Steeped with southern hospitality and tradition, Knoxville is an East Tennessee gem that provides incredible budget-friendly cultural and historical family-friendly experiences for all ages and interests. If you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, art fanatic, or live music lover, read on: You’ll find yourself having a blast exploring this list of free things to do in Knoxville, TN, including an incredible 360-degree view of the city from above.
Haley Heritage Square
Author Alex Haley is best known for his 1976 book, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Haley was also a humanitarian and activist who made Knoxville his home.
Today Haley Heritage Square, located at 1600 Dandridge Ave., Knoxville, is a tribute to the beloved author. It features a 13-foot bronze statue in his likeness that was sculpted by an internationally acclaimed artist.
This Knoxville landmark was built for the 1982 World’s Fair. It became a local favorite and stands to this day.
After the World’s Fair ended, the Sunsphere closed its doors and remained vacant until 2007. That year, the observation deck was reopened to the public. The Sunsphere’s observation deck offers a great 360-degree view of downtown Knoxville and beyond.
Located at 810 Clinch Ave, Knoxville TN 37902, the building is open on Mondays through Saturdays from 10 am to 9:30 pm, and Sundays noon to 9:30 pm.
WDVZ Blue Plate Special Weekdays at Noon
WDVX-FM radio brings back the Knoxville tradition of a downtown, midday, live radio show with the “Blue Plate Special” at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center, 301 S. Gay St. Enjoy live music ranging from blues to bluegrass, country to Celtic, folk to funk, rockabilly to hillbilly, local to international, every Monday through Saturday at noon.
If you can’t make it to the show in person tune in to the radio at 89.9 in Clinton or 102.9, Knoxville. You can also catch the show live-streaming on the internet.
The radio show began in 1997 and later transitioned into a live show in front of audiences in 2004. Since then it has become a tradition for the locals and tourists.
Frank H. McClung Museum
This general-interest museum opened in 1963 and offers exhibits on archaeology and the native people of Tennessee, ancient Egypt, decorative arts, geology and fossils, the Civil War and local and natural history.
As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum is free and open to the public Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm and Sundays 1 to 5 pm.
Dogwood Arts Festival
This 55-year long Tennessee tradition has been featuring local art in countless forms. From performances to paintings this is truly and immersive experience.
Dogwood Arts is a 12-month celebration of the region’s arts, culture, and natural beauty. With more than 60 miles of trails featuring spectacular dogwood trees, beautiful gardens, arts and crafts fairs, and outdoor concerts by local musicians.
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The dogwood trees and blossoms that surround the festivities are known as the essence of Knoxville. They serve as the perfect frame for the culture of the city.
Ijams Nature Center
Ijams is a 150-acre nature sanctuary on the banks of the Tennessee River with mulched and paved trails, a waterfront boardwalk and wildlife viewing areas. Seasonal events include music concerts, owl prowls, canoe trips, plant sales and guided nature walks.
In 2014, USA Today named Ijams Nature Center one of Knoxville’s top three attractions. As a part of the 1,000 forested acres along downtown’s south waterfront and with over 12 miles of hiking trails, it is easy to see why many would be impressed by Ijams.
Beck Cultural Exchange Center
Established to conserve Knoxville’s black history, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center features the history of African Americans in Knoxville and East Tennessee from the late 1800s to present through photographs, newspapers, biographies, audio and video recordings, books and artwork.
The center is located at 1927 Dandridge Ave. and open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.
This post was updated by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for TravelingMom.com, in May 2016. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. She has her own personal travel blog, Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.