Knoxville, Tennessee is best known as the home of the Tennessee Volunteers and a comfortable place to stop on your way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
But from its iconic World’s Fair Park to indie Old City and the offbeat charms of Happy Holler, there’s more to this college town than you might think. Located right next to campus, Graduate Knoxville is the perfect home base for getting out and exploring the Scruffy City.
WORLD’S FAIR PARK
You can’t miss the rose-gold disco ball spotting Knoxville’s skyline.
In 1982, the city hosted the World’s Fair. The centerpiece of the fairgrounds was the Sunsphere — part sculpture, part observation deck. It’s open again to the public. Ride the elevator up into the globe for 360-degree views of Knoxville and the mountains beyond.
Once you’re done taking in the natural landscape, make your way over to the Knoxville Museum of Art for landscapes of another hue. Admission is free.
Just northeast of the main downtown drag, Old City is Knoxville’s indie enclave.
Do your taste buds a favor and eat at Good Golly Tamale. This soulful spot offers a range of flavors, from savory Chicken Tinga to flavor-packed Vegan Soul.
For souvenir seekers, Rala gift shop is your best bet. The store is stocked with goods from local and regional artisans, including a stellar selection of Dolly Parton paraphernalia. Or bring home something funky from Glitterville, the newly opened outpost for the whimsical designs of UT-alum Stephen Brown.
Down the street from Rala, Sweet P’s Barbeque is the Q you crave. Place your order at the counter and don’t skimp on the sides. Two standouts: the Tomato n’ Blues salad and the Mac n’ Cheese.
Another recent addition to Old City, Tern Club rum bar serves festive tiki drinks in cozy, plant-filled surrounds. Enjoy classics like daiquiris and Mai Tais or try one of their new-school creations — the “You Go Gin Coco” is a local favorite.
Poke around Market Square and walk up Gay Street for the full downtown experience.
Stop in Pioneer House of Letterpress and Vintage to shop an expertly curated selection of bedazzled cowboy shirts, chain-stitched jackets and vintage Ralph Lauren Western wear. The shop doubles as a letterpress shop, with a hearty selection of original show posters.
Cruze Farm Ice Cream serves local dairy goodness with a retro diner backdrop, while The Tomato Head goes beyond the basic college slice. Tons of veggie-friendly pizza options, and they happily accommodate half-and-half orders of their speciality combos, so you’re not forced to pick just one.
While not walkable from Graduate Knoxville, Happy Holler is a quirky neighborhood that vintage lovers and bookworms won’t want to miss.
After coffee and pastries at Wild Love Bakehouse, browse the stacks at The Book Eddy. Around since 1991, it carries rare and out-of-print editions, plus a solid assortment of used books. Next door, Mid Mod Collective delivers on the mid-century modern, with furniture and Mad Men-era clothing.
For more treasure hunting, be sure to visit Retrospect Vintage Store, too. In the mood for a movie? Central Cinema shows arthouse and cult films.
Graduate Knoxville sits next to the University of Tennessee campus on Cumberland Avenue — aka The Strip. This student-heavy zone is mostly fast-casual fare, but you’ll find some local standouts mixed in.
Vegetarians and carnivores both leave full and happy after a meal at Sunspot. At Jody’s Donuts, the interior is no-frills but the goods quickly inspire repeat customers. Find all the classics, from long johns to glazed, made fresh by hand daily.