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Top Things to do in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Updated: Apr 30

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Chattanooga TN

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

The Tennessee River in Chattanooga
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

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.

Rock City

Rock City
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

On a clear day, you can see seven states from Rock City. It's about 15 minutes from downtown, but it's commonly regarded as one of the top things to do in Chattanooga. 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.

Lover's Leap
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

After enjoying Lover's Leap and marveling at the waterfall, you'll head into Fairyland Caverns. The caverns have sculpted scenes of popular fairy tales, which were made possible by Rock City founder Garnet Carter's wife Frieda. The section was inspired by Frieda's love of European folklore. Another thing you'll see along the way? Gnomes. Rock City is home to 78 garden gnomes that make for a fun scavenger hunt. 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

Ruby Falls
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

Ruby Falls is an 145-foot waterfall underneath Lookout Mountain. It was discovered in 1928 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 to be greeted by the waterfall. He named it after his wife, who was obviously called Ruby.


Visitors descend in an elevator before walking through twisting caves with beautiful rock formations, finally reaching the treasure at the end. The waterfall's location is 1,120 feet underground.

Tennessee Aquarium

Tennessee Aquarium
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

Although the Tennessee Aquarium once only had a fresh water building, it was expanded in 2005 to include a salt water section. The first building you enter is called River Journey, where you can see a variety of fish, alligators, and my personal favorite, river otters. A notable part of the River Journey is the "Rivers of the World" exhibit - a section that highlights river-dwelling creatures from around the globe.


The addition of the Ocean Journey building saw an introduction to sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles. Here, you'll be greeted by a touch tank almost immediately, allowing up-close-and-personal access to fish and stinger-free stingrays. 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

Hunter Museum of Art
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

The Hunter Museum of American Art can be found in the art district. It features a modern wing, a brutalist wing, and a 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, the museum includes pieces dating 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

Chattanooga Choo Choo
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

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. For an authentic experience, guests of the hotel can choose to stay overnight in sleeper cars. 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

Tony's Pasta Shop in Chattanooga

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 something else, 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.

Where to Stay

The Edwin Hotel in Chattanooga
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

The Edwin Hotel has friendly staff, a great location, and a rooftop bar called Whiskey Thief. Its price is a little steep, though, making the Holiday Inn another centrally-located choice that might be more viable. 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.

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