When people think of Tennessee, Knoxville isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind, and it’s sometimes disregarded in favor of more well-known Nashville or Memphis. However, if you find yourself in the Volunteer State again, you might want to reevaluate your trip plans.
Spend two nights in Knoxville if you have a couple of days to spare – you’ll barely have enough time to see everything the city has to offer. Continue reading for a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Knoxville.
When you check-in at the Graduate Knoxville, there’s no doubt you’re in the home of the Volunteers, as even the front desk is intended to seem like a member of the legendary Vol Navy that tailgates on the river before fall football games. Marshall Ramsey drawings depicting historical places and events on campus and renowned alumni adorn the walls. The lobby is furnished with a charmingly eclectic mix of colorful and funky furnishings, creating a variety of corners in which to chat or silently flick through one of the old college yearbooks sprinkled around the area. A brilliant artwork portrays a map of the state with the words “Football Time” spelled out using ancient clocks, mirroring legendary football announcer John Ward’s introduction to each game.
Suppose you need to catch up on emails. In that case, there are quieter spots throughout the lobby, including a vast communal table where you may observe a study group of university students collaborating on a project. The Graduate chain’s owner is a UT graduate who gladly invites students to utilize the space anytime they need it.
While there’s no mistake that the Graduate Knoxville is affiliated with the university, the indications become more subtle once you’re in your room. Perhaps a coonhound artwork on the wall or a checkerboard pattern on the carpet. The hotel has 112 rooms with a king bed or two queen beds, and numerous suites, including a family suite with timber loft beds and a campsite/cabin feel. In the spacious bathrooms, guests will find complimentary Wi-Fi, HDTV, and Malin+Goetz products
Start your Saturday morning with a customized coffee drink from The Golden Roast, located directly across the Street from Graduate Knoxville. The Golden Roast sells ground coffees to take home and gourmet coffees created from locally roasted beans for maximum freshness. Sustain yourself with a buttery croissant, an egg sandwich, a bagel, a muffin, or a scone before heading downtown for some shopping therapy.
Take the trolley or a 20-minute walk downtown (and downhill!) to the historic Gay Street neighborhood, which was the site of the 1796 Constitutional Convention that officially founded Tennessee as a state. Knoxville’s first paved road was also, but now-Gay Street and the surrounding few blocks are home to exciting shops, boutiques, pubs, and restaurants.
Union Avenue Books is currently only open by appointment. Still, it’s worth a visit to see an excellent old-fashioned bookshop with shelves stocked with varied titles that they’re willing to let you browse if you schedule a 30-minute session ahead of time. While selling the latest and greatest in outdoor gear, specialized food products, collegiate attire, and artisan gift items, Mast General Store maintains an old-timey ambiance. The Art Market Gallery comprises over 60 artists who exhibit their work in the vast gallery, including paintings, photography, prints, woodwork, fiber arts, jewelry, and pottery. It’s always worth stopping to check what’s new because the collections change frequently. Union Avenue Books has the ambiance of a traditional bookstore.
Take the elevator to the top level of the Embassy Suites to the Radius Rooftop Lounge for a spectacular view of downtown and a well-made drink. While sipping a martini, take in the panoramic views of the Tennessee River and the Smoky Mountains in the distance. Returning to campus for lunch will provide you with a variety of possibilities. Gus’s Good Times Deli has been a student tradition for centuries, delivering hot deli sandwiches and spicy French fries at affordable pricing. Sunspot, a quiet eatery with an eclectic menu of Southwestern, Caribbean, and Latin-American cuisines, is a good choice for a more refined mid-day meal. Their weekend brunch menu includes biscuit sandwiches, salads, tacos, and inventive takes on classic brunch fare. A sunspot is also a terrific place for vegetarians, with items like avocado toast and a tofu grain bowl on the menu.
Stretch your legs on a walking tour around the University of Texas campus. Even though the university is designed to accommodate around 30,000 students, the campus is relatively small and walkable. The UT Gardens are accessible to the public and designated as Tennessee’s official botanical gardens. It’s a beautiful area to spend some time in because there’s virtually always something in bloom.
The University of Tennessee campus is home to a diverse public art collection, much of it made by art school graduates. There are lovely finds around many corners during a trip across campus, from the iconic Torchbearer Statue with its flame representing the light of truth to statues of hound dogs honoring the delicate canines that have performed the part of the university mascot Smokey over the years. Closer to town, Weaving Rainbow Mountain is a clever painting painted across 43 stairs to create the optical appearance of a brightly colored tapestry.