Looking for fun things to do in Chattanooga, Tennessee? I’ve visited the city multiple times and found it to be surprisingly full of cool activities, from outdoor adventures to quirky attractions (a tow truck museum!) to interesting neighborhoods.
Chattanooga is an awesomely walkable city. From downtown, you can walk to the famous Aquarium and the new National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. You can explore the riverfront area, then stroll across the pedestrian bridge to the cool Northshore neighborhood.
When the weather’s nice, take part in paddleboarding on the Tennessee River, or hike in awesome parks like Stringer’s Ridge, an overlook which provides cool views of the city skyline.
There’s military history with the site of an important Civil War battle, natural history like a towering waterfall hundreds of feet underground, and artsy fun like a sizable sculpture garden park.
If you stay downtown, you’ll be able to walk to at least half of these attractions without a vehicle. Read on to learn my suggestions for the 10 best Chattanooga activities, followed by a few dozen more of the best things to do in Chattanooga, Tennessee!
Note: Unlike other generic list articles on the internet, my blog posts are based 100% on my own personal experience. All photos by Quirky Travel Guy.
Table of Contents:
The Top 10 Activities in Chattanooga
Museums and Attractions
Outdoor Sights and Activities
Historic Sites in Chattanooga
Other Fun and Offbeat Chattanooga Activities
Quirky Attractions and Statues
Fun Foods and Restaurants
Where to Stay in Chattanooga
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The Top 10 Things To Do in Chattanooga
Explore the Chattanooga Choo Choo Area
What exactly is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, besides something that sounds like it was named by a six-year-old? It’s a historic train station, which is now a hotel, museum, and bustling mall with bars, restaurants, a comedy club, and retail outlets. Adjacent to the station is the aptly-titled Station Street, one of the city’s most vibrant areas for nightlife. Come by during the day for casual shopping, or at night for drinks and dancing.
See the Skyline From Stringer’s Ridge Overlook
This city has a number of cool places to overlook the skyline. My favorite is Stringer’s Ridge. Just a one-mile hike will take you to a bench and a clearing in the trees with a sweet view of the entire city. The hike through the forest is fun, too – I saw an owl hooting nearby in the trees, my first ever owl sighting in the wild!
Enjoy the Tennessee Aquarium
Perhaps the most popular of all the things to do in Chattanooga – especially with children – is the Tennessee Aquarium. See a huge number of ocean creatures (sharks, penguins, turtles, jellyfish) river critters (otters, alligators), and island animals (chameleons, monitor lizards). More than 800 species are represented here, with more than 12,000 animals in total!
Walk the Walnut Street Bridge
No visit to Chattanooga is complete without walking across the Walnut Street Bridge. One of longest pedestrian bridges in the world, this 130-year-old bridge was saved from demolition in 1980s. It connects downtown to the Northshore and is used by thousands of walkers, runners, and bikers daily. You can get some great city pics here!
Explore the Northshore Neighborhood
Once you’re across the bridge, take some time to walk around the Northshore. The business district on Frazier Avenue has some of the city’s best vintage stores (Collective Clothing), gift shops (Locals Only Gifts & Goods), and restaurants (Basecamp.) Walk down to Coolidge Park to sit and enjoy the sun, or lets the kids play in the fountain and carousel.
Ride the Incline Railway
As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, which has a couple of famous inclines, I’ve been advocating for every major city to add an incline railway. Fortunately, Chattanooga has a great one. Since 1895, the mile-long railway has taken guests up to the top of Lookout Mountain, which has the best views of the city. Random trivia: Elizabeth Taylor and President Teddy Roosevelt are among the famous folks who’ve ridden this incline over the years.
Visit Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center
After riding the incline, the next obvious move is to visit Point Park, just a short walk from the incline booth. This park is where you’ll find the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center, part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Chattanooga was the site of a key Civil War battle, won by the Union, which may have been the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. This park has old cannons, hiking trails, and informational signs explaining why Chattanooga played such a critical role in the war.
