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Things to Do in Chattanooga

With its blooming arts district, spectacular natural landmarks and deeply ingrained historical memory, Chattanooga offers a wealth of attractions for the culture-minded traveler.

A riverboat trip down the Tennessee River in the fall offers gorgeous reflections of Chattanooga's natural surroundings.

Urban planners for the flourishing city of Chattanooga mark 1969 as the decisive year when this previously gritty industrial hub began its turnaround. One fateful night on the CBS Evening News, legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite labeled Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America,” citing an EPA report that compared environmental factors in many of the country’s urban centers.

City officials and community members alike responded immediately with a number of legislative measures and community goals that, they hoped, would revitalize the struggling southern city. Today, visitors to Tennessee’s “Scenic City” would never know this thriving metropolitan area sprang from a less-than-pristine history. Aside from being a major center of commerce in the South, the vibrant city offers any number of historical, educational and cultural attractions that draw visitors from all over the nation.

Living History

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park preserves the heritage of a pivotal Civil War battlefield.

Located 25 miles from the intersection of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, the Chattanooga region saw heavy fighting during the Civil War. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, spanning the border between Tennessee and Georgia, preserves many of the battlefields and monuments made sacred by the fighting, and visitors can witness living history demonstrations and reenactments throughout the year.

Fans of the city’s industrial heritage can visit the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel and Terminal Station, but visitors looking for the spookier side of area history can enjoy a Chattanooga Ghost Tour, which includes a comprehensive overview of the city’s heritage, haunted and otherwise.

In Chattanooga's Tennessee Aquarium, visitors can follow the path of a drop of water as it travels from an Appalachian mountain stream to the Gulf of Mexico.

Waterfront Reawakened

Recognizing the natural potential of the Tennessee River Waterfront, slicing through the heart of downtown, community organizers created a 13-mile walking trail along the river that connects many of the city’s popular attractions. The Riverwalk attracts joggers, walkers and bikers alike and offers beautiful views of both the city and the river. A major component of Chattanooga’s Waterfront renewal plan, the Tennessee Aquarium features the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, as well as a massive saltwater exhibit, and has continually received top ratings in educational programs and customer satisfaction since it opened in 1992.

Visitors to Chattanooga won’t want to miss a thrilling ride on the aquarium’s Tennessee River Gorge Explorer, a high-speed catamaran that provides a biological and historical tour of the Tennessee River Valley. “High society” takes on new meaning when applied to the city’s renowned Bluff View Art District. Located a few short blocks from the aquarium and situated high above the river on a cliff, the European-inspired neighborhood features a variety of elegant restaurants, gardens, museums, cafes, inns and galleries. Artisanal bakers, confectioners and chefs create a wide variety of delectable treats you won’t find anywhere else. Bluff View is also home to the renowned Hunter Museum of American Art, which features a permanent collection and a number of traveling exhibits as well as a stunning view of the city.

Natural Attraction

With nearly a mile of trail meandering through beautiful and unusual rock formations, accompanied by a variety of wildflowers, shrubs and trees, Rock City Gardens is sure to delight the entire family.

For visitors looking for some out-of-the-ordinary excursions, a trip to Lookout Mountain is a must. A ride to the top on the Incline Railway, the world’s steepest passenger railway, offers the breathtaking experience of traveling on a heart-stopping 72.9-percent grade, nearly a mile above the city. Mountaintop tourist attraction Rock City Gardens, popularized by now-nostalgic roadside barn-roof advertisements, features a 4,100-foot walking trail through a maze of fascinating rock formations and lush gardens. 

And deep in the heart of the mountain, thundering Ruby Falls is a (human-enhanced) natural wonder that is not to be missed. Although man-made pathways allow tourists to travel easily within the cave, the awe-inspiring 145-foot waterfall found more than 1,100 feet underground can only be attributed to Mother Nature. The greater Chattanooga area also offers a number of outdoor recreation possibilities. Several regional rivers provide everything from whitewater rafting to fishing, and the variable topography found in this ridge-and-valley area of the Appalachians makes mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing and even hang gliding popular activities for locals and visitors alike.

No longer the industrial center of yesterday, Chattanooga is relishing the new identity it has taken years to create and perfect. Large enough to keep you engaged but small enough to still be friendly and accessible, it may be the perfect destination for your summer getaway or retirement.

Vital Stats

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Population: 169,243

Household median income: $37,260

Average house value: $126,500

For more information: Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-322-3344; chattanoogafun.com