It’s fall in the South, which means a few things. The humidity has started to lessen and the temperatures started to lower. The students are back in school. And college football season is upon us.
No matter what team you root for, the region has so many great college towns with plenty to offer beyond the campus. This guide comes from Knoxville, Tennessee, the Scruffy City home to the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
It assumes that you’ll spend your time decked out in orange and white, cheering on your team, but will be looking to get away from campus to explore the city.
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Things to Do in Knoxville
There’s always something going on in Knoxville. Take advantage of the city’s proximity to the great outdoors, specifically the Great Smoky Mountains. The city is also full of greenways and other trails.
East Tennessee Historical Society– Visit this humble museum to discover what’s so unique about this part of the state, from the early settlers to the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority that continues today.
Ijams Nature Center– The former marble quarry has been transformed into one of the city’s best green spaces, with miles of hiking and biking trails as well as a quarry lake to swim in during summer months. Don’t miss The Keyhole, a scenic point where pieces of stone were placed in a design.
Knoxville Museum of Art– For rainy days, head to this local art museum that focuses on the people and work of East Tennessee. Paintings and sculptures are on display and it’s free to visit.
Navitat Knoxville– The sister location of the one in Asheville, Navitat is within Ijams and has the same ropes courses and ziplines as the original. This one also has treehouses and places where you can stay overnight!
Tours– Sample the city’s best bites with Bountiful Brunch Tour of Knoxville TN, or Knoxville Food Tours, the craft beers with Knoxville Brew Tours, and the haunted sites with Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours. If the weather allows, hit the water with Knoxville Outdoor Collective.
Where to Eat in Knoxville
Knoxville’s restaurant scene is one of the most underrated in the region so you will certainly eat well in the Scruffy City. Stay away from the crowded campus restaurants and head to Market Square and the Old City.
Makers Donuts– For handcrafted donuts made daily, seek out Makers. Quirky flavors include the Milk + Cereal, made with Fruity Pebbles, and Blueberry Bourbon.
OliBea– Open daily for breakfast and lunch, this light-filled eatery has windows full of plants. The menu incorporates local ingredients for dishes like chicken biscuits, eggs benedict, and breakfast burritos.
Wild Love Bakehouse– Located in Old North Knoxville, this charming bakery has delightful pastries like cinnamon rolls, croissants, and tarts along with coffee and tea drinks.
The Tomato Head– Focusing on “food not from a can,” this vegetarian-friendly restaurant on Market Square has healthy options as well as pizza and sandwiches.
Kaizen– The pan-Asian eatery in the Old City has a little bit of everything, including buns, dumplings, noodles, and rice bowls. Pair with a local craft beer.
Yassin’s Falafel House– The downtown counter service restaurant serves authentic Middle Eastern fare, including gyros, falafel, and hummus.
Emilia– Also owned by the folks behind Knox Mason, Emilia is ideal for Italian. Pasta is made in-house daily. They also have wine on tap along with craft cocktails.
Knox Mason– The top-rated restaurant in town creates modern Southern fare like Mississippi catfish and peach salad with Benton’s ham. They also serve brunch on weekends.
The Plaid Apron– Farm to table is the draw at this cafe that supports local farmers. Order the local vegetables, pizzas, and meat and twos.
Where to Drink in Knoxville
It wouldn’t be a college town without some watering holes, would it? You’ll certainly find the coed-friendly spots downtown, but you’ll also find venues appealing to older visitors.
Crafty Bastard Brewery– Stop by this local brewery for samples of IPAs, saisons, and other popular varieties. They offer food trucks during the summer months.
Hops and Hollers Craft Beer Store and Taproom– Fill your growler or stay for a pint of Tennessee’s finest brews, along with others from around the country.
Peter Kern Library– The speakeasy inside the Oliver Hotel is surrounded by antique books and craft cocktails. The bar’s namesake owned the bakery that once inhabited the building. You can get the password on Facebook.
Preservation Pub– The historic bar on Market Square has winding rooms and live music many nights of the week. Beer is cheap during weekly happy hours.
Pretentious Beer Co– Unlike your average pub, Pretentious blows their own funky glassware and their taproom carries a selection of carefully chosen beers from Tennessee and beyond.
Radius– The rooftop bar at the Embassy Suites downtown offers the best views of the city, including the iconic Sunsphere. Enjoy drinks like craft beer, seasonal cocktails, and wine.
Tern Club– The tiki-inspired bar in the Old City is a plant-filled space with classic cocktails along with whimsical modern versions. They also have a menu of light bites.
Where to Stay in Knoxville
Cumberland House Knoxville– Set alongside World’s Fair Park, this Tapestry Collection property has skyline views, a restaurant and bar, a fitness center, and pet-friendly rooms.
Hyatt Place Knoxville– Conveniently located near Market Square, this hotel has large rooms, free daily breakfast, a bar and restaurant, and a rooftop lounge.
The Oliver Hotel Knoxville– Located on Market Square, this boutique property is in a historic building. Rooms and suites are stylishly designed and the hotel has an in-house bar and restaurant.
The Tennessean Hotel– The sleek modern property has king suites and The Drawing Room cocktail bar. It offers an elevated experience for alums and visiting fans.