Every city has things that you can only do in that town. You can only see the US Capitol in Washington DC. You can only try moose cheese from one farm in Sweden. And there are several things you can only experience in Knoxville!
We’ll start with that big gold disco ball tower rising out of downtown. What the heck is that thing, anyway? The Sunsphere was built for the 1982 World’s Fair (see above photo in ’82). Yep, little ol’ Knoxville, Tennessee hosted a World’s Fair (the last profitable one, we’d be happy to remind you). As far as world fair structures go it has great company with the Eiffel Tower, which was built in Paris for the Exposition Universelle of 1889; the Space Needle, which was built in Seattle for the 1962 World’s Fair; and the Unisphere, built in New York City for the 1964 World’s Fair. Read more about other “sister structures” of world’s fairs here. Knoxville’s skyline wouldn’t be the same without it.
Since we’re already on the subject of the 1982 World’s Fair, did you know the largest Rubik’s Cube resides in Knoxville? It was a gift from the Hungarian government, a commemoration of its invention by Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik in 1974. It’s 10 feet tall and weighs 1,200 pounds! And if you have always been irked that you could never solve the darn thing, a Rubik’s Cube has 43 quintillion different possible configurations (that’s 43,252,003,274,489,856,000), and only one solution. It’s rigged, I tell you!
We know what you’re thinking, almost all decently-sized cities have a zoo, what’s the big deal about Knoxville’s? Zoo Knoxville is an incredible facility dedicated to the conservation and protection of endangered species. They were the first to successfully breed an African elephant in the Western Hemisphere. They are accredited by the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and have a few distinctions not shared by other zoos. More red pandas have been born in Knoxville than any other zoo in the world, leading them to be known as the “Red Panda Capital of the World”. They’re also the first zoo in the world to hatch critically endangered northern spider tortoises and successfully breed the second generation of captive-born Arakan forest turtles and common spider tortoises. To learn more about their conservation efforts and plan a visit, go here.
Attention Civil War history buffs: you’re gonna want to know about this museum inside the Farragut Town Hall. One of the highlights of the Farragut Museum is the Admiral David Glasgow Farragut collection. Admiral Farragut was born in this area on July 5, 1801, and was the first commissioned admiral of the United States Navy. He’s best known for saying, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" during the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. This nationally sought after collection houses artifacts that cannot be seen anywhere else such as Farragut's personal china, uniform ornamentation, family photographs, manuscripts, letters of interest, and a large collection of scrimshaw.
Glassblowing artist and owner Matthew Cummings noticed there was a lack of specialty beer glasses on the market. In the way there are wide mouthed glasses for red wines and thin flutes for champagnes, why not individual glasses for ales or porters? He designed some prototypes for his friends who thought they were quite pretentious, and Pretentious Glass Co. took off. He followed this endeavor with his own brewing next door, and Pretentious Beer Co. was born. We’re pretty sure this is the ONLY place in the world where you can enjoy a hand-crafted beer in a hand-crafted glass and watch both made on site.
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (WBHOF) is the only facility of its kind dedicated to the sport of women’s basketball. (If you’re wondering, the Basketball Hall of Fame is in Springfield, Massachusetts.) You can learn all kinds of things about the history of the game, athletes inducted into the Hall of Fame, and of course about Pat Summitt. We here in Knoxville always “back Pat”, our Lady Vols basketball coach from 1974 to 2012 who accrued 1,098 career wins - the most in college basketball history upon her retirement. Don’t forget to shoot some hoops on the three-way basketball court on the lower level; a great place to wear out those kids (or your spouse, yeah I said it) rain or shine.
Ahh fall, that time of year where the air turns crisp and football season is about to begin. Or you’re in the south and still sweating to death but the point is football season is about to begin. You’ve no doubt heard and hopefully have participated in a tailgate in your time, but have you ever gone sailgaiting? Knoxville is one of only two major US college football fields easily accessible via boat (the other is the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium in Seattle). Want to join in the fun? Learn more about the Vol Navy and how to watch a University of Tennessee football game here.
8. Yassin’s Falafel House - Nicest Place in America of 2018
There are a lot of places to get some shawarma in the United States, but can any of them say they’re the “Nicest Place in America”? We think not! Yassin, a Syrian refugee, and his team was the winner of the Reader’s Digest Poll for Nicest Place in America of 2018. See the announcement on Good Morning America here. He is a major supporter of the community in Knoxville, and people of all walks of life have gathered together to enjoy his incredible food. He sees himself and his restaurants as a symbol of the American Dream, and they are definitely a part of what makes Knoxville such a nice place to be.
Want to paddle in a former Tennessee Marble quarry? You’ll have to come to Knoxville to do it. Nestled in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, Mead’s Quarry is a peaceful respite from the heart of the city just a few miles away. Rent a kayak or SUP from River Sports Outfitters or Knoxville Adventure Collective and float on calm waters. Knoxville has been known as the Marble City. Rock quarried from this area has been used in buildings in Knoxville like the Knoxville Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Grand Central station in New York City, and buildings in other locations. Learn more about Knoxville’s history as the Marble City here.
10. Visitors Center
As far as we know, the Visit Knoxville Visitors Center at 301 S. Gay Street is the only city visitors center that houses a radio station (WDVX 89.9fm) and a live radio music program (WDVX’s Blue Plate Special). The BPS is a live performance radio show held at noon Monday through Thursday at our place (on Fridays they play at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria for “The Big Plate”) and Saturday. Did we mention its free? Come join us and listen to live Americana and pick up some visitor information. We’d love to show you how to see everything you’ve just read about and more!