Chattanooga, Tennessee, may not be as famous as its Tennessee cousins, Nashville and Memphis, but this charming city packs a big punch. It has a bit of everything: outdoor adventures, a thriving food and drink scene, interesting history and culture, and plenty of Southern hospitality!
The city is nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and the Tennessee River, making it a beautiful spot for nature lovers. And there’s no shortage of things to do outdoors, from hiking and climbing to whitewater rafting and zip-lining.
Chattanooga is also home to some cool museums, like the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a historic train station that’s been turned into a hotel! As for the food, where do we even begin? From Southern comfort food like buttermilk fried chicken and biscuits to gourmet burgers and craft beer, you’re going to want to come here hungry.
If you love art and culture, you’re going to have an amazing time in Chattanooga! The city is filled with public art, and there are always festivals and events going on. Chattanooga also has a rich history as it was an important battlefield during the Civil War. Plus, there are several interesting museums and monuments dedicated to that time period scattered around town.
Finally, it’s so easy to get around this place. Chattanooga’s walkability and bike-friendly streets make it a breeze to get from one attraction to the next. And if you’re looking to explore beyond the city limits, there’s no shortage of beautiful drives in the area.
With so many things to see and do, narrowing it down is the hardest part! So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Chattanooga for you. We made sure to add a little something for everyone, so whether you’re a seasoned visitor or just getting away for the weekend, you’re sure to find something on this list that you love!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Chattanooga, TN
1. Spot Sharks and Stingrays at the Tennessee Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Chattanooga for families, couples, and groups of friends. It’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, so you definitely don’t want to miss it!
The aquarium is home to an impressive collection of fresh and saltwater wildlife, with two “journeys” to choose from. The Ocean Journey is a marine-themed exhibit that will teach you about the different species and habitats in our oceans. The River Journey is a freshwater-themed section that takes you through the mysterious Appalachian Cove Forest, a delta swamp, and some of the world’s best-known rivers.
You’ll see sharks, stingrays, and reef fish swim through coral formations in the Ocean Journey. And in the Boneless Beauties gallery, you can learn all about jellyfish! There are also touch pools where you can get up close and personal with some of the sharks and stingrays.
You can also purchase tickets to see a movie at the on-site IMAX theater. The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Center shows a variety of films on environmental and planetary themes.
If you’re planning on visiting the aquarium, we recommend purchasing your timed-entry tickets in advance online. They’re limited and they do sell out quickly, especially on weekends and holidays.
2. Explore Bluff’s View Arts District
Exploring the Bluff’s View Arts District is definitely one of the coolest Chattanooga activities because there are so many things to see and do in this historic neighborhood!
The district is home to several art galleries, including the River Gallery and the Hunter Museum of American Art. There’s also a beautiful sculpture garden and tons of local artisans selling their wares. Most of their shops have windows with large panes, so you can watch the artisans bake bread, make chocolates, or roast coffee as you stroll by.
The Bluff’s View Arts District is also home to several restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking the Tennessee River. Grab a seat near sunset, order a glass of wine, and get ready for some of the best views in Chattanooga!
We love how the district is just a mile away from Downtown Chattanooga. You can easily bike or walk there. There are lots of free parking spaces available, too, so bring your car if you’re planning on doing some shopping.
3. Check Out the Iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo
You can’t come to this city without dropping by the Chattanooga Choo Choo! This historic train station has been converted into a hotel, restaurant, and entertainment complex.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is best known for its antique trains, which you can explore on a self-guided tour. Some of the cars have been turned into hotel rooms, so you can experience what it was like to sleep on the Chattanooga Choo Choo line back in its heyday.
Aside from the trains, there’s also a ton of other things to do at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Catch a comedy show at The Comedy Catch, explore the Escape Experience (an escape room), or relax at the Glenn Miller Gardens.
And, of course, you can’t leave without grabbing a bite to eat at one of the Chattanooga Choo Choo’s restaurants. We recommend the Station House Restaurant, which serves classic American cuisine with a Southern twist. Finally, end the day with a mini shopping spree at the eclectic Sweetly Southern boutique or the Chattanooga Jewelry Co.
Whether you’re a train enthusiast or not, the Chattanooga Choo Choo is a must-visit when you’re in town!
4. Get Tipsy on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail
Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel, and Ole Smoky are just a few of the famous Tennessee whiskey brands that call Chattanooga home. And there’s no better way to explore the city’s distilleries than on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
The trail is a group of 26 distilleries across the state of Tennessee that offer tours and tastings. Chattanooga is home to 10 of these distilleries, so you can easily spend a day (or two!) exploring them all.
Each distillery tour is different, but most include a peek into the production process and a visit to the barrel aging room. Some distilleries also offer interactive experiences, like whiskey-making classes or cocktail crafting.