Check Out the International Towing Museum
You know I love quirky museums, and here’s a great one – a museum about tow trucks! The International Towing and Recovery Museum details the history of the towing industry, with photos and artifacts from the past 100 years. Several tow trucks of various types are on display, as well as a memorial to the hundreds of towing drivers who’ve lost their lives on the job.
Shop the Chattanooga Market
Find local goods, flowers, chocolates, artwork, soap, food, live music, and more at the massive Chattanooga Market, open Sundays from April to December (11 am to 4 pm) at First Horizon Pavilion. The market is outdoors, but most of it is covered and shielded from the sun. If you can’t make the Sunday market, consider instead the Saturday mini-market outside the Aquarium.
Traverse the Caves at Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is the tallest (145 feet) and deepest (1120 feet below ground) waterfall open to the public in the U.S. The waterfall is cool to see, but equally enjoyable is the one-mile roundtrip trek through the underground cave to reach it. You’ll see all sorts of unique natural formations, including stalagmites, columns, and draperies.
Chattanooga Museums and Attractions
National Medal of Honor Heritage Center
The National Medal of Honor was created during the Civil War to recognize bravery and valor in military service. It was first awarded in Chattanooga, so it makes sense that the museum about this honor would be placed here. Read about Medal of Honor winners throughout history and learn about the great conflicts that shaped American history.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
The TVRM is a “museum in motion.” Instead of a building with exhibits and artifacts, this museum takes visitors on an actual train ride around Tennessee with a guide who narrates the experience. The most popular train ride lasts an hour and travels for six miles. Guests who are really gung-ho can also consider booking the Hiwassee Loop, a five-hour, 50-mile roundtrip through the valley.
Pinball arcades across the country have realized that calling yourselves a “museum” is a great way to get more attention and visitation. The Chattanooga Pinball Museum is a fun downtown arcade where you pay a flat fee to enter and then get to play as many games as you want for free after that. It’s not just pinball – they have arcade classics like Frogger and Galaga too!
This isn’t really a museum in the traditional sense, but they do have informational cards on the games that provide fun facts and trivia about their history. And you’re welcome to come and go throughout the day once you’ve paid the entry fee.
Bessie Smith Cultural Center
Also known as the Chattanooga African American Museum, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center is a good place to learn about the accomplished blues music performer, as well as other contributors to Black history. As of this writing, admission is a bargain at only $10.
Hunter Museum of American Art
It’s always good for art museums to have a focused niche, since general art museums are a dime a dozen in cities across the country. The Hunter Museum has a specific specialty of American art dating back to the 19th century. The original museum building, a 1904 mansion, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while its newest wing is modern and sleek and has a viewing deck overlooking the river.
Songbirds Guitar & Pop Culture Museum
Songbirds is a lot of things: a concert venue, rental space, and music museum. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the museum displays guitars from several famous musicians and informative music exhibits. Songbirds also has live shows from indie and local rock and folk acts.
When a museum is created based on a single founder’s personal collection, you know you’re seeing something unique and offbeat. The Coker Museum is a collection of more than 100 vintage cars acquired by Corky Coker while he worked at Coker Tire.
You’ll find some REALLY old cars here, like a 1911 Marmon Wasp, plus a bunch of cool World War II cars, and everything in between. The cars are in immaculate condition and serve as a great time capsule of previous eras.
Chattanooga Selfie Museum
Selfie museums are also taking off across the country, as social media-savvy travelers try to step up their Instagram game. The museum in Chattanooga has 24 selfie rooms and provides one hour for guests to take as many photos as they like in the colorful, uniquely-designed rooms.
Creative Discovery Museum
Another one for the kids. The Creative Discovery Museum is full of immersive exhibits for the youngsters to satisfy their scientific curiosity. The Excavation Station allows kids to search for dinosaur fossils and bones, while the Make It exhibit gives budding inventors a chance to build their own creations. This museum is right downtown, just a couple blocks from the Aquarium.
