Here at Market Square in downtown Knoxville, people are enjoying a beautiful day.
Locals and visitors alike are popping in and out of unique shops, and the surrounding cafes and restaurants create a pleasant and inviting atmosphere. This is Knoxville: alive with activity, from urban excitement to natural escapes.
Market Square and Gay Street
We decide to watch the lively atmosphere from one of the cafes around the square. Market Square was once a trading place for the local farmers. Today there are art and music festivals here year-round, as well as a nice weekly market with local produce.
A little later we stroll down Gay Street and visit boutiques and enjoy excellent sushi. Gay Street is also known as Knoxville’s theatre district, in which you find a number of beautiful historic venues like the magnificent Tennessee Theatre, the official state theatre of Tennessee, and the Bijou Theatre, known for its intimate atmosphere and great acoustics. Throughout the year, many artists perform along Gay Street and it’s always worth a look. At the end of the day, we have a beer in one of the bars around Market Square.
Alfresco dining at Cafe 4 in Market Square
The next morning, we're up early and drive to the Ijams Nature Center, which is only about three miles away from downtown and part of a more-than 404-hectare area of urban wilderness within the city limits.
At Mead’s Quarry, we rent a kayak and a paddleboard and float along bluffs and deep green forests. All along the shores we hear the sounds of many birds, especially in spring, and in autumn, you can see a lot of singing birds migrating through this area. The area is also a perfect starting point for a hike; there are 19 kilometers of hiking trails that lead through forests, along the lake and moss-covered cliffs.
After our tour on the lake, we rent a mountain bike and ride through the surrounding forests over trails suitable for beginners and advanced bikers. Outdoor offerings around Knoxville are plentiful and have something for every age – we're already planning a kayak trip on the Tennessee River for our next visit.
Rock climbing at Ijams Nature Center
Knoxville's Historic Homes
The last day of our visit is fully dedicated to the city’s fascinating history. The first settlements, mostly simple log cabins, started in in 1786 and quickly Knoxville became Tennessee's first state capital. Built in different settlement periods, there are seven historic homes around the city you can tour.
We start with James White’s Fort, named after the city’s founder who came here in the early 1780s. All around the simple log cabin, there's a fort you can visit, and in the different buildings there are blacksmith and spinning demonstrations. Also visit the stately Mabry-Hazen House, a Victorian-style home built during the Civil War period that offers amazing insights into the lives of the previous residents.
Knoxville offers a great mix between beautiful nature, a variety of outdoor possibilities, history and a great urban atmosphere with plenty of places to go out. We’ll be back soon!