I’ll admit, when we first moved to Tennessee, I never gave Chattanooga much thought. I had driven through the city once or twice but aside from a quick pit stop, I never really thought much about it. As it turns out, I’ve been missing out on some awesome adventures! Tucked between the mountains of East Tennessee, Chattanooga is right on the Tennessee River and one of most beautiful cities. In fact, the New York Times named Chattanooga one of the “Top 45 Places to go” in the World! Since we’ve recently fallen inlove with Scenic City, we’ve put together the perfect family vacation with the best things to do in Chattanooga to help you plan your trip!
A Week’s Worth of Family Fun: Things to do in Chattanooga
Whether you are planning a trip for the first time or heading back for more fun, when it comes to things to do in Chattanooga as a family you won’t run out options. With plenty of great restaurants and live event we think it is time to start planning your Scenic City vacation!
4 Days: Family-Friendly Great Things to do in Chattanooga
Day 1: Things to do in Chattanooga
Your first day in Chattanooga is just the start of a great family vacation. Kick off your vacation with a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium and spend the day getting up close to some of the most amazing animals in the world!
At the Tennessee Aquarium, you’ll get to see the remarkable journey water makes from the mountains to the sea. In the River Journey Building is where you’ll find adorable but feisty North American River Otters. From there, your self-guided tour will take you along the epic journey that a single drop of rain takes from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. Make sure you have the camera ready for the look of awe on your little one’s face when you walk into the Alligator Bayou exhibit!
Across the plaza in the Ocean Journey Building, more fun awaits! From tropical environments to saltwater diversity, at every turn, the whole family will be captivated! You’ll see Red-ruffed and Ring-tailed Lemus as well as sharks, stingrays, and penguins!
Lunch and dinner plans? Check out one of the many restaurants in Northshore like Taco Mamacita, which has been voted as one of the best taco spots in town! You can then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Northshore and Walnut Street Bridge.
INSIDER TIP: The Chattanooga Choo Choo is one of the coolest hotels you can stay at in town! The historic train station has been remodeled and even has train cars you can stay in!
Day 2: Things to do in Chattanooga
When it comes to things to do in Chattanooga, there are some things that top the list year after year. And with good reason! Right up the road from downtown Chattanooga is the beautiful and majestic Lookout Mountain! You’ll discover a world of natural wonder on this picturesque mountain where you can easily spend a whole day exploring. When it comes to things to do in Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain should be at the top of your list. This is one fun-filled and educational visit that is sure to keep your little one’s attention!
Start your day at Rock City and experience the breathtaking natural beauty of the uniquely massive rock formations. At Rocky City, Lover’s Leap juts out of the side of Lookout Mountain and gets its name from the Cherokee Romeo-and-Juliet like legend of two young lovers from feuding tribes. With stunning “See 7 State” panoramic views you will quite literally see seven states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. You’ll also have a view of the beautiful High Falls!
For another stunning photo opportunity, head over to the Swing-a-Long Bridge. This 180-foot suspension bridge has an excellent view of the Chattanooga Valley so be ready with your camera!
The Incline Railway is another Chattanooga must do. This funicular railway system is over a hundred years old and has become a favorite of area visitors with a 72.7% grade incline. Sit back and enjoy the ride up as you take in some amazing views of the mountains and valleys! At the bottom of the Incline station in St. Elmo there are a number of shops and restaurants, perfect for those who are looking to meander about and take it easy.
Ruby Falls is located deep within the mountain. This 145-foot waterfall is the nation’s largest and deepest underground waterfall that is open to the public. Every minute, hundreds of gallons of water rush and thunder as the cascade amazes visitors. If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime experience, consider visiting the falls at night! You’ll see the cavern like Leo Lambert, the man who discovered Ruby Falls, did almost 100 years ago. During these special tours, the cavern is illuminated by handheld lanterns that let shadows dance around the formations and create an experience unlike anything else in the world.
I you are looking to get a hike in and packed walking shoes, check out Glen Falls Trail on Lookout Mountain. The trail is perfect for any age that has very little elevation change. Glen Falls Trail is less than a mile’s walk to an enchanting, fairy-tale like waterfall, rock tunnel and wading pool.
INSIDER TIP: Consider riding the hop on/hop off trolley around town. The trolley makes it convenient to go to all the local sights and attractions without having to worry about getting an Uber.
Day 3: Things to do in Chattanooga
By now, you’ve had a taste of what Chattanooga has to offer! Start of your day with breakfast at Pucket’s, Rembrandt’s Coffee House, or Milk & Honey. From there you have a few options of where to spend the day, depending on what you are looking for.
You can head to the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, a beautiful green-space made up of over 300 acres of dense forest where you can explore meadows, glades, forests, and even a bamboo patch. There are also sensory gardens, historic structures, and an apple orchard! With so much nature around, there are a number of educational opportunities for little ones to learn about wildlife, the environment, and stewardship.
At the arboretum, make sure you check out the Native Animal Exhibit, where you can see 40 animals indigenous to East Tennessee, including bobcat, fox, and various birds. The nature center is also home to a pack of red wolves, currently the 8th most endangered animal in the world. For those boy moms out there who know their little guys love creepy, crawlers make sure you stole at Snake Tale Alley to see native snake species! All of the animal inhabitants at the exhibit have been affected by humans in one way or another that disables them from living in the wild.
After spending the day exploring nature, take some time to unwind on the river. A river cruise allows you to see the city from a different angle, so hop on the The Southern Belle Riverboat for a sunset cruise! The 2-hour scenic boat ride takes place on an open air deck, giving you some amazing views of the city at golden hour.
Chattanooga has a community events. calendar with something for everyone for year around fun! Before you visit, make sure to check out any festivals or concert series that might be happening while you’re in town. Riverbend, which takes place in June, is one of Chattanooga’s outdoor concert series. Spanning eight days and with five stages that features national headliners as well as local acts, this riverfront festival is worth checking out.
Day 4: Things to do in Chattanooga
Your last day in Chattanooga is perfect for a train ride! Head over to the Tennessee Valley Railroad for a museum on wheels experiences that you will never forget! Tennessee Valley Railroad brings history to you as you go on a journey through the mountains, valleys, and views of Tennessee. Rail excursions range from 45 minutes to 8 hours, depending on the route. The restored vintage trains are part of the Tennessee Valley Railroads mission to collect railroad artifacts for preservation and display that educate the public on the importance of railroads in developing the region. On the rails, you feel like you’re back in the days of slow-paced life as the train ride lets you escape from your everyday routine.
For the little travelers in your group, try Missionary Ridge Local, an in-town 45-minute ride. And if you visit around the holidays, get tickets for the North Pole Limited for a holiday-themed, pajama friendly ride that includes a visit from St. Nick!
If a train ride isn’t what makes the cut on a family vote, check out the Creative Discovery Museum or Coolidge Park. The Discovery Museum is great for kids up to age 12 and features a two-story water play section and rotating exhibits. Coolidge Park is home to a 100-year old carousel, ice cream shops, and plenty of places to grab a bit close by. Best part? You can get there via Walnut Street Bridge!