Be sure to pick up a Tennessee Whiskey Trail passport at your first stop. You’ll collect stamps at each distillery, and once you’ve visited all 26, you’ll earn a free T-shirt!
5. Drop by Chattanooga’s Top Museums
For your dose of culture and arts, sprinkle a few museums into your Chattanooga bucket list! Whether you’re traveling solo or with the kids in tow, there’s a museum for everyone in this city.
If you’re looking for an educational (and interactive) experience for the little ones, be sure to visit the Creative Discovery Museum. There’s so much to do here, from exploring the Splash Zone to riding the Dinosaur Train. And did we mention that admission is free for kids under 3?
For a more traditional museum experience, head to the Chattanooga African American Museum. You’ll see exhibits on the city’s African American history and culture, as well as rotating exhibitions by local artists. The location is amazing: part of the museum is inside a 1904 mansion, while the other part sits atop an 80-foot headland with sweeping views of the Tennessee River.
Other top museums in Chattanooga include the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts (housed in an 18th-century Victorian home) and the Chattanooga History Center. They’re all worth a visit!
6. Try Local Goodies at the Chattanooga Market
Don’t miss the Chattanooga Market when you find yourself in this corner of Tennessee. Reserve one Sunday morning or afternoon (or an entire day!) to explore all that this producer-only marketplace has to offer.
The Chattanooga Market hosts over 200 artisans every single week, including woodworkers, farmers, photographers, and more, so you’ll never run out of things to check out during your visit. We especially love the special events based on which produce is in season. For example, strawberries get their own week during peak season, complete with a strawberry pie-eating contest!
If you work up an appetite while strolling through the market, let your nose guide you to one of the many food trucks on site. Try waffle sandwiches loaded with everything from chicken to Nutella, hot empanadas, Southern BBQ, and all sorts of pastries and sweets.
If you’re still hungry, go stall hopping and enjoy the free samples from the friendly vendors. We’re talking bites of fresh goat cheese, sips of locally-made honey wine, and samples of artisan chocolate.
7. Eat Your Way Through Chattanooga
Chattanooga’s food scene is all about comfort food that will make you feel all warm and full. While there are lots of upscale restaurants serving creative dishes, sometimes you just want a good old Southern meal. And this city definitely delivers on that front!
For breakfast, head to Aretha Frankensteins over at Tremont Street and order anything on their breakfast menu. You can’t go wrong with their applewood bacon, loaded scrambles, waffles and pancakes, and home fries.
For lunch or dinner, you choose! Go to Bea’s Restaurant for Southern fried chicken with all the fixin’s, Forker’s BBQ for smoky pulled pork, and Memo’s Grill for their iconic chopped wiener plates.
And don’t forget to leave room for dessert! Chattanooga is home to the original Moon Pie, so you definitely need to try one (or two, or three). Pick up a box at the Chattanooga Bakery, or get them at most convenience stores around town.
Little Debbie is another local favorite, and you can find her snacks just about everywhere. Our personal favorite is the Oatmeal Crème Pie (but the Honey Buns are a close second!).
When it comes to what to eat in Chattanooga, we only have one piece of advice: bring your appetite!
8. Join a Ghost Tour in Downtown Chattanooga
For a spooky (but fun!) activity, join one of the ghost tours at Downtown Chattanooga. Led by local guides, these tours will take you to some of the most haunted spots in the city, like old cemeteries and taverns. If you’re lucky (or unlucky), you might spot a spirit or two!
You can choose from a variety of tours. If you’re traveling with the little ones, the Spooky and Family-Friendly Walking Tour is your best bet. You’ll glimpse some of the most famous Chattanooga attractions while learning all about the city’s storied and haunted history. Or, if you really want to test your limits, try the Adults-Only Haunted City Walking Tour to learn all about the city’s grisly tragedies and centuries-old curses.
Either way you go, it’s a memorable way to learn more about Chattanooga’s haunted history and culture.
9. Visit Chattanooga’s Historical & Cultural Landmarks
Few places in the US have such a rich history and culture as Chattanooga. From the Native Americans who first inhabited the land to the settlers who made it their home, there’s so much to learn about this city!
Ross’s Landing, for example, is where the Trail of Tears began. This is where the Cherokee people were forced to leave their homes and walk over 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. Today, Ross’s Landing is a beautiful park with a natural amphitheater, a marina and river pier, and a walking path along the Tennessee River.
It’s also where you’ll find the Riverwalk, a 13-mile walking and biking path that takes you past all sorts of historical and cultural landmarks. Some of the highlights include the Walnut Street Bridge, the oldest working bridge in the US!
If you have time, hop on the Southern Belle Riverboat for a cruise down the Tennessee River. The boat has been operating since 1985, so you can boast about taking a ride on a Chattanooga original!
