From newer attractions like Chattanooga Ghost Tours to longtime favorites like Lake Winnie, Chattanooga is becoming a great place for tourists. The most visited attraction is the Tennessee Aquarium. Over the years places like Ruby Falls, Rock City, Chattanooga Zoo, TN Aquarium and Hunter Art Museum have grown and expanded to become the popular places they are today. It’s a 2 hour drive from Atlanta (120 miles), about a 2 hour drive from Nashville (130 miles), right over a 2 hour drive from Birmingham (147 miles), a 2 hour drive to Knoxville (112 miles) and a 2½ hour drive to Pigeon Forge.
Being a local has given me the opportunity to explore the Chattanooga area attractions.
Top 10 Attractions
1. The Tennessee Aquarium – See sharks, stingrays, sea horses, river otters, macaws, a butterfly garden, jellyfish, octopuses, and macaroni and gentoo penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium. Spread through two buildings, River Journey and Ocean Journey, River Journey being the largest of the two and the largest freshwater aquarium in the world, and Ocean Journey being the newer yet smaller facility. Kids will also enjoy the touchtanks and other interactive features. The nearby (2 hours) Georgia Aquarium is the worlds largest aquarium but we prefer the Tennessee aquarium because it is a lot less crowded and has many of the same species. Other nearby attractions are the popular IMAX 3D Theater and see the Tennessee River like never before on the River Gorge Explorer, 70 passenger high-speed catamaran. Aquarium admission is $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children.
2. Rock City Gardens – Where can you see “seven states” (Tenn.,KY., N.C., S.C., Georgia, Ala) panoramic views, beautiful gardens, rock formations, caverns, and every fairy tale you can possibly imagine? It’s time for you to see Rock City Gardens! Depending on the time of year you can see the white deer, the birds of prey show, the Enchanted Garden of Lights or The Enchanted MAIZE (for an additional price). The Enchanted Garden of Lights features millions of Christmas light and displays. We love this event and would consider it to be the best place to see Christmas lights in town. Other trail highlights include the 1,000-ton Balanced Rock, Fat Man’s Squeeze, Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. Mother Goose Village is one huge impresive indoor fairytale display. It’s no surprise that this took six years to build. Admission is $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children.
3. Ruby Falls is a 145-foot high underground waterfall located near Rock City on Lookout Mountain. This is a place to see and learn about cave formations. First , you are transported from the gift shop to the cave via elevator. Then you will be guided through this beautiful cave to eventually see the one and only Ruby Falls light up before your very eyes. Come at Christmas to experience Ruby Red Christmas. Come around Holloween to experiece the Haunted Caverns. This popular event is not recomended for children under 10 years old, trust me it is scary! The cave is a cool temperature year round. General admission is $17.95 for adults and $9.95 for children.
4. Chattanooga Ghost Tours, Inc is a walking tour through downtown Chattanooga. Learn about all of the famous ghosts in the area and possibly get a picture of one. The story tellers are great at making the stories come to life. Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with the founder of Chattanooga Ghost Tours, Amy Petulla. We rank this tour at #3 on our list of 13 Bone-Chilling Haunted Tours in the US. Admission is $15 per adult and $10 for children 12 and under. Tours begin acrioss from the Aquarium at the Little Curiosity Shoppe at 138 Market Street.
5. Chattanooga Zoo is becoming one of Chattanooga’s favorite attractions. They are currently constructing a new giraffe exhibit. Major exhibits include the Gombe Forest Chimpanzee Habitat and the Himalayan Passage where you can see red pandas and snow leopards. Come often because this zoo is constantly expanding. The new entrance complex opened in 2008 and features an endangered species carousel. The Corcovado Jungle recently celebrated the arrival of two new jaguars and they are moving forward on a giraffe exhibit that is set to open sometime in the next few years! Fingers crossed! Admission is $8.95 for adults and $5.95 for children.
Dusk in the Scenic City.
