Tennessee Bucket List: 20+ Ultimate Destinations

Disclosure notice

Welcome to the Ultimate Tennessee Bucket List!

If you're looking for a destination that's not just a place on the map but full of iconic landmarks, cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, and tasty delights, Tennessee is your perfect match. 

I love that Tennessee isn't too far of a drive from much of the country – this makes it an easy state for so many people to visit!

To fully visit the entire state, I'd say you need at least 3 weeks! There are plenty of big cities if you want to break the bucket list into smaller-sized weekend trips.

Nashville in a weekend is a super fun city escape, as are Memphis, Chatanooga, and Knoxville!

The Smoky Mountains are vast, and you could easily spend a week exploring the Smoky Mountain Waterfalls and driving the Scenic Smoky Moutain Roads.

Tennessee is a kaleidoscope of experiences, from the music scenes of Nashville and Memphis to the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

So, pack your bags and prepare to venture on a road trip through the Volunteer State!

Iconic Landmarks & Must-Visit Sites

When it comes to iconic landmarks and must-visit sites, Tennessee certainly doesn't disappoint. From the legendary home of Elvis Presley to the historic national parks, there are so many fun things to do and so many unforgettable experiences.

Graceland (Memphis)

A visit to Tennessee would only be complete with a trip to Graceland, the legendary home of the King of Rock' n' Roll, Elvis Presley. Step inside the gates and immerse yourself in the life and legacy of one of music's greatest icons.

Explore the mansion, stroll through the gorgeous 13.8-acre grounds, and discover an impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia items, including his famous jumpsuits and gold records.

A photo of Graceland, Elvis Presley's famous mansion, with its grand white columns and well-manicured gardens. A historical plaque in the foreground states that Graceland has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior, built in 1939.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee / North Carolina)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. As you venture into the park, you'll be greeted by inspiring vistas, misty mountains, and forests teeming with wildlife.

Whether you're an avid hiker, nature lover, or simply enjoy the great outdoors, this national park offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.

For a unique experience, try to win the park lottery tickets to see the synchronous fireflies!

A serene creek flowing through the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by lush green trees and large, smooth rocks. The sunlight filters through the canopy, creating a tranquil and picturesque natural scene.

The Nashville Parthenon (Nashville)

Did you know Nashville is home to a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens?

The Parthenon stands tall and majestic in Centennial Park, offering you a glimpse into ancient Greek architecture and art. Step inside this impressive structure and marvel at the stunning 42-foot statue of Athena. She is the goddess of wisdom.

A photo of the statue of Athena inside the Parthenon in Nashville. The statue is a full-scale replica of the original in Athens, Greece, showcasing Athena adorned in gold and holding a smaller statue of Nike in her right hand and a shield in her left. The background features the architectural details of the Parthenon with its columns and ceiling.

Ruby Falls (Chattanooga)

Go to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga if you're up for an unique underground adventure. Descend deep into Lookout Mountain and prepare to be amazed as you witness America's tallest and deepest underground waterfall accessible to the public.

The beauty of Ruby Falls will leave you in awe and make you appreciate the wonders hidden beneath the surface. The colors shown on the falls change frequently, creating quite the seen.

A photo of Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee, taken inside the cave where the waterfall descends from a high opening, illuminated by colorful lighting. The walls of the cave are bathed in shades of purple and blue, creating a mystical and vibrant atmosphere.

Ryman Auditorium (Nashville)

Nashville, the Music City, is home to the legendary Ryman Auditorium. This historic venue has played a crucial role in shaping the country music industry and has hosted countless iconic performances.

Experience the magic of live music as you step inside this hallowed hall and soak in the history and incredible acoustics that have made Ryman the mother church of country music.

Interior of the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, showcasing the wooden stage, rows of seating, and the iconic backdrop featuring the "Ryman Auditorium" sign with images of famous musicians. The stage lights and sound equipment are visible, ready for the next performance in this legendary venue.

Grand Ole Opry (Nashville)

A visit to the Grand Ole Opry is a Nashville bucket list experience. The Grand Ole Opry has been a cornerstone of country music since 1925.

This historic venue offers live performances that showcase both legendary artists and rising stars in the genre. Attending a show at the Grand Ole Opry provides a unique opportunity to experience the musical heritage of Nashville firsthand. 

