College Towns of the South: Knoxville, Tennessee

Home of the Tennessee Volunteers
Downtown Knoxville

Knoxville CVB

A Wall Street Journal reporter covering the 1982 World’s Fair described Knoxville—the smallest town ever to host the convention—as “a scruffy little city on the Tennessee River.” Although Knoxville retains its Southern grit, the east Tennessee city has put on some polish in the last three decades. The downtown is home to the bustling University of Tennessee campus, as well as a vibrant urban center offering a blend of old and new, rustic and refined.

Trendy boutiques and upscale cafes line Market Square, a popular gathering place in the heart of Knoxville. Just around the corner, Pete’s Coffee Shop draws a devoted morning crowd with omelets, pancakes, and award-winning biscuits. For lunch, head over to The Stock and Barrel, a burger and bourbon joint offering imaginative takes on the classic stack. Try the Elvis, made with organic peanut butter, fried bananas, and Benton’s bacon, or the Ring of Fire featuring jalapeño and habañero peppers, cheese, and salsa. Visit the historic Old City district for updated Southern classics at Knox Mason, where the airy decor pairs seamlessly with country ham croquettes and banana pudding crowned with toasted marshmallow fluff. At day’s end, settle in at the posh Oliver Hotel and pay a visit to its candlelit Peter Kern Library. The hidden speakeasy features cocktail menus disguised as antique encyclopedias and drinks named for literary characters such as the fiery Holden Caulfield and the crisp Atticus Finch.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is less than an hour away, but for hiking closer to home, Ijams Nature Center offers ten miles of trails, as well as naturalist-led strolls, such as the Wildflower Walk and the Owl Prowl. Catch your breath on a cruise down the placid Tennessee River for the prettiest views in town. Hop off at Volunteer Landing for a walk along the riverfront, passing Neyland Stadium, where you half expect to hear the faint strains of “Rocky Top” wafting above the home of the Vols.  


“I love Calhoun’s on Bearden Hill. It’s the only location of the popular barbecue joint where you can get their beer muffins, and they’re just delicious.” —Sue Hamilton, director of University of Tennessee Gardens, professor of plant sciences  

“The music in Knoxville is so amazing for a city of this size. I really love the Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou Theatre.”—Donald Bruce, faculty athletics representative, professor of economics

“Really it’s the drive to the Smokies that I enjoy most. I go up through Cades Cove, then back to Knoxville.” —Leslie Bouldin, class of 1986