The 10 Best Things To Do in Chattanooga TN

Things to do in Chattanooga Tennessee Drone Aerial View of Chattanooga Skyline and Tennessee River
Drone Aerial View of Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN Skyline and Tennessee River

Spread along the banks of the Tennessee River and hugging the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is surrounded by incredibly diverse and fascinating natural formations. The city has a rich history dating back to the Civil War, along with great museums and a bountiful art life. Chattanooga is not the largest city in Tennessee, but it is one of the most beautiful and most exciting. There are some truly awesome things to do in Chattanooga….

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The Top Things to Do in Chattanooga Tennessee

While one weekend might not be enough to see everything Chattanooga has to offer, it might be enough to give you a good feel of this interesting city.

Here are a handful of the best things to do in Chattanooga that would be of interest to the entire family.

1 | Tennessee Riverpark

Blue walking trail along the TN River in Chattanooga
Blue walking trail along the TN River in Chattanooga, TN.

Tennessee Riverpark is a ten mile-long, very popular park in Chattanooga that stretches from the Chickamauga Dam along the Tennessee River all the way to downtown Chattanooga.

This beautifully landscaped park is the most sought after in the city, not only because of the spectacular views of the river, but also for the abundance of activities that are available in the river park.

A part of the park is a nearby marsh that provides a home to a number of water birds. You will also find six fishing piers that are always full of fishermen trying their luck. Keep an eye out for the many local artists who often place their art pieces along the pathways.

You can join joggers, dog walkers, bikers or rollerbladers all day long, for a bit of exercise. Or if you prefer something a little less active, sit on one of many benches, read a book or watch the world go by.

In the summer, watch a movie in front of the Riverpark Shelter #4. You can also use the boat ramp to launch your motor boat, canoe, or kayak into the water.

There is always something going on in the park, from organized scavenger hunts to learning how to kayak and remains one of the best places to visit in Chattanooga. Check the calendar of events before going.

2 | Lookout Mountain

Rock City Gardens in Chattanooga Tennessee, USA
Rock City Gardens in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

For the best view in the city – this is your spot!

Looming over the city, Lookout Mountain is your chance to see the whole of Chattanooga and its surrounding areas. 

Several important landmarks of Chattanooga are located on Lookout Mountain. Much of the outdoor life happens here too.

You can reach all of the landmarks and trailheads by car, but there is another, more local way.

Start exploring by boarding the iconic Incline Railway at its lower station in historic downtown St. Elmo. This incredible feat of engineering ascends the 72.7-degree incline on the way up to Lookout Mountain. 

The views of downtown Chattanooga from the train are incredible, but it is nothing compared to the view from several lookout points once you reach the upper station. 

Once you get off the train, you can take one of many trails up the mountain.

Don’t miss one of the best hikes leads that leads to the famous Sunset Rock. 

Ruby Falls, one of the main attractions on Lookout Mountain, is the deepest and tallest cave waterfall in the United States. Located deep in the mountain, it is only a short drive from downtown Chattanooga. To reach the falls you need to take the elevator from the parking lot, which will take you 260-feet deep into the heart of the mountain. From the elevator there is a guided hike through the cave until you reach the falls.

On top of Lookout Mountain, only a six-mile drive from the city, you will find Rock City. This tourist attraction in Chattanooga includes massive rock formations, beautiful gardens with more than 400 species of native plants, and breathtaking panoramic views called “See 7 States.” 

Carve out some time in your itinerary to take the Enchanted Trail through the woods, visit Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, and enjoy one of many restaurants and eateries.

Besides Ruby Falls, the area around Chattanooga has a surprising number of spectacular waterfalls that are worth exploring.

3 | Tennessee Aquarium

Things to do in Chattanooga Tennessee Aquarium
Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN

As you walk through the two buildings that make up the Tennessee Aquarium, you will find it hard to believe that the giant car-size catfish, the enormous freshwater stingrays, the huge Arapaima, bizarre Wallago Catfish, and the electrifying jellyfish all live in the freshwaters of Tennessee. 

The focus of the Tennessee Aquarium is underwater life in Tennessee, known for some of the most diverse freshwater fauna in the country. The aquarium is home to more than 12,000 animals representing almost 800 different species of fish. Visitors to the aquarium follow the water as it moves through the state from its source in the mountain until it reaches the sea.

The exhibits are designed to be very realistic, showing the marine animals in their natural habitats. Besides the native animals that you may recognize, there are also a handful of strange creatures from distant parts of the Earth.

4 | Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street Bridge over the Tennessee River in Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN
Walnut Street Bridge over the Tennessee River in Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN

There are seven spectacular bridges over the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, but none are as iconic as the Walnut St. Bridge.

Built in 1890, this 2,376 feet high bridge is the world’s longest pedestrian bridge.

It was the first non-military bridge across the Tennessee River and connects the river’s north shore with downtown Chattanooga. At the time of its construction, the bridge connected the predominantly white part of the city’s south with the north side’s Hill City with a mostly black population. 

The bridge was closed to traffic in 1978, and today it is a popular Chattanooga tourist attraction and the venue of many public events such as the Riverbend country music festival and Wine over Water wine tasting event.

5 | Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Things to do in Chattanooga Tennessee Shark's Teeth
Shark’s Teeth in Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Located less than a ten-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga, Raccoon Mountain Caverns is a park and a campground created around the fascinating cave system. The cave system is completely natural and very well preserved, with new parts constantly being discovered. Some parts are still geologically active and growing, with about 5 1/2 miles of passageways mapped and explored so far.

