The 10 Best Things to Do in Chattanooga TN (2024)

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The fourth-largest city in Tennessee, Chattanooga (population nearly 185,000) has been a major town in the TAG (Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia) area since before the Civil War
Originally known as a major hub for Southeastern railroads, the city of Chattanooga emerged as one of the region’s largest heavy industrial hubs in the early 20th century.
Convenient to the cities of Atlanta, Knoxville, and Nashville, not to mention the Great Smoky Mountains, Chattanooga is one of our favorite Tennessee mountain towns we’ve ever visited. 
There’s an incredible array of Downtown Chattanooga attractions, not to mention an excellent assortment of museums, distilleries, restaurants and shops. You’ll also find historic sites, outdoor adventures, and more on Lookout Mountain. 
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Chattanooga TN, including all the best Chattanooga restaurants, attractions, and activities for visitors to explore!

Are you planning to visit Chattanooga TN?

If you need recommendations for fun things to do in Chattanooga TN, check out our tips for some of the top hotels, guided tours, and more!

Top Places to Stay in Chattanooga TN

  1. The Edwin Hotel (4-star pet-friendly riverfront hotel w/ excellent location & restaurant)
  2. The Hotel Chalet at The Choo Choo (boutique hotel w/ train cars you can sleep in!)
  3. Hotel Indigo (pet-friendly hotel with excellent breakfast & good location)
  4. Moxy Chattanooga Downtown (Chic pet-friendly hotel with a relaxed vibe)

Popular Chattanooga TN Tours & Attractions

  1. Chattanooga: Derailed Trolley Tour & Train Ride (on the “Missionary Ridge Local”)

  2. Murder & Mayhem Haunted History Walking Tour  (one of the scariest haunted history tours!)

  3. Historic Downtown Chattanooga Segway Tour (great overview of Chattanooga)

Need a car rental for your Chattanooga trip? Find the best rental car options here!

Things to Do in Chattanooga TN Guide

  1. Cave Tours at Raccoon Mountain Caverns
  2. Go “Under the Sea” at the Chattanooga Aquarium
  3. Hunter Museum of American Art
  4. Marvel at Ruby Falls 
  5. Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
  6. Sample the Best Restaurants in Chattanooga
  7. See Rock City Gardens 
  8. Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Train Rides
  9. Tour the Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery
  10. Visit the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” Station
Cave Tour at Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga TN
Cave Tour at Raccoon Mountain Caverns

1. Cave Tours at Raccoon Mountain Caverns

If you love exploring caves and caverns as much as we do, Raccoon Mountain Caverns is second only to Ruby Falls among the most impressive caves in Chattanooga to visit.

Named one of the “Top Things to Do in Chattanooga” by TripAdvisor, their 45-55 minute Crystal Palace Walking Tour takes visitors through 1/4-mile of the cave, which has colorful lights, paths, steps, and handrails.

Along the way we learned a lot about the cave’s history, wildlife, how it was formed geologically, different types of rock formations, and the longtime rivalry between Raccoon Mountain and Ruby Falls. 

Children under age 3 are not allowed, and this Tennessee cavern is not wheelchair or stroller-accessible.

Tours run every hour on weekdays, and every half-hour on weekends. They also have Wild Cave Expedition Tours available, and one of the best campgrounds in Chattanooga.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Caverns and Underground Caves in Tennessee

2. Go “Under the Sea” at the Tennessee Aquarium

The last time I visited the Tennessee Aquarium in the mid ’90s, the Downtown Chattanooga attraction had only been open a year or two, with the “River Journey” building located on the banks of the Tennessee River.
So it was amazing to see its growth when we decided to revisit in 2023. Their “Ocean Journey” expansion (which opened in 2005) doubled the Aquarium’s size, making it one of the most impressive things to do in Chattanooga with kids.
The Tennessee Aquarium is now home to more than 12,000 animals representing 800+ different aquatic species, and it’s consistently recognized among the best aquariums in the USA.
We had a blast exploring the 1.1 million gallon facility, especially the Appalachian Cove Forest (with adorable otters), Rivers of the World, Penguin’s Rock, and the 3-level Secret Reef exhibit, which is their largest at 618,000 US gallons!
Exterior of The Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga TN
The Hunter Museum of Art

