Cultural adventures from Memphis to Maryville

From the honky-tonks of Nashville to the rock ‘n’ roll venues of Memphis, the former home of Elvis has long been known for its music credentials – but it’s not only about the big-hitters, with a whole host of lesser-known spots to explore in Tennessee too. We’ve rounded up the best urban adventures to be had across the state, from Nashville to Knoxville, Memphis to Maryville.

Tuesday 19 December 2023 09:14


With a huge mix of recording studios, live-music venues and neon-lit honky-tonks, it’s easy to see what gave Nashville its ‘Music City’ reputation. Any trip here should include a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame – home of RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and many more made their mark – and the Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music”.  For history, the Bell Meade plantation is well worth a visit, as is the tree-lined Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, set beneath the impressive State Capitol building. The city’s culinary scene is also one of its biggest draws, offering everything from James Beard-awarded restaurants to laid-back spots serving spicy ‘hot chicken’, fuelled by its handful of whisky distilleries.


The birthplace of blues and rock ‘n’ roll, Memphis isn’t short on music-bragging rights. Take a tour of Graceland to see the former home of the “king of rock ‘n’ roll” and pay a visit to Sun Studio to stand on the spot where he first recorded. Beale Street is the beating heart of the city’s live music scene with its slew of bars and clubs, and there’s plenty in the way of good food too – the city is famous for its barbecue joints, including Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous, opened in 1948. Beyond the music scene, you can hop on a paddlewheel boat to explore the Mississippi River, or learn more about the region’s history at the National Civil Rights Museum. Built on the site where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, the museum gives a powerful, moving glimpse into the city’s ties to the movement.


The state’s third-largest city, Knoxville might sit in the shadows of its bigger siblings, but that’s all part of the charm. The city’s Urban Wilderness has 1,000 acres of forest, including more than 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, a handful of swimmable lakes and a zip-line that takes you soaring 60 feet over the trees. Back in the centre, the State Botanical Garden at the University of Tennessee is well worth a wander, while the pedestrian-friendly Market Square offers shops, restaurants, cafes and a farmers’ market, and hosts regular live music performances. Also well worth a visit is Blount Mansion – the ‘birthplace of Tennessee’ and the former home of William Blount, one of the signatories of the US constitution.


Located in south-eastern Tennessee, this off-the-beaten-track mountain town is a hotspot for families with its slew of child-friendly attractions, from the Tennessee Aquarium to Chattanooga Zoo. There’s plenty to lure adults too; head to the Lookout Mountain for panoramic views over the surrounding valley, and duck underground to explore Ruby Falls – a series of waterfalls that cascade down illuminated caves. While you’re here, pay a visit to Rock City Gardens, where you can cross a 180 ft-high suspension bridge amid ancient rock formations, and climb aboard the Incline Railway funicular to see it from another perspective. Downtown, the Chattanooga Choo Choo offers restaurants, shops, a festive ‘Winter Wonderland’ and various other draws on a complex that was once a train station. There’s a vibrant arts, food and live music scene across the city too – what else would we expect from Tennessee?


Just south of Knoxville, Maryville has its own unique set of lures – not least its proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s all about small-town charm here, with quaint boutiques, breweries and Southern comfort-food restaurants scattered across its historic downtown area, first settled in the 19th century. There are several sites worth checking out; don’t miss Maryville College, the Clayton Center for the Arts and the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse, which gives a glimpse into school life in the early days of the United States.

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