Many of our trips include multiple day stays in new destinations. Sometimes, our travel plans only allow for a short visit, which means we need to make the most of our available time. During our Smoky Mountain trip, we were only allotted 24 Hours in Downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. While it may not seem like much time, you will be amazed at how much that can be done in a day. Let’s rewind time and look at how we filled the moments in this Appalachian overlook.
We want to thank the businesses of Knoxville for their hospitality. Rest assured all the opinions are our own.
Starting at the Beginning
We planned our visit to be a mix of history and current culture. This would give us a real feel for the city of Knoxville. With only 24 hours to explore, we needed to make the most of every minute. Our first destination, after arriving in town, was a stop at James White’s Fort. This is the birthplace of Knoxville, so where better to get a history lesson on the earliest days. During our visit, we were able to engage with staff, who are happy to give visitors an in-depth storyline of the early days of this region. (You can read more about the Fort here.)
Our Introduction to Knoxville Eats
Before making our journey to Knoxville, we made connections with some of the foodie groups in the city. After just a few days of communication, we knew that this Appalachian city had a plethora of delicious dining establishments. The true challenge would be selecting a sampling that fit into the spaces we would be visiting. Since our lodging was in downtown Knoxville, it made sense to focus on the Market Square area. We were only a few hours into our 24 hour visit, when we popped in Tupelo Honey for a scrumptious lunch. This was a good way to introduce ourselves to southern style hospitality. (You can read more about Tupelo here.)
Keeping Our Eyes Open To History
Back out in the daylight, we took a few minutes to look around the immediate area. Market Square started in the mid-1800’s and has been a gathering place for many generations. It began as an actual market area, where merchants would sell their goods to the rich and poor alike. It has been described as “the most democratic place on earth”, since people from all walks of life would mingle for an opportunity to buy from local vendors. Like many urban areas, it saw a period of decline. Those days are now in its past, as Market Square is once again a bustling center for retail and dining venues.
On our walk to Market Square, we passed a small “pocket” park. Situated just across the street, we decided to take a few minutes to check it out. It is named the Charles Krutch Park, after a regional painter known for his pictures of the Smoky Mountains. As we strolled the paved paths of the park, we found a nice collection of outdoor art pieces. The park is also home to some serene water features, which are serviced by plenty of benches. If we had more than 24 hours in downtown Knoxville, we would have loved to soak up some more of the relaxed vibes in this area.
24 Hours to Eat Sweet Treats
Okay, time to be honest. Travel gives us a reason to sample lots of eats that we would usually skip during our “good days” at home. Sure, we know there will be plenty of excessive calories, but we try to combat them by focusing our visits on areas that allow us to do lots of walking. During our 24 hours in downtown Knoxville, we calculated that we walked about seven miles in all. In our minds, this was plenty of activity to justify a sweet treat or two. A warm September day is perfect for a cool cone at Cruze Farm dairy. This local ice cream shop offers up some delectable soft serve options, that we couldn’t get enough of during our stay. (You can read more about Cruze here.)
Heading Back to School
Our next historic stop took us to the campus of the University of Tennessee. For this visit, we did jump in our car, since we also wanted to do a quick driving tour of the region. Once on campus, we felt like kids again, since everyone was preparing for a pep rally to cheer on the local football team. Our focus forced us to come back to the reason for our visit, and we headed into the McClung Museum of Natural History. This FREE attraction is the perfect way to learn more about the people who have inhabited the region that is now known as Knoxville. It even has some cool exhibits on the local dinosaurs that once roamed the land. This all ages attraction is a good way to engage the kids with a fun way of learning. (You can read more about McClung here.)
Time on the World’s Stage
No visit to Knoxville would be complete without a view of the Sunsphere. In 1982, Knoxville was home to the World’s Fair. More than 11 million people visited the fair, which made it one of the more popular world fairs ever held in the United States. As with other one time occurrences, many of the structures were demolished or repurposed after the event. One that has stood the test of time is the Sunsphere. This 266 foot tall tower offers visitors some impressive views of the Knoxville landscape.
Another portion of the fair site is found just a stones throw from the Sunsphere. The World’s Fair Fountain sits at one end of the green space that now encompasses World’s Fair Park. The wide open space is used for events and live performances. Nearby you will find the modern structure that holds the Knoxville Museum of Art. With only 24 hours available in downtown Knoxville, we had to forego a visit on this trip. It’s obvious that there are many other attractions that will need to be explored on a subsequent visit.
