly Parton. The famed country and western singer spent her childhood in Sevierville, a charming Appalachian Mountain town of 18,662 souls that was founded in 1901 just 30 30-minute drive from Knoxville. This friendly town is in fact so proud of the connection to Parton that it boasts a life-size statue (plus guitar) of the star outside the Sevier County Courthouse.
Sevierville also serves as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty stretching down into North Carolina that attracts over 14 million visitors each year.
Franklin is undoubtedly one of the prettiest small towns in Tennessee and simply exudes that special Southern charm. Located just a short drive south of Nashville, Franklin’s beautifully preserved downtown is great to explore on foot. A fun self-guided walking tour of Franklin will take you along historic streets lined with elegant Victorian architecture, including stately homes, boutique shops, and intimate restaurants owned by locals always willing to share tips and tactics about great places to visit in Franklin.
Two of the best Franklin attractions are Carter House and Carnton, both central to the 1864 Civil War battle that took place here. These well-preserved sites offer poignant insights into one of the bloodiest hours in the conflict, with fascinating guided tours bringing history to life.
Gatlinburg is another friendly tourist town in Tennessee that owes much to its Great Smoky Mountains location. This vibrant holiday town is not only where you’ll find some of the state’s best natural attractions, but also numerous family-friendly, man-made landmarks worth exploring. These include the 407-foot-tall Space Needle with its stunning 360-degree views of the town and the surrounding mountains; the Gatlinburg SkyLift, a scenic chairlift ride up Crockett Mountain; and the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.
The town’s friendly local shop and restaurant owners also add to Gatlinburg’s appeal. Visit downtown Gatlinburg and you’ll enjoy learning more about the many artisanal and craft shops, galleries, and boutiques that have sprung up to satisfy the countless visitors here to explore the Smoky Mountains.
Jonesborough is Tennessee’s oldest town and is steeped in a history that dates back to 1779. The town’s cultural centerpiece is the excellent International Storytelling Center, host of the National Storytelling Festival held each October. This family-friendly event sees Jonesborough transformed into a hub of fun activities related to oral storytelling, attracting visitors (and storytellers) from across the globe.
Downtown Jonesborough is fun and safe to explore on foot and boasts one of the state’s prettiest historic districts. Fun tours are provided by the friendly, informative guides of the town’s Heritage Alliance and take in attractions such as the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum and Archives, and the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum, which showcases the town’s 19th-century history.
Pigeon Forge is another Tennessee small town with a strong connection to the “Queen of Country.” It’s here in this Smoky Mountains community that Dolly Parton set up her family-friendly Dollywood theme park, a sprawling attraction featuring rides, live music, and demonstrations of age-old Appalachian arts and crafts.
The Island in Pigeon Forge is another top attraction and features shops, dining options, and entertainment. A highlight here is the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains from its gondolas. You can also enjoy even more Dolly Parton entertainment at her popular Stampede Dinner Attraction, a four-course feast suitable for all ages that features horse riding stunts and musical productions.
With only 650 residents, it’s little wonder that Leiper's Fork is considered one of the friendliest places in Tennessee. This small village is worlds apart from neighboring Nashville, less than 30 miles to the north. The pace of life is altogether slower in this bucolic rural setting, making Leiper's Fork a tranquil retreat for day-trippers seeking a snapshot of country living.
Pretty much the whole village is included on the National Register of Historic Places, with quaint old village homes, shops, and old farm buildings preserved and waiting to be explored. Local artists and shop owners are always willing to chat about sightseeing opportunities and fun things to do in Leiper’s Fork, including its popular Lawnchair Theatre where both local talent and visiting musicians regularly perform.
Although one of the largest communities on this list of welcoming Tennessee towns, Cookeville has managed to maintain much of that classic “Old South” charm and personality that so appeals to visitors. Located 80 miles due east of Nashville, Cookeville has become a hub for those wanting to explore nearby Burgess Falls State Park, which features a stunning 130-foot waterfall cascading into a limestone gorge, and Cummins Falls State Park, home to Tennessee's eighth-largest waterfall by volume.
Locals and tourists alike flock to Cookeville's historic WestSide district, a fun-to-explore-on-foot destination that’s filled with boutique shops, restaurants, and cultural venues. Highlights here include the Cookeville Depot Museum, a restored train depot, and the Cookeville History Museum; both offer a look into local history and the townsfolk who’ve lived here down the decades.
The Final Word
From Dolly Parton's vibrant hometown of Sevierville to the village-like ambience of Leiper's Fork, the best small towns in Tennessee are undeniably welcoming to visitors. Whether you’re passing through and in need of a pit stop, are planning a fun day trip, or are looking for somewhere safe to spend a family vacation, our list of the most welcoming towns in Tennessee will inspire you to hit the road and explore The Volunteer State for yourself.