Long considered a gateway to the Deep South, Chattanooga is nestled on a rounded curve of the Tennessee River, less than 10 miles from the Georgia border. Today, the city still evokes the romance of leisure-train travel. As early as 1880, the majority of locomotives bound for the South chugged pass Chattanooga, frequently en route to Atlanta. And, in 1941, the legendary singer Glenn Miller immortalized the southeastern Tennessee town with his big band hit “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” The redbrick terminal on Market Street–no longer in operation–is now one of the most unique Chattanooga hotels, and the original railroad cars used as sleeping quarters. Beyond the Choo-Choo, visitors can explore other attractions in Chattanooga, including the revitalized riverfront, the Bluff View Art District and Lookout Mountain, or study the city’s pivotal role in the Civil War.
Lookout Mountain spreads across the border of Georgia and Tennessee, framing Chattanooga’s downtown riverfront. Located along the riverfront on Broad Street, the Tennessee Aquarium is the world’s largest freshwater aquarium with more than 10,000 animals, including alligators from the Mississippi River basin and sand tiger sharks from the Atlantic.
Half a mile east sits the Bluff View Art District, perched on stone cliffs towering above the Tennessee River. Redbrick buildings dot the charming block of restaurants, galleries and bakeries where working artists frequent cafe terraces. The adjacent two-acre River Gallery Sculpture Garden sprawls along the bluffs with sweeping views of the river and downtown. From the verdant grounds, a walk on 2nd Street leads to one of the finest Chattanooga hotels, the Bluff View Inn, housed in three historic homes. Around the corner, on High Street, Rembrandt’s Coffee Shop serves sandwiches and sweets like hand-dipped chocolates and peanut-butter cookies.
Minutes west of the Bluff View Art District is the Walnut Street Bridge, the world's longest pedestrian bridge, extending over the Tennessee River to Coolidge Park, home to a hand-carved carousel and walking trails. One block north of the park, on Frazier Avenue, shoppers peruse trendy boutiques and galleries.
Outdoor enthusiasts should head six miles south to Lookout Mountain for some of the top attractions in Chattanooga. At the base, tours lead deep inside a limestone cave to Ruby Falls, a majestic 145-foot waterfall. Minutes up the mountain is the Incline Railway, the world’s steepest passenger train with a panoramic view of Chattanooga and the distant Great Smoky Mountains. Past the Georgia border, in Rock City Gardens, visitors can take in views of seven states on a clear day.
Civil War buffs should visit the Battles for Chattanooga Museum, three blocks from the Incline at the entrance of Point Park, the location of the 1863 “Battle Above the Clouds." The museum exhibits an electronic battle map, featuring the major campaigns fought in Chattanooga. Approximately 20 minutes away, south of the Georgia border, guides lead tours of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, where Confederate and Union soldiers fought for control over the region.