Let’s Go Knoxville

A must-stop along the Tennessee River

August 2017 Feature Janet Groene

When your Tennessee River cruise calls for a taste of city life, Knoxville, Tenn., glows. Dock at Volunteer Landing Marina (865-966-7444) in the heart of downtown, then set out on foot or pick up a bicycle   next door at the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center.

The city is threaded with jogging and biking trails and greenways that can take you deep into the scenic countryside and for miles along the riverfront. Or head for the sightseeing, nightlife and restaurants of Downtown Market Square, Gay Street and The Old City.

The city also has a good transit system and a free trolley. Here’s just a sampling of what visiting houseboaters can see and do.

*The Tennessee Theatre is the centerpiece of the downtown cityscape. A lavish movie palace built in 1928, it’s restored to its original splendor. On the first Monday of the month, come at noon to see the magnificent theater and hear a free concert played on the original Wurlitzer organ. Concerts and shows also play here regularly.

*The East Tennessee Historical Society hosts an excellent museum downtown. Starting with Native American history, its displays take visitors through the area’s role in history. Even before the Revolution, pioneers defied British colonial rulers at Williamsburg and settled in these mountains.

The stately building complex, once the courthouse, is also a popular destination for people interested in family history. Free to users, it’s one of the largest genealogy libraries in the South.  

*If you time it just right, you can catch the Vol Navy, a University of Tennessee tradition. College football fans pack the docks along the Tennessee River just outside Neyland Stadium with boats of all sizes to tailgate before each home game.  

*Dominating the downtown skyline is the Sunsphere, a large dome built for the World’s Fair in 1982. Take the elevator to the observation deck, then explore sprawling World’s Fair Park and have a meal overlooking the park at the Windows on the Park Restaurant in the Holiday Inn.

*Old-time radio lives at the WDVX Blue Plate Special, a live broadcast at noon featuring country music. Order food and a soda at the lunch counter to enjoy during a free concert that’s also heard on public radio. 

*Bistro at the Bijou serves country meals in one of the city’s downtown landmarks. Built as a stately home in 1815, the site became a prestigious hotel where guests included Andrew Jackson. By 1909 it was a grand theater. Still staged here are plays, concerts and opera.

*Knoxville Museum of Art has a good variety of collections including works by local artists and an outstanding array of glass sculptures.

*Downtown Market Square is a car-free outdoor mall where you can have a meal or an ice cream cone, shop the boutiques and watch as buskers and musicians perform.

*The Old City has become trendy again thanks to its many restaurants and brewpubs housed in what were once warehouses and factories.

*Mast General Store has been here since 1883, selling everything from penny candy to local crafts and top quality hardware, outdoor gear and kitchen needs. 

*James White’s Fort is a reconstructed log cabin complex on the site where Knoxville was founded in 1783. Nearby is the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame with displays showing the history of the game. Blount Mansion, dating to 1792, is also a short walk from the marina. It’s open for tours. 


[Knox—4388] Rental bicycles, stand-up paddleboats, trail maps and information are available next to the marina at the Knoxville Outdoor Adventure Center.


[Knox—4393] At the lavishly restored Tennessee Theatre movie palace, the original telephone booth sign from the 1920s is still here, but there's no booth any more.


[Knox—4395] The wall mural at the Visitor Center is titled Knoxville Postcard, the perfect place for a photo.


[Knox—4397] The historic downtown area is revitalized, with restaurants and shops now occupying old warehouses.


[Knox—4404] Market Square is a car-free mall with restaurants, shops, street entertainers and park benches where you can watch the world go by.


[Knox—4410] The city's many restaurants serve fare ranging from old-time Hoppin' John to Parisian-style gourmet crepes.


[Knox—4414] Built for the 1982 World's Fair, the Sundome is a cherished city landmark.


[Knox—4464] Volunteer Landing Marina is in the heart of downtown.


[Knox—Vol Navy] You’ll find some of the biggest University of Tennessee fans, along with some of the friendliest houseboaters, at the Vol Navy just outside Neyland Stadium.

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