A Curated Travel Guide to Knoxville, TN
Nestled in the Tennessee River Valley at the doorstep to the Smoky Mountains, the small city of Knoxville holds a big surprise for the first-time visitor. Heralded as one of the friendliest cities in America, one discovers vibrant historic neighborhoods, a flourishing culinary scene, even remnants of the successful 1982 World's Fair, all within a terrifically walkable footprint. Don't overlook Knoxville's rich music legacy. From Dolly Parton's broadcast radio debut to the avant-garde festival Big Ears, this town is a haven for fans of live music.
Blending charm with unrivaled natural beauty, Knoxville is a refreshing departure from other Southern destinations. Compass & Key invited Knoxvillian Art Carmichael to guide you around his adopted hometown in our latest Local Expert feature.
LOCAL EXPERT: ART CARMICHAEL
Deemed a 'Scruffy Little City' in 1980 by Wall Street Journal writer Susan Harrington, locals now wear the moniker as a badge of honor on their sleeves, t-shirts or even music halls. “When I arrived, Knoxville was plucky but still mostly boarded up or just plain boring,” says 18-year resident Art Carmichael. “People were just rediscovering their civic pride, but it just seemed like big things were about to happen and I felt like there was no better place to be than here, watching the amazing transformation from scruffy to spectacular.”
ITINERARY FOR WANDERING: KNOXVILLE
"Downtown Knoxville and the surrounding neighborhoods are easily walkable and Knoxvillians are easily approachable," says Art. "Wandering, getting lost, finding some hidden gems then, finding your way back is a great way to see our fair city."
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When to Go
Knoxville is prime for a visit throughout the year, but the Spring festival season (March, April & May) and early Fall (September & October) generally offer the most pleasant weather.
As Art says, "we’ll welcome you anytime!"
"If you love craft beer, you’ll also love Knox Brew Tours which is a great way to, uh…drink in all that Knoxville brews up," adds Art. "If you’re here for the weekend, their Sunday Funday hop-on-hop-off tour is a blast."
Distinctly Southern restaurants like Knox Mason, J.C. Holdway, Plaid Apron, Oliver Royale and Bistro at the Bijou offer creative new twists on down-home tastes. Others offer more far-flung fare such as Emilia, Kaizen, and Chivo. Plus, there are three gourmet pizza places - Tomato Head, A Dopo, and Pizzeria Nora - offering delicious but different takes on this Italian-American classic. For a delectably down-to-earth treat, or three, head to the Central Filling Station to see which of Knoxville’s finest food trucks are serving for the evening.
With the Tennessee River running through it, the Urban Wilderness growing out of it, lakes all around it and the Cumberland and Smoky Mountains bracketing it, Knoxville is intricately tied to the natural environment of East Tennessee.
"A great place to start exploring Knoxville’s natural environment is Ijams Nature Center at the head of the Urban Wilderness," says Art. "From there you can hike, bike, swim or climb to your heart's content all within a few minutes of downtown Knoxville."
The Tennessean - an 82-room independent luxury hotel in the heart of downtown Knoxville, overlooking World's Fair Park.
The Oliver Hotel - Enjoy a craft cocktail in the Prohibition-themed bar at this boutique hotel, set in a restored 1876 building overlooking Market Square.
Knoxville's Music Scene
Knoxville has a surprisingly robust music scene for a small city. "We pride ourselves on being the Cradle of Country Music, but we’re just as likely to be punk, electronica, hip-hop, avant-garde or rock & roll," says Art.
"Sometimes it seems that everyone you meet is a musician of some sort. Most, just as a hobby or an aside. Chalk it up to our hillbilly family band roots but porch-pickin’ is just something that happens when people get together around here and that leads to experimentations, collaborations, and bands of all sort."
Check out the following venues for some of East Tennessee’s finest music:
- Pilot Light – An experimental music venue and classic dive-bar.
- Boyd’s Jig & Reel – From old-time to bluegrass to roots music and rockabilly.
- Barley’s Tap Room – Roots and rock & roll.
- Preservation Pub – Roots and Rock & Roll.
- Scruffy City Hall – Roots, Rock & Roll and a whole lot more.
Explore Art's dynamic photos showcasing the best of Knoxville in the gallery below and on Instagram.
Visit Knoxville challenged area residents and visitors to submit 15-second videos about why the city is a great travel destination. The best videos made it into this compilation. Check it out!