Outdoor Sights and Activities
Paddling on the Tennessee River
Bring your kayak or paddleboard, or rent one in Coolidge Park, and explore the Tennessee River in your own human-powered craft. If you have time, paddle over to Maclellan Island, a small isle located under the Veterans Memorial Bridge that can only be reached by water. It’s a wildlife refuge that features some basic hiking and camping.
Rock City Gardens
Rock City is known as one of the Chattanooga area’s most interesting natural attractions. See rock formations, caves, and waterfalls along the “Enchanted Trail.” The site has been somewhat commercialized and turned into an amusement, but the views and formations are still natural. On a clear day, guests can supposedly see 7 states (all the way to Kentucky and Virginia!) from the lookout.
Have you ever ridden a Segway? I did it in Columbus, and it was a really cool way to see a city, and to have the experience of trying out a Segway for the first time. In Chattanooga, you have multiple Segway tour options. You can tour the Northshore and Coolidge Park area, or tour downtown. Both tours start with a training session, so don’t worry if you haven’t ridden a Segway before.
Horse Carriage Ride
Chattanooga still embraces some of its Southern history, and that includes the horse carriage ride. You can take one yourself by heading to the Aquarium area, looking for an unoccupied carriage, and speaking with the operator to plan out your ride. Most rides are fairly short and go through downtown and the streets of the riverfront area.
Don’t wanna pay the admission fee to see Ruby Falls? Take a short outdoor hike to reach Glen Falls instead. It’s only a half-mile to reach the falls, though you can go for 2 full miles on the trail if you like. Be warned that the trail is popular and the parking lot is small.
One of the best lookouts on Lookout Mountain is Sunset Rock. A short hike takes visitors to the rock, which juts out from the hillside. Unlike most overlooks in the area, the view here is not downtown. Instead, because Sunset Rock faces west, the view is the valley to the west. The name check out – sunset offers the coolest photo opportunities!
Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park and Waterpark
One of the best things to do in Chattanooga with kids is the Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park and waterpark. It’s actually located in Rossville, Georgia, but that’s just a 15-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga. Open May through October, Lake Winnie has coasters, games, and all the usual amusement park fare, at cheaper prices (under $40 for admission to both parks!) than you’d pay elsewhere.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain is bigger and longer than Ruby Falls, so those seeking a more thorough cave experience may want to venture over. Book the basic walking tour, or do one of the more intense Wild Cave expeditions, which take you deeper into the muddier, undeveloped sections of the cavern.
Chattanooga’s flat downtown is perfect for walking or biking. You can bike around town by renting a two-wheeler from one of the 42 bike sharing stations in the city. A full day pass is $8 and gets you unlimited hour-long rides. For those who like to stay active, renting a bike can be one of the best things to do in Chattanooga.
Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
Chattanooga has so many great outdoor adventures, so the 317-acre botanical garden and nature center known as Reflection Riding Arboretum is kind of under the radar. I’d primarily recommend this attraction for people who want to book an animal experience with the hawks or endangered red wolves, since the walking trails are nothing special.
The Main Terrain Fitness Park
The Main Terrain Fitness Park is a typical parklet where you’ll find people jogging and walking their dogs. The main difference is the addition of fitness equipment, such as a small bouldering wall and Olympic rings. The rings are very high, making them quite challenging to use. Don’t go out of your way to visit this small park, but stop by if you happen to be nearby.
High Point Zip Adventure
Add an adrenaline rush to your Ruby Falls experience by booking the High Point Zip Adventure, which features a 40-foot climbing wall and 700 feet of zip lines above the forests. It’s open March through November, and at barely $20, it’s budget-friendly activity in Chattanooga.
Historic Sites in Chattanooga
Trails of Tears: The Riverfront at Ross’s Landing
The Tennessee River has plenty of walkable shoreline, especially the part near downtown known as Ross’s Landing. Named after Cherokee leader John Ross, the area includes pedestrian paths and lawn space perfect for enjoying lunch or taking in the city views. The area also features Native American-themed art and informational boards explaining what the symbols mean.
