18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Chattanooga, TN
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From the top of Lookout Mountain, take in the sweep of the Tennessee River that runs through Chattanooga. Once a Cherokee settlement, this vibrant city in southeastern Tennessee on the border of Georgia now has a population of 180,000 people. Off in the distance, see history and future merge on these misty slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.
The city immortalized in the 1941 Glenn Miller hit, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, is one of the most popular places to visit in the Southern US. Looking for a thrill on rails to commemorate your visit? Lookout Mountain Incline Railway carries you up the steepest grade in the world to the fighting ground of famous Civil War battles.
The Tennessee Riverwalk intersects with an iconic bridge that ferries you across a famous river to a popular park in North Chattanooga. With walking trails and wide sidewalks, Chattanooga is one of the most walkable cities in Tennessee. Some of the best attractions are accessible on foot. Take the free electric shuttle around downtown to your next stop on our list of attractions and things to do in Chattanooga.
See also: Where to Stay in Chattanooga
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. The Tennessee Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium assembles an exceptional collection of fresh and saltwater life, with two “journeys” under one roof. Dive into the flow of riparian life in the River Journey. The Ocean Journey motivates you to learn more — and care for — wildlife species and habitats in marine ecosystems.
The River Journey is a freshwater adventure with exhibits showcasing the Appalachian Cove Forest, a delta swamp, and some of the world’s best-known rivers. Wave to staff scuba divers swimming with colorful schools of fish in massive galleries of water.
Sharks, stingrays, and reef fish glide through coral formations in the Ocean Journey. Visitors experience shark and ray touch pools. The Boneless Beauties gallery features jellyfish, a giant octopus, and cuttlefish.
For a virtual, larger-than-life experience, head to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Center. A daily menu of feature films on environmental and planetary themes is screened. Let the soundscape and moving images inspire you!
Address: 1 Broad Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: https://tnaqua.org
2. Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain
Go to Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain if you love waterfalls and caves. Hidden behind the limestone Cavern Castle that you see from the road, Ruby Falls is the highest and deepest cave waterfall accessible to the general public in the United States. Get here by a 260-foot elevator and short walking trail. Naturally occurring rock formations and a waterfall are creatively lit in a kaleidoscope of colors.
Another elevator goes to the rooftop of the Lookout Mountain Tower at the Ruby Falls entrance. The tower provides views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River to the north, and Appalachian foothills to the east. Buy souvenirs at the gift shop.
From the depths, aim high with a thrill created by High-Point Climbing and Fitness. Experience a supervised climb up a 40-foot wall and enjoy the best views of Chattanooga along 700 feet of ziplines.
Address: 1720 South Scenic Hwy Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: https://www.rubyfalls.com/
3. Take the Incline Railway to Lookout Mountain and Nearby Attractions
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is the most novel and exhilarating way to ascend the escarpment. One of the city’s most venerated tourist attractions, this funicular railway has been running for 125 years. Two trolley-style railcars slowly glide up and down “America’s Most Amazing Mile” reaching a 72.7 percent grade near the top of the line. Hop aboard the railway from the foot of the mountain in St. Elmo, descend from the station at the top of Lookout Mountain, or make a return trip from either station.
Enjoy panoramic views of the Tennessee Valley from the observation deck of Lookout Mountain station. At the top, walk a short distance to Point Park, a national Civil War memorial on 10 acres. For the best interpretative guide to this former battleground, visit the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum across from the gates to Point Park.
4. Take a Ride on the Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum interprets, displays, and operates trains. Start your visit by touring the museum railway yard at the Chattanooga Grand Junction Station.
Book an excursion aboard a vintage passenger train pulled by a steam or diesel engine. The most popular trip is on a 1930s steam-powered train along six miles of track near Chattanooga. The route crosses three bridges and passes through a Civil-War-era railroad tunnel. Splurge for a seat in the dome car.
Embark on a longer more spectacular rail experience with the 50-mile Hiwassee Loop excursion, which departs from Delano, one hour northeast of Chattanooga. The Hiwassee Loop introduces you to the stunning mountains of the Cherokee National Forest and carries you along the Hiwassee River. The internationally recognized white water recreation area was the first to receive the Tennessee Scenic River designation.
Address: 4119 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: www.tvrail.com
5. Experience Nature at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center
The Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center is a 10-minute drive to a public estate of meadows, waterfront trails, and wildwood sanctuaries. Energetic walks and runs take you to Lookout Creek and historically significant lands managed by the National Park Service.
Visitors bring bikes and canoes for adventure and exercise. Families with young children hike in the pasture, where they admire horses in retirement.
Reflection Riding is a preserve of native species of trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and wildlife. Engage the kids in programmed events about flora and fauna. Be sure to check out the native animal area with critically endangered red wolves.
Address: 400 Garden Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: reflectionriding.org
6. Creative Discovery Museum
The Creative Discovery Museum is a nationally recognized children’s museum in downtown Chattanooga that encourages learning by doing and having fun. Exploration encompasses all disciplines and passions, including science, the arts, and music.
From the rooftop RiverPlay exhibit and garden to an equipped workshop where kids become inventors, this museum engages young minds.
Exhibits are geared to pre-adolescents who are keen to jump on the Dinosaur Train and get wet in the Splash Zone. The museum introduces kids to beekeeping and the use of biofuels in transportation. Parents who fully participate in activities with their kids, such as making music together, report the most fun.
Address: 321 Chestnut Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: cdmfun.org
7. Hunter Museum of American Art
The Hunter Museum of American Art is dedicated to works created by American artists dating back to the 1700s. Exhibits include paintings, sculpture, glasswork, and furniture. Part of the museum is housed in a 1904 Classic Revival mansion, while a newer section sits atop an 80-foot headland overlooking the Tennessee River.
While visiting the Hunter Museum of American Art, be sure to walk east one block to the free Sculpture Garden on the hill at Bluff View. The museum is the star attraction of the Bluff View Art District that defines the downtown arts scene.
8. Houston Museum of Decorative Arts
The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features fine collections of antique glass and ceramics, furniture, music boxes, and coverlets. Housed in an 18th-century Victorian home, most of the unique items on display are derived from the collection of the late Anna Safley Houston, a famous antiques dealer. Browse the museum shop for gift ideas.
Houston Museum of Decorative Arts sits at the top end of High Street as part of Chattanooga’s creative corridor, the Bluff View Art District. The area features galleries, studios, boutiques, Rembrandt’s Coffee House, and restaurants.
9. Chattanooga Zoo
Chattanooga Zoo covers 13 acres that transport the visitor from sub-Saharan Africa to the Himalayan Passage. Habitats include deserts, forests, and jungles. Larger mammals you might see include a red panda, snow leopard, dromedary camel, giraffe, and chimpanzee.
Learn about the animals through “keeper chats” by staff. “Storytime” engages young minds in narratives about specific animals. “Nature Play” encourages kids to explore animal and habitat-inspired installations.
The Warner Park Ranch area features the popular petting zoo. For an additional fee, saddle up for a camel ride, spin like a top on the carousel, and hop aboard the Zoo Choo Train.
Address: 301 N Holtzclaw Ave, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: www.chattzoo.org
10. Learn about Bessie Smith and the African American Experience
Chattanooga native and international “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith and her legendary voice is a source of local pride. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center describes a woman who transcended poverty to become the best paid African American artist before the Great Depression. A car accident in 1937 tragically ended the life of one of the most prolific songwriters and beloved vocalists in American history.
The Chattanooga African American Museum shares the same building as the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Through interactive displays about African societies, slavery, and injustice, witness how race defined life for Black people in America and ignited the civil rights movement. Exhibits of provocative photography also inform you about the African American community in Chattanooga.
Prior to your visit, check entertainment listings at the Bessie Smith Performance Hall. It’s located next door to the cultural center and museum.
Address: 200 E M L King Blvd, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: www.bessiesmithcc.org
11. Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain Caverns are a network of caves featuring naturally occurring formations of limestone and fossils embedded in rock. The network strings together more than 5.5 miles of mapped passageways.
A visit to the caverns is part of the Crystal Palace Tour, which takes you into the initial quarter mile. In addition to direction from your guide, lit pathways, steps, and handrails ensure your safety, so you can focus on the mesmerizing underground world that surrounds you. Your guide informs you about the social and natural history of Raccoon Mountain Caverns. Lucky visitors might see critters that live beneath the surface.
A Wild Cave Expeditions Tour guarantees access to primitive areas of Raccoon Mountain Caverns. Staff outfit you with lights, helmets, and protective gear for a “get muddy” caving experience.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns, located eight miles west of downtown Chattanooga, is popular with campers and offers activities such as panning for gemstones, go-karting, and hiking.
Address: 319 W. Hills Drive, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: https://www.raccoonmountain.com/caverns
12. Walnut Street Bridge
Chattanooga has plenty of parks and trails to explore on foot. Warm up on the 2,376-foot-long Walnut Street Bridge. Completed in 1891, it was the first civilian highway bridge suspended over the Tennessee River.
The north side of the bridge opens up to Coolidge Park. The pedestrian mall at the south end of Walnut Street Bridge is an inviting place to people watch. While here, visit the memorial Civil Rights garden of sculptures and interpretive signs.
Below the south side of the bridge is an amphitheater for impromptu concerts and other events. Take the paved wheelchair-friendly path of switchbacks down from the Hunter Museum of American Art to this area.
13. Coolidge Park
On the north side of the Walnut Street Bridge, head to Coolidge Park. This open green space adjacent to the river is where visitors meet up with locals for concerts at the Coolidge Outdoor Stage. Teenagers play frisbee in the large open field. Children head straight for the Splash Park with its mammoth spouting sculptures of two elephants and turtles, a horse, lion, and seal.
Families and romantic couples saddle up for rides on the restored 100-year-old carousel. Pack a picnic or grab takeout for a relaxing time by the river. If you fancy a paddle, launch your kayak or canoe.
14. Go for a Scenic Walk or Cycle on the Tennessee Riverwalk
On foot or bicycle, tour the 16-mile Tennessee Riverwalk. This paved trail with seven barrier-free restrooms, picnic tables, and shelters is the way to spend a day visiting Chattanooga’s attractions. Signposts mark half-mile increments. Large sculptures grace stops at every mile. Bring gear to one of six fishing piers if you like to fish.
The Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System provides an affordable hop-on service with rental bikes parked throughout downtown. Use a standard pedal bike or e-bike to ride the trail.
15. Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center
The Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center honors Americans who received the National Medal of Honor for military service. Items from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and Desert Storm are displayed. The first six Medal of Honor recipients were associated with Chattanooga and are interned in the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Six values are reflected in the Medal of Honor: Patriotism, courage, citizenship, integrity, sacrifice, and commitment. Come away with appreciation that these values are as important to life in civil society as they are on the battlefield.
In exhibits of more than 6,000 items, the Heritage Center commemorates medal recipients and venerates their service. Learn how everyone can make similar contributions to benefit local communities and humanity.
Address: 2 W. Aquarium Way Suite 104, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: http://mohm.org
16. The Chattanooga Choo Choo
Perhaps the most famous of America's many once crucial train lines, the Chattanooga Choo Choo was a major link between the northern and southern states of the US. It began operating in 1880 and was the first train in the country to provide non-stop service.
Today, the line's old Terminal Station serves as a hotel — the aptly named Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel — and major tourist attraction. Enjoy a cozy stay in a fully restored sleeper car.
View an antique engine at the on-site museum, visit shops and restaurants, and stroll the Glenn Miller Gardens.
Address: 1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: www.choochoo.com
17. Become a Pinball Wizard at the Classic Arcade Pinball Museum
The Classic Arcade Pinball Museum is everyone’s fantasy for players seeking a shot of nostalgia. With its flashing lights, and the familiar sounds and jolts of pinball machines, this museum is 100 percent hands-on fun. The place is packed with your favorite pinball and arcade games, including digital upstarts from the 1980s such as Pac Man. If you have a game in mind, check out Classic Arcade’s website for a listing.
