Best Things to Do in Knoxville
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Though Knoxville is not quite as popular or musically vibrant as its neighbor, Nashville, it has all the southern charm you could ever hope to find in any Southeastern town. Here are my absolute favorite things to do and places to eat in Knoxville, Tennessee—from my the five days I spent there visiting my best friend in graduate school.
Update: I went to Knoxville to visit a couple more times (that same friend in graduate school) for a quick weekend trip, so I've added some more things!
Best Places to Eat in Knoxville, Tennessee
Southern Grit—This is, hands down, my favorite Knoxville restaurant I've been to so far. Southern Grit has, as you can imagine, amazing Southern food that shouldn't be missed. I highly recommend the fried chicken, mac & cheese, fried okra, brussel sprout slaw and cheese grits; they're seriously all fabulous! I also loved the Blush & Bashful drink (Deep Eddy's Lemon + Chambord + lemonade). Note: you have to have a reservation basically to get in here.
Stock & Barrel—If you're craving a burger, Stock & Barrel is your place. This place is a little smaller, so you might need to wait a bit longer, but it's worth it! I loved the Buffalo Burger (Mitchell Family Beef + Buttermilk Blue Fondue + House Buffalo Sauce + Celery) and the Cat-Daddy (Cathead Honeysuckle, Vermouth, Aperol + Bitters).
Tupelo Honey Cafe—Located in Market Square, Tupelo Honey Cafe has such authentic Southern comfort food with an all-day brunch menu. I loved the "Old Skool Breakfast Bowl" pictured on the far left, and it even made a great dinner despite technically being a "breakfast" dish.
SoKno Taco—Every town has a staple Mexican restaurant, and while this was the only Mexican restaurant I went to while I was in Knoxville, I think this is it! SoKno Taco is located in South Knoxville and in addition to the restaurant, is accompanied by a beer garden in the back. The burritos are a must because they're filled with queso, and the mango margarita was my favorite because it had an awesome fruity flavor without being sweet.
Cruze Farm Dairy—Arguable everyone who has ever been to Knoxville has heard of Cruze Farm Dairy. Not only do they supply dairy to just about all the local restaurants and coffee shops, but they have some of the best ice cream ever! Their storefront is located in the heart of downtown Knoxville on Gay Street.
Balter Beerworks—Though it's technically a brewery first, Balter Beerworks also serves some awesome food in downtown Knoxville. I had the hot chicken sliders + cheese grits, and if you can handle the heat, these sliders are a must! Since Balter Beerworks is also a micro-brewery, I couldn't pass up a chance to try their "Bear Blend," a coffee oatmeal porter that was heavenly! Also do not sleep on their brunch menu - the fried green tomato Benedict is amazing.
Apple Valley Cafe—This is my recommendation if you're on your way to the Smoky Mountain National Park; it's very close to the park, and it's very good food. What they're really known for though is their apple pie milkshake so don't miss it! They also have a cute gift shop next door with fun souvenirs like baking kits, t-shirt and more.
Best Coffee in Knoxville, Tennessee
Honeybee Coffee Co.—I didn't have time to go to a lot of coffee shops, but the ones I did go to were amazing. Honeybee had plenty of parking and a really fun art-gallery-like interior as it was covered in paintings from local artists. Here, I had both a nitro and a cappuccino with their signature brown sugar syrup, and they were both amazing. The brown sugar syrup was probably a little too much for me, but if you like things on the sweeter side, it's definitely a must because the flavor is awesome!
K Brew—Known not only for their specialty coffee but also their handmade bagels, K Brew has a location in North Knoxville and downtown Knoxville. The North Knoxville location was awesome though; it had plenty of seating (including a bunch of hammocks), and just around the corner, it had the cutest mural that reads "Greetings from Knoxville." Not to mention, their pumpkin spice coffee was fabulous.
Likewise Coffee—Though not my favorite coffee I've ever had, Likewise Coffee is located in East Knoxville in an old house and makes the perfect study or small group conversation space. I also enjoyed the breakfast sandwiches!
Remedy Coffee—Remedy Coffee made a mean nitro with what appeared to be a light roast single origin bean, and their cafe made for a great work/study environment.
Best Things to Do in Knoxville, Tennessee
Ijams Nature Center—This is definitely a favorite among locals! Ijams is a nature center and preservation with several different trails, most of which lead to this beautiful lake and surrounding boardwalk (shown above). I'm a Florida girl who isn't used to trails with inclines, but I realize that's normal for anyone that lives just about anywhere else; long story short, be prepared to break a sweat but know that the views are worth it!
Maple Hall—Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, Maple Hall is a cute, boutique bowling hall that services amazing craft cocktails with a locally sourced menu. I, of course, had "the dude" because I can't not order a cocktail that has coffee liqueur in it, and it was fabulous, so I assume the rest of the drinks were amazing too!
Market Square Alley—I know that sounds eerie, but trust me, it's cute! The Market Square Alley is filled with such vibrant and eclectic murals. It's not too large, but it's worth taking a stroll through. In the gallery above, you'll see the newly renovated Dolly Parton mural that everyone adores.
The Smoky Mountain National Park—This is actually only about an hour away from Knoxville. You'll have to drive through Maryville and Townsend, but it's so worth it! I would avoid going in the middle of winter because they will close the roads if there's snow/ice (which is what happened when we tried going), but I've heard great things about the Cades Cove valley drive!
Best Bars/Breweries in Knoxville, Tennessee
Radius Rooftop Lounge—This was probably one of my favorite stops in Knoxville. You can tell rooftop bars aren't very common, but on top of it, the Smoky Mountains paint such a unique backdrop, so the view was extra beautiful. Radius Rooftop Lounge is located on top of the Embassy Hotel on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, and they even had a specialty fall drink menu!
South Side Garage—This is both a pet-and-family-friendly micro-brewery. South Side Garage is known for always having food trucks and also had a great selection of beers. Plus, they do trivia on Tuesdays!
Merchants of Beer—Another super fun brewery stop, Merchants of Beer is located in downtown Knoxville and is known for their plethora of beers on tap. I loved the nitro oatmeal stout, but their beers change somewhat often, so you know there's always great local options.
Blackberry Farm Brewery—This one is actually located in Maryville, TN, which is just outside Knoxville, Blackberry Farm Brewery is such a cute and quaint brewery with a lot of great options, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Stout on a winter day.
God created such a beautiful world, it would be a shame not to explore, preserve + appreciate it.
Explore: the local culture. Knoxville is filled with local micro-breweries, dairy farms and coffee shops, and the culture definitely shows!
Preserve: the mountains and the outdoors. The Smoky Mountains are literally only an hour-drive away from Knoxville, and even closer into town, there is still so much nature to be preserved. Even if you're going on a walk/hike, hold on to your trash, use reusable products and be mindful of your surroundings.
Appreciate: the Southern hospitality. Honestly, you don't find it too often anymore, but this town sure does have it, and it's something that definitely shouldn't be overlooked.