3. Hunter Museum of American Art

For our latest Chattanooga vacation, we stayed at The Edwin Hotela 90-room boutique hotel located right next to the iconic Walnut Street Bridge.
Our room had a fantastic view of the Hunter Museum of American Art, which was named after Coca-Cola Bottling magnate George Hunter and includes a 1904 classical revival mansion designed by the son of US President James Garfield. 
Originally opened in the mansion in 1952, this 71-year-old Chattanooga attraction was expanded with a brutalist-style addition in 1975, and a more modern 2005 addition that now serves as the main entrance to the museum.
Their impressive permanent collection includes diverse styles of art, ranging from 19th century genre painting and American Impressionism to early modernism, regionalism, and post-WWII contemporary art.
Forthcoming special exhibits include “Networked Nature” (Jan 26-May 5), “Art Deco Glass” (May 24-Sept 2), and “City As Canvas: Graffiti Art” (Sept 20-Jan 13, 2025). 
Pink Ruby Falls Waterfalls in Chattanooga TN
Ruby Falls Drenched in Pink

4. Marvel at Ruby Falls

Located 1,120 feet below the summit 0f Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is one of the tallest and deepest underground waterfalls in the USA.

The Lookout Mountain cave was closed in the early 1900s due to the construction of a railroad tunnel. Leo Lambert, an avid fans of caves and caverns, discovered a passage to the Ruby Falls Cave that was 4 feet wide, but only 18 inches high.

After he squeezed through the passageway with his wife, Ruby, he decided to name the 145-foot-tall waterfall after her. The creation of wider passageways later made the cave accessible to the public.

Visiting Ruby Falls today allows you to reach the cave via elevator, taking a 1-mile round-trip walking tour complete with electric lighting and handrails. Slower paced and after-hours tours are also available.

Timed tickets for the tours begin at $26.95, and annual passes are available. This ever-popular Chattanooga attraction also has a gift shop, zipline adventures, and a restaurant that opened in 2022.

READ MORE:  The 15 Best Waterfalls in Tennessee to Visit

Chattanooga viewed from the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway at the Summit
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Summit View

5. Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chattanooga TN. Starting in the historic neighborhood of St. Elmo, the 125-year-old railway features a 72.7% grade at its steepest point.
This 40-passenger railcar takes you on a 15-minute journey up the side of Lookout Mountain, along a path that opened back in 1895. Along the way, you’ll get to see beautiful views of Tennessee and Georgia.
Although the car is completely enclosed, the 360º windows offer plenty of opportunities for stunning views and photos of the surrounding landscape. If you visit Chattanooga, it’s truly a must-see! 
When it stops at the Lookout Mountain station at the top, visitors can learn about the railway’s 128-year history, see breathtaking views of Downtown Chattanooga, or take a short walk to Point Park.
Fine Dining at St John's, one of the best restaurants in Chattanooga TN
Dinner at St John’s Restaurant

6. Sample the Best Restaurants in Chattanooga

We’ve been to 50+ Blue Ridge Mountains Towns over the past 3 years. And, as veteran restaurant critics, we always put a lot of time and energy into exploring the local foodie scene in every mountain town we visit.
In our experience, the Chattanooga restaurant scene rivals that of Asheville, Roanoke, and even my native Atlanta, with a diverse array of options for practically every taste and budget. 
If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast in Chattanooga, our favorite places to eat included the bustling Milk & Honey, the Edwin Hotel’s Whitebird, and the absolutely fantastic Niedlov’s Bakery & Cafe
Those seeking adventurous ethnic cuisines will love the new Attack of the Tatsu (ramen and katsu with an amazing interior),  the upscale Mexican of Agave & Rye (Chattanooga’s best tacos!), and Osaka Sushi & Steakhouse (great hibachi). 
Because our trip was a romantic getaway, we also adored the fine dining restaurants in Chattanooga, particularly Alleia (rustic Italian in an artfully designed setting) and St John’s Restaurant (upscale seasonal American fare). 
Christmas Star at Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights in Lookout Mountain GA
Christmas Star at Rock City

7. See Rock City Gardens & Fairyland Caverns

Located atop Lookout Mountain, Rock City Gardens & Fairyland Caverns is one of the oldest Chattanooga attractions, built in the 1920s by Garnet Carter and his wife, Freida. 

