Introducing guest blogger Micah from Work. Play. Mommy.
Knoxville, Tennessee is a rare gem. It has parks, water, hiking, biking, city amenities, shopping, eating, and more, all in a family and kid-friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Maybe you are wondering what you could do in your Knoxville, Tennessee getaway with kids?
Tennessee is one of our very favourite destinations and favourite place to live! If you are thinking that the only things in Tennessee are the Grand Ole Opry, Music Row, or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t overlook Knoxville.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of locals
Why Knoxville, Tennessee?
Knoxville, Tennessee is one of our very favorite family destinations for living, for learning, and even for a quick weekend or mid-week getaway.
Located in East Tennessee, about an hour north of Gatlinburg and 2 hours east of Nashville, it is a natural crossroad for those traveling through the state from the East or making their way to southern destinations from the North.
Knoxville is known for the University of Tennessee, hosting the 1982 World’s Fair, beautiful foliage and dogwood flowers, as well as its quaint and calm culture.
For some, a Knoxville getaway is a natural extension of a Smoky Mountain retreat, while for others it is a bridge between going home and the end of a vacation.
Where to Stay in Knoxville with Kids
Before we get to what to do in Knoxville, you want to know where to stay in Knoxville with kids. My recommendations have something for everyone.
Embassy Suites Knoxville Downtown: My favorite place to stay in downtown Knoxville is the Embassy Suites Downtown on Gay street –the main downtown thoroughfare. Not only are Embassy Suites always a great choice with kids and families due to the large breakfasts and even larger suites, but this Embassy Suites also boasts a ROOFTOP POOL!
From the Embassy Suites rooftop pool, you can see the best views of Knoxville, the Tennessee River, and even the Smoky Mountains. Your kids will love swimming, and you will enjoy the view.
Gay Street Airbnb’s: Our family loves to stay in Airbnb’s to take advantage of larger spaces, having a kitchen and laundry, and getting a local’s knowledge of our location. If you want to stay in the heart of Knoxville, then I recommend finding an AirBnb located on Gay Street. Some of our favorite apartments in Knoxville are refurbished old warehouses with high ceilings, exposed brick, and antique floors!
Turkey Creek: Turkey Creek is a popular shopping district in Knoxville that is rimmed with hotels and accommodations. While Turkey Creek is a bit removed from the downtown district, it is a very family-friendly and safe area where your family will have room to stretch out and easy access to the rest of Knoxville either via Kingston Pike or the interstates.
What to do in Knoxville with Kids On a Quick Getaway
Whether you are trying to escape the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg or simply passing through, allot a couple of days for seeing the best of Knoxville with kids. Try these highlights for 2 days in Knoxville with kids.
No visit to Knoxville is complete without spending time at Market Square. Frankly, you can spend the entire day at Market Square eating, playing, shopping, drinking, and more.
Market Square is the central hub of Knoxville life and entertainment. Bordered by an amphitheater, shops, restaurants, and other vendors, it’s center holds play areas, water features, and even a SPLASH PAD.
I love spending time at Market Square and watching parents reluctantly let their child touch one small corner, then get their feet wet, and inevitably allowing them to lose themselves to the fun of the splash pad.
(Pro tip: just bring an extra set of clothes for the kiddos to change into after they play in the splash pad!)
There are so many things to do at Market Square, so we want to share our favorites. But I promise that once you arrive, you will likely be drawn to one thing or another and might find more interesting activities than are on my list!
(If you aren’t staying at a hotel on Gay street, then find free evening and weekend parking at the Market Street garage.)
What to Do, Eat, and See at Market Square
- Visit the Saturday morning farmer’s market for food, fun, entertainment, music, and artisan crafts
- Enjoy a long meal on the square at Cafe4 or Tupelo Honey (some of our favorites)
- Sip a cappuccino or freshly brewed local roast from Coffee and Chocolate
- Watch your kids play in the splash pad while you enjoy the buskers playing live bluegrass
- Get a fresh scoop of ice cream from Cruze Farm Ice Cream
- Walk along the tree-lined paths and spot local art, water features, and great shopping
- Breakfast at nearby French Market for crepes, croissants, and other European treats made fresh and local!
Market Square is a year-round treat for the entire community, and usually bustling every day and brimming on the evenings and weekends. However, the farmer’s market is seasonal, and some patio seating is limited in the colder months.
Ijams Nature Center
Located in the heart of Knoxville but still a little-known, hidden gem is Ijams Nature Center (pronounced I-ams not I-Jams!). Ijams is home to more than 300 acres of wildlife and more than 10 miles of trails, not to mention swimming areas, a nature center, and riverside boardwalks.
Ijams is perfect for visiting with kids because it is easily accessible, full of learning and play opportunities, and completely FREE.
My kids love visiting the nature center, learning about bugs and local wildlife, then speeding down the trails for a riverside walk.
Ijams is even pet friendly if you need a place to walk your family pooch.
And, on warm, summer days, you can take a swim at the designated swimming area of Mead’s Quarry Lake. You can even rent seasonal kayaks or water gear! Bigger kids will also love the high-ropes course called Navitat where they can experience the East Tennessee habitats like a bird! (Navitat has a charge.)
Ijams is open year-round; however, it is a natural park, so swimming is seasonal, trails and courses are subject to weather-related closures, and the nature center is staffed by volunteers and a limited budget.
Therefore, I recommend checking their website before your visit to make sure that you will not be disappointed if you show up on a cold and rainy day when some of the best features could be closed.
If you want a taste of more exotic wildlife, then head to Zoo Knoxville where you can feed elephants, talk to macaws, and see the United States’ largest red panda population.
Zoo Knoxville is an awesome place to visit with kids because it is easily navigable for little ones and strollers, it is relatively inexpensive, and the animals are easy to see and interact with.
While Zoo Knoxville is not the largest zoo, I appreciate a zoo where my children can actually see the animals interact. My young children can have short attention spans or difficulty seeing past crowds of gawking adults.
Zoo Knoxville is a great zoo for the little ones or for children who want a more intimate experience with animals. Zoo Knoxville even offers parties and events where you can have private interactions with their resident critters.
If you can’t make it to the zoo due to weather or personal preference, then instead make a family visit to The MUSE –Knoxville’s rapidly growing children’s museum.
The MUSE specializes in experiential learning for children and has hands-on exhibits for little ones. Ideal for young children, the Muse has morphed greatly in the last 10 years and is now a Knoxville highlight.
Knoxville can get quite uncomfortable in the hot summer months and has a short, cold winter, so indoor activities at the Muse can be a welcome respite in your family trip.
World’s Fair Park, University of Tennessee, and the Riverfront
Finally, don’t leave Knoxville after a day at the zoo or the museum without spending some time on the riverfront. While the Tennessee river and various lakes dot Knoxville, the best place for a visit to Knoxville’s Tennessee River is at the University of Tennessee.
I recommend walking to campus from Gay street via World’s Fair park where your kids can play. World’s Fair Park is home to the iconic golden sphere, which is open to the public and worth a trip to the top.
However, World’s Fair Park is also the home of several fairs, concerts, events, and gatherings. So, your family will love checking out whatever is going on in the park during your visit or simply playing in the park and enjoying the waterfront amphitheater.
Continue walking through the park to the University and enjoy a stroll through campus, or make your way straight to Neyland Stadium –the giant football field on the riverfront.
Then wind your way along the riverfront where you are sure to spot some beautiful homes, joggers, wildlife, and maybe even some tailgating boats during football season.
*This entire walk is stroller-friendly; however, some of the streets and sidewalks are cobblestone, so I recommend an all-terrain stroller to make your life easier!
As you walk, you will find gardens, shopping, university events, games, and food. You can even rent kayaks and canoes from the riverfront boathouse or stop for barbecue along the river at Calhouns.
Round out your Knoxville visit with kids with a self-guided walking tour of Knoxville’s most iconic spots –World’s Fair Park, the University of Tennessee, and the river. You are sure to find something you love.
If you have more time in Knoxville, then be sure to check out this list of 10 things to do in Knoxville with kids. Or check out these other Tennessee ideas: Indoor activities with Kids in Nashville; 50+ Fun and Unique Things to do with Kids in Gatlinburg.
Visit Knoxville with Kids
Don’t discount Knoxville. The city is historical, fun, and relaxed and has lots of fun ways to spend a family getaway.
While Tennessee might be best known for Country Music or mountain hiking, don’t miss the charms of Knoxville where you can spend long, lazy days drinking in the sounds of flowing water, the sites of playing children, and the taste of local barbecue and biscuits!
Other Great Knoxville Sites and Activities:
- Lakeshore Park
- Tennessee Theater
- Ice Skating at the Ice Chalet
- Apple Cake Tea Room
- University of Tennessee Sports
About the Blogger
Hi! I’m Micah B. I’m a mom of three (with one or more waiting child still out there somewhere). I’m busting myths about travel with kids and the realities of being a working mom!
Travel with kids, even as a working mom, is a major priority in our family, and I want to share my insights, experiences, and reviews at www.workplaymommy.com.
Or be social and follow @workplaymommy on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook for our latest adventures!
With thanks to Micah for her contribution to our guest series. You may also like to read our local’s guide to New Orleans with kids, or head to the capital and find these unique things to do with kids in Washington DC.
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