If you’re visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, the nation’s most visited national park (take that, Yellowstone!), Knoxville, Tennessee is the easiest access point. The McGhee Tyson Airport is located between downtown Knoxville and neighboring Maryville, but the two gateway cities, about 20 minutes apart by car, are more than just stopovers on your way elsewhere. Or, at least, they really should be.
Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee and was the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, which earned it the less-than-glowing nickname of Scruffy City. In the decades that followed, it gained a reputation for its crafts, taking on its new nickname, Maker City. Artisans here follow the longstanding traditions of this region through printmaking, pottery, and woodworking. That means a bounty of quirky folk art and Dolly Parton–inspired creations—tributes to the region’s most famous resident.
Some of the most interesting restaurants in the region combine traditional Appalachian ingredients like country ham and grits with white tablecloth presentation. Blackberry Farm, which opened as a hotel in nearby Walland in 1990, is largely to thank for this food culture’s focus on seasonal cooking. It encompasses multiple restaurants, a farm, and a successful brewery, all with the same commitment to showcasing regional ingredients. On any given day, the restaurant is turning out rice dumplings made from a heritage grain and pasta made from the farm’s own eggs. Alumni of the resort’s restaurant have gone on to start their own restaurants in Knoxville, Maryville, and across the country. It’s nearly impossible to go anywhere in the foothills of Tennessee without meeting someone connected to the resort in one way or another.
But it’s not just fancy dining around here. The culinary offerings of Knoxville and Maryville include inventive pastries, top-tier falafel, and destination-worthy cocktail bars. Whether you’re coming to town for a college football game, or looking for somewhere to stay while exploring the splendor of the Smokies, you’re in the right place.
- Don’t forget to pack…comfortable shoes for walking through Knoxville’s Market Square or hiking the trails in nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Don’t leave town without…a locally made piece of art, like ceramics from McQueen Pottery in Maryville or playful artisan-blown glass from Pretentious Glass Co. in Knoxville.
- The best place to stay is…the Oliver Hotel. The eclectic midcentury-inspired hotel is housed in an 1876 building in the heart of Knoxville’s Market Square with rental bikes, two restaurants, and a speakeasy bar.
Start your day in Knoxville with inventive pastries and deli-style breakfast sandwiches
Get an early start to see as much of Knoxville as possible. But first, of course, grab breakfast. The pastries at Wild Love Bakehouse (1625 N Central St, Knoxville) in north Knoxville aren’t just pretty to look at. A standout here is the flaky croissant topped with sesame seeds, and a nostalgia-inducing Pop Tart–style treat filled with jam. At Wild Love, there’s a sun-soaked counter ideal for sipping a cappuccino, and an outdoor patio for when the weather is good.