Beauty and serenity reign supreme at these lush gardens on the University of Tennessee campus. Whether you’re in search of native blooms, a place to get some exercise, practice your photography skills or entertain the kids, this spot has it all. More than 4,000 trees, shrubs, vegetables, herbs, tropical plants, annuals, and perennials are spread across the grounds, dotted with gazebos and benches, with free daily access from sunrise to sunset. There you can navigate a zen labyrinth; learn about the medicinal uses of plants in the Kitchen Garden; wonder at more than 130 rose varieties in the Rose Garden, planted around two waterfalls and Japanese koi ponds; and search for the miniature gnome village in the Children’s Garden. Guests staying at the nearby Graduate Knoxville hotel may recognize the lifesize statue of Smokey IV, the bluetick coonhound who served as UT’s mascot from 1978 to 1979 and was the last descendant of the O.G., Smokey I. The beloved mascot adorns the custom wallpaper in some of the hotel’s guest restrooms. The university’s marching band practices nearby on select weekday afternoons, so your visit might be set to a band camp-style soundtrack.
2518 Jacob Dr, Knoxville, TN 37996
When hunger strikes in the wee hours (or almost anytime, really), students know that a hoagie from this Graduate Knoxville-adjacent deli hits the spot. Opened in 1981, the deli was rebuilt in the same spot in a diminutive Melrose Place storefront after the original restaurant was destroyed by fire in 1993; it’s been operated by local partners Aaron Hale and Gerald Nelson since 2001. You’ll find hearty meals such as grilled cheeses, Philly cheesesteaks, patty melts and gyros, but the friendly staff might steer you toward the steamed hoagie, a sandwich that’s a particular favorite in Knoxville. Choose from “light” or pumpernickel bread and a wide variety of meats and cheeses. Add mayo, deli mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion, and the whole thing goes in a steamer for a few seconds before being served alongside pickles, pepperoncinis, and seasoned fries. If you like it, you’ll be in good company: This hole-in-the-wall eatery counts Peyton Manning and Garth Brooks among its vocal fans. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. seven days a week (“unless it’s real slow, then we close early” a staffer told us).
815 Melrose Pl, Knoxville, TN 37916
This postcard-worthy spot is hidden in plain sight on the edge of the University of Tennessee campus. In 2017, the city tapped Baltimore-based street artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn to create this vibrant mural on 43 10-foot-wide steps that connect Cumberland Avenue, which runs through campus, to the Second Creek Greenway, a one-mile path that connects World’s Fair Park to Neyland Greenway. Inspired by traditional Appalachian weavings, the steps are an optical illusion, using geometric shapes in shades of red, black, purple, turquoise, pink, and more to look like a bold, graphic tapestry. Bonus: Many locals we met didn’t know of the stairs’ existence, so finding them may feel like a true discovery.
1050 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN 37916
Women have made a big impact on basketball, so it’s only fitting that this museum dedicated to their contributions is also home to the world’s largest basketball, measuring 30 feet tall and weighing in at a whopping 10 tons. Though you can view the giant ball from outside, the Hall of Fame is worth a thorough walk-through. Inside, guests are greeted by the Eastman Statue, a 17-foot bronze statue designed to honor the past, celebrate the present, and promote the future of the sport. Watch the 17-minute “Hoopful of Hope” video showcasing the history of women’s basketball, see how uniforms have evolved over the years (it’s hard to imagine playing in a skirt!) and shoot some hoops in the downstairs courts. Fun find: Guests staying at the Graduate Knoxville will notice the lobby lounge mural depicting the April 6, 1998, Sports Illustrated cover with the headline “Perfect! Chamique Holdsclaw leads Tennessee to a 19-0 season and a third straight championship.” The Lady Vols star was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. Find her photo on the wall of women’s basketball greats.
700 S Hall of Fame Dr, Knoxville, TN 37915
It’s no surprise that, in a university town, reading is kind of a big deal. But aside from the required tomes from course syllabi, finding your next perfect pleasure read can be challenging. That’s why this downtown bookseller, a fixture since 2011, has made it a mission to connect guests with a book that will delight. Using the independent bookshop’s “book concierge program,” you can fill out a form detailing your favorite genres, a few recent books you’ve loved, a few you were less thrilled with, a few all-time favorites and any other pertinent details about your literary mood. Let them work their magic and a couple of days later, they’ll provide a custom list of recommendations. Want to shop the shelves yourself? Look for Scout, the Havanese shop dog, who’s become a mascot of sorts.
517 Union Ave, Knoxville, TN 37902
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, tipping the scales and giving women across the nation the right to vote (a constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states). To commemorate some of the movement’s prominent leaders, a lifesize bronze of Lizzie Crozier French, Anne Dallas Dudley and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, sculpted by Alan LeQuire, stands proudly in Knoxville’s Market Square. To dig deeper into the area’s suffrage history, see the Burn Memorial just steps away. It depicts legislator Harry Burn and his mother, Febb Burn. Harry changed his vote to favor ratification, motivated by an impassioned letter from his mother (visitors can see it at the East Tennessee History Center in downtown Knoxville). His vote broke the tie and Tennessee tipped the scales, marking the end of a 72-year struggle for women’s voting rights.
18 Market Square, Knoxville, TN 37902
Meet the makers at this glass studio-turned-brewery in Knoxville’s historic Old City neighborhood. Artist Matthew Cummings, who specialized in high-end pieces of art, started making beer glasses, shaped to maximize the taste and aroma experience for different kinds of brews. He decided to open a brewery in the adjacent storefront in 2018, and it’s now one of 19 Knoxville-area breweries on the “Ale Trail” (visitors who get a passport stamped at all of them get a souvenir). Guests flock to Pretentious for kombucha, craft sodas and beers like the Cardi (Bee) blonde ale with honey and chamomile and Big Fruit Energy, a raspberry, lime, cherry and blackberry gose, poured from taps adorned with glass art and served in glassware made next door. Time it right, and you might be there for a glass-blowing demonstration. Despite the pinkies-up name, the staff is friendly and approachable, happy to share their passion for the suds with everyone from novices to connoisseurs.
131 S Central St, Knoxville, TN 37902
It’s the classic mealtime dilemma: You want barbecue but your friends want Italian. Enter Knoxville’s first full-service food truck park, built on an old gas station lot—complete with rusted pumps for ambiance—at the convergence of the NoKno (North Knoxville) and Happy Holler neighborhoods. On any given day (Thursday through Sunday), a selection of 30 rolling restaurants such as Oakwood BBQ, Knox Wurst (brats, of course), Stick in a Box, Captain Muchacho, Your Sugar Therapy, Treetop Coffee Shop, Farm to Griddle Crepes and more park to serve their specialties. There’s a permanent bar built in a shipping container, selling craft beer, cider, spiked seltzer and sodas, plus plenty of picnic tables. Depending on the day, the park sponsors live music by local acts, board game nights and the Flourish Flower Truck hosts “Flower Hour” workshops for guests to build their own bouquets. Four-legged guests are welcome as long as they’re on a leash.
900 N Central St, Knoxville, TN 37917
Call her the Queen of Country Music, the Backwoods Barbie, the Smoky Mountain Songbird or the Book Lady (a nod to the Imagination Library, an organization that’s mailed more than 100 million books to kids around the world). Whatever nickname you choose, most people in Dolly Parton’s hometown of Sevierville just call her their hometown hero. Make a pilgrimage to this bronze statue of young Dolly sitting atop a rock holding a guitar, perched in front of the Sevier County Courthouse. It was sculpted by a local artist, the late Jim Gray of nearby Gatlinburg. He spent more than 2,000 hours crafting the masterpiece, some of which the singer herself posed on a stool. When the statue was officially dedicated in 1987, Dolly stood at the Sevier County Courthouse and addressed a crowd of 500 people, telling them, “It makes me feel like you folks are proud of me, and I’ve always wanted you to be.” Not only are the people of the Smoky Mountain community proud of Ms. Parton, but her father, the late Robert Lee Parton, also was known to visit the site once a week to polish it up for visitors.
125 Court Ave, Sevierville, TN 37862
When you make your way back to your Knoxville home-away-from home after a day exploring, we bet you’ll notice even more about the thoughtful decor. You’re likely to recognize classic elements from around town represented in the five-story tall mural on the east-facing side of the building. There’s the 266-foot-tall gold Sunsphere in World’s Fair Park, a symbol of the 1982 World's Fair; Neyland Stadium where the University of Tennessee’s football team plays; and “the Sheriff” Peyton Manning donning his cowboy hat and No. 16 jersey (it’s based on the same photo that hangs, signed, inside Gus’s Good Time Deli). The quirky front desk is a boat, a nod to the history of the “Vol Navy.” Legend has it that a man who lived on the east side of the Tennessee River decided to commute by boat instead of fighting traffic to reach Neyland Stadium on game days, thus starting the university’s proud tradition of tailgating and transport via boat. Now many fans park their water crafts at nearby Volunteer Landing Marina. Also in the lobby, take a moment to appreciate the gallery of UT-themed cartoons by syndicated cartoonist, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and university graduate Marshall Ramsey. Nods to the University are just about everywhere, including cane-backed chairs in the shape of the iconic “T,” hand painted murals depicting some of greatest triumphs in sports, and framed vintage pages from The Mugwump, a student publication that ran from 1920 to 1932. Curious about the history showcased here? Ask a staffer, who will be happy to share an insider perspective or find the answer.
1706 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN 37916
Nestled along the Tennessee River and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains, Graduate Knoxville offers access to both the city’s rich cultural and outdoor offerings. Inside, a palette of orange, blue and white mixes with vintage touches and unique accents. In the lobby, follow the bright chevron stripes and say “ahoy” to our nautical front desk, inspired by the Volunteer Navy.Check Prices Or Availability →