Chattanooga, TN, fittingly nicknamed as the “Scenic City”, is a sophisticated urban oasis wonderfully surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Once named by the Department of health as America’s most polluted city, Chattanooga has over the past few decades experienced an urban resurgence, making sustainability a top priority as well as giving the hub a much-needed diversity boost, without having to lose it small-town charm. And though it isn’t as famous as New York, Las Vegas or LA, it is still a fascinating city worth visiting and exploring.
Planning on visiting this underrated American tourist destination? Here are some good pieces of information about the city as well as a comprehensive list of the best things to do in Chattanooga.
By the way, in Chattanooga, check out these multi-purpose and affordable bags that we've handpicked for all travelers.
Chattanooga is Tennessee’s fourth largest city, and the seat of Hamilton County. It is located in Southeast Tennessee near Georgia’s border and on the Tennessee River. The city is known internationally for Glenn Miller’s 1941 hit song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” – the first gold record in the world.
Chattanooga is also known primarily as a historic city, having served as a battlefield during the Civil war and the southern railway travel’s grand central station in the 1800s and 1900s. The city, today, is a pioneer of a lot of things, including the first city in America to have its own typeface, and one of the first US cities to offer 2 gigabits-per-second internet service to its citizens.
The city, of course, has a diverse collection to offer to all types of travelers. History buffs may visit the atmospheric Chattanooga National Cemetery, adventurists can explore the crannies and nooks within Lookout Mountain, foodies may eat their way through the mouthwatering North Shore district, and engineers can gaze at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s centuries-old restored trains. You can also take a stroll along its river-walk, and enjoy a lovely sunset atop the longest pedestrian bridge in the world – the Walnut Street Bridge.
1. Visit the Tennessee Aquarium
A visit to the Tennessee Aquarium –the city’s undisputed top attraction– is an absolute must for anyone visiting Chattanooga, TN. Known as one of the world’s largest freshwater aquariums, this aquatic museum will take you to a one-of-a-kind journey to the ecosystem in Tennessee River through its “River Journey” exhibit. Along the way, you’ll get to see and meet a wide array of animals, including otters, snakes, eels, frogs, ducks, chirping birds, alligators and a whole lot more. After the tour, you can make your way to the “Ocean Journey” exhibit, where colorful reef fish, sharks, jellyfish and penguins live. In addition, the exhibit has a pool full of stingrays, which can you and other visitors are allowed to touch.
2.Enjoy the magnificent overlooking views at Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain, a picturesque mountain ridge nestled along Tennessee, will wow you with its awe-inspiring natural beauty and magnificent panoramic vistas of the Chattanooga Valley. What’s more, it is home to a number of interesting Chattanooga TN attractions, including the Ruby Falls and Rock City.
3. Take a leisurely stroll along Walnut Street Bridge
Looking for free things to do in Chattanooga, Tennessee? The Walnut Street Bridge – the world’s longest pedestrian bridge – is a favorite weekend destination among visitors and locals alike. Not only is it a great place to relax and walk around, but it also lets you enjoy the sunset as well as get an amazing view of the river and city skyline. Furthermore, the bridge hosts a range of events, including the Riverbend country music festival and Wine over Water wine tasting.
4. Explore the Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain Caverns are a wondrous destination for the adventurous and curious. Whether you’re taking a deeper cave expedition or walking, this mystical cave system has more than 5 miles of mapped and explored passageways, which will give you an extraordinary underground adventure.
5. Swing by Creative Discovery Museum
Traveling with a bunch of kids? Then, make sure to include a visit to the Creative Discovery Museum to your list of things to do in Chattanooga, TN. Voted by Child Magazine as one of the country’s top 20 children’s museums, Creative Discovery Museum is indeed a great place for kids to innovate, learn, create and explore through play. There are plenty of awesome interactive exhibits in this treasury, enough to keep even the naughtiest and most hyperactive children entertained, such as the “Curious George”, and “Clifford, the Big Red Dog”.
6. Spend an afternoon at Coolidge Park
Coolidge Park is a beloved recreation area with pleasant vistas of the Tennessee River and tons of open spaces, wherein the Navy and Marine Reserve Center once resided. Billed as the city’s most popular park, this fabulous esplanade also features an interactive play fountain, a pavilion and a beautifully-restored vintage carousel. And by the way, did we mention that it’s a nice venue for a picnic lunch or a game of Frisbee?
7. Be mesmerized by the America’s largest underground waterfall
No list of the best things to do in Chattanooga is complete without the inclusion of Ruby Falls. After all, it is a thunderous 145-foot underground waterfall that has been drawing throngs of visitors every day since 1929. Located 1,120 feet below the mountain’s surface, Ruby Falls is also the largest underground waterfall and the deepest commercial cave in America, making it a must-see spectacle for everyone visiting Chattanooga, TN.
Visitors of this spectacular wonder have to take an elevator ride down to the magnificent waterfalls. Aside from the irresistible sights and ethereal experience, they can also learn more about the many different rock formations in the area nestled along the path to Ruby. There are quite a few seasonal tours and holiday events here as well, such as the Lantern Tour, in which the guests are guided through the caverns of the mountain only by lantern.
8. An interesting trip through time at the Tennessee Valley Railroad
For the ultimate throwback adventure in Chattanooga, make your way to Tennessee Valley Railroad, and take the “Missionary Ridge Local” tour. With this tour or service, you get to enjoy a train ride on the track through an old Civil War Tunnel, and learn more about the history of their trains.