The infamous Trail of Tears essentially started right here for Cherokees living around Ross’s Landing, who were forcibly removed and sent off on a journey to Oklahoma, though many died before getting there. You’ll find a historic plaque explaining the sad history on this part of the riverfront.
Now more than 100 years old, the Tivoli Theatre is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It’s hosted some of the greats in the world of theater and music over the years. Recent performers included Bob Dylan, Kenny G, and Ashley McBryde. When there isn’t a show going on, the Tivoli often screens classic films, so you can experience this theater for only the price of a movie ticket.
Ed Johnson Memorial
This memorial near the Walnut Street Bridge has a tragic history. In 1906, a Black man named Ed Johnson was falsely accused of assault and then convicted despite a lack of evidence. After the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and granted him a reprieve, Johnson was executed anyway by an angry mob on the bridge.
This memorial honors Ed Johnson and his two Black attorneys, whose appeal ultimately had a lasting impact on the American justice system (U.S. v Shipp.) The sculpture features Johnson’s last words – “I am an innocent man” – engraved into the concrete.
Built in 1926, the Read House is another historic property in Chattanooga. It still carries a ‘20s vibe to this day. If booking a room here is not in your budget, you can see the hotel by dining at its Bridgeman’s Chophouse steak restaurant, or by having a drink in the Bar & Billiards Room.
Your mileage may vary with this one. I’m not someone who likes to celebrate Confederate history. But it can be enlightening to view the Confederate cemetery, which stands in a lot across the street from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Many of the gravestones are so old and weathered that they can no longer be read.
Other Fun and Offbeat Chattanooga Activities
Southern Belle Riverboat Cruise
Who’s up for a sightseeing riverboat cruise? Southern Belle offers a Sights Cruise and a Sunset Cruise, both of which take visitors down the Tennessee River. The 90-minute cruise is affordable (just over $30/person) and allows tourists the cool opportunity to see the city from the water.
Haunted City Walking Tour
People these days love anything related to haunted places. Chattanooga has a few supposedly haunted spots, which you can walk to during this 90-minute Haunted City Walking Tour. Start at Miller Park and follow your guide to Read House, Cherry Street Tavern, and more.
Chattanooga Ducks Tour
Like many cities with rivers, Chattanooga has a duck tour through water and land on an amphibious vehicle. The hour-long tour takes guests on the river and the streets, providing a chance to see the city from two very different vantage points.
Chattanooga Lookouts AA Baseball
Going to a minor league baseball game is always cool activity. The players aren’t millionaires, and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. The Lookouts are the AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and their giant-headed mascot Looie is a good time.
I’m not generally a fan of shopping malls while traveling, but Warehouse Row is different. During the Civil War, it was known as Old Stone Fort. Now, it’s the home of several restaurants and retail outlets. And it’s right downtown, so there’s no driving to the suburbs to fight for parking!
Quirky Attractions and Statues to See Around Town
Blue Rhino Statue
When you’re in Coolidge Park, make sure to find the traffic roundabout where a large blue rhinocerous atop a wagon awaits! You can get some cool photos if you frame the Walnut Street Bridge in the background over the rhino’s shoulder. The only problem? His name is “Blue Boy Push Toy #1,” which is lame. Can’t we give him a cooler name, like Barry, or Zeke, or Sebastian?
Sculpture Fields at Montague Park
Don’t miss the big sculpture garden in Montague Park! More than 40 sculptures are spread around the 32 acres of the park on the Southside. My favorites are “Red Tree” by Ruth Migdal and “Chartres” by Mark Shumake. Give yourself at least a half hour to walk around and see everything. Fyi, there’s a smaller sculpture garden in Bluff View if you just can’t get enough of this type of thing.
Instagram alert! Umbrella Alley is exactly what it sounds like – an alley with dozens of umbrellas over your head. Get creative and see what kind of shots you can come up with.
Yes, it’s a life-size giraffe made out of hay. It’s weird and pointless, and that makes it awesome. Find this unique hay sculpture outside the downtown Marriott.
A sign with the word artsy spelled out. If you’re putting together a photo collection of cool places in downtown Chattanooga, this one could fit right in. It’s in the West Village at 8th and Chestnut.
