16 Things Tennessee is Known and Famous For

I know we all know the pickup line, right? The one that goes, “are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only 10 I see.” It’s a classic. But Tennessee is known for so much more than just clever wordplay. 

Tennessee is famous for unique cities like Nashville and Memphis, soulful music like country and blues, and comfort foods like fried catfish and MoonPies. It’s a vibrant southern state with a lot of interesting history and stunning sites.

Let’s take a look at 16 things Tennessee is known for.

1. Nashville

Neon signs on Lower Broadway Area
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This is an obvious place to start. Nashville is one of the most famous cities in the country, and it deserves its reputation as a fun-loving, country music-filled paradise. Broadway, its main drag, is home to amazing bars with even more amazing musicians.

Step outside Broadway and you’ll find even more to discover. Enjoy some of the world’s best fried chicken, take a picture with one of the city’s many beautiful murals, or visit the historic Hermitage. I’ve never had a dull day in Nashville.

2. Memphis

The Peabody Memphis is a luxury hotel in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
Editorial credit: evenfh / Shutterstock.com

Head southwest and you’ll find another one of Tennessee’s famous cities: Memphis. Located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, this popular city is known for barbecue and blues. Some of music’s most popular names have recorded albums right here in the city. 

Memphis has a lot of unique attractions, but my favorite would have to be the ducks at The Peabody. This historic hotel features a live duck march every day, much to the delight of local adults and children alike. It’s definitely an experience you won’t want to miss.

3. Country and blues

Sun Studio. Originally called Memphis Recording Service, the studio's claim to fame is it being the birthplace of rock & roll.
Editorial credit: jejim / Shutterstock.com

People from Tennessee don’t just love music, they pretty much invented it. Many consider Bristol, Tennessee to be the birthplace of country music, and Memphis is known as “The Home of the Blues.”

Tennessee has produced its fair share of famous people, including Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. Plus, the many recording studios in the state have hosted a wealth of well-known musicians recording dozens of notable albums. Not to mention all the iconic music venues like The Ryman Auditorium. 

4. Graceland

Tourists visit Elvis Presley's Graceland Mansion. The mansion had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Editorial credit: jejim / Shutterstock.com

We can’t talk about music in Tennessee without mentioning the king himself. Tennessee is famous for being the home of Elvis Presley and his Graceland mansion. Located in Memphis, this 120-acre complex celebrates the life of Elvis and his iconic music. 

You can tour the mansion, see his gold records, marvel at his elaborate stage outfits, and appreciate his flashy classic cars. Music lovers will be in Elvis heaven, but even those who aren’t Elvis fans will find something exciting and unique at Graceland.

5. Dollywood

Dollywood theme park in the city of Pigeon Forge. Dollywood is a major tourist attraction in Tennessee.
Editorial credit: Michael Gordon / Shutterstock.com

If Elvis is the king of Tennessee, then Dolly Parton is the queen. Although she’s mostly known for her music, she’s also one of Tennessee’s biggest advocates. She regularly participates in tourism and conservation campaigns to help people understand the beauty of this wonderful state.

Her theme park Dollywood is a Tennessee attraction that’s not to be missed. It features rollercoasters, a waterpark, exciting shows, and delicious dining options. The park is nestled in the Smoky Mountains, so it provides a great mix of thrills and beautiful scenery. 

6. The Smoky Mountains

Sunrise over Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After a day of fun at Dollywood, relax with the stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most beautiful destinations in the state, if not the country. I love that you can come for just a quick day hike or pitch a tent and spend the night.

You can enjoy some amazing hikes with views of historic homes, gorgeous mountains, and serene waterfalls. You can even catch a glimpse of the local wildlife with wildflowers blooming nearly year round and black bears frequenting the area. 

7. The Lost Sea

Underground Waterfall in Lost Sea Cave

Another natural wonder of Tennessee is the country’s largest underground lake, which we call The Lost Sea. Journey 140 feet below ground level through the caverns of eastern Tennessee to discover this fascinating formation. You can take a boat ride through this underground lake that covers over 4 acres.

There are many stunning caverns in the area, but none will blow you away like this one. I think there’s something about this giant lake lurking beneath the ground that’s enough to inspire adventure in people of all ages. 

8. The National Civil Rights Museum

A sign marking the National Civil RIghts Museum at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot in 1968
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Although Tennessee has its fair share of beauty, this state has also seen some of the darker days of American history. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis commemorates some of the milestone events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The museum features a mix of actual artifacts and reconstructions of important moments. While these exhibits represent a very difficult time for our country, they also demonstrate the inspiring power of the human spirit.

