If you’re looking to experience an authentic Southern Christmas, consider making plans to visit the Volunteer State this season. From dazzling light displays to exciting seasonal events, gift hunting, and more, here are four charming Tennessee towns to visit over the holidays!
The city of Knoxville is so much more than just Tennessee’s third-largest city. If you love exploring a vibrant local art and food scene when you travel to a new city, Knoxville is the place to visit this holiday season.
From museums to live music, architectural wonders, and more, there’s so much to discover when it comes to the “art and soul” of Knoxville. The city is booming with talent and has even been named an Etsy Maker City. Here are some of Knoxville’s most popular arts and culture attractions.
If you’re looking to peruse unique artwork, pay a visit to the Lilienthal Gallery. The high-end art gallery showcases local and nationally acclaimed artists specializing in various mediums — from sculptures to mixed media, oil paintings, and more.
Beginning in December and running through February, the gallery welcomes a new exhibition, Flow: Mastering a Brushstroke. Highlighting ink work from artists Sigrid Artmann, Guo Hai-Jiang, and Anthony Huang, the exhibit showcases the unique integration of traditional Eastern and Western painting elements.
The Knoxville Museum of Art celebrates some of the best artwork and artists across East Tennessee. Most recently, the museum has reimagined its flagship permanent exhibition, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee. Exploring local art from the 1860s through the 1980s, many of the exhibit’s featured artists spent their entire lives creating artwork beloved by locals. The museum is free to attend, and upcoming exhibits include East Tennessee Regional Student Art Exhibitions 2023 (November 24, 2023, through January 7, 2024) and Carmen Winant A Brand New End: Survival and Its Pictures (January 26, 2024, through April 14, 2024).
If you find yourself in Knoxville on the first Friday of the month, you’re in for a special treat! For 20 years, the city has hosted a special celebration featuring various artists’ displays alongside live music. Venues include the Art Market Gallery, The Emporium, and the Downtown Visitors Center — all conveniently located along historic Gay Street.
Speaking of Gay Street, this is a can’t-miss Knoxville attraction in itself. Since the 1790s, this bustling strip has played a significant role in the city’s historical and cultural developments. In addition to art galleries, this is where you’ll also find iconic places like the Tennessee Theatre, the East Tennessee History Center, and more.
When you’re ready for lunch or dinner, there are plenty of Knoxville eateries to choose from. Focusing on locally sourced foods and ingredients, you’ll even find fare from Tennessee’s first James Beard Award winner, Joseph Lenn of J.C. Holdway!
Another great downtown Knoxville eatery is Brother Wolf, owned by husband-wife duo Aaron Thompson and Jessica “Rabbit” King. The restaurant celebrates the Italian aperitivo culture with an extensive cocktail menu and light bites.
For a more casual dining option, Jackie’s Dream is a popular eatery providing delicious soul food. Start your meal with an order of Nanny Mary’s Fried Green Tomatoes, and for an entrée, popular items include Jackie’s Famous Fried Chicken and Knox Hot Chicken.
Robertson County, TN
Just 30 minutes north of Nashville lay 11 charming towns that make up Robertson County. Whether you’re looking to knock out some Christmas shopping, savor seasonal food and drinks, or attend a holiday event, Robertson County offers something for everyone.
For a curated shopping experience through historic downtowns and beautiful backroads, peruse Robertson County’s Boutique Trail and Picker’s Playground stops. As a holiday shopping destination, Robertson County offers locally owned boutiques carrying the latest apparel, home decor, and gifts, as well as antique and salvage shops with rare and one-of-a-kind treasures.
If you find yourself in historic downtown Springfield, don’t miss the Robertson County History Museum gift shop to find the perfect keepsake from your trip. The shelves are filled with prints and art, miniature tobacco baskets, books, and more. Plus, be sure to take a break from your shopping excursions with a free horse-drawn carriage ride around The Square. For additional information and the carriage’s schedule, click HERE.
There are also plenty of quintessential small-town Christmas celebrations to choose from in Robertson County. With nine holiday parades between Saturday, November 25, and Sunday, December 10, the Experience Robertson County app (available for both Apple and Android) is your ultimate trip-planning guide. A standout event includes Christmas in the Brier, which takes place on Saturday, November 25, at 9 a.m. at Louise Martin Park in Greenbrier.
For a stunning holiday display, visit Springfield’s Winter Wonderland holiday lights at J. Travis Price Park. Offering thousands of twinkling lights and more than 12 holiday scenes, this free event opens Saturday, December 2, and runs through Saturday, December 23. (Note that Saturday nights are special walk-thru and activity nights!)
You can also attend Springfield’s Winter Wonderland-themed Christmas parade on Saturday, December 2, at 6 p.m. Then, head over to the park for the grand opening of the Winter Wonderland light display.
If you’re looking for a memorable holiday tradition, head to Fiddle Dee Farms in Greenbrier for the We Need A Lot of Christmas Dinner Show. From Friday, November 24 through Saturday, December 23, enjoy Christmas music, comedy skits, magical illusions, and a meal. Tickets begin at $55.95 and can be purchased online.
Be sure to also plan to attend the Willow Oak Chorale Holiday and Children’s Chorus Candlelight Christmas Concert on Friday, December 8, and Saturday, December 9. Programs include your favorite holiday songs accompanied by an orchestra and performed against a backdrop of flickering candlelight. The event takes place at The Roger Bunch Concert and Event Hall at Willow Oak Center for Arts & Learning.
If you’re looking to round out your holiday shopping and events with over-the-top seasonal flavors, we recommend Deja Moo’s Candy Cane Hot Chocolate or Mystic Picnic’s festive mocktails and cocktails.
