If you’re searching for the perfect mid-size city with a hint of southern charm and full of fun, look no further than Chattanooga, Tennessee!  Named one of the 52 Places to Go in 2018 by The New York Times (#25), Chattanooga is quickly becoming a hot spot for families and outdoor adventure-seekers of all ages. Love art or history? No problem–Chattanooga offers something for you, too. With something to offer almost every type of traveler, it’s easy to see how it makes this prestigious list.

Located in the southeastern corner of Tennessee, Chattanooga sits along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  Only a 2 hour drive from Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, and Birmingham, it is an excellent choice for a road trip, especially with children.  So whether planning a long weekend or a summer vacation, here are some great reasons to consider Chattanooga as your final destination.

The Tennessee Aquarium and Imax Theater: 

Tennessee Aquarium, image via Times Free Press

The aquarium is housed in two buildings.  The River Journey is one of the largest freshwater tanks in the world and is organized around the Story of the River, following the path of a raindrop from high in the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.  The newest addition, Ocean Journey, explores species found in the gulf, but it also contains two other fascinating exhibits: The Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art, and Penguins’ Rock. 

Additionally, the Aquarium also operates the Imax 3D Theater and the River Gorge Explorer, a 65-foot catamaran tour boat, offers daily tours of the nearby Tennessee River Gorge and other sites along the Tennessee River.  Combo ticket packages for all are available on the Tennessee Aquarium website or at the ticket counter.

The Creative Discovery Museum: 

Creative Discovery Museum, image via Chattanooga Fun

Winner of a 2017 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, the Creative Discovery Museum is one of the top children’s museums in the country and is within walking distance of the aquarium.   Designed for ages 18 months to 12 years old, the museum features art, music, and science areas, along with a water-themed zone- RiverPlay, a rooftop inventor’s workshop, and a visiting “special” exhibit upstairs.  A favorite spot for families, plan ahead for your visit to avoid lines and crowds.  Once again, combination tickets are available for many of the popular downtown attractions and often offer great discounts if purchased online.

The Allure of Lookout Mountain:  Head to Lookout Mountain, a short 20 minute drive from downtown, to experience a few of the oldest, most famous (thanks to those Red Barns) perennial favorites:  Rock City and Ruby Falls.  See Rock City! 

See Seven States at Rock City

Filled with ancient rock formations, gardens filled with native plants, fairyland caverns and Mother Goose village, Rock City is a fan favorite that boasts of a panoramic view of 7-states.  


Ruby Falls, image via Chattanooga Fun

At the equally popular Ruby Falls, visitors explore inside the mountain cave as they trek to see the largest underground waterfall.  The newest addition outside the cave is the ZIPstream Aerial Adventure, a suspended obstacle and zipline course.

Other popular sites on the mountain include:

  • Lookout Mountain Incline Railway – Open since 1892, it is the world’s steepest passenger funicular railway.  You can board at the base of the mountain in St. Elmo or at the top of the mountain close to Point Park.
  • Point Park

    Point Park, image via Tripadvisor

    A ten acre memorial park that overlooks the Lookout Mountain Battlefield and the City of Chattanooga.  Park rangers provide guided tours daily so check the calendar for scheduled events.  The Battles of Chattanooga, located at the entrance to the park, provide an excellent starting point for understanding the significance of the civil war battles that took place in and around the Chattanooga area.

  • Sunset Rock – This trailhead is part of the expansive hiking trails that cover the mountain and is a popular spot for pictures at sunset (hence the name).  It is short walk from the very small parking located on West Brow Road.

The Art District:  Just a short walk up the hill from downtown, the art district is perched above the river and anchored by the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum of Decorative Art, and the Bluff View Art District.

  • The Hunter Museum of American Art focuses on works, in a variety of genres,  made in the United States from the colonial period to present day.  It houses permanent, as well as, temporary exhibits from renowned institutions.

    Hunter Museum of American Art, image via Flikr

  • The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts is truly one of the most unique collections you will find.  The museum houses the Anna Safley Houston’s personal collection of Victorian art glass and antiques.
  • The Bluff View Art District is Chattanooga’s smallest neighborhood (1.5 blocks) and home to the River Gallery, a sculpture garden, a historic bed and breakfast, and a collection of delicious eateries:  Rembrandt’s Roasting Company, Bluff View Bakery, Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria, and the Back Inn Cafe.

Chattanooga Zoo:  If your looking for a small but enjoyable zoo experience, this is an excellent choice.  The 13-acres is easy to navigate with strollers and “little legs and feet” but offers over 300 animals representing 200 species, many of which are endangered.  Check the website for special exhibits and talks and note there are 3 additional rides available (carousel, train, and camel – only on weekend) that are not included in admission.

The Block Climbing image

The Block, image via River City Company

High Point Climbing and Fitness: Also downtown, this newest attraction is one of the “coolest” and unique climbing gyms.  It offers both indoor and outdoor climbing walls for ALL ages and levels of climbers.  Children as young as 3 can enjoy the 3000 square foot Kid Zone, which I find is one of the best ways to burn up any additional “energy” after a full day of exploring — good night sleep guarantee.

Chattanooga Choo Choo:  A trip to Chattanooga just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the place made famous in song!  The Chattanooga Choo Choo is undergoing a vibrant re-birth.  Yes, you can still book a room in one of the rail cars, but the Choo Choo is also home to many new restaurants, music venues, and seasonal activities.  It’s southside location is a perfect starting point to explore a host of Chattanooga gastronomic  newbies:  The Hot Chocolatier, Chattanooga Whiskey, The Flying Squirrel Bar, the Bluegrass Grill, Niedlov’s Breadworks, and Main Street Meats (just to name a few).

Much, Much More to Explore

Southern Belle Riverboat Cruise, image via Family Fun Vacations US

While these are some of the most well-known Chattanooga spots, don’t forget there are plenty more things to explore. If you are looking for more outdoor options, definitely visit outdoorchattanooga.com or drop-in Rock/Creek Outfitters for an exhaustive list of hiking, biking, paddleboarding, and kayaking suggestions.  For those wanting to tour the river, consider a trip on the Southern Belle Riverboat or the Chattanooga Ducks.  And, for the history buffs, Ross’s Landing is the embarkation point of the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears, and The Chickamauga Battlefield is 30-minute drive from downtown.

Chattanooga literally offers a wide variety of things to do and see, so come visit!  I don’t think you will be disappointed and probably will be a bit surprised.  Stay tuned for my posts on the best places to stay and eat during your visit!