Chattanooga, Tennessee has been named one of the “Top 45 Places to go” in the world by the New York Times and it comes by it honestly. There is so much to see and do in Chattanooga, no matter what you plan on doing, there will be more to discover and enjoy once you arrive. Located along the Tennessee River and nestled between the Southeast Tennessee mountains, it is no wonder that it’s known for its scenic allure. No matter your preference, there is an adventure waiting for you in Chattanooga. From outdoor activities, to live entertainment, arts and culture and magnificent food, you’ll find it all in this Tennessee city. You can plan a family vacation or romantic getaway or go to one of the many festivals and live performances. The following are just a few suggestions for you and your travel companions.
10. Chattanooga Choo Choo
The words Chattanooga Choo Choo conger up all kinds of images that include the 1984 film by that name, the 1941 song by Glenn Miller and his orchestra, and the train depot in Chattanooga. It’s hard to think of any of them without the song creeping into your brain making it seem even more like a fun destination. Opened in 1909 as a train depot, today the Chattanooga Choo Choo is a world famous hotel. The 24-acre complex is host to three hotel buildings, on-site dining facilities, retail shops, rose gardens, antique trolley rides, a model railroad museum and display and more. Guests can enjoy an overnight stay in an authentic restored Victorian sleeper car once used by the wealthiest passengers of the railroad era. Hotel suites and standard rooms are also available for whatever your budget and preference. The hotel also features indoor and outdoor pools, gardens, and on-site shopping. At Track 29, guests can enjoy a fantastic concert but you will want to check the concert schedule and purchase tickets in advance. You never have to stray from the area to be fully entertained.
9. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium
Located about halfway between downtown Chattanooga and the UT Chattanooga campus, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium is a historic performance hall built between 1922 and 1924. The building contains two theaters with the lower one seating 3,866 and the upper one seating 1,012 as well as a small 9,600 square foot trade show convention hall in the basement. On November 11, 1922 the auditorium was dedicated as a living memorial to those who have served in the armed forces. With its large seating capacity, it is the prime spot in Chattanooga for full-scale Broadway and theatrical productions as well as musical concerts, comedy shows, and community events. So while traveling, if you have the urge to take in a live show, have a few laughs, enjoy some great music or absorb a little culture, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium is the place to sit back and enjoy. Be sure to plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance so you don’t miss out on a great show.
8. Creative Discovery Museum
Founded in 1995, the Creative Discovery Museum, is a children’s museum located in downtown Chattanooga containing artwork, music, field science areas and a water-themed zone called RiverPlay, an exhibit on the rooftop, an inventor’s workshop and temporary exhibit space. Touted as being one of the top children’s museums in the country, it is a premier place for kids to have fun and learn. The museum contains permanent and temporary exhibits and a large selection of educational programs geared for children. Whether you just want to go for a couple of hours or spend the entire day, there is something fun to do, see and learn. Children won’t even realize they’re learning when at the museum having fun at such events as Human Plus Day, Natural Treasures Trading Post, Chemistry Fun Day, Best Bites, Red, White and Blue Day, Honey Harvest, Countdown to Kindergarten and Water Water Everywhere just to name a few. Entertaining your children positively while on vacation has never been easier and you will all benefit from the experience.
7. Tennessee Aquarium
Located on the bank of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium is a non-profit public aquarium and features an IMAX theater. It consists of two buildings: The River Journey and Ocean Journey which house more than 12,000 animals including reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds, penguins, butterflies and of course, fish not to mention others. The River Journey building was largest fresh water aquarium in the world when it opened in 1992. The theme is that of the Story of the River from the path of a raindrop from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. There are three living forest exhibits called Cove Forest, the Mississippi Delta and River Giants which used to be called Gulf of Mexico until it was changed after the building opened. Ocean Journey opened in 2005 and though it essentially follows The River Journey theme, it is much less consistent than the original. This exhibit features more hands-on displays and features many invertebrates like jellyfish and the like as well as penguins. It is quite different from your everyday aquarium and a pleasure to explore.
6. International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum
The International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum, a non-profit organization, is home to restored antique wreckers and equipment from the tow truck industry and also plays host to related toys, tools, equipment and photographs. The collection consists of tow trucks from the earliest days of the automobile and includes antique toys, hundreds of photos and memorabilia. You will need several hours to be able to see everything featured at this museum. On the outside, you can see the Wall of the Fallen dedicated to the men and women who’ve lost their lives in the line of service in the industry. It is a rotating collection which includes older machines built by Manley, Holmes, Vulcan and Weaver. In the Hall of Fame portion, individuals who have made a significant contribution to advancing the industry are honored. The museum includes a theater, library and one of a kind gift shop that sells towing and recovery related souvenirs. There is also a Learning Center used by various organizations all through the year. Tour groups and special events can be arranged with advanced reservations.