With so much to do and see throughout Robertson County, plan to cozy up for an overnight stay. You can book a traditional hotel accommodation or experience a one-of-a-kind stay at a historic mansion, working horse farm, luxury treehouse, or Southern Living-featured Ark.
Visit www.experiencerobertson.com to plan your unforgettable holiday experience today!
Hardin County, TN
Hardin County is a charming Southern community full of history and culture. While it’s a popular destination year-round, the county’s town of Savannah truly comes alive during the holiday season, thanks to its signature Christmas on Main event.
Festivities take place during the first three weekends in December, allowing for plenty of opportunities for you to join the fun! Events are free to attend and run from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every night.
To kick off your holiday adventures in Savannah, we recommend visiting the downtown area to experience thousands of Christmas lights. Be sure to visit the Courthouse Plaza, which offers a beautiful canopy of lights, plenty of photo opportunities, live performances, Christmas carols, and more family-friendly fun.
Another highlight of Christmas on Main is its open-air ice skating rink in the pavilion at the Savannah Market. The rink is open every Friday and Saturday night, and ice skates are available to rent for free.
On Friday, December 2, at 5 p.m., visit Savannah’s downtown gazebo for the lighting of a stunning 30-foot Christmas tree. Then, take a short walk to the Tennessee River Museum to see a hall full of seasonally-themed trees (and you can vote for your favorite one!).
For a unique way to get around the event, enjoy a train or horse-drawn carriage ride. Both options weave through the streets of downtown Savannah and offer beautiful views of the town’s holiday decor.
Christmas on Main also includes rides on the Savannah Trolley. The trolley picks passengers up on the corner of Main and Guinn and weaves riders through Savannah’s historic district to see decorated homes and the Christmas lights at Tennessee Street Park.
If you have children with you, they’ll enjoy exploring Santa’s workshop in the courthouse basement. They can also craft a handmade ornament to take home with them! When they’re done there, make your way to the face painting booth, where elves can paint images of snowflakes, candy canes, and more.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, visit the Christmas Café under the canopy of lights. Vendors include a variety of food trucks offering everything from hot cocoa to pastries. There are also plenty of spaces to sit a while, and just enjoy sights and sounds.
Of course, no Christmas event is complete without a visit from Santa Claus himself! Head to the courthouse lawn to enjoy visits with both Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and be sure to drop a letter in the North Pole Mail Express mailbox.
If you’re looking for a Christmas parade, many of Hardin County’s cities host their own throughout the season. The schedule is as follows: Pickwick Parade is Friday, December 1; Saltillo Parade is Saturday, December 2; Savannah Parade is Monday, December 4.
Be sure to also keep the long-running tradition of Christmas in the Park at Pickwick Landing State Park in mind! Taking place on Friday, December 8, and Saturday, December 9, festivities include a holiday market, free carriage and wagon rides, lighted displays, bedtime stories with elves, and more.
Halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville, McMinnville is a hidden gem that offers the perfect blend of small-town charm and beautiful scenery. During the holiday season in particular, you can expect everything from ice skating to holiday light displays and more. Read on for everything you need to see and do in this Southern town during the holidays!
A beloved annual event, McMinnville on Ice is slated to return to the city’s downtown area, offering festive lights, music, and, of course, ice skating. The event begins on Saturday, November 25, and includes 45-minute skate sessions. Admission is $5 and includes skate rentals.
If Christmas lights are what you’re after, downtown McMinnville officially turns on its lights during Flip the Switch! on Saturday, November 25, at 5 p.m. You’ll find fun for the whole family here at this exciting event— from live performances to carriage rides and ice skating.
Make plans to also attend the town’s Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 2. This year’s theme is Snow Globe Christmas, and the fun kicks off at 2 p.m. The event officially begins at D.C. Tires on West Main Street.
While in downtown McMinnville, visit its wide variety of retail shops to mark some names off your holiday shopping list! Local retailers offer everything from clothing and home goods to antiques, self-care products, and more. Popular stores for clothing and accessories include Lemon or Tiger Lily Boutique. For home decor, visit shops like Southern Traditions and McMinnville Antiques & More.
After working up an appetite, stop into any of McMinnville’s restaurants for a delicious meal. For authentic Southern barbecue in a casual atmosphere, Collins River BBQ & Cafe is known for its pulled pork, smoked wings, and homemade desserts. Or, head to Begonias Restaurant if you’re craving pizza and pasta.
If you’re hungry early in the day, stop into Cumberland Biscuit Company for a hearty brunch or lunch. Standout menu items include the Florentine Benedict (a sweet onion roll topped with a poached egg, cheddar cheese, spinach, and hollandaise sauce) and biscuits smothered in country sausage gravy.
If you’re craving something sweet, stop into Oh Sugar for mouth-watering cupcakes, French macarons, cheesecake, banana pudding, and other favorites. Frozen yogurt fans will enjoy a trip to Topz Frozen Yogurt & Metro Deli. The local eatery offers a variety of flavors — from cake batter to sour apple sorbet, coconut, blackberry, and more.
If you’re a coffee lover, The Vanilla Bean Baking Company offers a variety of lattes and assorted flavors, including vanilla, English toffee, salted caramel, and many more.
If the weather allows for it, we also recommend exploring the natural beauty of McMinnville at one of its parks or green spaces. Riverfront Park includes fishing piers, picnic areas, and boat ramps, while Pepper Branch Park offers everything from kayaking and canoeing to fishing sites, disc golf, and more.
Speaking of parks, if you’re looking for a unique place to stay during your visit, book a cabin at Rock Island State Park. The park offers 10 three-bedroom, two-bathroom cabins, each located about a half mile from the natural sand beach along the Caney Fork River.
This article is sponsored by Visit Knoxville, Experience Robertson County, Tour Hardin County, and Visit McMinnville, TN.
All photography provided unless otherwise noted.