6. The Creative Discovery Museum is Chattanooga’s childrens museum. Children in ages ranging from toddlers to 10 years old will have a great time here. Areas include Riverplay, Little Yellow House, Visual Arts Gallery, Performing Arts Gallery, Excavation Station, and Inventors’ Clubhouse. Admission is $11.95 for both adults and children.
7. Lake Winnepesaukah is known as the south’s favorite family amusement park. The park is closed during the winter and open on April 9, 2010 to start the 2010 season. Popular rides here include: The Boat Chute will get you wet!, constructed in 1926 and 1927, it’s the oldest mill chute water ride in the United States, yet remains to be one of the most popular attractions. The Cannon Ball wooden coaster, built in 1967, this is the park’s premier attraction. The OH-ZONE!, one of the parks newest attractions, is a 14-story drop ride. Wild Lightnin’ will swing you back and forth and make you feel like you are about to go into Lake Winnie itself, but is a fun medium sized wild mouse roller coaster. No trip to Lake Winnie would be complete without a run on the Alpine Way sky ride. Stay & Play Hideaway is among the newest sections of the park. This wonderful playground and water area gives kids a great place to cool off and let out their energy. This park is little but lovely and has all of the classic amusement park rides. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Kids perform the parks two live shows. The park turns scary every September and October for Lake Winnepe”spook”ah, their special Halloween event. In 2013 they added a new water park to the park, which is included with admission – so absolutely bring a swim suit! The water park does not have big thrill rides or a wave pool but it does have medium sized rides, kiddie slides, and a fun lazy river! Admission is $24.95 and it is a $5 up-charge to visit the water park.
The South’s Favorite Family Amusement Park, Lake Winnie is home to many classics like the Tilt-A-Whirl.
8. The Tennessee Riverwalk is a 13-mile park that runs along the Tennessee river. We love biking on this trail and stopping ofr a yummy bite to eat at The Boathouse.
9. The Hunter Museum of American Art is located on a bluff in downtown Chattanooga, this museum is made up of three sections or expansions. The museum was first established in the original 1904 classical revival mansion in 1952, a brutalist addition was later added in 1975, and a modern facility designed by Randall Stout opened in 2005 which now serves as the entrance to the museum and houses a gift shop, cafe, theater, changing exhibit area and a new gallery. If you enjoy American art and beautiful architecture, the Hunter is the place for you. It’s location is a short walk from the Tennessee Aquarium and gives you a great view of the Tennesssee River. Come back to see the special exhibits change and you will notice that the permanent gallery display also changes and rotates. Come on the first Sunday of the month to get in free and enjoy fun crafts. Admission is $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for children.
10. With over 16 million shoppers a year, six department stores, over 200 stores and 30 eateries, Hamilton Place Mall is Chattanoogas favorite place to shop. Major stores include Belk Store For Men Kids & Home, Belk Women’s Store, Dillard’s Men Kids and Home, Dillard’s Women’s Store, JCPenney, Sears, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Opened in 1987, this two story mall is one of the largest shopping malls in Tennessee. See many of the popular name brand stores.
The Chattanoogan is located next to the Convention Center and just minutes away from the Creative Discovery Museum and The Aquarium. Take advantage of their many amentities including onsite restaurants and a spa. The Broad Street Grille offers upscale dining, we love eating here and the food is great, but be prepared for the check! This hotel is fairly new with modern architecture and art.
The Sheraton Read House Hotel is located right in the heart of the downtown Chattanooga business district and is located near the downtown attractions. A beautiful, historical place to stay.
Doubletree Hotel Chattanooga is located within walking distance of all of the downtown attractions. Formerly the Clarion, this hotel has recently gone under a major renovation to become the modern, upscale hotel it is today.
Chattanooga Marriott at the Convention Center is located near the downtown attractions and right in the business district and connects to the convention center. Upscale highrise with views of the city.
Gorgeous sunset beyond one of the cities newest condo developments.
Courtyard by Marriott Chattanooga Downtown is the closest hotel to the Tennessee Aquarium. This is a great place to stay.
Delta Queen Hotel is the newest hotel in the downtown area. It’s inside the Delta Queen Riverboat, docked at Coolidge park on the Northshore, just across the TN River from downtown Chattanooga.