Dinner with a Purpose
We returned to Market Square for dinner at Stock & Barrel. This downtown Knoxville eatery was one that was most recommended by our contacts in town. With a “farm to table” philosophy, we had high expectations for this place. Having to wait for seating helped us confirm that it was truly a local favorite. They took our phone number to send us a text when our table was ready. This gave us a little time to explore some of the shops in the square. Too soon, our exploration time was curtailed, by a notice that it was time to dine. The restaurant was buzzing, as diners dove into the amazing meals that flowed from the kitchen. When our plates arrived, it was our turn to savor the fresh eats and flavorful tastes. This place lived up to the hype that our connections had laid out for us. (Check out more about Stock & Barrel here.)
Cramming More Sweets Into Our 24 Hours
After our dinner, we needed to spend some time walking off our meal. Market Square was the perfect place to do some meandering and people watching. The evening seems to be filled with tons of activity, as travelers and locals alike fill the space. It was nice finding out that most of the retail shops stay open late to accomodate the evening crowds. We explored the boutique shops with our eyes peeled for something to remember our visit. Low and behold, what would we happen upon, but another sweet shop. We knew it would be rude not to explore it, so we did our best to check out all of their displays. To make sure we covered everything, we even sampled a few of their most popular creations. Lets just say it was a great way to cap off our day. Now it was time to head back to our hotel for some well deserved rest.
Expanding Our Education
After breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and put our luggage in our car. The staff was nice enough to allow us to leave our vehicle, while we continued our explorations. A short walk landed us at the East Tennessee History Museum. Our earlier stops had given us a good background on the city, and this stop would expand our knowledge to include the region. Inside we found plenty of exhibits about the entire eastern end of the state. We knew our time was limited, so we didn’t get to investigate the museum in nearly the amount of detail as it deserves. It would be easy to spend a minimum of half a day here, and still only have a minimal grasp on all of the displays. Looks like we will need another go at this museum when we return. (You can see lots more about this Museum here.)
One Final Twist
Our 24 hours in downtown Knoxville was almost up, but we still had time for one more foodie experience. The Tomato Head caught our attention with their unusual name. When we researched it a little further, the menu called out to us for a visit. Being pizza lovers, we are almost always up for a slice. When we saw some of their unique combinations, we knew it was a “must try”. The most difficult part of this visit was determining which of their creations we wanted to sample. After all, even on our best days we can only eat so much. (Check out what we chose at Tomato Head here.)
Cramming Tons Into 24 Hours into Downtown Knoxville
Whew! It’s hard to believe we were able to get so much accomplished in such a limited amount of time. We would highly suggest you plan more than 24 hours in downtown Knoxville. Of course, if that’s all you can afford, you can see that you will have plenty to occupy your time. As we drove out of the city, we could rest assured that we had packed tons of fun in our short stay. While it wasn’t the length of time we would have wanted, at least it gave us a taste of this wonderful city. It certainly piqued our interest for a return visit that would allow us to do a deeper dive into the sights, sounds, and tastes of Knoxville, Tennessee. So, tell us about one of your quick excursions!
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Thanks for this great post about Knoxville, Tennessee. It looks like a fun and intriguing destination. And thx for introducing me to the Knoxville Chocolate Company. I shall check them out! :-)
Glad to be helpful. The chocolate shop had some solid choices.
The last time I spent any time in Knoxville was in 1982 for the World’s Fair! I remember the tower that is called the Sunsphere. SInce then, I have only driven through on the Interstate. It would be fun to visit and explore as you did!
That must have been such an amazing experience. We are truly jealous.
Knoxville is a surprising destination. Didn’t realize there was so much going there. Looks like there is great food, lots to do, and lots of history too.
It’s an amazing metropolis filled with unique sights. We hope you have a chance to visit some time.
Thanks for sharing your post. I didn’t know much about Knoxville, Tennessee until now. The 266 foot tall tower is impressive.
So glad to hear we were able to shine a little light on this wonderful Appalachian city.
Thank you for this! My daughter is starting at UT in the fall and we have only been to tour the campus so next trip we want to see the city. Will definitely follow your recommendations! What about places to stay?
Congratulations on having an upcoming Vol student. Our only experience with lodging was the Hotel Knoxville. It was a nice spot but was changing management at the time.