The itinerary: Must-sees in Knoxville before Alabama-Tennessee game

Publish date:

Knoxville bleeds Volunteer orange. In fact, if you squint at the Sunsphere at the World’s Fair Park, the gold starts to look an awful lot like the ubiquitous UT hue.

Even though it’s been more than three decades since the World’s Fair came to Rocky Top, there are still plenty of things to do at the Fairgrounds. And as the home of the University of Tennessee, one of the oldest universities in the country, Knoxville offers plenty of places to whet your whistle.

Here are some of the top attractions in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Dead End BBQ

It’s Tennessee, so you’re going to want barbecue. Dead End claims your search is over, and when you wolf down the Dead End Mac-Attack, you may reach BBQ nirvana. That’s pulled pork topped with macaroni and pimento cheese, drenched in Dead End Red Sauce.

The Tomato Head

If you’ve got the meat sweats, try some of the best pizza in town. While the bacon, ham, and Andouille sausage pizza probably won’t lessen your carnivorous load, the portobello and walnut burrito should make you feel slightly healthier. With multiple huevos rancheros preparations and a whole host of breakfast burritos, Tomato Head is also a must-hit brunch spot. 

Stock & Barrel

This place touts two things: burgers and bourbon. It’s a match made in heaven: There are more bourbon options than you could drink in a lifetime, and they pair well with burgers like the Black & Blue, topped with buttermilk blue fondue and bacon, or the Big Nasty, a doubled-up cheddar and bacon monstrosity topped with garlic aioli, fried onions and tomato jam. Why not stay local and try The Elvis: peanut butter, fried bananas and bacon.

Preservation Pub

Three floors of bars and live music, with lots of food options. A great place to see local bands while selecting from the impressive beer list, and a great spot for daytime drinks on the rooftop patio.

Taste of Thai

Tasty Tennessee Thai food. Tennessee may be more closely associated with barbecue, but this Thai place is considered one of the best restaurants in all of Knoxville, full stop. Ignore the strip mall surroundings and opt for the curry or the drunken noodles.

Market Square

A bustling farmer’s market, art festivals, live music, and… A BISCUIT FESTIVAL? Market Square has tons of dining and shopping options and is particularly lively on Friday nights.


Are you dying for a theme park, waterpark and campground named for one of the most famous country singers around? Well, you sound weird, but you’re in luck. Dolly Parton’s Dollywood is about 30 minutes from town and boasts rollercoasters, live music, and the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

Great Smoky Mountains

Just a few miles from downtown Knoxville are the famous Smokies, one of the most popular national parks in the country.  With multiple hiking trails, the Smokies are perfect for spotting black bears through the dense layer of fog that continuously hugs the range. For a closer option, check out the Ijams Nature Center, which is full of wildlife and outdoor fun.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

The Volunteers have plenty of football competition in the SEC, but the Tennessee women’s basketball program dominates the history of the game. It is no surprise that Knoxville is the home of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The Lady Vols boast eight national titles and have produced stars like Chamique Holdsclaw and Candace Parker. Plus, legendary Vols coach Pat Summit was a member of the inaugural induction class.

The Bijou Theater

A truly historic place to see a show. The building has roots back to the days after the Revolutionary War, and the Bijou became a fulltime theater around 1909. The theater plays host to acts like Roy Orbison, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. It also houses an art gallery on the second floor, plus a restaurant.

• Check out all the stops on Sport Illustrated's Go Rving Tailgate Tour