Updated: Sep 5
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a commission if a purchase is made*
Chattanooga, Tennessee is best known for its nature and scenery, whether you are walking riverside or driving the 15 minutes to Rock City. Due to its proximity to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia, it's possible you've passed by the exit without stopping. Chattanooga is a lively city with many great attractions, so you should definitely pump the brakes next time you're nearby.
The Tennessee River
There are many options when deciding how to best take in the Tennessee River. You could simply walk aside it or cross the massive Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. Another choice is visiting the 13-acres of Coolidge Park. This green space houses an 100-year-old carousel and a play fountain for children. Arguably the best option is a riverboat cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat. The sunset option serves popcorn and soda while other tours include full buffets, a bar, and live music on the top deck.
On a clear day, you can see seven states from Rock City. It's about 15 minutes outside the city, though it's commonly visited in the same trip. Opening to tourists in 1932, the attraction offers remarkable views from Lookout Mountain. You'll start by going through the scenic Rock City Gardens, which takes you on a bridge straight to Lover's Leap.
After enjoying Lover's Leap and circling around to see the waterfall, you'll head into Fairyland Caverns. The caverns have sculpted scenes of popular fairy tales, which are present due to Frieda Carter, the wife of Rock City's founder Garnet Carter. She had a great love for European folklore. Another thing you'll see along the way? Gnomes. Rock City is home to 78 garden gnomes for you to find. At the end of the caverns, you'll trek through Mother Goose Village to see scenes from nursery rhymes, such as the "Three Little Pigs" and "Humpty Dumpty."
Ruby Falls is an 145-foot waterfall underneath Lookout Mountain. It was discovered by Leo Lambert, who purchased the land above it and ordered his team to build an elevator downward. When a gush of air was felt, the team, including Lambert, started crawling through a small opening before eventually finding the waterfall. He named it after his wife, who was, obviously, named Ruby.
Visitors descend in an elevator before walking through twisting caves with beautiful rock formations until finally reaching the treasure at the end. The waterfall is located 1,120 feet underground.
Although the Tennessee Aquarium once only had a single fresh water building, it has since expanded to include a salt water section. The first building you enter is the River Journey Building, where you can see a variety of fish, alligators, and my personal favorite, river otters. A notable part of the River Journey section is the "Rivers of the World" exhibit - a section that highlights creatures that live in key rivers across numerous countries.
The 2005 addition of the Ocean Journey building saw an introduction to sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles. One of the first things you do upon entering is visit the touch tank, where you can get up close and personal with stingrays and fish (No need to worry, the stingrays no longer have stingers). The two buildings combine to make The Tennessee Aquarium one of the top visited aquariums in the United States.
Hunter Museum of American Art & Bluff View Art District
The Hunter Museum of American Art is located in the art district. It features a modern wing, a brutalist wing, and the classic section in the Faxon-Thomas Mansion. While visiting the museum, you'll get to see African Impressionism, regional work, and contemporary art dated after World War II. With more than 100 years of art, visitors enjoy pieces from the colonial period to present day
The Bluff View Art District itself spans 1.5 city blocks and includes eateries, small shops, and artsy sculptures. The area is also home to the River Gallery, which showcases work from both local and national artists.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Now a hotel and a hub for nightlife, Chattanooga Choo Choo used to be a fully functioning train depot that provided transportation to and from Terminal Station. Guests of the hotel can choose to book sleeper cars for an authentic experience. The area includes the beautiful Glenn Miller Gardens, a live music venue called the Songbirds, and a comedy club named The Comedy Catch. If you're looking for nightlife, you can grab a drink at Gate 11 Distillery or pour your own beer inside a historic train car at the American Draft.
Where to Eat
Located along the art district, Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria serves fantastic Italian dishes and wine. The food is authentic and gluten-free options are widely available. If you're in the mood for pizza, you should order a Detroit or New York Style pizza at Community Pie. Taco Mamacita had some of the best tacos I've ever had, and its queso is thick so it doesn't run off your tortilla chip. Furthermore, Urban Stack was a great stop for burgers and fries, and for dessert, I recommend Downtown Dough or The Ice Cream Show.
The Edwin Hotel has friendly staff, a great location, and a rooftop bar called Whiskey Thief. It's a little up there in price, though, making the Holiday Inn another good choice in a centrally located area. As I mentioned earlier, you can also stay in the historical Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Now that Chattanooga is officially on your map, you should dedicate a few days to exploring. If nature, good food, and a calm vibe is for you, this city definitely won't miss.