In the eastern part of Tennessee, you’ll find a city with an incredible Urban Wilderness located right in the heart of the city. Located in the foothills of the Great Smoky mountains and on the bank of the Tennessee River, Knoxville is a city which offers countless experiences, of all kinds, to visitors. In addition to communing with nature, take a day at Market Square for a farmer’s market, sample some of Knoxville’s best breweries, or cheer on the University of Tennessee Volunteer football team at a night game and sing “Rocky Top.” There is so much to see and do in Knoxville, but here are my top recommendations.
Where to stay
A large piece of your vacation pie includes lodging. Located in the heart of the World’s Fair park in downtown Knoxville, The Tennessean Hotel is a luxury hotel paying homage to the famous Tennessee river. Each floor of the hotel is named for a different branch of the river, with additional river nods throughout the establishment right down to the customized Tennessee River napkins.
Guests will find a luxurious experience at the Tennessean, featuring 82 rooms, each with a king- sized bed and spacious bathroom. Six of the hotel’s rooms feature not one but two king-sized beds for those really wanting to spread their wings or share some space. If you really want to upgrade your stay and live like a royal, book the Governor’s room. This 1600-square-foot room features a dining room, a generous living space, cozy fireplace, and even a baby grand piano.
Adding to the luxury of the Tennessean Hotel is the Drawing Room Restaurant. Enjoy a seasonally rotating menu of fresh locally sourced produce and Charcuterie provisions. Adding a special touch, the Drawing Room offers a speciality tea service, catering to bridal events and small celebrations.
The Maker City
If you’re looking for handmade crafts, Knoxville is the place to go. In 2016, Etsy named Knoxville as the first “Maker City”. The Tennessean Hotel has embraced Knoxville’s maker scene. Recently opened, the Maker Exchange contains the Tavern restaurant where you can dine overlooking the fairground, the Perk Up coffee shop, and the Curio, featuring work of local makers (a term describing local creators of arts and crafts). The art displayed at the Curio is touted as an “ever-changing shoppable display of Knoxville-made sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, and much more.” It also is a place where local makers can meet up for events and instructional classes. Whether seeking space to work or simply gather with friends, the Maker Exchange fits the bill.
As you enter Knoxville, you find yourself surrounded by nature. From the majestic Smoky Mountains to the Tennessee River, a true adventure is not too far away in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. Just 15 minutes from downtown Knoxville, the Ijams Nature Center offers the Navitat rope course. Then head to the quarry for some kayaking and up to 12 miles of hiking trails. The Nature Center also features educational programs to promote Knoxville’s many outdoor experiences. After spending the day exploring Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, head into town for one of the city’s unique culinary experiences.
Eat & Drink
The culinary scene in Knoxville has been described by Forbes as a “hidden culinary gem.” A few top suggestions include A Dopo Pizza, Yassin’s Falafel House, and Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain for dessert. Begin your night out downtown with an early dinner at A Dopo Sourdough Pizza. A Dopo specializes in sourdough, Neapolitan pizza cooked in a wood-fire oven. They also have a selection of beers on tap (local features of course), as well as a wine list. Another one of Knoxville’s “must visit” restaurants is Yassin’s Falafel House. Not only can you get homemade falafels at Yassin’s, but you can also order delicious homemade hummus. Yassin’s Falafel House topped the list of “Nicest Places in America in 2018” by Reader’s Digest. Finally, swing by the Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain which carries more than prescriptions. Cure your sweet tooth with a Streetcar Sundae, or an old fashion hand-spun chocolate milk shake.
Knoxville’s brewery scene may be relatively young, but it is thriving. If unsure of what brewery would be right for you, Zach Roskop and the Knox Brew Hub hold the answers. Zach’s passion for not just local breweries, but also for the city of Knoxville itself is obvious. In his words, ‘We are the Knoxville’s breweries’ best friend.’ Not only does the Brew Hub have all of the local breweries beers on tap, but they also offer a brewery tour, giving visitors a behind the scenes look at the various breweries. The Knox Brew Hub is also the redemption center for the Ale Trail. So try a beer at one of Knoxville’s breweries, get a stamp, and earn a cool reward.
All around Knoxville you will find breweries that appeal to every pallet. The toughest dilemma is narrowing down your list. Before heading out for your pub crawl, make sure to stop by the Knox Brew Hub and let Zach point your compass in the right direction. For German-style beer, head over to Schulz Brau Brewing Co. for a Hefeweizsen. If mead (or cider) is your mood, then try the Gypsy Circus. Who says you can’t mix beer with art? One brewery offering such a unique experience is the Pretentious Glass Co. where you can order a craft beer before going next door to watch the glass blowing process. Founder Matthew Cummings started Pretentious Glass Co. first as a way to (literally) bring unique beer glasses to patrons. Later in 2018, Matthew started the Pretentious Beer Co., featuring a unique selection of beers, such as the Chug Life, Diamond Grillz, and Wet Hop American V1 and V2. Lovers of both beer and art offer three cheers for the uniquely and colorful glass-blown beer taps found at the bar.
Before winding the day down, visit the University of Tennessee Volunteers and tour the campus. From botanical gardens to taking a tour of Neyland stadium, the campus makes for a great place for a walk, just be sure to be on the lookout for the ten statues of Smoky, the school’s mascot. Trip tip for visiting in the fall . . . make sure to take in a Volunteer home football game!
Cover Photo Brian Maass
Brian Maass enjoys live music, and sharing good times at a local brewery or winery with his wife and friends. If he is not at a concert, then you will find him at a National Park photographing the amazing scenery this world has to offer.