Looking for something to do but short on cash? We’ve got lots of free things to do in Knoxville. Check out this list and read on for more ideas!
An absolute must on this list is Ijams. This nature center in South Knoxville is part of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, the popular yet never crowded outdoor destination. 300 acres treat you to 10 miles of hiking trails, educational programs, and open year-round. Take the boardwalk trail and you’ll feel transported out of the city. Pronounce it like “eye-mms” not “eye-jams”, and you’ll sound like a local. If you’re a mountain biker, you’ll want to check out Baker Creek Preserve, a different section of the Urban Wilderness.
Here’s a twofer: If you’ve been in the car awhile, these are great places to stretch your legs (and let the kids burn off some energy!) The Knoxville Botanical Gardens are open daily from dawn until dusk and provide 47 acres of beautiful grounds to explore. There are walking trails, historic buildings, and pets are welcome to enjoy the day with you. For those that enjoyed the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, head over to the UT Botanical Gardens. This is a great place off Neyland Drive on campus to practice photography skills – maybe a family portrait or get some macros of the wide variety of plants on site. We’ve got a great Guide to Gardens in Knoxville that will help plan your visit!
Not to be confused with the McClung Museum, the McClung Collection is the history and genealogy department of the Knox County Public Library and is housed on the third floor of the East Tennessee History Center (which itself is free on Sundays). This collection has more than 75,000 books, 3,000 printed genealogies, 19,000 rolls of microfilm, and much more. People tracing their family’s history just might find what they’re looking for amongst the shelves – or online, as they have access to national databases that cover other states too.
Keeping the history theme going, head to the Marble Springs State Historic Site in South Knoxville. This site is the last remaining home of John Sevier, Tennessee’s first governor. He spent the last years of his life here from 1801 to 1815. Visiting the grounds is free for self-guided tours. They’re one of Knoxville’s Historic Homes that are open year round, check their site for current hours.
No list of free & fun things would be complete without mentioning the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA). This beautiful museum is near World’s Fair Park and perfect whether you’re visiting alone or with your family. The museum houses one of the largest glass and steel installations in the world, a creation of Richard Jolley’s. The main level offers a rotating gallery while the upstairs holds a modern art gallery and a permanent gallery dedicated to artists of east Tennessee. Be sure to step outside on the second floor near the gift shop for a great view of the Sunsphere and downtown.
Did you catch Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary on PBS? There are several sites and famous country musicians in and from Knoxville. We have a saved highlight on Instagram that will take you through all the stops to get to know why Knoxville is known as the “Cradle of Country Music”.
If you loved the KMA and hankerin’ for more art, we can help – Knoxville has lots of other galleries that are free to enjoy. Some are traditional galleries featuring curated collections, and some are artist collectives where the art is available for purchase like the Art Market Gallery. Some are operated by non-profits like the Dogwood Arts Gallery or the Fountain City Art Center, and some are affiliated with the University of Tennessee – like their Downtown Gallery on the 100 Block or their student-run Gallery 1010 in East Knoxville.
Some are places where in additions to galleries, artists also have studio space, like the Broadway Studios & Gallery and The Emporium. The Emporium on the 100 Block is a great place to start your First Friday adventures Each month the Emporium has 5 new exhibits throughout their galleries, so it is a place you’ll want to come back to again and again.
Okay this one sounds weird, but it’s kind of fun! Old Gray is a Victorian-style cemetery founded in 1850, and right next door is Knoxville’s National Cemetery. There are lots of famed Knoxvillians in their final resting place, as well as Civil War burials and monuments. You can learn about that from our friends at the Knoxville History Project. Get a quick peek of this on our Instagram Civil War highlights on Instagram; the Civil War Driving Tour is another free thing to do. You’ll find yet ANOTHER free thing to do – the Farragut Museum! This is a must do for Civil War buffs; this museum houses a unique collection of Admiral David Farragut’s artifacts. You know, THAT Farragut, he of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” fame. Yeah, he was born here!
Even if you have no plans to buy produce, farmers’ markets are great places to people watch and window shop. Knoxville has its fair share of markets throughout the city. The largest is the Market Square Farmers Market, currently operating not in the Square but at Mary Costa Plaza at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium Coliseum. Learn more about other markets and other operating days in the link above.
10. Mural Hunting
Easily something everyone of all ages can enjoy. Take your baby, teens, pets, grandma, in-laws, out-laws, gal pals, or your mailman and get some selfies in front of Knoxville’s many murals. If public art is really your jam, keep the scavenger hunt going and track down some sculptures, monuments, and statues.
Now how are you going to get to all of these places? Knoxville is really quite walkable, and of course your car is one option, but have you thought about public transportation? Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) takes you where you need to go, and there are also three FREE trolley lines servicing the downtown area. The Green Line is the heart of downtown, going through Gay Street up to the Old City, and wrapping around Market Square. The Blue Line will take you by James White’s Fort, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. The Orange Line, naturally, takes you to the University of Tennessee.
Hope you enjoyed learning about some free things to do in Knoxville, there’s more where that came from!