A photo from inside the Grand Ole Opry, featuring a large, illuminated "OPRY" sign in red letters with lights. Below the sign, a film or projection showcases historic country music figures on a large screen. The audience is seated, enjoying the visual and musical presentation, surrounded by memorabilia and photographs on the walls.

Cultural Experiences & Events

Tennessee is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, vibrant culture, and musical heritage. Be sure to check out some of these diverse cultural experiences and unique events:

CMA Music Fest (Nashville)

Nashville is often called the “Music City,” and the CMA Music Fest is a prime example of why.

This annual festival, held in June, is a must-attend for country music fans, offering four days of non-stop music from the biggest names in the genre.

Enjoy live performances at various venues across the city, meet-and-greets with your favorite artists, and a vibrant atmosphere filled with fellow music lovers.

The CMA Music Fest captures the heart and soul of Nashville's musical heritage with a mix of established stars and up-and-coming talent.

Crowd gathered at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, with tents and a stage set up along the river and a backdrop of city buildings.
Opening Day at the 2008 CMA Music Festival” by mdave is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Memphis in May International Festival

If you want a culinary experience, plan your visit around the Memphis in May International Festival. This month-long celebration brings together music, art, food, and cultural traditions worldwide.

From live performances by renowned artists to mouthwatering culinary delights, you'll get a taste of the diverse flavors and vibrant arts scene that make Memphis a dynamic destination.

The highlight of the festival is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

Two racks of ribs cooking on a barbecue grill, showing a well-cooked, slightly charred exterior. The ribs appear juicy and flavorful, indicative of a slow-cooked process. The grill grates are clean, emphasizing the delicious, smoky barbecue scene.
BBQ Cook Off!” by Dave Schumaker is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dollywood Harvest Festival (Pigeon Forge)

Dollywood is a theme park with roller coasters that was created and owned by Dolly Parton. The park is a cultural hub that celebrates the spirit of the Smoky Mountains.

One of the park's most popular events is the Harvest Festival, held each fall (September-October). This festival features autumn decorations, crafts from local artisans, and live bluegrass and Southern gospel music performances.

The festival's highlight is the Great Pumpkin LumiNights, where thousands of carved pumpkins light up the park, creating a magical nighttime experience.

Sign at the entrance of Dollywood theme park reads, "Welcome to Dollywood, We're Glad You're Here!" The sign features the Dollywood logo with a butterfly and is adorned with
Welcome To Dollywood” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Outdoor Adventures

If you're an adventurist or love being surrounded by nature, Tennessee offers a perfect spot for outdoor activities that will get your adrenaline pumping and leave you in awe.

Consider some of these thrilling adventures to create memories in the great outdoors.

Whitewater Rafting on the Ocoee River (near Ducktown)

For an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience, head to the Ocoee River, the 1996 Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom events site. Paddle through turbulent rapids, navigate twisting turns, and feel the adrenaline rush as you conquer the roaring waters.

What makes this adventure unique is the opportunity to raft on the same course as Olympic athletes, adding a thrilling element to your experience.

Whether you're a seasoned rafter or a first-timer, this adventure on the Ocoee River promises excitement and unforgettable memories.

A group of people wearing yellow helmets and life jackets are whitewater rafting on a turbulent river. They are in a blue raft, paddling through the rapids, with water splashing around them. The background features green trees and rocky riverbanks.
Rafting Ocoee River” by pocketwiley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The legendary Appalachian Trail stretches 2,000+ miles and provides hikers with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Lace up your hiking boots and conquer a section of this iconic trail as it winds through Tennessee.

While on the trail, enjoy the breathtaking views and connect with the beauty of nature. Whether you're looking for a short day hike or a multi-day trek, the Appalachian Trail offers miles of trails and experiences that will test your endurance.

A serene section of the Appalachian Trail surrounded by tall trees and dense foliage. The forest floor is covered with fallen leaves and tree roots, creating a natural path for hikers. The scene is peaceful, inviting outdoor enthusiasts to explore the tranquil woodland.

Zip Lining in Gatlinburg

If you're looking for a thrilling aerial adventure with stunning panoramic views of the majestic Smoky Mountains, try zip lining in Gatlinburg. Soar through the treetops, feel the wind in your hair, and gaze at the landscapes below.

The adrenaline rush and the breathtaking beauty of the Smokies combined make this an unforgettable experience for adventure seekers. Spend a few days in Gatlinburg – plenty keeps you busy!

a man riding a zip line through a woods
Photo by Nadiia Ganzhyi on Unsplash

Culinary Delights

Tennessee is a haven for food lovers, with a diverse culinary scene that will tease your taste buds and leave you craving more.

From fiery flavors to melt-in-your-mouth barbecues, get ready to indulge in tasty eats unique to the Volunteer State.

Hot Chicken (Nashville)

When it comes to iconic dishes, Nashville's Hot Chicken reigns supreme. This local specialty is not for the faint of heart.

Hot chicken is fried chicken coated in a fiery blend of spices that will set your taste buds ablaze. It is served with pickles and creamy coleslaw to cool the heat; this Nashville classic is a must-try for spicy food enthusiasts!

A serving of Hattie B's hot chicken with pickles, accompanied by sides of coleslaw, collard greens, and other dishes, placed on a checkered paper-lined tray.
Hattie B's Hot Chicken” by revrev is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Memphis Barbecue

No culinary journey through Tennessee would be complete without savoring the smoky goodness of Memphis Barbecue.

Enjoy a plate of tender, slow-cooked ribs kissed by the flavors of a perfectly balanced dry rub or drenched in a tangy and sweet sauce.

Let the melt-in-your-mouth meat and distinct hickory taste transport you to the heart of the barbecue capital.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail

Enjoy whiskey? If so, a visit to the Tennessee Whiskey Trail is a must. Explore the state's distilling history as you visit distilleries that produce Tennessee's finest spirits.

From the iconic Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg to smaller craft operations scattered throughout the state, you'll have plenty of opportunities to savor the smooth flavors and learn about the time-honored techniques used in producing Tennessee whiskey. 

Visitors explore the interior of the Jack Daniel's Distillery, featuring a wooden ceiling with exposed beams and a large white statue of Jack Daniel in the center. The space is warmly lit and bustling with people interested in learning about the distillery's history and operations.
Jack Daniel Distillery” by therichardlife is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sports and Entertainment

Tennessee offers many sports and entertainment options –  from professional sports teams to unique venues.

Nashville Predators (NHL)

For hockey fans, catching a Nashville Predators game at Bridgestone Arena is the perfect place to go. The arena is located in downtown Nashville and annually hosts numerous concerts and events.

Tennessee Titans (NFL)

Football fans will want to take advantage of the chance to see the Tennessee Titans play at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Titans bring excitement to the city with their dynamic gameplay and enthusiastic supporters.

The stadium offers stunning views of the Nashville skyline and the Cumberland River, enhancing the game-day experience.

Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans, viewed from across the river with green trees and clear blue skies in the background.

Bristol Motor Speedway

The Bristol Motor Speedway, known as “The Last Great Colosseum,” is a premier destination for car racing. This iconic NASCAR track is famous for its short track and intense racing action. 

FedExForum (Memphis)

FedExForum is home to the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team. The state-of-the-art arena hosts sporting events and concerts.

Night view of the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, with illuminated signage in red, blue, and white. The building is lit up, reflecting on the wet ground, as people enter through the main entrance.
FedExForum at night” by Marco Espino-Ovalle is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

Tennessee Theatre (Knoxville)

The Tennessee Theatre is a historic landmark in Knoxville. This beautifully restored historic theater hosts Broadway shows, concerts, and classic film screenings. 

Exploring Tennessee: East, Middle, and West

Tennessee has 3 main regions, each offering its unique attractions and experiences.

Whether you're exploring the mountains of East Tennessee, the cultural hubs of Middle Tennessee, or the historical sites of West Tennessee, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

Below are some key highlights in each region to help you plan easier if you aren't familiar with the state.

East Tennessee:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: America's most visited national park with stunning vistas, diverse wildlife, and numerous hiking trails.
  • Dollywood (Pigeon Forge): Family-friendly destination with thrilling rides, live entertainment, and cultural festivals.
  • Bristol Motor Speedway: Iconic NASCAR venue known for its short track and high-energy races.
  • Chattanooga: Attractions include Ruby Falls, Tennessee Aquarium, and Lookout Mountain.
A scenic hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, lined with tall trees and dense green foliage. The dirt path winds gently through the forest, offering a peaceful and inviting route for hikers.

Middle Tennessee:

  • Nashville: Heart of country music with attractions like the Grand Ole Opry, CMA Music Fest, Broadway nightlife, the Parthenon, and the Hermitage.
  • Franklin: Known for Civil War history, charming Main Street, and vibrant community events.
  • Lynchburg: Home to Jack Daniel's Distillery, offering tours on the history and process of making this famous whiskey.
  • Sports Venues: Catch an NFL game at Nissan Stadium or an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena.
A full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville's Centennial Park, featuring its classical Greek architecture with tall columns, ornate pediments, and intricate sculptures. The building is reflected in a calm pond, surrounded by lush green lawns and trees under a partly cloudy sky.

West Tennessee:

  • Memphis: Rich in musical history with Graceland, Memphis Rock ‘n' Soul Museum, Sun Studio, and Beale Street's live blues music and nightlife.
  • National Civil Rights Museum: Located at the Lorraine Motel, this museum examines the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Memphis in May International Festival: Month-long celebration of diverse cultures through music, food, and cultural events.
  • Reelfoot Lake State Park: Offers boating, fishing, and bird watching in a unique natural setting created by historical earthquakes.
Neon signs light up the night in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The vibrant sign for Tater Red's features a grinning skull wearing a hat, while a colorful Memphis sign highlights the lively street scene, with American flags adorning the building

FAQs: Tennessee Bucket List

What is the best time of year to visit Tennessee?

April and May have mild temperatures and blooming flowers.

From June to August, the weather heats up, but there are festivals, making it perfect for music lovers.

Fall foliage and cooler temperatures create colorful backdrops for hiking and scenic drives from September to November.

December to February offers the chance to enjoy holiday festivities, cozy up by the fire, and even hit the slopes in the mountainous regions.

To pick the perfect season for visiting Tennessee, you will need to think about what you want to do.

A creek view found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Are there any passes or discounts available for multiple attractions?

Absolutely! Nashville offers Music Attraction Discount Passes that provide discounted admission to multiple music-related attractions.

Pigeon Forge is another excellent place to visit and purchase Combo Ticket Attraction Discounts for places like mini-golf, Ripley's attractions, and the Titanic Combo Offer!

Final Thoughts: Crafting Your Own Tennessee Bucket List

Now that you know some of Tennessee's experiences and attractions, it's time to start crafting your own Tennessee bucket list.

Whether you're a music lover, an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or a history buff, by now, you can tell that this state has something for everyone to enjoy.

Each region of Tennessee offers a unique blend of attractions and experiences.

From the scenic views and outdoor activities of East Tennessee to the cultural and musical heritage of Middle Tennessee and the historic and vibrant city life of West Tennessee, an adventure awaits you in every corner of the state.

Use this inspiration to head out on your adventure! 

Louisville, KY to Nashville, TN Road Trip – 3-Day Itinerary

2 days in Nashville: Weekend Itinerary

Nashville Weekend Getaway: Destination Reviews

Ultimate Guide on How to Make a Travel Bucket List

Nashville Bucket List: Must-See Attractions and Experiences

3 Days in Gatlinburg Itinerary: What to See & Do

15 Best National Park Sites to Explore in Tennessee

Pin this for later:

Choose the image(s) that resonate with you to pin to your travel board on Pinterest!

Beautiful landscape view of the Great Smoky Mountains with layers of mist and greenery at sunrise. Text overlay reads, "20+ Tennessee Bucket List Destinations" with a link to anacreinthecity.com.
Collage image for Tennessee Bucket List with three photos: the Tennessee Theatre lit up at night, the vibrant purple and pink illuminated Ruby Falls, and an aerial view of downtown Memphis including the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid. Text overlay reads, "Tennessee Bucket List: Fun Things to Do!" with a link to anacreinthecity.com.
Aerial view of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with the Great Smoky Mountains in the background, covered in a light mist. Text overlay reads, "20+ Stops for Your Tennessee Bucket List" with a link to anacreinthecity.com.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts