Lying in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville is a thriving hub of southeastern art, outdoor adventure, and innovative food and drink development. This city is also deeply historic, and Knoxville museums demonstrate frontier life in the years preceding the American Revolution and the city’s importance in the Civil War. You can explore a mix of these wonderful facets in a weekend to get a taste of all the city has to offer.
One of the best ways to explore and experience the city’s past and present is through these guided tours that focus on specific attributes unique to Knoxville and it’s historical and current role in Southern Appalachia. These seven tours explore everything from spooky and macabre ghost stories and the rising local brewery scene to the city’s history that shows where key battles and leaders changed the face of the nation.
1. Knoxville Walking Tours
Learn about the historical significance of Knoxville as a frontier town in the first years of the nation via a choice of 10 walking tours guided by native East Tennessean and long-time pillar in Knoxville’s historical community, Laura Still. Most tours last from 90 minutes to two hours and are only about a mile in length. You will hear stories of the city’s famous events and significant residents over the last 220 years, including tales of historic homes, key battles of the Civil War, and tours that show where literary icons like Cormac McCarthy were inspired.
Check out the schedule of available tours. They are typically held on the weekends and during the milder months, but you can inquire about scheduling a winter tour or a private tour with a minimum of four people.
2. Knox Brew Tours
Knoxville’s brewing scene is remarkably diverse and inventive, and it’s gaining attention from the craft brewery world for their exciting offerings and experimental brews. Knox Brew Tours gives you a backstage pass to the city’s best breweries, all while providing tastings, the history of the breweries, and the influences that inspired the brews from the people that brought them from “grain to glass.” In addition to the great beers, you will see how each brewery stays deeply connected to the outdoor and culinary culture of East Tennessee—for example, Hexagon Brewing is inspired by fly fishing in East Tennessee’s mountain streams and Alliance thrives on the South Knoxville mountain biking scene.
The tours cart you and your crew around in a custom bus designed to keep you comfortable between stops. They have a standard tour but also offer specialty tours such as Brews and BBQ or private tours to pair your unique taste and with one of a kind experiences.
3. Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours
With a history spanning back to 1791, Knoxville has had plenty of incidents in its day to incite ghoulish encounters, and many say that those lingering, restless spirits continue to haunt Knoxvillians today. Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours is nationally recognized and led by founder and paranormal investigator J. Adam Smith. These walking tours bring you to Knoxville’s most haunted places, brought on by great fires, economic greed, and extraordinary murder cases. Past skeptics have felt a presence unknown while walking through alleys and streets of old Knoxville, so this tour isn’t for the faint of heart.
Tours are typically held on Fridays and Saturdays and start after sunset—usually around 8:30 p.m. You can also schedule your own private tour with friends and family to get a full dose of spookiness.
4. Knoxville Food Tours
Knoxville is the center of one of the most innovative farm-to-table agriculture areas in the country. With small-time farmers willing to stretch traditional limits, Knoxville chefs are able to alchemize amazing dishes from the valley’s rich resources. Knoxville Food Tours has picked out some of the best places to sample the local fare, all in one convenient walking tour.
You can purchase tickets for the scheduled tours, which occur Fridays through Sundays, or inquire about a custom tour.
5. Knox Whiskey Works Distillery Tour
Knox Whiskey Works, located on historic Jackson Avenue, is known for its remarkable legacy spirits, including a white corn whiskey made from heirloom Hickory Cane corn grown in neighboring Jefferson County. You can see how this and other signature liquors are made with their distillery tour, which includes samples at the end. Tours are always given by the head distiller or an experienced manager on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Walk-ins can be accommodated if there's room, but reservations ahead of time will save your spot (and your spot at the bar).
6. Star of Knoxville Riverboat Tour
When the Civil War touched Knoxville, much of the action took place on the banks of the Tennessee River, which connected the city to the outside world. From the decks of the Star of Knoxville, an authentic paddle wheeler, you and your family will be able to see and hear a narration of the significant wartime events that changed the city, and the country, forever. In addition to the Civil War tour, the boat itself hosts several events and cruises weekly. You can book your tour online.
Written by Charlie Morgan for Matcha in partnership with Visit Knoxville.