Hilton Garden Inn Chattanooga Downtown is right next door to the Creative Discovery Museum and it’s very close to the AT&T ballpark Home to the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league team. It is within walking distance of other downtown attractions.
The Hilton Garden Inn is conveniently located in the heart of all the fun!
The Station House Restaurant at the Chattanooga Choo Choo never gets old. What makes it so unique, they are one of the few restaurants in the country to be home to singing waiters and waitresses! The food is great and live entertaiment like this is hard to find, with all of your favorite classic songs, it’s even better. Free shuttle runs every 15 minutes between the Choo Choo and the downtown area.
Vaudville Cafe Murder Mystery Dinner Show is Chattanooga’s only dinner show. Fun place for live entertainment and fine dining, right in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, near the TN Aquarium.
The Ruth Chris Steakhouse is among the cities newest dining option; it’s located in the Hamilton Place area. Prices are VERY expensive (unless you come at lunch), but the food is great and the place always seems to be crowded – which is a great sign.
St. Johns Restaurant is the fanciest restaurant in the Chattanooga area. Very expensive, but such an elegant atmosphere and top notch food. In the southside area, near Warehouse Row.
PF Changs is located adjacent to Hamilton Place Mall. This popular chain has a very nice atmoshere and suprisingly affordable Asian food. Great place.
Blue Plate is located in downtown Chattanooga and offers a modern atmosphere with outdoor dining on the green at the Riverfront.
Blue Water Grille is a nice restaurant in the heart of downtown with fresh seafood and great blown glass decor.
Cheeburger Cheeburger is located very close to the TN Aquarium, return to the 60’s with a burger and shake.
Alleia is a new, very nice, rich atmosphere. Great place to eat Italian food on the southside.
Abuelo’s is located ajacent to Hamilton Place Mall. Newer restaurant with Mexican food.
Easy Bistro & Bar is a very modern, fancy, yet pricy place to eat downtown.
Big River Grille and Brew Works has two area locations at Hamilton Place Mall, and downtown. Great american cuisine.
Sticky Fingers has many locations in the area including one downtown at Jack’s Alley and one at Hamilton Place. Popular barbeque restaurant.
Delta Queen is one of Chattanooga’s newest dining options, located downtown on the historic Delta Queen river boat, docked ajacent to Coolidge park. This boat is also a unique lodging option.
Food Works is on the Northshore, across the river from downtown Chattanooga. A great restaurant for the whole family, with a hip vibe.
Hennen’s is located downtown, very close to the TN Aquarium. Very modern decor with great food.
Kanpai of Tokyo is a popular Japanese steakhouse located in the Hamilton Place area. Prices are a little pricey, but it’s one of our favorites.
Lupi’s Pizza Pies has a few locations, including one downtown. Known for their wonderful pizza.
Mellow Mushroom is also located downtown, near Lupi’s, great pizza as well.
Public House is a new restaurant at Warehouse Row. Very nice place to eat, but food can be expensive.
Go affordable gourmet with a meal at Fresh 2 Order. Located in the Hamilton Place area, near Target, you will find one of Chattanooga’s best restaurants. They have 3 other locations in the Atlanta area. Not only does the upscale atmosphere give you that modern, big city feel, but the American cuisine takes you on just as big of a thrill. Get an awesome ceasar salad and add tofu. Or try one of the daily soups. Or even grab a side of the out-of-this-world sweeet potatoes. Give it a try.
Rembrants is another one of the areas top dining spots. Well, maybe more of a breakfast jointor a great place to get a snack. Go chic by eating in this historic building in the Bluff View Art District. Surrounded in a fantastic location, next door to high rise condos and historic hotels, not to mention the Hunter Art Museum. You will find people looking their Ipads while sipping on a hot cup of coffee.
Those looking for fun day trips will want to drive four hours (passing through Knoxville and Sevierville) to get to Asheville, NC’s Biltmore Estate, the number one most visited attraction in North Carolina – receiving over one million visitors each year. It is America’s largest home, which was built in the late 1800s and has provided self guided tours since the 1930s.