Even if you aren’t an Elvis fan, Graceland is a must-visit. It’s the second most visited home in America, and when you check it out, you’ll understand why. A tour of the mansion, via an interactive iPad tour hosted by John Stamos, takes visitors through the living room, the TV room, the Jungle Room, the kitchen and Elvis’ father’s office. You can step aboard Elvis’ airplanes and pay tribute to The King in the Meditation Garden where he is laid to rest with other members of his family.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. The Appalachian Trail and the border between Tennessee and North Carolina run through the center of the park. There are also several recreational activities available, such as hiking, camping, fishing and taking in the sights of wildlife and waterfalls.
Once called the Carnegie of the South, and currently known as the “Mother Church” of country music, the Ryman Auditorium dates back to 1885 when evangelist Sam Jones led a tent revival attended by 5,000 people, including Nashville businessman Thomas G. Ryman. After becoming a Christian, Ryman dedicated his life and fortune to building the Union Gospel Tabernacle for Jones, and upon his death, its name was changed to the Ryman Auditorium to honor his legacy. The 2,362-seat live performance venue hosts weekly music shows and performances.
Memphis was once a thriving hub of the cotton industry, and the Cotton Museum now sits on the historic trade floor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Admission to the museum includes a self-guided audio tour of Cotton Row, where the center of the worldwide cotton trade was located for generations. The museum also explores the way blues music played an important role in the lives of Southern slaves and field hands who worked on cotton plantations.
Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium features two buildings that host all of the facility’s exhibits: River Journey and Ocean Journey. Visitors can learn about sea animals such as frogs, otters, turtles, catfish, jellyfish, penguins, and sharks. The exhibits at the aquarium celebrate the biodiversity of the Southeast and focus on restoring freshwater ecosystems in conjunction with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
Nashville’s Centennial Park is a 132-acre park featuring a one-mile walking trail, a band shell, volleyball courts, a playground, a dog park, and the Centennial Art Center. Several festivals and music events take place throughout the year at the park. It’s also the home of the Nashville Parthenon—a replica of the original Parthenon in Greece—which is an art museum with a permanent collection of 63 paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists.
Accessibility & Audience:Dog Friendly, Kid Friendly, Family Friendly
Services & Activities:Picnic Tables, Free
Atmosphere:Photo Opportunity, Historical Landmark, Instagrammable, Scenic, Architectural Landmark, Peaceful, Quiet, Touristy, Local, Outdoors
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
For more than 50 years, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which seeks to “collect, preserve, and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music,” has been a downtown Nashville music staple adding to the growing artistic community in the city. The main exhibition is Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, which uses artifacts, photographs, vintage video, and interactive touchscreens to tell the stories of country music’s origins and traditions.
Accessibility & Audience:Accessible (Wheelchair), Family Friendly, Kid Friendly
Atmosphere:Indoors, Quiet, Touristy
National Civil Rights Museum
Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum teaches visitors about the history of the American Civil Rights Movement and how its legacy continues to shape the global mission of cultural equality today. The museum is at the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and features exhibits that honor him and what he stood for, with several interactive exhibits exploring important issues and events covered during the Civil Rights Movement.
Visitors will find Ruby Falls, the country’s largest and deepest waterfall open to the public, at the end of the main passage of Ruby Falls Cave in Chattanooga. These limestone caves form when acidic groundwater enters subterranean streams, slowing dissolving the limestone and causing narrow cracks to widen. The waterfall, fed by rainwater and natural springs, lies 1,120 feet (341 meters) underground. Hundreds of gallons of water rush over by the minute, collecting in a pool on the cave floor, continuing through the mountain until joining with the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain.