Day Trip to Chattanooga, TN

Located right on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, Chattanooga makes for a great day trip or stop en route to Nashville. The city has Civil War history, a public art program, and great restaurants—with activities for every age.

Chickamauga, GA 30707, USA
Chickamauga Battlefield, located on the border between Georgia and Tennessee, was the site of the second highest Civil War casualties after the Battle of Gettysburg. The site was deemed a monument in 1895, with over 1,400 historical markers and monuments. The National Park Service is now in charge of upkeep of the site and operates the visitor’s center, which provides guests with background information about the Civil War and what led up to the Battle of Chickamauga. You can take the 7 mile self-guided driving tour through the park or take advantage of the horse and hiking trails.
1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Perched over the river that runs through downtown Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium offers a novel way to discover the magic of sea life. Exhibits here trace the path from mountain streams to the sea, showcasing aquatic animals in representations of their natural habitats. In the ocean display, visitors can see exotic fish gliding over multicolored coral reef formations, but the most popular attractions are the river otters cavorting in cascading waterfalls, and the penguins diving in and out of their cold-water habitat. The aquarium also features thousands of insects that flutter from flower to flower in the butterfly garden, as well as a gigantic IMAX 3-D theater that screens fascinating movies about nature and science.
280 Lynchburg Hwy, Lynchburg, TN 37352, USA
The charming little town of Lynchburg is home to Jack Daniel, the most famous distillery in all of Tennessee. Take a quick stroll around the town square before crossing a short bridge, which will lead you over a creek that flows from the same spring that provides fresh water for Jack Daniel’s delicious whiskey. Upon arrival at the distillery, you’ll find a modern visitor center where you can learn about the history of Jack Daniel’s as well as the process of making Tennessee whiskey, including the extra step of charcoal mellowing that differentiates it from bourbon.

It’s remarkable to consider that every drop of Jack Daniel’s served at bars all over the world comes from this lovely hamlet down in the hollow—in fact, visitors are likely to see delivery trucks carrying pallets of bottles back up the hills to parts unknown. Should you want to dive deeper into the whiskey-making process, take a guided tour through the various stages of production, beginning at the source of the springwater and continuing through distillation and finally the rickhouses, where the whiskey ages for years in oak barrels until it’s ready for bottling.
10 Bluff View Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA
Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of American Art is set against a cliff overlooking the Tennessee River. If the view doesn’t draw you in, it will be the collection of American art from Winslow Homer to Andy Warhol. The museum is made up of a historic mansion, pictured above, a modern 1970s structure and a sleek contemporary building that looks like at any moment it could plummet into the water. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children and free on the first Sunday of every month.
222 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Located in a historic trolley barn, the original Big River Grille and Brewing Works is conveniently located within walking distance of the Tennessee Aquarium and other popular attractions. Inside you can see the brewery behind a glass wall, where beer is made right before it comes to you. Big River’s beers have won countless awards and none more so than the Iron Horse Stout. The Southern Flyer Light Lager and Big River Vienna Lager are also favorites. The extensive menu of pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and entrees pairs well with the beers.
301 N Holtzclaw Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37404, USA
Outside of Chattanooga’s downtown tourist district is the unexpectedly fantastic Chattanooga Zoo. The award-winning wildlife park has exhibits featuring some of the world’s most exotic animals. Chimpanzees, jaguars, snow leopards and sloths are among the exhibited creatures classified by habitat and part of the world they come from. If you and your family are on a budget, you can visit the zoo for less than $10 per person. The zoo is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
334 Market St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Dive bar enthusiasts will appreciate the laissez faire attitude of the Hair of the Dog Pub a short walk from the Tennessee Aquarium. It’s designed like an English pub, but carries a full selection of American craft beers. It’s not a family spot to speak of, as smoking is allowed and you must be 21 years old to enter. The food is equally good, like the Turkey Reuben or the fish and chips.
40 Frazier Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37405, USA
Settled into the main drag of Chattanooga’s North Shore is Winder Binder, a bookstore-cum-record store-cum-folk art gallery. You’ll be greeted by friendly pooches as you peruse the new and pre-loved books. Wander the aisle of literary greats or the selection of vinyl, particularly the file on Southern rock. If that’s not enough, there is folk art, painted onto pieces of wood and corrugated metal, covering every wall and even leaned up against the shelves. Winder Binder even hosts regular book signings and readings.
319 West Hills Road
Tennessee has thousands of caves and Chattanooga itself is full of them. One such is Raccoon Mountain, a family-run cavern and campground that was discovered by Leo Lambert, the same man who turned Ruby Falls into the region’s most recognized tourist attraction. Raccoon Mountain is significantly more understated, located on the other side of Lookout Mountain, and hosts families in the summer. The caves are over 5 miles long and their Crystal Caverns tour will give you a taste. Their Wild Cave expeditions allow you to get down and dirty, exploring even more of the cave system. You can even arrange to stay underground overnight.
3917 St Elmo Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37409, USA
Take the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain on your way to Ruby Falls and Rock City and you’ll understand why the journey is often half the fun. In operation since 1895, the funicular has a maximum grade of 72.7 percent, making it the world’s steepest passenger railway and earning it the nickname “America’s Most Amazing Mile.” For its age and impressiveness, the railway is now a designated National Historic Site and a Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Before your ride, visit the machine room to see the enormous gears that drive the train, then sit back and enjoy the sweeping views of the valley below as you creep steadily up the track. Sure, you could just drive to the top of Lookout Mountain, but where’s the fun in that?
12 W 13th St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, USA
Touting itself as “killer burgers and manly drinks,” Urban Stack is an upscale bar food restaurant that just happens to be LEED certified. Choose from one of their signature burgers, with selections like standard beef burgers, alongside lamb, chicken, turkey and veggie patties. Urban Stack also prides themselves on their bar, which leans heavily on bourbon and, of course, “Tennessee whiskey.” Try the Dixie 8, made with Chattanooga Whiskey. The renovated Southern Railway Baggage Building is the best place to enjoy a cocktail in Chattanooga.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks