The 12 Best Things to Do in Chattanooga

Tennessee Aquarium, Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee, America

Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

Tucked alongside the banks of the Tennessee River in the southeastern corner of the state, Chattanooga is a former industrial and railroad town that's transformed into a must-visit destination packed with green spaces, museums, restaurants, and concert venues. From the sprawling Tennessee Riverwalk multi-use greenway to the expansive caverns and dramatic summits of Lookout Mountain, the city is ideal for outdoor lovers, who can cycle, hike, cycle, and paddle here year-round. Those who prefer the indoors also have lots to choose from, ranging from art galleries and museums to a world-class aquarium. From the works of Jasper Johns and Elizabeth Catlett at the Hunter Museum of American Art to the tumbling underground Ruby Falls, here are 12 of Chattanooga's can't-miss attractions.

01 of 12

Visit the Hunter Museum of American Art

Hunter Museum of American Art

Courtesy of Visit Chattanooga

10 Bluff View Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA
Phone +1 423-267-0968

Housed in three distinct buildings (including a striking classical revival mansion) on a cliff overlooking the Tennessee River, the Hunter Museum of American Art holds an impressive collection of decorative arts, paintings, sculptures, and mixed media pieces from the 17th century to today. Permanent collections include American impressionism, Hudson River School, and contemporary art from Ansel Adams, Jasper Johns, Elizabeth Catlett, Andy Warhol, and Loïs Mailou Jones. Don't miss the outdoor sculpture gardens, which offer sweeping views of the river below.

02 of 12

Explore Water Ecosystems at the Tennessee Aquarium

Jellyfish,Close-up of jellyfish swimming in sea,Chattanooga,Tennessee,United States,USA
Sankha Basu / 500px / Getty Images
1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Phone +1 423-265-0695

One of the world's largest freshwater aquariums, the Chattanooga Aquarium is a can't-miss attraction. Located along the banks of the Tennessee River downtown, the museum is two aquariums in one. Start your visit in the River Journey building, dedicated to river ecosystems from the Appalachian Cove Forest to the Tennessee River and home to turtles, alligators, river otters, and more. The second building, Ocean Journey, features interactive stingray exhibits and aquatic creatures ranging from colorful reef fish to playful penguins and imposing jellyfish. The aquarium also has an IMAX theatre, which offers daily 3D screenings of films on marine animals and global wildlife.

03 of 12

Stroll through the Bluff View Arts District

Bluff View Arts District

Photo Courtesy of Visit Chattanooga

411 E 2nd St, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA
Phone +1 423-321-0235

Compact at just one and a half blocks and situated on a rocky bluff high above downtown, the historic Bluff View Arts District is packed with coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, gardens, and more. Grab a coffee from Rembrandt's Coffee House and some sweet bread or a pretzel roll from Bluff View Bakery to stroll through the River Gallery Sculpture and enjoy sweeping views of the city, Tennessee River, and Walnut Street Bridge below. Then stop by the nearby Hunter Museum of American Art or the River Gallery, which features rotating exhibits from local and national artists.

04 of 12

Walk Across the Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street walking bridge, Chattanooga, TN
Jens_Lambert_Photography / Getty Images
1 Walnut St, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA
Phone +1 423-643-6096

Several massive bridges span the width of the Tennessee River along the northern edge of downtown Chattanooga. Still, the Walnut Street Bridge is the only one dedicated solely to pedestrians. Built in 1891, the iconic blue iron and wooden structure is one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges and connects downtown to the city's North Shore neighborhood. Pedal or stroll after a visit to nearby points of interest like the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Tennessee Aquarium, and then connect to the 13-mile Chattanooga Riverwalk multi-use path for a longer ride or walk.

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05 of 12

Play at Coolidge Park

Coolidge Park
AlexBran / Getty Images
150 River St, Chattanooga, TN 37405, USA
Phone +1 423-643-6311

Walk or cycle across the Walnut Street Bridge from downtown to the city's North Shore and this waterfront park, part of the Tennessee Riverwalk greenway. Picnic in the expansive grassy meadows, try your hand at rock climbing, splash in the water fountains on a hot day, or take a ride on the restored 100-year-old carousel. The park regularly hosts special events like concerts and music festivals and is located near several shops, restaurants, and galleries.

06 of 12

Visit Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Skyline of Chattanooga, Tennessee from Chickamagua Park
pabradyphoto / Getty Images
110 Point Park Rd, Lookout Mountain, TN 37350, USA
Phone +1 706-866-9241

The site of an important Civil War battle, today, the nearly 10,000-acre Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is one of the city's largest green spaces. Hike, cycle, or ride a horse along almost 80 miles of trails dotted with historic cannons, monuments, homes, and scenic vistas. Canoe or kayak in West Chickamauga and Lookout Creeks, or rock climb at Sunset Rock on the western bluff of Lookout Mountain and Eagles Nest on the northern lower slope of Lookout Mountain. Explore exhibits dedicated to the Civil War era and the 1863 Campaign for Chattanooga at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, which also screens a 26-minute orientation film.

07 of 12

Play at Rock City Gardens

Rock City Gardens

Courtesy of Visit Chattanooga

1400 Patten Rd, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750, USA
Phone +1 706-820-2531

Rocky City is one of Chattanooga's most breathtaking outdoor spaces. Perched atop Lookout Mountain, the gardens include the 4,100 Enchanted Trail, which winds through caverns, rock formations, wildflowers, and a cascading 100-foot waterfall. Don't miss Lover's Leap, where you can see up to seven states on a clear day. Other highlights include a 180-foot suspension bridge, gardens with seven art installations and 400 native plants, and Fairyland Caverns, sculptures depicting scenes from classic fairy tales. Timed tickets are required for entry, and Rock City has on-site dining and shopping.

08 of 12

Tour the Caverns at Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls - Illuminated View
Pugalenthi / Getty Images
Ruby Falls, Chattanooga, TN 37409, USA

Signs for Ruby Falls are plastered along roads throughout the area, and for a good reason: it's the country's tallest and deepest cave waterfall open to the public. Buy a ticket to take a glass-front elevator ride down 260 feet to the thundering falls, where you'll receive a guided tour of the ancient limestone caverns and shimmering pools below. Tour schedules vary by season, and tickets sell out quickly, so plan ahead. Want to stay above ground? Soar through 700 feet of tree canopy above Lookout mountain with a zip-lining tour or scale a 40-foot climbing tower, with routes available for all levels.

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09 of 12

Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Courtesy of Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

3917 St Elmo Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37409-1239, USA
Phone +1 423-821-4224

Take a ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway for the city's best views. With a nearly 73 percent grade, the one-mile track is one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. The trek to the top last fifteen minutes and rewards with panoramic vistas of the Chattanooga Valley from an observation tower at the summit of Lookout Mountain. The summit also has a small gift shop that sells souvenirs and snacks.

10 of 12

Check Out the Chattanooga Choo Choo

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Courtesy Visit Chattanooga

92 Choo Choo Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37408, USA
Phone +1 423-266-5000

Immortalized in the Glenn Miller Orchestra's song of the same name, the Chattanooga Choo Choo is one of the city's most iconic buildings. The ornate brick facade was originally a hotel and then transformed into a railway station, with more than 50 trains passing through daily in its heyday. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the property is now a multi-use complex with two music venues, a comedy club, a distillery, shops, restaurants, and bars. Spend the night in one of the preserved Pullman Train Cars or traditional hotel rooms, or stroll through the 2-acre gardens, with manicured lawns, yard games like Jenga and corn hole, and rocking chairs.

11 of 12

Learn at the Creative Discovery Museum

Creative Discovery Museum

Courtesy of Visit Chattanooga

321 Chestnut St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Phone +1 423-756-2738

Little travelers can enjoy animal meet-and-greets, story times, science demonstrations, and more at this downtown children's museum. The perfect rainy or hot day activity, the museum has interactive activities ranging from digging for dinosaur bones to jamming with musical instruments in a music studio, splashing in an outdoor water feature, or learning about vegetables and herbs in the scenic rooftop garden.

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Tour Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Raccoon Caverns

Courtesy of Raccoon Caverns

319 W Hills Dr, Chattanooga, TN 37419, USA
Phone +1 423-821-9403

Raccoon Mountain is one of the most geologically active caverns in the South, just a 15-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga. Take a walking tour of the more than 5-mile cavern network to learn the cave's history, spot wildlife like bats and salamanders, and see ancient fossils and formations like soda straws and stalagmites up close. The caverns also offer a more challenging cave expedition tour, plus other activities like go-kart rides and panning for gemstones.

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The 12 Best Things to Do in Chattanooga