No doubt, travel can be pricey if visiting certain cities or areas. Lucky for visitors to Knoxville, there are plenty of ways to fill your day, weekend, or a whole week with free or inexpensive activities, museums, and sites for your next vacation. Here are some tips on how to best explore Knoxville on a tight budget while still enjoying what makes the city so great:
Get Out And Get Active
For those who prefer an active retreat, Knoxville’s greenways, blueways, and Urban Wilderness provide about 50 miles of paved and dirt trails to enjoy in addition to opportunities for kayaking and paddleboarding. In other words, there’s more to explore than what could be covered in one trip alone. These activities are free if you can provide your own bikes or boats, but plenty of local shops offer inexpensive rentals, and you can even rent bicycles from Knoxville’s Bike Share Program to explore the paved trails and the city’s neighborhoods that are just outside the trails. And of course, nearly all trails are accessible for hikers to take in the river and wildlife.
Speaking of wildlife, you could either start or end your urban wilderness adventures at the Ijams Nature Center, where little ones can see the free wildlife exhibits or catch one of the nature programs that the Center hosts throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum is a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown, the arboretum transports you to another world with a quiet, 1-mile path to explore. Admission is free, and the garden often holds events like workshops, including local craft-beer pairings.
Explore Knoxville’s Art & Music Scene
If you love live music, then downtown Knoxville offers everything from local venues with up-and-coming bands to the family-friendly Blue Plate Special. Held every weekday at noon, local Folk and Americana radio station WXVX records a live Blue Plate Special show to highlight new bands. The shows are recorded live and broadcasted worldwide to loyal fans who have heard acts like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Chris Stapelton early in their careers. Plus, the show is free and recorded in the middle of downtown at the Knoxville Visitor Center.
Kids can also have a ton of fun at Muse Knoxville. This museum and play area is specially designed for young, curious minds. From exhibits on healthy food to a planetarium and everything science-related in between, it’s a fun way to spend the day, and admission is only $8 a person.
Also in the way of culture, your family can check out the Knoxville Museum of Art, which hosts new exhibits of modern and classic art from regional artists. The museum is just a short walk from the heart of downtown and the World’s Fair Park, site of the 1982 event. This is where you can see Knoxville’s defining skyline feature, the iconic Sunsphere, against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Attractions For History Lovers
For history buffs, Knoxville offers lots of ways to learn more about the city’s frontier beginnings and its role in Tennessee statehood. James White Fort, for example, sits exactly where James White and his family founded Knoxville in 1786. It’s an excellent recreation of an 18th-century fort, and you can understand why White would have found the site suitable for what would become a thriving city. Admission is only $10 for adults and $5 for kids.
You might also explore the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum, which is open daily and offers exhibits that showcase the reasons that East Tennessee is so different from the rest of the state. From the lives of mountain dwellers to the secret Atomic programs in Oak Ridge during World War II, you’ll find that Knoxville’s diversity and growth are attributed to more than one factor in the region. Admission is just $5 for adults, and kids under 16 are free.
Eat Well, Sleep Well
In addition to all of the free and inexpensive activities to enjoy, Knoxville is also a low-cost place to stay and eat. Hotels either downtown or in the surrounding area are very reasonably priced, and short-term rentals offer downtown loft and apartment options that put you right in the action.
The range of food is as wide and varied as you desire. Take a trip to Yassin’s Falafel House, the Mediterranean restaurant that was literally voted as the “Nicest Place in America.” The food is excellent and won’t bust your budget. Just north of town, a food truck park offers several options for everyone in the family and a relaxing outdoor atmosphere during the warmer months of the year. Throughout downtown, you’ll find a mix of high-end restaurants and dive joints of every cuisine, including food that highlights the rich agricultural history of Southern Appalachia.
Don’t let a tight budget keep you from having a good time. Knoxville has all you need for a memorable getaway—no matter how much money you have to spend.
Written by Charlie Morgan for Matcha in partnership with Visit Knoxville.