You can take a guided tour to visit Crystal Palace, the largest and the most interesting cave found here. The 55-minute tour runs through the first quarter mile of the cave that is equipped with lights, steps, paths, and handrails. During the tour you will learn about the caves’ formation history while witnessing the various formations present that include stalactites, stalagmites, and the like.

You will also get the opportunity to see animals such as bats and salamanders that live in the cave. Reservation for the tour is required.

The tours of the unexplored parts of the cave that require special equipment are temporarily suspended, but hopefully the opportunity to be able to go deep into the earth and discover what else Mother Earth has hidden will resume soon.

Other activities in Chattanooga and Raccoon Mountain Caverns Park include panning for gemstones, riding a go-kart, and relaxing in the campground. The campground is modern, well-equipped, and has sufficient space for tents or RVs.

6 | Creative Discovery Museum

Things to do in Chattanooga Tennessee Museum
Building and yard sculpture of a museum near the RiverWalk.

Opened in 1995, the Creative Discovery Museum is a hands-on children’s museum located in downtown Chattanooga. It is the perfect place to visit on a rainy day when you are out of ideas on what to do in Chattanooga with kids.

The Creative Discovery Museum includes areas for music, art, and field science. You will also find a water-themed zone called RiverPlay, an inventor’s workshop, a permanent rooftop exhibit, and a space for various temporary exhibits.

The museum is designed for children of all ages, and also for teachers, parents, and caregivers. Kids will enjoy digging in the sand for dinosaur bones, splashing in the RiverPlay area, or getting noisy in the music studio.

The museum hosts programs for children with special needs and is also a great space for birthday parties.

7 | Chattanooga Coolidge Park

Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN Coolidge Park and Market Street Bridge
Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee TN Coolidge Park and Market Street Bridge.  

Next up on this list of things to do in Chattanooga is Coolidge Park. This popular waterfront park, part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, is located on the city’s north shore and includes the famous Walnut Street Bridge.

Coolidge Park has wonderful open green spaces with lovely views of the Tennessee River. You will also discover some hiking trails and a number of spaces for a picnic. 

One of the best-known features of the park is a 100-year-old historic carousel. The carousel has been beautifully restored and kids will thoroughly enjoy riding on the brightly painted wooden horses, tigers, and other animals. While here, don’t miss the rock climbing area and water fountain.

8 | Hunter Museum of American Art

The Hunter Museum of American Art
The Hunter Museum of American Art as seen from the famous Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. Part of the downtown Chattanooga Tennessee skyline

The Hunter Museum of American Art, located in Chattanooga’s Bluff View Art District, is said to have the most complete collection of American art in the Southeast. With 100 years of architectures, this fine art museum occupies a beautiful 1904 classical revival mansion designed by Abram Garfield; the son of President James A. Garfield. 

Most of the museum’s permanent collections consist of works of the Hudson River School, the museum’s main focus. There are also works representing American Impressionism, 19th-century genre painting, the Ashcan School, regionalism, early modernism, and post-World War II contemporary and modern art.

Besides permanent collections, the museum frequently organizes shows featuring local, national, and international artists.

The museum has a range of educational programs for kids as well as for adults while the museum space is available to rent for various social events.

9 | Bluff View Art District

Bluff View Art District Chattanooga Tn
Bluff View Art District Chattanooga TN

The Bluff View Art District is a downtown Chattanooga historic neighborhood set on a high bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and the entire downtown Chattanooga.

Since the opening of the first business in the area in 1992, the district has become a popular spot for locals and visitors due to its charming, lively vibe.

This one and a half city block is known for all kinds of art galleries, quaint bed and breakfasts, restaurants, coffee shops, courtyards, gardens, boutiques, and much more. It is also one of the liveliest and most popular neighborhoods in Chattanooga for tourists.

Some of the most trendy spots to hang out include the patio of Rembrandt’s Coffee House, Bluff View Bakery with its incredible artisanal breads and pastries, and River Gallery Sculpture Garden where you can enjoy watching the art, have a picnic, and just relax in the peaceful, beautiful space. 

10 | The Chattanooga Market

Chattanooga Tourist attractions
The First Tennessee Pavilion Chattanooga Market

You cannot really get a good feel of a place until you visit its farmers’ market and this is one of the best things to do in Chattanooga during a visit.

The Chattanooga Market, found in the open-air First Horizon Pavilion on Carter Street, features more than 300 vendors offering a variety of produce, meats, cheeses, prepared meals, pastries, sweets, and coffee. As a rule, everything sold at the market has to be grown, created, or handmade by the person selling the product. Saying cheers to that!

This producer-only market is the largest in the area. Thousands of people from all over the region stop by to take advantage of the fresh local produce and of course, to also have a good time. In addition to the local food truck eateries, this produce, arts and crafts market also boasts live music.

A replica of the Saturday Market in Eugene, Oregon, this popular place to visit in Chattanooga was founded in 2001. It organizes weekend events such as celebrity chef competitions, holiday market art events, Oktoberfest, and all kinds of other celebrations.

The market, free to the public, is open every Sunday from 11 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon between the months of April and December.

Final Thoughts

There are so many awesome things to do in Chattanooga that there is no getting bored while visiting. You will surely find something for the whole family.

If the weather is nice, explore Lookout Mountain and stroll along the Tennessee Riverwalk. If it is raining, there are a number of compelling museums and galleries, for kids as well as for adults.

Don’s miss the farmers’ market on Sunday. It is a whole lot of fun where you can find delicious food, listen to live music, and feel the pulse of the city. 

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This article was a contribution from fellow blogger Lorena Maia who runs the TravelCroc site. Lorena and husband Greg love traveling around the world and discovering charming small towns. You can check out their memories on their TravelCroc blog.

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