The visionary Garnet created America’s first mini-golf course, while Freida planned various Lookout Mountain hiking trails, planted flowers, and imported Bavarian-style gnomes for her unique garden.

Garnet also created the most creative marketing campaign of his time, hiring Clark Byers to paint 900+ iconic “See Rock City” barns in 19 states between 1935 and 1969. 

Today, visitors can hike to Lover’s Leap, view 7 states from Lookout Mountain (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia), explore Fairyland Caverns, and much more.

Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights is also arguably our favorite place to see Christmas lights in Tennessee! 

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Train Rides- North Pole Limited Christmas Train in Chattanooga TN
Riding the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Train

8. Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Train Rides

Chattanooga has been in the railroad game since before the Civil War, and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum strives to continue that tradition.
There are an array of scenic train rides offered by the TVRM, including the Hiwassee Loop, Summerville Steam Special, Tennessee Wine Train, and myriad Christmas train rides
Since we visited Chattanooga in December, we chose the family-friendly North Pole Limited, which follows the relatively short Missionary Ridge Local route.
It was less flashy than our Polar Express train ride in Bryson City NC, but certainly no less fun thanks to the Elves (Holly and Peppermint), conductors, and some face time with jolly ol’ St Nick himself!
Hot cocoa, cookies, storytelling, Christmas lights, passing through a pre-Civil War train tunnel, and Christmas caroling make this a memorable trip if you visit Chattanooga at Christmas.
Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery Tasting Flight
Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery Tasting Flight

9. Tour the Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery

Jack Daniels is easily the most famous name in “Tennessee Whiskey.” But if you prefer to support small local distilleries, check out Chattanooga Whiskey in the heart of Downtown Chattanooga.
During our guided tour, we learned all about the process of making whiskey, as well as some history of bootlegging in Tennessee during the Prohibition era. Did you that it was illegal to distill whiskey in Chattanooga until 2014?! 
After the informative tour, we enjoyed an excellent tasting flight, sampling 5 of their most popular whiskeys as well as their delicious Old Fashioned cocktails.
Pro tip: Visit The Hot Chocolatier next door to buy decadent Chocolate Truffles made with Chattanooga Whiskey, which really knocked our socks off! 
Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station in Downtown Chattanooga TN
“Chattanooga Choo Choo” Terminal Station

10. Visit the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” Station

If you love trains as much as we do, a stop at the historic Terminal Station in Downtown Chattanooga is a must!
Tennessee railroads played a major role in the Civil War, and Glenn Miller’s hit song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” helped to put the mountain town on the map in the 1940s.
By the 1970s, the Terminal Station seemed likely to be demolished, until a group of local businessmen invested $4 million to renovate and refurbish the former Southern Railway hub to its former grandeur.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the former railroad station is a multi-use complex with a new hotel, great restaurants (we especially loved STIR), a distillery, a comedy club, the Glenn Miller Gardens, and more.

It’s especially beautiful when it’s all decked out for Christmas. The historic train is covered in lights, Santa makes appearances on weekends, and special events are offered throughout the holiday season.  –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Born and raised in North Georgia, Editor-In-Chief Bret Love grew up hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his family. A professional writer/editor since 1995, he's covered travel and culture for 100+ publications, including American Way, Destination Marriott, Georgia Travel Guide, National Geographic, and Southbound. In 2010 he co-founded the award-winning website, Green Global Travel, which is ranked among the world's top travel blogs. Since launching BRMTG in 2020, he and Mary Gabbett have visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns together. Though she lived in NYC for 14 years, photographer/Business Manager Mary Gabbett's family has Georgia roots dating back 200+ years. Her great-grandfather was President of the Western Railroad of Alabama. Before moving to Atlanta in 1989, she fell in love with the North GA mountains, where her aunt owned a cabin. In 2010 she co-founded Green Global Travel, and has since traveled to more than 40 countries on six continents. Her photos have appeared in numerous travel publications (including National Geographic and Southbound) and various textbooks.