Tennessee’s first capital may have changed a lot over the centuries, but one thing that remains the same is its capacity for adventure. Between the Tennessee River and nearly 100 public greenways, there’s always something fun to do. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the area with 24 hours to kill, here are some suggestions to help you maximize your time in Knoxville, getting a taste of its culture and community while enjoying every aspect of its great outdoors.
You’ve got a jampacked day of fun ahead of you, with lots to see and do. But first, coffee. Make a pit stop at The French Market Creperie for a morning treat and a cup of joe to fuel up for the adventures ahead. Just a block away from Market Square and diagonal to the East Tennessee History Center, it’s a great place to start the day with some caffeine and pleasant conversation with your barista. And if you like the neighborhood already, that’s greater than great since you’ll be looping back around to it later in the day.
Now that you’ve got some fuel in the tank, let’s head out for a morning trail run (or walk) at Urban Wilderness. Spanning 1,000 wooded acres along the waterfront just three miles from downtown, this outdoor wonderland is a critical first stop for anyone visiting Knoxville and wanting to make the most of its natural amenities. The South Loop Trail system alone offers 42 miles of natural trails and a 12.5-mile main loop that threads together five separate parks, natural areas, neighborhoods and schools. For a fully customized experience, download theUrban Wilderness app to your iOS device or Android and plot out your run to get just the right distance and elevation gain.
Once you’ve worked up a serious appetite for a proper brunch or early lunch at Sunspot, which you’ll find on Cumberland Avenue, just west of the University of Tennessee campus. If you’re there during the week, it doesn’t open until 11 am, but on weekends, brunch is served starting at 10. Wolf down some fried green tomatoes to start—a Southern specialty—and follow them up with the brunch burger or chicken and a waffle. Vegetarians won’t be disappointed by the Fat Elvis Breakfast Burrito, which is just as indulgent as it sounds. If you’re more in the mood for a pizza, salad, or sandwich, try The Tomato Head in Market Square. It’s right near your next stop anyway.
After eating, take a leisurely walk around the west end of campus if you chose Sunspot or exploring Market Square if you headed to the Tomato Head to let your meal digest. But not too long, because it’s to work off that meal with a bike ride downtown. If you need a rental, stop into the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center on Volunteer Landing Lane at East Hill Avenue, not far from Market Square. Once you’re fitted up, wind through downtown and enjoy the 6.5-mile ride via the Neyland, Third Creek, and Bearden Village Greenways to Bearden Beer Market. Then kick back, relax, and reward yourself with the local brew of your choosing.
To make the most of an afternoon in Knoxville, it’s imperative to get on the water. Ride back to the Adventure Center and trade your bike for a SUP board, canoe, or kayak. If you’re up for a solid 12-mile (roundtrip) challenge, head to Sequoyah Park and back. Otherwise, enjoy the relative calm of the Tennessee at your own pace until you’re ready to shower up and ease into the evening with a hearty dinner before a night out on the town.
Once you’re refreshed and ready for a taste of Knoxville nightlife, make your way to Barley’s Taproom for dinner in Old City, not far from Market Square. Enjoy some classic American tavern food, washing your meal down with one of the 96 beers on tap, and if you happen to be there on a Tuesday, you’re in luck: pints are half-off.
Now, head into Market Square and treat yourself to some rooftop drinks at Preservation Pub in the old City Hall building, or check out the speakeasy down below. You’re likely to find a local amber, American PaleAale, Belgian, IPA, Kölsch, Saison and Stout on tap, as well as a few surprises. Pick your favorite, but pace yourself—the night is young, and you’ve still got a couple more stops to make before it comes to a close.
For a truly unique experience, make sure you stop into the Oliver Hotel’s Speakeasy Library for a cocktail. Named after the builder of the bakery that inhabited the space before the hotel, the dark and cozy Peter Kern Library hides its drink menus in old encyclopedias and delights bibliophiles with a dozen or so literary-themed libations.
If you can tear yourself away from the comfy vibe of the library, and have enough energy for dancing, Sassy Ann’s is the spot. Far from the typical nightclub, this hotspot is actually a freestanding Victorian home that’s more than 120 years old. Only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, this late-night haunt is unlike any other place you’ve ever gone dancing, and it’s the perfect way to cap off your whirl through a city steeped in its own complex and ever-evolving history. Raise a toast to a day done right in Knoxville—your itinerary is now officially complete.