Stories

10 Essential Experiences Every Tennessean Should Have

Whether you’ve lived in Tennessee for 10 minutes or your whole life, don’t take these iconic experiences for granted.

Get lost in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest in the world, dated between 200 and 300 million years old. For hundreds of years, the blue “smoke” that enrobes this mountain range has mystified all those who’ve laid eyes on it. The park is fee-free, meaning you can peep fall foliage, chase waterfalls, and hike as many trails as you wish.  

Explore the country’s tallest underground waterfall open to the public
Head to the southeastern corner of the state to take in one of its most beautiful natural wonders. Just outside of Chattanooga, Ruby Falls sits 1,120 feet underground — accessible only by traveling the equivalent of 26 stories on an elevator — and is illuminated by a colorful light show. Nearby Rock City, just over the state line, is equally fun to explore.

Take in a Grand Ole Opry show
It’s the show that made country music famous and put Nashville on the map. No one could have predicted the American cultural phenomenon the Opry would become when the show was first broadcast on the WSM airwaves in 1925. With a wide variety of artists performing each night, the Opry is unscripted, unexpected, and unmatched.


Hey neighbor, Tennessee residents save on Opry tickets this February!


Eat barbecue in Memphis
We can get down with some good brisket and pulled pork every now and again, but the state’s reigning barbecue capitol of Memphis worships at the altar of slow-cooked ribs. As for whether the ribs taste better dry or wet, that’s something for the jury to decide. 

Hit the Tennessee Whiskey Trail
There’s a reason why Tennessee whiskey has so many songs written about it. As one of the state’s biggest exports, it’s a cornerstone to our history. As early settlers headed west in the 1800s, they realized Tennessee’s bountiful limestone, oak species, and sugar maple trees were quite conducive to their whiskey-making operations. That’s history that goes down smooth.

Escape to Dollywood for old-fashioned fun
Patron saint of the Smokies, Tennessee native Dolly Parton reimagined her “Tennessee Mountain Home” as a theme park. At Dollywood, step inside a replica of the two-room cabin she grew up in, feel the wind against your face on the Barnstormer rollercoaster, and inhale all the cinnamon bread your heart desires at the park’s Grist Mill bakery. 

Photograph courtesy of Britt Reints 

Pretend to live like “The King” at Graceland
When you think of Memphis, it’s impossible not to think of Elvis. Decades after his passing, Elvis Presley still has a stronghold on the city, and Graceland remains one of the top-visited homes in the country. Imagine yourself in one of his recording sessions while standing inside the quirky Jungle Room and gawk at his collection of sleek Cadillacs.

Pause for reflection at the National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis was a hotbed for the Civil Rights Movement, and while the city is tragically linked to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., his legacy lives on at the National Civil Rights Museum. As you make your way through the museum’s many exhibits, trace the harrowing losses and great triumphs that have defined the fight for equal rights among black Americans.  

Photograph courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp

Explore the state’s storied recording legacy
Tennessee was shaped forever when the recording industry took off inside its borders. Music fans around the world can thank our state’s recording studios — from Bristol to Nashville to Memphis — for some of the greatest songs ever known. Whether you choose to visit Sun Records, Stax Records, RCA Studio B, or The Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, you won’t soon forget it.

See your favorite artist at one of the world’s most intimate music halls
Ryman Auditorium has long been the heart of the state’s capital of Nashville. Constructed as a tabernacle in 1892, the Ryman’s curved auditorium was designed to project the booming voices of evangelists. Now a world-class music venue, the Ryman is regarded as having some of the best acoustics in the world. Being able to say you were in the 2,362-person audience for a show featuring a music legend is a rite of passage.