Surprisingly Fun Things to Do in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is one of Tennessee's most exciting destinations. Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Appalachian Mountains and right on the southern border with Georgia, the city has around 181,100 residents.
But rather than being a sleepy city with little to do, Chattanooga packs a giant punch into every corner. You'll find a modern downtown, wild mountains and great whiskey — all within the embrace of the scenic Tennessee River.
These surprisingly fun things to do prove that Chattanooga is definitely worth visiting.
1. Enjoy the Beauty of Tennessee's Nature
Tennessee is one of the most naturally beautiful states in America, so it's no wonder that many of the best activities in Chattanooga revolve around nature.
Both tourists and locals love riding up Lookout Mountain on an incline cart, according to Hannah Hammon, public relations manager at Chatanoogah Tourism. You can get off at the top and spend the day hiking or biking around the many trails around the mountain.
Rock City is the mountain's most iconic spot. While technically on the Georgian side of the border, Chattanooga visitors cross the imaginary state line to see the impressive rock formations that hang from the face of the cliff.
If you're a daredevil who loves a bit of adrenaline, jump at the opportunity for a hang gliding adventure from the top of Lookout Mountain.
Besides mountains, Hammond recommends nature lovers to enjoy the water. When the weather is nice, the Tennessee River is the perfect place for water sports like kayaking and boating.
2. Get Cultured
Small cities sometimes get a bad rap for not having many cultural offerings. But Chattanooga smashes that stereotype into pieces.
Find the Art District in downtown. Sitting right on the water, it's home to institutions like the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Creative Discovery Museum, which is perfect for families.
There's also the newly renovated Bessie Smith Cultural Center and Chattanooga African American Museum, dedicated to the iconic Jazz Age singer who hailed from the city.
Hammon describes the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park as a hidden gem. "There are walking trails and there are acres of huge sculptures," she says. "It’s a really neat area for people to have picnics and go on walks."
Another great place to go see public art is River Walk. This 25-mile-long promenade crossed all of downtown, following the river to the historic St. Elmo neighborhood.
3. Have a Whiskey Weekend
If a tourist visits Tennessee without trying the whiskey, did they even go to Tennessee? We'll let the philosophers debate about it.
In the meantime, you can plan a tour of Chattanooga Whiskey's Experimental Distillery. Focusing only on experimental small batches, this craft whiskey is unique in the city. Plus, when a distillery's motto is "making up for 100 years of prohibition," you simply have to support it.
Another great distillery that Hamon points out is Gate 11 Distillery. The family-owned business is set within an actual vintage train car. Tours are as interesting as they sound.
4. Eat to Your Heart's Content
Yes, whiskey's important, but so is food. Especially when you're in Tennessee.
Hammon's absolute must-try place is Uncle Larry's Restaurant, where Uncle Larry himself hand fries every single order of fresh fish.
Other favorite places of hers are Slick's Burgers, which she describes as family-friendly, and Lupi's Pizza Pies. The latter isn't your average pizza place, sourcing all its vegetables from its own farm — it really doesn't get fresher than that! For a nice night out, Bridgeman's Chophouse serves perfect steaks.
Dessert is always a success at Clumpies Ice Cream Co. or at the Hot Chocolatier, where you can indulge in high-quality handmade chocolate.
If it's that kind of night, follow dinner with some drinks at the Whiskey Thief, the Edwin Hotel's chic rooftop bar.
5. Sleep in an Unusual Hotel
Chattanooga is big enough to have several garden variety chain hotels. But why come to a place this unique just to stay somewhere ordinary?
One of our top picks for places to stay is the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Once a working train station, this historic landmark was at risk of going the way of the dodo bird until local conservationists stepped in. It's now an incredible hotel, where you can choose between standard guest rooms or sleeping in a train car.
Even if you don't stay the night, go check it out and enjoy one of its restaurants, bars and shops — after all, how often do you get to be in a place that headlines a Glenn Miller song?
Other great accommodation options include the Kinley and the Bode Hotel, both of which "are right downtown within walking distance to most of everything," Hammon says.
And if you're on a budget, check into the Crash Pad, which describes itself as an "uncommon hostel."
What Makes Chattanooga Worth Visiting
The United States is a gigantic country with many, many places to visit. So why should you choose Chattanooga? We'll let Hammon tell you:
"There's always something going on, always something new [here].
"We have all of these amazing attractions, restaurants, and events, but what makes us unique and special is our people.
"We love to have visitors, we love to show off our town. We are very welcoming and passionate about our city, our arts, and our culinary. We always want to share that and [let] everyone enjoy what we enjoy on a regular basis."
It's easy to see that the first people to fall in love with Chattanooga are the locals themselves.