Tourism is the No. 2 industry in the state of Tennessee, and it’s easy to see why: It’s estimated that Chattanooga visitors spend $3.2 million in the city every day, and 2018 saw a 4.7% increase in visitor spending. As Chattanooga tourism continues to grow, the Scenic City has been highlighted in national lists including TripAdvisor’s “14 Idyllic Fall Family Vacations Across the U.S.” and Conde Nast Travel’s “Best Small Cities.” Readers’ Choice
Big 7 Travel even ranked Chattanooga as the sixth friendliest city in the country.
Ranked No. 9 on USA Today’s 2019 Best Aquariums, Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium features everything from sharks, reptiles, and turtles to macaroni penguins. The aquarium’s River Journey and Ocean Journey exhibits collectively house more than 12,000 animals and roughly 800 species. Also on the aquarium grounds is an IMAX 3D Theater complete with laser projection. This theater offers attendees the opportunity to see some of the earth’s wonders from a new perspective.
City Center is also home to one of the top children’s museums in the country, the Creative Discovery Museum, which offers hands-on displays that encourage creativity and learning. Just yards away, High Point Climbing and Fitness offers 30,000 square feet of climbing space, including an outdoor climbing wall.
A little further south, residents and visitors can enjoy the renowned Chattanooga Choo Choo. Authentic Pullman train cars offer those from out of town a place to stay for the night, and families can participate in a unique escape experience in one of the train cars. Railway enthusiasts can expand their knowledge at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which offers daily trips from the Grand Junction depot.
Less than five miles away from downtown Chattanooga on Lookout Mouintain is another famed attraction – Ruby Falls. Boasting the tallest underground waterfall in the United States that’s open to the public, Ruby Falls takes visitors 1,120 feet underground to see the spectacular falls, and the attraction also features the High Point ZIP Adventure complete with over 700 feet of zip lines and a 40-foot climbing tower. Lookout Mountain also lays claim to Rock City, where highlights include beautiful gardens, ancient rock formations, and a panoramic view of seven states. The Incline Railway, which takes passengers to the top of the mountain via a railway featuring a 72.7% grade, also calls Lookout Mountain home.
If you are searching for something more recreational in nature, there are still plenty of activities offering family fun. Over 300 acres can be explored at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, which features plenty of gardens, walking trails, bike paths, and a native animal exhibit. The Southern Belle Riverboat offers scenic tours of the Tennessee River, and Chattanooga Ducks chauffeurs guests around town before driving into the river on one of its WWII amphibious landing crafts.
The Chattanooga Zoo parades visitors through exhibits such as Gombe Forest, Corcovado Jungle, and Himalayan Passage. From spider monkeys and red pandas to a two-toed sloth and Komodo dragons, the zoo’s animals delight visitors of all ages. Families can also have fun at Lake Winnepesaukah, which opened in 1925 and still serves up sweet summertime memories.
With 13 miles of fishing piers, picnic areas, and paved trails, the Tennessee Riverpark is the perfect place to enjoy a picturesque walk, bike ride, or jog. Bikes, kayaks, and paddleboards are all available to rent at several points along the Riverpark. For a more relaxed way to see the city, consider a horse-drawn carriage tour with Chattanooga Horse Trams, located downtown.
For sports fanatics, the city boasts several athletic teams such as the Chattanooga Lookouts — an AA Southern League baseball team, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs athletic teams, and professional soccer teams Chattanooga Football Club and the Chattanooga Red Wolves. In addition, the city’s notable Manker Patten Tennis Club hosts matches of varying skill levels, and several additional tennis clubs, as well as golf courses, dot the city.
Music plays a big part in Chattanooga’s culture, and the city hosts numerous music festivals and concerts each year. Bringing out fans in droves since 1982 is the Riverbend Festival, which showcases a variety of artists performing across four stages. The more recent Moon River Music Festival, a two-day event, takes place in Coolidge Park and continues to grow in popularity. Smaller, free concerts can be found in the summer months and include Nightfall and Riverfront Nights. These lineups often feature local acts, while the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium and the Tivoli Theatre attract renowned national and global artists and performers. Other live music opportunities abound along Station Street, with Songbirds hosting an array of events, as well as featuring a guitar museum.
For those lucky enough to be exploring Chattanooga close to a holiday, there are a wealth of options when it comes to entertainment.
Both the Chattanooga Market and Rock City highlight Bavarian culture during their Oktoberfest celebrations, which feature German beer, music, food, and more. Also during October is Ruby Falls’ Dread Hollow, the Chattanooga Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo, and the Tennessee Aquarium’s Aqua-Scarium. The winter months bring attractions such as Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, Tennessee Valley Railroad’s North Pole Limited, the Chattanooga Zoo’s Holiday Lights, and Ruby Falls’ Christmas Underground. Valentine’s Day comes to life with Romance at Ruby, and in the spring, Rock City transforms into Shamrock City as St. Patrick’s Day approaches. Rock City’s Southern Blooms Festival is another spring-time favorite.
In the summer, several celebrations take place, and Independence Day festivities and fireworks on the river are popular among locals. No matter the occasion, Chattanooga’s attractions promise to deliver an unforgettable experience.