Looking for things to do and places to go in Knoxville? Enjoy our Neighborhood Guide series where we share a part of town and cover food and drinks, nature and outdoors, arts and culture, attractions, and more!


The Heart of Downtown - Market Square

Some visitors to Knoxville are here to consider the University of Tennessee for the next step in their educational journey or see a football game at Neyland Stadium, attend a conference at the Knoxville Convention Center, enjoy a Broadway production at the Tennessee Theatre, or think back with wonder on the World’s Fair as they take a trip up the iconic Sunsphere. What these visitors might not know is that Market Square – the heart of downtown – is just steps away from all of these!

From the vantage point of the 4th Floor Observation Deck inside the Sunsphere, you can look northeast and barely make out the kitschy flock of plastic flamingos and magic beer tree that adorn the roof of Preservation Pub (three floors, live music, and a rooftop bar where you can watch square shenanigans) and Bernadette’s Crystal Gardens (a delight to the imagination with an amethyst lounge, a gemstone grotto). These establishments’ neighbors include Tommy Trent’s, perfect for the sports fan; Scruffy City Hall, an eclectic mix of a gothic main hall with live music up to their rooftop bar; and Alice in Appalachia, where some go this way, and some go that way…but this way is the shortcut!

Let’s be kind, rewind, and take the shortcut back for a quick dose of history. In 1854, two developers named William Swan and Joseph Mabry (of Mabry-Hazen House, one of Knoxville’s seven Historic House Museums) donated land to the city for a public market. Over a century later, the Market Square Farmers Market continues the tradition of a public market, promoting locally grown produce sold in the square. 

Fast forward and today’s visitor will find several outlets for retail therapy. Earth to Old City describes itself as a “scruffy little gift shop,” full of odds and ends and random irreverent things. Earthbound Trading Co. has global items, crystals, and oils. Fizz is full of locally made jewelry and various lines of hippie-chic attire. Fruit Jar Alley similarly has a lovely variety of apparel, accessories, and gifts.

Being just blocks away from the Knoxville Convention Center and a mile on the dot from Neyland, there are loads of restaurants to explore. Café 4 serves brunch, lunch, dinner, and sweets. If brunch is your jam (pun intended), try Ruby Sunshine. The Tomato Head is well known for their veggie offerings, and Tupelo Honey is a modern take on southern fare. Other comfort choices include Not Watson’s and Myrtle’s Chicken and Beer. The perfect pairing of bourbon and burgers awaits at Stock & Barrel or opt for martinis and oysters at The Brass Pearl. Petro’s Chili & Chips debuted at the World’s Fair in 1982, and now flanks the southeastern corner spot with its iconic “Petro”. Kabuki features Japanese fusion, and Soccer Taco is a great place to share margaritas over chips and salsa. Fine dining includes Italian at Emilia, and elevated farm to table at the Oliver Royale. Pick up some Proper Popcorn to munch on later.

For an urban oasis, enjoy Krutch Park perhaps with a latte in hand from Coffee & Chocolate. Ponder artworks installed by Dogwood Arts, two suffrage statues, and wander to the murals in Strong Alley between the square and Gay Street. Explore adjacent Union Avenue; you’ll find beloved downtown diner Pete’s Coffee Shop, independent Union Ave Books (combo with a cappuccino from Mahalo Coffee next door), and local retail like Tree & Vine, CitiFid-O, and Nothing Too Fancy. Work your way over and down Clinch Ave. to Tall Man Toys & Comics for the largest Funko and collectible toys destination in the Southeast. Then up Worlds Fair Park Drive to the Knoxville Museum of Art, a celebration of East Tennessee’s rich, diverse visual culture. 

Head back to Union to grab a beer at Knox Brew Hub, and make your dinner reservations at J.C. Holdway. Market Square is steps away on any Knoxville visit. Follow your heart to your next adventure!


Like what you see? Pick up a FREE Visitors Guide here!