10. Adventure Through the Rock City Gardens
Adventure awaits at the marvelous Rock City Gardens, hands-down one of the best things to do in Chattanooga. The ancient and absolutely massive rock formations are sure to take your breath away, as will walking the 4,100-mile-long Enchanted Trail. Rock City also has the Seven States View, and it’s exactly as it sounds: on a clear day, you can see seven different states from this point!
And that’s just the beginning of all the fun waiting for you at Rock City Gardens. Conquer the Swing-a-Long Bridge, crawl through Fat Man’s Squeeze, explore Mother Goose Village, and go through the magical Fairyland Caverns.
If you love flowers, we suggest going in spring when the gardens are in full bloom. You’ll be surrounded by over 400 different types of native wildflowers, and it’s simply beautiful!
11. Discover Chattanooga’s Falls, Caverns & Mountains
Thanks to Chattanooga’s location in the Appalachian Mountains, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Start with a visit to Ruby Falls, a 145-foot waterfall located deep inside Lookout Mountain. You can take a guided tour of the falls or even go spelunking in the adjacent Ruby Falls Caverns. It’s impossible to forget this place, as Ruby Falls is one of the tallest and deepest underground waterfalls in the world!
Nearby, you’ll find Chattanooga’s very own Incline Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world. The Incline takes you up Lookout Mountain for stunning views of the city below.
If you’re looking for a more strenuous activity, hike up Signal Mountain using the Cumberland Trail. Every inch of this trail is snap-worthy, especially when you reach the point overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge!
Want something more relaxing? You’ll find countless bike paths, walking trails, and parks throughout Chattanooga. Some of our favorites are Coolidge Park, Renaissance Park, and Heritage Park.
12. Learn About the Civil War at Chattanooga’s Historic War Sites
Chattanooga was an important city during the Civil War, and the city is still filled with historic war sites. These Chattanooga attractions offer a fascinating glimpse into this turbulent time in American history.
The Chattanooga National Cemetery is the final resting place for over 50,000 veterans and their families, dating all the way back to the Civil War. This cemetery is also the site of the largest mass grave from the Battle of Chickamauga, which claimed the lives of over 16,000 soldiers.
Next, head to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, a 9,523-acre park that commemorates the two battles that were fought here. You can explore the battlefields, hike the scenic trails, and even drive your own car through the park.
For a more in-depth look at the Civil War, visit the Chattanooga History Center over at Chestnut Street. This museum features an extensive Civil War collection, including muskets, a mountain howitzer, and other authentic weapons used in the battles. It was particularly interesting to see the original diaries and photographs of Chattanooga residents who lived through the war.
13. Go on a Downtown Chattanooga Bar Crawl
Chattanooga is the birthplace of Jack Daniels, so it’s no surprise that the city is filled with great bars and breweries. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Chattanooga at night, a bar crawl should up at the top of your list!
Touchdown at the Pickle Barrel, one of the most beloved dive bars in Chattanooga. Try to secure a spot at their roof deck if you love to people-watch! Next stop: the Flying Squirrel. This quirky bar is in Southside and is a favorite among the younger crowd.
Grab a pint at the Tremont Tavern too, which offers 100 types of beers and 21 draught beers. For some live music, you can’t go wrong with Rhythm and Brews, plus all the local acts that play there. Spend your last stop at The Honest Pint, which has an impressive selection of over 50 beers on tap.
14. Attend a Chattanooga Festival
Chattanooga loves its festivals! Throughout the year, the city hosts a variety of events, including the Riverbend Festival, the Chattanooga Film Festival, and local fairs such as the Chattanooga Oktoberfest.
The Riverbend Festival is an annual event that celebrates Chattanooga’s musical heritage. This three-day June festival features over lots of different bands, including country, rock, jazz, and blues. Expect to see some big-name headliners, as well as up-and-coming local talent.
Movie buffs will love the Chattanooga Film Festival, which showcases independent films from all over the world. This festival also features a variety of special events, such as panel discussions, film premieres, and meet-and-greets with filmmakers.
Finally, don’t miss the Chattanooga Oktoberfest, a two-day event that celebrates all things German! This free and festive event features traditional German food, beer, music, and dance. An Oktoberfest in Tennessee? Ja, bitte!
15. Do Some Serious Shopping in Chattanooga
Chattanooga is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you love antiques, vintage finds, and local art. But don’t worry, there’s a mall here too, and one of Tennessee’s biggest ones at that! Hamilton Place is a huge shopping complex with over 200 stores, including all the usual suspects like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Forever 21.
If you’re looking for something a little more unique, make your way to the Northshore. This trendy neighborhood has a nice concentration of boutique shops, art galleries, and home decor stores.
The Southside is also a great place to shop, especially if you’re on the hunt for vintage finds. Don’t forget to visit Warehouse Row as well! It’s 330,000 square feet of artisanal goods, boutiques, restaurants, and so much more. It’s also just a few blocks from Chattanooga Choo-Choo, so you can make a day of it.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Chattanooga. What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga?
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