9. Trek Rock City
Rock City is a 4,100-foot trail that offers a dazzling variety of attractions to a lot of different kinds of travelers. Here, outdoor junkies will find their bliss weaving through the towering boulders located at Needle’s Eye as well as Fat Man’s Squeeze. Kids, meanwhile, will feel like adventurists crossing the 180-foot long Suspension Bridge, and will likely enjoy the figurines that depict the classic children’s stories and fairy tales in Mother Goose’s Village and Fairyland Caverns.
In addition, there’s a vantage point within the path that on a clear day will give you a dramatic view of the Chattanooga Valley and the seven states – Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. Sounds like a great family destination, right?
10. Take a balloon ride
Want to fly like a bird? Get an unforgettable bird’s eye view of Tennessee River Valley by taking a balloon ride in Chattanooga.
11. Drop by Chattanooga Zoo
It’s a relatively small zoo that wins great and big reviews from its visitors. Yes, it is not as grand and famous as the San Diego Zoo, and it can even be toured in just an hour, but it is for me a place certainly worth visiting in the city. It’s clean, relaxing, and the animals there seem pretty happy, thanks to their large living areas. Plus, it has a host of charming animals, including peacocks, leopards, spider monkeys, red monkeys, Komodo dragons and cougars.
12. Experience the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
The most practical way to reach Lookout Mountain is through a car, but the most memorable experience is, without a doubt, the Incline Railway. Aptly labeled as “America’s Most Amazing Mile”, this celebrated railway will take you to the mountain’s steepest part on a 70-percent grade track, making this ride one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. Below, you may explore the charming Saint Elmo’s district, and up top you will be treated to incredible vistas from Lookout Mountain’s highest point.
13. Take the Southern Belle River Boat Cruise
Hop on the Southern Belle River Boat, the Pride of the South, and see the city of Chattanooga from a unique and different perspective.
14. Indulge on a soothing weekend getaway at Fall Creek Falls
Want to get away from your buzzing concrete jungle? Fall Creek Falls, with its virgin hardwood forests, dense rhododendron tunnels, steep gorges and towering waterfalls, is truly a bewitching playground for outdoor aficionados. Known as one Tennessee’s most amazing state parks, Fall Creek Falls also boast a ton of cozy cottages and cabins that will give you a relaxing break away from your hustle bustle city life.
15. Relax at Tennessee Riverpark
The Tennessee Riverpark, one of the most beloved parks in Chattanooga, offers lovely landscaped grounds and well-lit trail to those who like to do some strolling and sightseeing. Likewise, it offers endless opportunities for fun-filled activities, and is a nice venue to enjoy great views of the river. For those who are into fishing, the park has six fishing piers, and a boat ramp where you can dip your canoe into the water or launch your boat.
16. Pay your respects to the heroes of war
Pay homage to the brave souls who fought in the Civil War by visiting Chattanooga National Cemetery. Inscribed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, Chattanooga National Cemetery has even, straight rows of tombstones that inspire awe and sadness. Sere and well-maintained, the cemetery is truly an interesting piece of our nation’s history.
17. Take a walk around the Bluff View Art District
Feeling a bit tired after traversing Chattanooga’s many natural wonders? We strongly suggest that you take a relaxing stroll through the bewitching Bluff View Art District. Perched on stone cliffs overlooking downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, this district evokes a sophisticated character, thanks to its eye-catching public art works lush vines hugging buildings. As an added plus, the area has some quaint coffee shops and restaurants with outdoor seating and excellent views overlooking the river.
18. Tour the world-class art institutions of Bluff View Art District
For art connoisseurs, don’t forget to visit the three elaborate art institutions of Bluff View Art District – the Hunter Museum of American Art, The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts and The River gallery.
The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts houses a collection of Victorian antiques and art glass, while the River Gallery enthralls its guests with it’s a marvelous visual art, showcasing a string of mediums from ceramics and paintings and even jewelry from national and local artists. The River Gallery likewise has a striking culture garden, which is listed currently in the Archives of American Gardens of the Smithsonian.
Hunter Museum of American Art will awestruck art lovers with its delicate architectural designs as well as exquisite pieces made by legendary art icons like Andy Warhol and Monet. Moreover, it offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the river, making this museum every more captivating.
19. Visit Chattanooga Choo Choo
On the surface, the Chattanooga Choo Choo may look like just an ordinary hotel, but inside the brick walks of this building is a history so rich that it has helped put the city on the map. Listed as one of the Historic Hotels of America, this property is home to the first ever Chattanooga Choo Choo Train, dating back to 1880. It still has the original station tracks, as well as the sleeper cars that have been wonderfully transformed into hotel accommodations.
In addition, the property boasts gardens, shops and a trolley, which you can ride to listen to an audio narrative of the history of the building.
20. Swing by Coker Tire Museum
Spend an hour or two at the Coker Tire Museum, and feast your eyes on an extensive collection of beautifully restored vintage cars and motorcycles. While Coker Tire Museum is not as celebrated as the other museums in the city, it is, as far as I’m concerned, a must-see treasure trove when visiting Chattanooga, TN.
21. Go on a Chattanooga Ghost tour
Do you believe in ghosts? You might not see actual ghosts in this tour, but nevertheless it is a great way to see the city, as well as learn more about its long history. Not to mention, the ghost tour will feature savvy guides who will introduce you to some of the city’s hidden treasures and unsung sights.
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