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Hello, fellow adventurers! As a born and raised Tennessean and a mom to four energetic boys, I’ve spent my life exploring the rolling hills, scenic drives, and vibrant cities of our beautiful state. Today I’m sharing the best places to visit in Tennessee for families, with places offering a rich blend of history, culture, outdoor activities, and good old-fashioned fun.
From the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the bustling streets of downtown Nashville, there’s something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Growing up near Nashville, the heart of Music City, I was immersed in the rhythm of country music from a young age. The Grand Ole Opry was my playground (I actually walked across its stage for my high school graduation!), and the Country Music Hall of Fame was my classroom (and I’ve been there with the kiddos on a field trip!).
Now, as a mom, I’ve had the joy of sharing these iconic places with my own children, along with countless other treasures scattered across the state.
Whether you’re a nature lover eager to explore the great outdoors, a history buff fascinated by Civil War sites, or a music lover drawn to the birthplace of country music, Tennessee has it all. And let’s not forget about the kids! With amusement parks, zoos, and interactive exhibits galore, Tennessee is the perfect place for a family vacation.
So buckle up, as I take you on a journey through the best places to visit in Tennessee for families. Let’s create some unforgettable memories together!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
As a mom who loves the great outdoors, one of my favorite places to take my family is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the nation. Nestled on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, this park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and for a good reason. Its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and miles of trails make it a perfect place for families to explore.
Exploring the Appalachian Trail
One of the best things about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Appalachian Trail. This famous trail stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, with a significant portion passing through the park. It’s a great way to immerse yourself and your family in the beauty of the park. Whether you’re up for a short hike or a multi-day adventure, the Appalachian Trail offers something for everyone.
The park is a haven for nature lovers. It’s home to a diverse range of wildlife, including black bears and white-tailed deer. My boys love trying to spot these creatures from a safe distance. Remember, though, these are wild animals, so it’s important to respect their space and observe them from afar.
Visiting Cades Cove
Cades Cove is a must-visit spot in the park. This broad, verdant valley is surrounded by mountains and is rich in history. You can explore old homesteads, churches, and a working mill. It’s like stepping back in time.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is truly one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families. It’s a place where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery, learn about history, and create lasting memories with your loved ones. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a city dweller looking for a taste of the great outdoors, this park has something for you.
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Just a stone’s throw away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find the charming towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. These small towns are big on attractions, making them some of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families. From thrilling amusement parks to fascinating museums, there’s something for kids of all ages.
Dollywood Theme Park
One of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge is Dollywood, an amusement park owned by the queen of country music herself, Dolly Parton. This park is a perfect place for the whole family to enjoy a day of fun and excitement.
Amusement Park Rides
Dollywood is home to a variety of thrilling rides that cater to all ages. For the adrenaline junkies, there are roller coasters that will have you screaming with delight. For the little ones, there are gentler rides that are just as fun.
Water Park Fun
If you’re visiting during the summer, don’t miss Dollywood’s Splash Country. This water park is filled with water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river. It’s a great way to cool off and have fun at the same time.
Dollywood isn’t just about rides. It’s also a place where you can experience live music performances. From country music to bluegrass, there’s always something to tap your feet to.
Other Attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
Aside from Dollywood, there are plenty of other attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg that families will love.
The Titanic Museum is a unique attraction that takes you back in time to the ill-fated voyage of the RMS Titanic. With interactive exhibits and real artifacts, it’s a fascinating and educational experience for history buffs and kids alike.
In Gatlinburg, you’ll find Ripley’s Aquarium, a world-class aquarium that’s home to thousands of sea creatures. From sharks to penguins, there’s so much to see and learn.
SkyLift Park and the SkyBridge
Ride a scenic chairlift high above Gatlinburg to SkyLift Park, where you can walk the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.
You can drive up or take the Aerial Tram up to Ober Gatlinburg, where you will find tons of activities for families like skiing and snowtubing in winter, the winderness encounter, a scenic chairlift, indoor ice skating, gift shop and more. It’s one of the most popular places for winter fun in the Smokies!
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have plenty to offer. There are miles of trails for horseback riding, and the surrounding areas are perfect for hiking and exploring.
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are more than just gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They’re destinations in their own right, offering a mix of fun, adventure, and learning experiences that make them some of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families.
Nashville – The Music City
As a mom who grew up near Nashville and now raising my own family just outside this vibrant city, I can confidently say that Nashville is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families. Known as the Music City, Nashville is a city that dances to the beat of its own drum. It’s a place where music lovers, history buffs, and fun-seeking families converge.
The Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame
Growing up, the Grand Ole Opry was my playground, and I was priveledged to walk across the famous stage for my high school graduation. The County Music Hall of Fame is a popular field trip spot I’ve gone on with our band students. These iconic places are a must-visit for any family coming to Nashville.
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert that has played a significant role in shaping the country music genre. It’s a place where legends like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton have performed. Attending a show here is not just about enjoying the music; it’s about experiencing a piece of history.
Country Music Hall of Fame
The Country Music Hall of Fame is another gem in the heart of Nashville. It’s an interactive museum that offers a deep dive into the history of country music. With exhibits that cater to kids of all ages, it’s a fun and educational experience for the entire family.
Adventure Science Center and Nashville Zoo
While Nashville is famous for its music, it also offers a variety of other attractions that families will love.
Adventure Science Center
The Adventure Science Center is a place where learning and fun go hand in hand. It’s filled with interactive exhibits that make science exciting and accessible for kids. Whether your children are interested in space, biology, or physics, they’ll find something to pique their curiosity here. There are also amazing views of downtown Nashville and the Cumberland River from the top of the observatory.
The Nashville Zoo is another family favorite. From kangaroos to flamingos, your kids will love seeing all the different animals. The zoo also offers a variety of activities, including a carousel, a jungle gym, and a train ride.
Exploring Downtown Nashville
Downtown Nashville is a bustling area filled with shops, restaurants, and live music venues. A stroll down Broadway will lead you to some of the city’s most popular spots. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some live music, as Nashville is known for its vibrant music scene. It’s also full of amazing historic sites like Fort Nashboro.
Kids will also love the Frist Art Museum where they can see amazing art and do hands-on activities.
Nashville is more than just a city; it’s a hub of culture, history, and fun. Whether you’re a music lover, a foodie, or just looking for a great place to spend time with your family, Nashville has something for you. It’s a city that welcomes you with open arms and leaves you with unforgettable memories.
Located along the beautiful Tennessee River, Chattanooga is another family-friendly destination that’s full of adventure and history. From breathtaking natural wonders to fascinating museums, Chattanooga offers a variety of attractions that make it one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families.
Tennessee Aquarium and Ruby Falls
Two of the most popular attractions in Chattanooga are the Tennessee Aquarium and Ruby Falls. Both offer unique experiences that are sure to captivate the entire family.
The Tennessee Aquarium is a world-class facility that houses a diverse collection of aquatic life. From river otters to penguins and sharks, there’s so much to see. The aquarium is also home to a butterfly garden and a lemur forest, making it a hit with kids of all ages.
Ruby Falls is a breathtaking natural wonder located within Lookout Mountain. This underground waterfall is a sight to behold. The journey to the falls is just as exciting, as you’ll pass through a series of caves filled with fascinating rock formations.
Chattanooga Choo Choo and Lookout Mountain
Chattanooga also offers attractions that cater to history buffs and nature lovers.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is a historic hotel that was once a train station. It’s a great place to learn about the city’s railroad history. The complex also features restaurants, shops, and live music, making it a fun place to visit.
Lookout Mountain offers some of the most stunning views in the state. You can take a scenic drive to the top, or for the more adventurous, there’s a hiking trail. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding areas.
Chattanooga is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The city offers a variety of outdoor activities, including rock climbing, boat rides on the Tennessee River, and hiking trails. It’s a great way for families to enjoy the great outdoors while creating lasting memories.
Make sure to visit Rock City, where you can see 7 states on a clear day!
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
For train enthusiasts, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offers a unique experience. You can take a ride on a vintage train and learn about the history of railroads in the region.
Chattanooga is a city that offers a perfect blend of nature, history, and fun. Whether you’re exploring the depths of Ruby Falls, marveling at the aquatic life at the Tennessee Aquarium, or enjoying the great outdoors, Chattanooga is a destination that’s sure to please the entire family.
Knoxville, nestled in the rolling hills of East Tennessee, is a city that’s rich in history and culture. It’s a place where nature lovers, history buffs, and fun-seeking families converge. From its vibrant downtown to its beautiful parks, Knoxville offers a variety of attractions that make it one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families.
The Knoxville Zoo is a must-visit for any family coming to Knoxville. It’s home to a diverse range of animals, from red pandas to African elephants. The zoo offers a variety of interactive exhibits and activities that are both fun and educational. Kids will love the Clayton Family Kids Cove, a large play area where they can interact with farm animals. The zoo also offers a variety of special events throughout the year, making each visit a unique experience.
Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, Market Square is a vibrant area filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon with the family. You can browse the local shops, enjoy a meal at one of the many family-friendly restaurants, or simply relax and enjoy the lively atmosphere. The square also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including concerts, festivals, and a weekly farmers’ market.
Ijams Nature Center
For families who love the great outdoors, the Ijams Nature Center is a must-visit. Located just a short drive from downtown Knoxville, the nature center offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The center also offers a variety of educational programs and events, making it a great place for kids to learn about nature and conservation.
Knoxville Museum of Art
The Knoxville Museum of Art is another great place for families. The museum offers a variety of exhibits that cater to all ages, from contemporary art to interactive exhibits for kids. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs and workshops, making it a great place for kids to explore their creativity.
Knoxville is a city that offers a perfect blend of urban amenities and natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring the Knoxville Zoo, enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of Market Square, or immersing yourself in nature at the Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville is a destination that’s sure to please the entire family.
As we journey to West Tennessee, we arrive in Memphis, a city that’s rich in history and culture. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, Memphis is a city that’s played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and the world of music. From the home of Elvis Presley to the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis offers a wealth of experiences that make it one of the best family vacation spots in Tennessee.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Sun Studio
Memphis is synonymous with Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without exploring the places that played a significant role in his life and career.
Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, is a must-visit attraction in Memphis. This beautiful place offers a glimpse into the life of the King. You can tour the mansion, explore the car museum, and even pay your respects at Elvis’s gravesite.
Known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Sun Studio is where Elvis, along with other music legends like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded their first songs. A tour of this historic site is like stepping back in time.
National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, is a powerful and moving experience. The museum offers a comprehensive overview of the American civil rights movement and is an educational experience for both adults and children.
Exploring Downtown Memphis and Beale Street
Downtown Memphis is a bustling area filled with historical sites, shops, restaurants, and music venues. One of the highlights is Beale Street, a street known for its blues music. It’s a great place to enjoy live music and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
Other Attractions in Memphis
Memphis also offers a variety of other attractions that cater to different interests.
Memphis Zoo and Shelby Farms Park
For families looking for fun things to do, the Memphis Zoo and Shelby Farms Park offer a variety of activities. From seeing pandas at the zoo to paddleboarding on the lake at Shelby Farms, there’s something for everyone.
Memphis is a city that’s rich in history and culture. Whether you’re a music lover, a history buff, or just looking for a fun family vacation, Memphis has something to offer. It’s a city that welcomes you with its southern charm and leaves you with unforgettable memories.
Other Noteworthy Places
These are worth a spot on our best places to visit in Tennessee for families list, even though they aren’t big cities.
Johnson City, nestled in the heart of East Tennessee, is a small town with a rich history and a vibrant community. It’s the perfect place for families who love outdoor activities. The city is home to several parks and nature centers, offering miles of trails for hiking and biking. The Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site is a must-visit for history buffs, where you can learn about Tennessee’s role in the Civil War. For nature lovers, the Winged Deer Park offers beautiful scenery and a variety of recreational activities, including disc golf, hiking, and boating.
The Hands-On! Discovery Center is another great thing about Johnson City. It’s an all-ages science center that offers fun, interactive exhibits and programs. Kids of all ages will love exploring the center’s various exhibits, which cover topics from paleontology to astronomy. The center also hosts special events and programs throughout the year, making it one of the best family vacation spots in Tennessee.
Oak Ridge, also known as the “Secret City,” is located in East Tennessee. It’s best known for its role in the Manhattan Project during World War II. The American Museum of Science and Energy is a must-visit for families. It offers interactive exhibits and activities that delve into the history of nuclear energy and Oak Ridge’s role in the Manhattan Project.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the city is surrounded by beautiful natural areas, including the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement and Haw Ridge Park. These areas offer miles of trails for hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing. The city also hosts the annual Secret City Festival, which features live music, historical displays, and activities for the whole family.
Cherokee National Forest
The Cherokee National Forest, located in East Tennessee, is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s the perfect place for families who enjoy camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer and black bears. It also offers miles of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes.
One of the best things about the Cherokee National Forest is its beautiful scenery. The forest is home to several scenic drives, including the Cherohala Skyway and the Ocoee Scenic Byway. These drives offer stunning views of the forest’s rolling hills and lush valleys. The forest also offers a variety of recreational activities, including fishing, horseback riding, and boating.
The Cumberland Plateau, located in Middle Tennessee, is known for its unique geological features and diverse ecosystems. It’s a great place for families who enjoy outdoor activities and nature exploration. The plateau offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, rock climbing, and camping.
