See and Be Seen in Chattanooga
Chattanooga’s nickname is the Scenic City, and while there’s no denying the beauty of the outdoors (the Tennessee River and the Appalachian Mountains for a start), there is so much to be seen inside the city as well.
So whether you’re an art buff, a history lover or looking to splurge on an indulgent getaway, this friendly southeast Tennessee city should top your must-see list. The fall foliage will make a perfect backdrop as well for all your Insta followers.
Here are a few of our favorite ways to see Chattanooga.
Check Out the Arts
Get your bearings on the city by heading to the Bluff View Art District, which is within walking distance of downtown Chattanooga. At just 1.5 blocks, this small yet mighty neighborhood is set high up on stone cliffs, giving you awesome views of the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian-only bridge that connects downtown with Chattanooga's North Shore.
While in the area, head to River Gallery, which offers free admission to see a collection that includes paintings and glass art, as well as its sculpture garden. The neighborhood is also home to gardens, plazas and courtyards, plus a few restaurants and the Bluff View Inn, should you decide to spend the night.
Though it’s not located in the Bluff View Art District, the Hunter Museum of American Art is located on a 90-foot limestone bluff overlooking the river. Encompassing three buildings (including a 1905 classical revival mansion), the museum spans the history of American art — think painting, sculpture, contemporary studio glass and crafts — from the colonial period to the present day.
The city is full of creative spots, like Gallery 1401, which features original works by nationally and internationally recognized artists. The Association for Visual Arts has a gallery in Chattanooga’s North Shore, and the exhibits rotate throughout the year; they also host the annual 4 Bridges Art Festival where you can talk with local artists and purchase works. At Ignis Glass Studio, you can blow your own heirloom glass ornament or paperweight (with the help of professional artists).
If you find yourself on Chattanooga’s Southside, spend some time strolling around the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. The largest sculpture park in the Southeast at 33 acres, this outdoor attraction is free to the public and home to more than 40 large-scale sculptures from around the world.
Learn Local History
Chattanooga gained notoriety in American history for two main reasons: the railroad industry and the Civil War. At the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, you can actually ride a historic train on a 3-mile section of the former Southern Railway. Superfans of railway history should head to Chattanooga Choo Choo, where the old Terminal Station has been transformed into a complex that includes restaurants, entertainment and a hotel where you can even sleep in a modified Pullman Train car.
After finishing a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium (widely considered one of the best aquariums in the country), don't miss the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center next door, which highlights those who made heroic acts by putting service over self. The first Medals of Honor were award in Chattanooga to participants of Andrew's Raid during the Civil War. Displays include recreations of battle scenes, actual medals on loan from families and gear carried in combat by Tennessee recipients.
Chattanooga's rich Black History is also waiting to be explored. At the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, you can pay homage to native daughter and blues legend Bessie Smith; the collection includes her writings, film clips, posters and even a beaded dress from the 1920s.
If you’re looking for a unique attraction, the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum might fit the bill. Ernest Holmes made the world’s first tow truck right here in Chattanooga, and this museum celebrates the towing and recovery industry. The museum has a collection of restored antique tow trucks, antique cars and a “Wall of the Fallen” of those who died in the line of duty.
Feed Your Curiosity
In a city that’s as compact and walkable as Chattanooga, it’s easy to try different restaurants as you head from one attraction to another. Head to trendy Station Street and step into STIR, where you can sink your teeth straight into an oyster and seafood cold bar or start with the $1 mimosas on the brunch menu. Aptly named State of Confusion offers scratch-made cuisine from South America, New Orleans and the Carolina Lowcountry, with menu items including Peruvian ceviche, NOLA Shrimp Po’ Boy and Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits.
Flying Squirrel bills itself as “your neighborhood third place” in reference to home being your first place, work being your second place and the third place being an establishment where you go to unwind and socialize. With a menu built for sharing, Flying Squirrel uses local ingredients to create dishes like ginger & scallion noodles, spicy miso brussels sprouts and summer squash for customers to dine on while listening to live music from local bands.
Head to Whiskey Thief, the only rooftop bar in the city, for panoramic views and stiff drinks; there are more than 100 kinds of whiskey (both domestic and international) behind the bar, along with plenty of other spirits. For a speakeasy-style cocktail-bar experience, look for the red light on Cherry Street and head into Unknown Caller, where they serve new cocktails each week, plus mini plates like cheese boards and mac and cheese cups.
Sink Into the Sheets
From historic railroad cars to bluff-top locations, Chattanooga is full of interesting places to rest your head. Join the long list of notable visitors with a stay at The Read House, a downtown Jazz-era historic hotel that has played host to names like Oprah Winfrey, Bing Crosby, Winston Churchill and Al Capone. Legend has it, Capone was a guest back in the 1930s during his federal trial and his room (311) was fitted with custom bars. Chattanooga’s free electric shuttle stops in front of the Broad Street entrance, making it easy to make this a base for adventures.
Readers of Travel + Leisure named The Edwin to its list of Top 500 Hotels around the world this year, and it’s easy to see why. Steps away from the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Walnut Street Bridge, this downtown boutique hotel not only has rooms with incredible city views, but also a spa and the city’s only rooftop bar (that would be the aforementioned Whiskey Thief).
Technically, this property is in Georgia, but it’s so close to downtown Chattanooga (10 minutes), that you won’t even realize you’ve crossed the state line. You, will, however, feel like you’re in the clouds since the Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast is over 1800 feet above sea level. With only 20 cottages scattered around two acres of gardens, you're well located for a day of exploring Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls and other Chattanooga-area sights.