The 10 Best Small Towns in Tennessee

·6 min read

For most travelers, Nashville is *the* destination to visit in Tennessee. But this landlocked southern state has so much more to offer than simply the excitement of the Music City. In fact, you could make a strong case that its true gems are the small towns. That article endeavors to do just that. Dare we say that after scrolling through our well-researched list, you might rethink that trip to Nashville. OK, probably not. But perhaps, you’ll consider staying a few extra nights to check out some of the best small towns in Tennessee.

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1. GATLINBURG, TN

Gatlinburg grabs the attention of tourists for all the right (and rugged) reasons. Known as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this enchanting alpine resort in eastern Tennessee grants visitors access to endless adventure—hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and skiing. Appalachian wilderness aside (not that you’re ever far from the outdoors with fresh air and gorgeous views at every turn), Gatlinburg also has amusement parks, mini golf and a nostalgic pinball museum.

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2. SHILOH, TN

Doing a road trip through Tennessee? Set your navigation to Shiloh—and get ready to step into the past (we’re talking the Civil War and even earlier). First, stop by Shiloh Indian Mounds National Historic Landmark to see pre-historic houses. Walk on the field where the Battle of Shiloh went down and pay tribute to the fallen soldiers at the cemetery before admiring Cherry Mansion, the 1862 headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant. Afterward, grab a bite at the spooky Catfish Hotel.

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3. LYNCHBURG, TN

The star attraction in the lovely south-central Tennessee town of Lynchburg just so happens to be the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Not big into booze? Do a walking tour of the charming downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and sample some sweet treats at the Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company.

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4. JONESBOROUGH, TN

Nested in the easternmost tip of Tennessee, Jonesborough—the oldest town in the state—is like a living museum. It boasts a postcard-worthy downtown with tons of idyllic, old buildings. The Christopher Taylor House (which would more accurately be described as a rustic log cabin) dates all the way back to 1778. People come from far and wide for the National Storytelling Festival. Due to its proximity to the Appalachian Mountains, Jonesborough also puts cycling, caving, hiking and kayaking at your doorstep.

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5. FRANKLIN, TN

The next time you’re in Nashville, we highly recommend road trippin’ just 20 miles south to Franklin. Founded in 1799 by Abram Maury and named to honor Benjamin Franklin, this darling town has two (seemingly disparate) claims to fame: history and festivals. Fans of the past can visit Civil War battlefields and tour the purportedly haunted Carnton House. While events like Pumpkinfest and Dickens of a Christmas lure travelers keen to take part in seasonal celebrations.

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6. BELL BUCKLE, TN

A sing-songy name sets the stage for an adorable town that could easily be plucked off the pages of a children’s storybook, Bell Buckle sits just an hour southeast of Nashville. The downtown area flaunts impressively preserved Victorian homes and churches. It’s also an antique lover’s dream with many shops to uncover vintage treasures and bygone-era relics. And be sure to swing by Bell Buckle Cafe for a piece of oatmeal cake drizzled in caramel sauce.

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7. TELLICO PLAINS, TN

Ready to answer the call of the wild? Pack your bags for the rugged resplendence of Tellico Plains In southeastern Tennessee. People venture to this old-timey mountain town, situated a stone’s throw away from Cherokee National Forest, to commune with nature. Plain and simple. Whether you want to go hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, chasing waterfalls (hello, Bald River Falls) or camping, it’s all waiting.

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8. TOWNSEND, TN

Two words best describe Townsend: peaceful and picturesque. Quiet and quaint would also be appropriate adjectives. A less frequented entry point to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this tiny town is truly the perfect home base for exploring the beauty of nature (ahem, spring wildflowers) sans hordes of tourists. Outdoor activities—from hiking tree-lined trails to rafting down the gushing river—are obviously a given. You can also count on cute shops, festivals and cozy cabin rentals.

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9. PIGEON FORGE, TN

If you ask us, country queen and living legend Dolly Parton is basically the closest thing we have to royalty in America. That pretty much makes her Appalachian-themed amusement park in Pigeon Forge something akin to the palace grounds, right? Of course, Dollywood isn’t all that this eastern Tennessee town has going for it. Hit up the live music venues and scenic hiking trails. And don’t forget to book tickets to the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show.

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10. GREENEVILLE, TN

For a major dose of heritage, head to Greeneville. The second oldest town in Tennessee takes visitors on a journey back in time to the Revolutionary War with attractions like the Greeneville Greene County Museum. Since the nation’s 17th president (that’s Andrew Johnson in case you missed that week in history class) hailed from Greeneville, there’s a site devoted to him. Well-preserved buildings along Main Street and the Greeneville Antique Market round out the old-school charm.

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