One of the highlights of the Cumberland Plateau is the Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is home to one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. The park offers a variety of activities for families, including hiking, swimming, and fishing. The park also offers a variety of accommodations, including campsites and cabins, making it a perfect place for a family vacation.
Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic drive that stretches from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi. It’s a great way to explore the beautiful scenery and rich history of the region. The parkway offers a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
One of the best things about the Natchez Trace Parkway is its historical sites. The parkway follows the route of the old Natchez Trace, a historic trail used by Native Americans, European settlers, and traders. Along the way, you can visit a variety of historical sites, including the Meriwether Lewis Monument and the Old Trace Drive. The parkway also offers a variety of picnic areas and campgrounds, making it a great place for a family road trip.
Bristol, located in East Tennessee, is known as the birthplace of country music. It’s a great place for music lovers and history buffs. The city is home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which explores the history of country music and its impact on American culture. The museum offers a variety of interactive exhibits and activities for kids of all ages.
Bristol also hosts the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, a music festival that celebrates the city’s musical heritage. The festival features live performances by a variety of artists, from local musicians to internationally renowned acts. The city also offers a variety of other family-friendly activities, including the Steele Creek Park, which offers hiking, boating, and a nature center.
Discovery Park of America
The Discovery Park of America in Union City is a family-friendly museum that offers a variety of interactive exhibits and activities. The center’s exhibits cover a variety of topics, from science and technology to art and culture. Kids of all ages will love exploring the center’s various exhibits, which include a dinosaur dig, a water play area, and a space exploration exhibit.
The Discovery Park also offers a variety of educational programs and events throughout the year. These include science workshops, art classes, and special events like the annual Discovery Day. With its fun, hands-on exhibits and educational programs, the Discovery Park is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families.
Cumberland Cavern, located in McMinnville, is one of the most extensive show caves in the United States. It’s a great place for families who enjoy adventure and exploration. The cavern offers a variety of tours, from easy walking tours to challenging adventure tours.
One of the highlights of Cumberland Cavern is its spectacular formations. The cavern is home to a variety of unique geological features, including stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone. The cavern also hosts special events throughout the year, including the monthly Bluegrass Underground concert series.
Murfree Springs Discovery Center
The Murfree Springs Discovery Center, located in Murfreesboro, is a family-friendly museum that offers a variety of interactive exhibits and activities. The center’s exhibits cover a variety of topics, from science and technology to art and culture. Kids of all ages will love exploring the center’s various exhibits, which include a wetlands zoo, a water play area, and a space exploration exhibit.
The Discovery Center also offers a variety of educational programs and events throughout the year. These include science workshops, art classes, and special events like the annual Discovery Day. With its fun, hands-on exhibits and educational programs, the Discovery Center is one of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families.
We’ve been here several times as a family and on field trips!
Lost Sea Adventure
The Lost Sea Adventure, located in Sweetwater, is an exciting underground adventure for the whole family. The adventure begins with a guided tour of the caverns, where you can learn about the cavern’s history and geology. The highlight of the tour is a boat ride on the Lost Sea, which is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as America’s largest underground lake.
The Lost Sea Adventure also offers a variety of other activities, including gem mining and a nature trail. The cavern is also home to a variety of unique wildlife, including a rare species of blind cave fish. With its unique attractions and fun activities, the Lost Sea Adventure is a great place for a family outing.
Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Visit in Tennessee for Families
Tennessee, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty, truly offers something for everyone. From the majestic peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the lively streets of Nashville and Memphis, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, a music enthusiast, or just looking for a fun-filled family vacation, Tennessee is a destination that’s sure to exceed your expectations.
Each city and region in our beautiful state offers its unique charm and attractions. The scenic drives, the historical sites, the music-filled streets, the adventurous outdoor activities, and the warm Southern hospitality make Tennessee a perfect place for a family vacation.
As a mom who has lived in Tennessee most of her life and traveled extensively throughout the state with my family, I can attest to the wealth of experiences that await you here. I hope this guide has given you a glimpse of what Tennessee has to offer and has inspired you to start planning your family trip.
Remember, this is just a taste of the best places to visit in Tennessee for families. There’s so much more to explore and discover. So, pack your bags, load up the car, and set off on a journey that’s sure to create lasting memories for your entire family.
For more detailed information on Tennessee travel, including tips, guides, and recommendations, be sure to explore the rest of our site. We’re here to help you make the most of your Tennessee adventure.