5. Delta Queen
If you want to experience something totally unique, then a stay at the Delta Queen Hotel should be included in your itinerary. It is the last, fully operational, overnight passenger steamboat in the United States and is the newest landmark hotel in Chattanooga. Having carried over half a million passengers and having logged more than two million miles, it is the only boat to be inducted into the National Marine Hall of Fame while still in service. Presidents, dignitaries and many celebrities have graced her decks and enjoyed the amenities on board. There is plenty of parking available near the dock and it is located just a short drive or pleasant walk from downtown Chattanooga where many other attractions can be found. Along with exquisite accommodations, the Delta Queen features live music on specified nights, a romantic scenic backdrop and fun in the Texas Lounge. Group tours are also available.
4. Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM)
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a railroad museum in Chattanooga founded in 1960 as a chapter of the National Railway Historical Society along with some railway preservationists concerned with saving steam locomotives and equipment for future display and use as historical items. The TVRM still operates trains today allowing people to experience the golden age of railroading and also runs a local freight service. The location has been a prime movie spot since the early 1970s being featured in such films as Fool’s Parade, October Sky, Heaven’s Fall, Leatherheads and Water For Elephants just to name a few notable movies. While taking a ride on the museum train, you can enjoy some fine dining in the vintage dining car, while taking in the sites on the one hour, six mile (9.7 km) round trip tour typically pulled by a steam engine. Though the rides are regularly scheduled, there are special event trains during holidays like Halloween when they have the Eerie Express and Fun House running. ‘Railfest’ is a party celebrating the railroad’s history and features multiple steam engines, music, storytelling, arts and crafts and a hobo camp. Don’t miss out on the fun and adventure at the TVRM.
3. Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park
The Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, formerly known as the Warner Park Zoo, is a 13 acre (5.3 ha) zoo located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The zoo features numerous exhibits including the Gombe Forest, Himalayan Passage, Corcovado Jungle and Walkin’ the Tracks. Each exhibit offers its own unique attractions making them all one of a kind. The Himalayan Passage is home to red pandas and boasts the largest indoor red panda exhibit in the world and is also host to snow leopards and Hanuman langurs. The Gombe Forest is home to the zoo’s chimpanzee population. It is both an indoor and outdoor exhibit and is famous for having the longest living chimp resident to die of natural causes – Hank who died in 2011 at the age of 42. The Corcovado Jungle is home to Latin American animals like jaguars, spider monkeys, macaws and capybaras. Walkin’ the Tracks is where you’ll find all the North American animals like prairie dogs and white-tailed deer. The Cougar Express allows you to view cougars from a train car. There are also concessions, gift shops and an endangered species carousel for the family to enjoy.
2. Raccoon Mountain Caverns
With over 5 1/2 miles of underground passageways, Raccoon Mountain Caverns features natural formations along the lighted walking trail of the Crystal Palace Tour. The caves are very well preserved and are the most geologically active caves in the South. The Crystal Palace Tour is a guided tour through the front portion of the cave covering just over a quarter mile and lasts about 45 minutes, depending on the number of questions that arise from visitors. You will learn how caves form and learn about the stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flow stone, natural bridges and more that are present in the cave. The Wild Cave Expeditions are “get dirty” tours where you wear gloves, helmets, and lights that are provided for your use. The Eco-Expedition focuses on viewing life within the cave and there are longer and more strenuous tours which even include an overnight stay in the cave. For these expeditions, you will want to make advanced reservations and make sure you are physically prepared for the exercise.
1. Lookout Mountain
Located on the southwest corner of the state of Georgia, the northeast corner of Alabama and the southern border of Tennessee, Lookout Mountain is a mountain ridge that is famous for being the location of the “Last Battle of the Cherokees” in the 18th century as well as the Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Civil War. Lookout Mountain’s name is said to have originated from General Andrew Jackson’s troops but is more likely to have come from the Cherokee term meaning “two mountains looking at each other”. The proximity of Lookout Mountain from downtown Chattanooga, makes it a convenient and easily accessible destination. Some of the attractions featured there include Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Incline Railway. Rock City is 1700 feet above sea level and features a 100 foot waterfall and 200 foot Swing-A-Long Bridge, a climbing wall at Lovers’ Leap and more. Ruby Falls is America’s deepest cave accessible to the public and largest underground waterfall offering a zip-line adventure and weekly lantern tours. The Incline Railway is the world’s steepest passenger railway and an adventure all on its own. The breathtaking view from up on the ridge is awe-inspiring and a must-see destination when visiting Chattanooga.