Centrally located downtown, the museum makes it easy to travel down memory lane. One admission price allows you to play the games as long as you want. Return later the same day to play again at no extra charge! Tournaments are held each month.
Address: 409 Broad Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Official site: chattanoogapinballmuseum.com
18. Cruise the Tennessee River
The only thing better than glimpsing a classic riverboat on the Tennessee River is hopping aboard one for a relaxing cruise. Catch a sailing with the Southern Belle Riverboat. Be part of a Chattanooga tradition that is as celebrated as Moon Pie sold in the gift shop.
Pay extra to enjoy lunch or dinner while drifting alongside Lookout Mountain and the shores of downtown Chattanooga. Sail beneath bridges that span the Tennessee River. Admire the historic bluffs that enhance spectacular views of the Appalachian foothills.
Official site: chattanoogariverboat.com
Where to Stay in Chattanooga for Sightseeing
We recommend these centrally located hotels in Chattanooga for their proximity to the top museums and attractions in the downtown core:
- Those looking for a little luxury during their stay in Chattanooga would do well to consider The Dwell Hotel. This charming boutique hotel is located in the downtown area just steps from major attractions, including the Hunter Museum of American Art, and it offers 16 comfortable, retro-inspired rooms (no children under 12 permitted).
- Just 10 minutes' walk away from the Tennessee Aquarium, The Westin Chattanooga offers well-appointed rooms with contemporary décor, plus on-site amenities, including a swimming pool with cabanas and dining.
- Another good option, The Chattanoogan, Curio Collection by Hilton features an indoor pool with a steam room and sauna, a full-service spa, and live music on weekends.
- Good choices in this category include the Hampton Inn & Suites Chattanooga/Downtown, popular for its convenient location, spacious rooms, and suites, as well as its indoor/outdoor pool, and fire pit.
- The Embassy Suites by Hilton Chattanooga/Hamilton Place is a great choice for families needing additional space thanks to its large and affordable suites and free made-to-order breakfast; other perks include an evening reception, a beautiful lobby, and a kid-friendly indoor pool.
- Another big-name brand hotel worth considering is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chattanooga Downtown, just a short walk from the Tennessee River and a great option for its indoor pool and comfortable rooms (pets welcome).
- While located a little farther away from the downtown core, the following budget hotels are situated close to major arteries and are just a few minutes' drive away from all the action. The Days Inn Chattanooga/Hamilton Place offers free breakfast, friendly staff, and an outdoor pool, while The Crash Pad: An Uncommon Hostel offers a quirky take on hostel-style accommodations, with rustic yet clean and comfortable rooms and eclectic public spaces.
- Finally, check out the Comfort Inn & Suites Lookout Mountain, a great location for those looking to explore the city's wonderful Lookout Mountain attractions.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Chattanooga
- Downtown Segway Tour: Another fun way to see the best of this beautiful Southern city is via a superb two-hour downtown historic Chattanooga Segway tour. After a little instruction on how to master these amazing two-wheeled people-movers, off you go, zipping effortlessly (and quietly) past key landmarks like the Tennessee Aquarium and the Tivoli Theater, accompanied by interesting commentary along the way.
- North Shore and Coolidge Park Segway Tour: Another option (or hey, why not do both?) is the North Shore and Coolidge Park Tour, also aboard a Segway. Lasting 90 minutes, this tour follows a slightly different route down Walnut Street (a shopping stop is included) and Frazier Avenue, including Renaissance Park and lovely Riverside Drive. And don't be shy to use your time to ask for advice regarding great places to dine and shop; your guide will be only too willing to provide tips.
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Visiting Nashville: Just over two-hours' drive northeast of Chattanooga is Nashville, widely regarded as the nation's music capital. It's here you'll find yourself wandering the same streets as so many American music icons, visiting places such as the city's famous Music Row area, home to attractions like the Country Music Hall of Fame, before heading over to check out the remarkable Parthenon, an exact replica of the original in Athens.
Exploring the Smoky Mountains: The same distance northwest is Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. Here, you'll be able to enjoy the many fun family-friendly attractions in the city before heading out and exploring the park's magnificent scenery and natural beauty.