10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chattanooga
Chattanooga, in southeastern Tennessee on the border with Georgia, was once an outlying Cherokee settlement. Now a busy city of 150,000 inhabitants, it's been immortalized in song thanks to the popularity of the 1941 Glenn Miller hit, Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Visitors can still see the original railroad station dating from 1909, and railway buffs will enjoy riding the largest steam railroad in the south, the Tennessee Valley Railroad. The city has a number of great museums, including the Hunter Museum of Art and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. A steep railroad runs up Lookout Mountain, scene of the battle of Chattanooga during the Civil War, where visitors can study the history of the battle while enjoying great views.
See also: Where to Stay in Chattanooga
1 Lookout Mountain and the Chattanooga Choo Choo
The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway consists of trolley-style railcars that climb to Lookout Mountain with its superb views. But perhaps the most famous train-related attraction is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, which was a major link between the northern and southern states of the US and began operating in 1880. It was the first train to provide non-stop service. Today, Terminal Station is both a hotel and a tourist attraction, with an antique engine on display, along with shops and restaurants. Other highlights include lovely gardens, rides on a 1924 trolley, a large model railroad layout with more than 3,000 feet of track, and the chance to sleep in a restored sleeper car.
Address: 1400 Market Street, Chattanooga
2 Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Tennessee Valley Railroad offers a variety of excursions aboard vintage engines including a chance to ride a 1930s steam train along six miles of track through idyllic Tennessee countryside, crossing three bridges and passing through a Civil War era railroad tunnel. A variety of programs are available for those wanting a longer experience, including daylong main line excursions, dinner packages, and seasonal events such as the ever-popular Tennessee Railfest. Afterwards, be sure to wander through the extensive collection of rolling stock, engines, and memorabilia.
Address: 4119 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga
3 The Tennessee Aquarium
The excellent Tennessee Aquarium has numerous displays relating to the freshwater fish found in the southern US, while Ocean Journey takes guests into the open ocean where sharks, stingrays, and colorful reef fish glide through coral formations. Visitors can also experience shark and ray touch pools, while the Boneless Beauties gallery includes graceful jellyfish, a giant octopus and cuttlefish. Also worth visiting is the original River Journey building, which takes guests on a freshwater adventure, with exhibits showcasing the Appalachian Cove Forest, a steamy Delta swamp, and the best known rivers of the world. Also of great interest is the aquarium's excellent River Gorge Explorer, a 70-passenger catamaran trip to the spectacular Tennessee River Gorge, one of the state's most scenic waterways.
Address: One Broad Street, Chattanooga
4 The Hunter Museum of American Art
The Hunter Museum features a fine collection of American art from the colonial period to the present day. Exhibits include paintings, works on paper, sculpture, furniture, and contemporary studio glass. Part of the museum is housed in a 1904 Classic Revival mansion, while a newer ultra-modern section sits dramatically atop an 80-foot bluff with commanding views of the Tennessee River. Art of a different kind is included at the Dragon Dreams Museum, which features a collection of more than 2,000 dragons depicted in antiques, porcelain, figurines, and furniture.
Address: 10 Bluff View Avenue, Chattanooga
5 Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum
At the Battles for Chattanooga Museum on Lookout Mountain, the city's Civil War history is displayed through 5,000 miniature soldiers, sound effects, 650 lights, and details of the major battles fought here in November of 1863. Also on display is a collection of artifacts including period weapons. This fascinating attraction is a good jumping-off point from which to explore the actual battle sites themselves, including the memorials on the adjacent Point Park Battlefield, where the Battle Above the Clouds took place. Also of interest to Civil War buffs is the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, the country's largest such park.
Address: 1110 East Brow Road, Lookout Mountain
6 The Bessie Smith Cultural Center
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center tour begins in east Africa in the 12th-century and travels through time to the history of how the African people were enslaved and brought to America. Using interactive displays, this unique attraction-named after the "Empress of the Blues," Bessie Smith-also paints a fascinating picture of conditions for the city's black population. The museum is also an important arts and cultural center, hosting numerous art exhibits, concerts, and performances.
Address: 200 East Martin Luther King Blvd, Chattanooga
7 Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Just a few miles west of Chattanooga, the Raccoon Mountain Caverns consist of a network of spectacular caverns carved from limestone by the forces of nature. They contain formations and fossils in their natural state in more than five-and-a-half miles of mapped passageways, as well as a number of undeveloped areas used for Wild Cave tours (a fun ghost tour is also available). It's a popular site for campers and offers other activities such as panning for gemstones, go-karts, and hiking. Also worth visiting is Ruby Falls, an underground waterfall on Lookout Mountain, its caves featuring interesting geological formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, drapes, and flowstone.
Address: 319 West Hills Drive, Chattanooga
8 The Chattanooga History Center
The Chattanooga History Center recently relocated to a stunning new structure in the heart of the city and features numerous fine collections of artifacts relating to the region's rich history. Highlights include exhibits on prehistoric Chattanooga, the Civil War, 19th- and early 20th-century business and industry, as well as the history of tourism in the region. Another excellent local attraction is the Creative Discovery Museum with its interactive, hands-on activities for kids, including the fun Field Scientist's Laboratory and Inventor's Workshop exhibits.
Address: 615 Lindsay Street, Chattanooga
9 Anna Safley Houston Museum of Decorative Arts
The Anna Safley Houston Museum of Decorative Arts is housed in an 18th-century Victorian home and features fine collections of antique glass and ceramics, furniture, music boxes, and coverlets from the collection of the late Anna Safley Houston, a famous antiques dealer. This attraction is a must-see for anyone with an interest in exquisite antique glass.
Address: 201 High Street, Chattanooga
10 National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History
The National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History honors Americans who served their country with valor as members of the military. Items from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as Desert Storm, are on display. It's no coincidence that Chattanooga was chosen as the location for this fascinating museum, as the first six Medal of Honor recipients were associated with the city and are interned in the Chattanooga National Cemetery. Also of note is the International Towing and Recovery Museum, featuring antique wreckers and equipment as well as towing industry displays of collectible toys, tools, unique equipment, and histories of towing manufacturers.
Address: Northgate Mall, Hwy 153 at Hixson Pike, Chattanooga
Where to Stay in Chattanooga for Sightseeing
We recommend these centrally located hotels in Chattanooga near the top museums and attractions downtown:
- Hampton Inn & Suites Chattanooga / Downtown: mid-range pricing, convenient location, indoor/outdoor pool, fire pit.
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Chattanooga/Hamilton Place: affordable suites, beautiful lobby, indoor pool, free made-to-order breakfast, evening reception.
- The Chattanoogan: 3.5-star hotel, indoor pool with steam room and sauna, full-service spa, live weekend music.
- Days Inn Chattanooga/Hamilton Place: budget hotel, friendly staff, outdoor pool, free breakfast.