Tennessee’s most underappreciated city sits on the banks of the Tennessee River, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Knoxville lacks the identity of other major Tennessee cities—it is not the birthplace of the blues, Music City USA, or the home of the Choo-Choo.
Some observers have called Knoxville “Austin without the hype,” a moniker more true than not. But Knoxville’s viewpoint is ultimately an insular one—this is a city that does not strive to be. It just is.
And what is Knoxville? It is the gateway to the Smokies and the home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. It is an old industrial city with a rich history. It is a city undergoing a downtown renaissance.
Whatever name you choose to put on Knoxville, take some time to explore it. The city skyline is dominated by the gold-plated Sunsphere, left over from the 1982 World’s Fair. Along Gay Street and in the Old City downtown you will find restaurants, bars, and concert halls that are putting Knoxville on the musical map.
The University of Tennessee campus is a hotbed of athletic and cultural events. In old suburbs scattered around the city you will find jewels in the rough, like the Knoxville Zoo, Beck Cultural Center, and Ijams Nature Center.
Knoxville is a city without pretensions. It is a place that gets better the more you get to know it, as long as you give it a chance.
Within a half-hour drive from Knoxville are several communities with their own history and attractions. Oak Ridge is one of three places in the United States that built the components of the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it continues to be home to a nuclear facility. In Norris you will find the best museum about the Appalachian way of life, and Clinton is the site of a significant, but underappreciated, scene in the U.S. civil rights movement.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition