The Most Beautiful Towns and Cities in Tennessee

The resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, occupies an enviable position in the Smoky Mountains
The resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, occupies an enviable position in the Smoky Mountains | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Rachel Nipper
24 May 2021

Tennessee, with the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Mississippi to the west, is home to many beautiful towns and cities. You’ll already know of the musical titans, Nashville and Memphis, but there are plenty of other gorgeous places to see in the Volunteer State. Eager to explore? Here are the most picturesque towns and cities in Tennessee.

Nashville

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park & Capitol Building,Nashville,Tennessee,USA
© Richard Cummins / Alamy Stock Photo

Nashville, the Music City, is both the capital of the state and the second-largest city in Tennessee. Founded in 1779, it is named after Francis Nash, a brigadier general during the American Revolutionary War, and sits upon the Cumberland River, sourced from the Appalachian Mountains. It is also home to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park and the state capitol building. With so many fantastic restaurants, live music, tours, museums, and the beautiful countryside scenery just outside the hubbub of downtown, Nashville offers something for everyone.

Franklin

Historical Landmark
Map View
Stores on main street in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, some 21 miles from Nashville
© Images-USA / Alamy Stock Photo

Just over 20mi (32km) south of Nashville is Franklin, a fast-growing city in Williamson County. It was founded in 1799 by Abram Maury Jr, who named the city after founding father Benjamin Franklin. The town is known for the Battle of Franklin, which occurred here on 30 November 1864, during the American Civil War. Many visitors flock to the Carnton and Carter houses, two historical homes involved in the battle that are still there today and open for tours. Franklin is also home to many yearly festivals, including the Main Street Festival, the Wine Down Main Street Festival, Pumpkinfest, and Dickens of a Christmas (which attracts nearly 50,000 visitors annually).

Townsend

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Rural road through Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains
© Andrew Soundarajan / Alamy Stock Photo

Townsend, a peaceful, picturesque village, sits adjacent to Cades Cove and the Little River section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Alongside the enchanting natural scenery and quaint small-town feel, it also has a plethora of outdoor pursuits, local shopping, festivals and recreational activities. It’s a fantastic place for observing nature, from the blooms of beautiful flowers and trees in the spring and the appearance of myriad forest wildlife in the summer, to beautiful hiking trails in the colder months.

Lynchburg

Historical Landmark
Map View
Springwater running through the Jack Daniels distillery facility in Lynchburg, Tennessee
© Images-USA / Alamy Stock Photo

Lynchburg is a beautiful town in south-central Tennessee and home to Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. The source of the name is much debated; one theory says it was named after Lynchburg, Virginia, while others say it was named for Tom Lynch (an early settler) or a vigilante named Judge Lynch. Either way, the beautiful hills of Moore Country in which Lynchburg sits, perfectly complement the charming downtown.

Chattanooga

Park
Map View
People walking along the Riverwalk beside the Tennessee River in Chattanooga Tennessee. Image shot 11/2008. Exact date unknown.
© Don Smetzer / Alamy Stock Photo
The Scenic City is the fourth-largest settlement in Tennessee and resides in the southeastern portion of the state on sections of the Tennessee River, Nickajack Lake and Chickamauga Lake. Much of the natural beauty here derives from the position of the city between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. If that’s not enough, Chattanooga is also home to tourist attractions, including the International Towing and Recovery Museum, the National Medal of Honor Museum, and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Tellico Plains

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Bald River Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains
© John McQuiston / Alamy Stock Photo

In southeastern Tennessee is the Tellico Plains, the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest. A charming, antiquated mountain town in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Tellico Plains has beautiful mountainous scenery, rolling countryside, quaint farmlands and scenic pathways, which make it a perfect getaway for those seeking a simpler way of life and breathtaking views. It offers a multitude of outdoor activities within more than 1,000sqmi (2,590sqkm) of the Cherokee National Forest, including biking, boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking and kayaking. The town is also home to Bald River Falls, a magnificent waterfall flowing over 100ft (30m).

Gatlinburg

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Parkway road though downtown in the Great Smoky Mountains resort town of Gatlinburg Tennessee in the United States
© James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Gatlinburg is a mountainous resort town in eastern Tennessee. Recently, the city expanded rapidly into a major tourist destination. Nicknamed the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is the finishing point of the Gatlinburg Trail. In addition to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is surrounded by disparate ranges, including Cove Mountain, Grapeyard Ridge, Sugarland Mountain and Big Ridge Mountain.

Knoxville

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Sunsphere at World s Fair Park in Knoxville Tennessee. Image shot 11/2008. Exact date unknown.
© Don Smetzer / Alamy Stock Photo

Named after President Washington’s war secretary and known as the Marble City, Heart of the Valley and Queen City of the Mountains, Knoxville was the original capital of the state and is home to the University of Tennessee. It’s located in the middle of the Great Valley of East Tennessee and sits upon the convergence of three rivers. Amid this beautiful natural environment resides modern, hip downtown Knoxville, with incredible restaurants, unique galleries, festivals, concerts and museums.

Jonesborough

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Historic Salt House sits besides railroad tracks in the old town of Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Autumn colors the trees around the Salt House.
© Bonita Cheshier / Alamy Stock Photo

Jonesborough resides in the easternmost tip of Tennessee and is considered the oldest town in the state; indeed, the city was founded nearly 20 years before Tennessee became a state in the union. Today, Jonesborough proves to be a popular tourist destination, due both to a small-town ambiance and historical buildings. In addition, because it’s located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, Jonesborough offers recreational activities such as cycling, fishing, rafting, caving, hiking, golfing and kayaking.

Memphis

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - JULY 23, 2019: An electric streetcar trolley cruises along under it's power lines on Main St. in Memphis, Tennessee on a summer d
© Cheryl Moulton / Alamy Stock Photo

The biggest city in Tennessee, Memphis – the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock and roll – sits in the southwestern corner of the state. It’s also the largest city on the Mississippi, offering beautiful waterfront views and incredible sunsets beyond the Mississippi bridge. The riverfront offers a river walking route and system of parks that join downtown to the Mississippi River Greenbelt Park. From the vibrant nightlife and musical venues on Beale Street to myriad museums (including the home of Elvis, Graceland) and splendid views of the Mississippi, Memphis proves an impressive location to visit when in the state.

These recommendations were updated on May 24, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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