Knoxville, the largest city in East Tennessee, may not appear at first glance to be the most scenic city as you enter amid fast traffic on Interstate 40. But exit the interstate and you'll find exciting sporting events, a variety of restaurants and shopping, historic sites and outdoor recreation set against the backdrop of the nearby Smoky Mountains.
Located where the Holston and French Broad Rivers join to form the Tennessee River, Knoxville has been a center for trade since James White built a fort here in 1786. During the late 1700s, the city was the state capital and home to a newspaper and college which later became the University of Tennessee. There was no clear-cut allegiance to either side in Knoxville during the Civil War with sympathizers on both sides.
Downtown Knoxville is centered on Gay Street and clustered with business skyscrapers. Sites to visit here include the Lamar House-Bijou Theatre, first an 1816 tavern, then a hotel until a theatre was added 1909. Nearby, the 1928 Tennessee Theatre, once home to silent movies, still houses a "mighty Wurlitzer" organ and features live shows today.
History-laden sites to see include Blount Mansion, seat of government in the U.S.' first territory from 1792-1796 and the East Tennessee Historical Society Museum, featuring regional history from the mid-18th century forward. Civil War sites include the Confederate Cemetery where 1,600 southerners rest and the Knoxville National Cemetery where 9,000 Union troops lie.
Nearby is the Old City, a group of cafes, unique shops and music clubs ranging from rock to jazz to the blues housed in turn of the 20th century buildings. Upscale lofts have drawn residents to call this unique area home. Not far away is the site of the 1982 World's Fair, home to the 26-story high Sunsphere, the restored L & N railroad station and the 1919 Candy Factory, where more than 100 kinds of candy are sold.
The University of Tennessee with its 500+ acres and 25,000+ students is an important part of Knoxville. Thousands of orange-clad fans flock to Knoxville each year to watch the Tennessee Volunteers play football in Neyland Stadium, the third largest in the country. Thompson-Boling basketball arena is home to UT's men's team and the famous Lady Vols, coached by Pat Summit.
Volunteer Landing has become a destination for Knoxville residents and visitors alike with its replica of James White Fort and selection of restaurants. The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame features a huge basketball on top of its building and plenty of memorabilia. Jump on the Tennessee Riverboat for a cruise on the Tennessee River or climb aboard excursion train "Three Rivers Rambler" for a sightseeing trip.
The arts are alive and well here with museums such as the Knoxville Museum of Art and the East Tennessee Discovery Center for children. Knoxville has a symphony orchestra, opera, ballet and stage company. Baker-Peters Jazz Club housed in a 1860s home, features live jazz six days a week.
The natural surroundings of the Knoxville Zoo are home to 225 species of wildlife. Explore nature on your own along six miles of trails at Ijams Nature Center. UT Gardens presents over 2,000 annuals and perennials plus water gardens.
Knoxville dining runs the gamut from traditional Italian fare at Naples to some of the best hamburgers around at Litton's. Shopping is popular along Kingston Pike, which parallels I-40 and also offers a wide range of restaurants.
Knoxville is located in the geographical center of the eastern U.S. and at the intersection of Interstates 40, 75 and 81 about three hours east of Nashville.