9. Fried food

Close up of Nashville Hot Chicken Tenders and Fries meal at a Famous Hot Chicken Restaurant in Tennessee.

After a heavy day at the museum, it’s time to treat yourself to some comfort food. Tennessee is famous for a wide variety of fried foods that are known for being undeniably delicious. Whether you go for fried chicken, catfish, sweet potatoes, or pickles, you’ll be greeted with a yummy and satisfying meal. 

You can find amazing food all over the state, but there are some places that are known for different specialties. Prince’s in Nashville is king for fried chicken, especially Nashville hot chicken. The Pickle Barrel in Chattanooga is known for fried pickles. If you’re in Shiloh, definitely check out Hagy’s Catfish Hotel for some fine fried fish.

10. Barbecue

Homemade Barbecue Platter with Ribs Chicken Brisket and Pulled Pork

We can’t talk about Tennessee without mentioning barbecue. Everyone in the state has a different opinion on which place is the best, but the truth is you’ll find really good barbecue pretty much everywhere. It’s just that good.

Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and chicken are just some of the main protein offerings in the classic “meat and three” combo. As for the sides, you’ll have to explore those for yourself. I’m personally a mashed potato, mac and cheese, and collard greens gal, but there’s never a wrong answer here. 

11. MoonPies

Tasty choco pies on parchment paper, closeup view

After all that wonderful savory food, it’s time to cap it off with a sweet treat. One popular dessert with roots right here in Tennessee is the MoonPie. The Chattanooga Bakery started making these tasty morsels in 1917. 

Since then, MoonPies have grown to be a nationwide sensation. Its popularity is mostly attributed to the fact that it’s delicious but also filling, making it a great choice for dessert or just a midday snack. I can’t resist that sweet mix of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker. 

12. Whiskey

glass of whiskey on the terrace

If you have any room left after all the amazing food, grab yourself a drink and enjoy some amazing local whiskey.

Whiskey fanatics will tell you that Tennessee whiskey is special because it’s made with at least 51% corn, filtered through maple charcoal, and aged in new charred oak barrels. This process is what gives the whiskey its signature flavor.

Jack Daniel’s is obviously the most popular whiskey from the state, and you can tour their distillery to see how this famous spirit is made. There are also a number of other smaller distilleries that are making some pretty incredible bottles. Heaven’s Door, Nelson’s, and Uncle Nearest are always some of the most highly rated. 

13. Mountain Dew

Well-stocked display of refrigerated vintage sodas
Editorial credit: Hunter Lesoli / Shutterstock.com

If you’re not a fan of alcohol, maybe another local drink will tickle your fancy: Mountain Dew. Yes, this popular soda was actually created right here in Tennessee. Not surprisingly, it was originally concocted in Knoxville as a mixer for whiskey.  

The original version is wildly different from the Mountain Dew we know today. It didn’t have any of the crazy caffeine or tangy punch. There are a few different stories of how the formula transformed, but what we do know is that it was bought by Pepsi in 1964 and has been a staple of college kid fridges ever since.

14. The University of Tennessee

Entrance and walkway to the the campus of the University of Tennessee.
Editorial credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Speaking of college kids, let’s talk about the state’s flagship university: the University of Tennessee. Recognizable by its signature orange color, UT is home to over 30,000 students. It’s a premier public research institution with over 900 different programs of study. 

While the official mascot is Smokey the bluetick coonhound, they are better known as The Volunteers or simply The Vols. The Tennessee nickname is The Volunteer State after their role in the War of 1812, and the college has since adopted the name to honor the state. 

15. Vanderbilt University

Campus of Vanderbilt Unversity in Nashville, Tennessee.

Another famous higher learning institution is Vanderbilt. While much smaller in size than UT, Vanderbilt is known for being a very prestigious university. It’s not technically part of the Ivy League, but it is consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the country.

Politician Al Gore, musicians Chris Stapleton and Dierks Bentley, and writer James Patterson are all notable alumni of Vanderbilt. The university is highly regarded for its academics, but it’s also famous for being a stunningly beautiful campus in the heart of Nashville. 

16. Borders

tennessee on the map

Geography nerds, we saved the best for last. One of the most interesting Tennessee facts is that it’s known for having the most state borders. It’s tied with Missouri for the top spot with eight.

Can you name all eight? Don’t worry, I definitely had to look it up. Tennessee shares a border with Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Welcome to Tennessee - road sign on the highway.

These are just 16 things that Tennessee is famous for, but there are so many other things that make this state great. Tennessee showcases southern culture while also finding ways to make it its own. From the food to the sites to the culture, this state has everything you could ever want and then some.

What’s your favorite thing about Tennessee? Let me know below!

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