Chattanooga Music Man Statue
Installed in 2012, the Chattanooga Music Man by James Simon features a fiddle player lost in the moment of creating music. You can find out on the Northshore right on the main street of Frazier Avenue.
Founding Fathers of Technology Mural
Take note of this Northshore mural (on Frazier Ave. not far from Basecamp) by artist Kevin Bate featuring people like Steve Jobs of Apple, inventor Nikola Tesla, computer scientist Alan Turing, and more.
Fun Foods and Restaurants of Chattanooga
Moon Pie General Store
Did you know Moon Pies were created in Chattanooga? The silly snacks consisting of marshmallow, graham crackers, and a chocolate coating have their own general store on Broad Street downtown. Here you can find merchandise, gifts, and every flavor of Moon Pie available, including unexpected flavors like strawberry, mint, and salted caramel.
Clumpies Ice Cream
Clumpies has the most popular ice cream in Chattanooga. I visited all three Clumpies locations during the same weekend, because I’m an ice cream obsessive. The flavors change, so they may be different when you get there, but I highly recommend the blackberry mojito and lemon-berry cake summer flavors. They’re open late too, so it’s a perfect after-dinner treat.
The name is misleading because Cupcake Kitchen has so much more than cupcakes! They have decadent treats of all types. But the cupcakes are the star of the show. My S’mores cupcake was stellar, and Red Velvet is pretty good too.
You’ll notice Pickle Barrel because of its oddly-shaped appearance in a flat-iron building on the end of the block. This place offers elevated takes on comfort food like burgers and nachos, plus, of course, fried pickles. The second floor dining perch is one of the best vantage points for people watching in the city!
Chattanooga has a lot of breweries! A quick way to get an introduction to the scene is to sample four breweries in four hours on the ChattaBrew Tour. The chosen breweries rotate, so each experience is different, but you’re guaranteed to taste some new flavors and maybe find a few new favorites along the way.
Other Cool Chattanooga Restaurants
Here are a few more restaurants I’d recommend for visitors to Chattanooga.
1885 Grill. Located right at the bottom of the incline railway, the grill has a large outdoor patio area and tasty food (love the fried green tomatoes appetizer!)
Basecamp. A Northshore eatery with an outdoor patio, Basecamp provides views of downtown and creative dishes like a pulled pork-smothered baked potato.
Feed Tavern. A huge restaurant with a large menu, Feed has a cool vibe and lots of hearty dishes, including an amazing pot roast.
Community Pie. Lovers of Detroit-style pizza (square slices with crispy crust and the sauce on top) will love the slices served up by this downtown establishment.
Aretha Frankenstein’s. If the amazing name doesn’t convince you to visit this breakfast/lunch place, then go for the pancakes, biscuits & gravy, or quesadillas.
Nic & Norman’s. The namesakes are director Greg Nicotero and star Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead. But don’t worry, there aren’t any zombie eyeballs on the menu. It’s upscale food at a good price ($10 weekday lunch special!)
Lodging Suggestions: Where to Stay in Chattanooga
As previously noted, this classic property still looks and feels like the 1920s, complete with a speakeasy and a billiard room. Oprah, Bob Hope, and Al Capone are among the famous folks who’ve stayed here. Room 311 is reportedly haunted. What other reasons do you need to stay here? Check availability here.
The Edwin is a luxury boutique hotel with a great location right next to the Walnut Street Bridge and Bluff View Art District. This Marriott property is modern and artsy. Check availability here.
The Kinley takes up prime real estate right across the street from Chattanooga Choo Choo. It’s also very close to Songbirds, the Selfie Museum, and a bunch of great restaurants. Check availability here.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Why not stay right at the Choo Choo? Though it’s one of the city’s most well-known hotels, it can be surprisingly affordable (depending what days of the week you visit), making it a good option for Chattanooga visitors on a budget. Check availability here.
Do you have any suggestions for other fun things to do in Chattanooga, Tennessee?