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12 Small Towns in Tennessee With Big Charm

by Staff

Tennessee is an acclaimed Southern state renowned for its rich country music heritage, spectacular natural beauty, and iconic Tennessee whiskey. Acclaimed cities like Nashville and Memphis help put the state on the map, but among the rolling hills and sprawling farmlands in the heart of its backcountry lies adorable small towns with a unique brand of charm. Teeming with history but offering urban creature comforts, these quaint communities open their doors to tourists with trademark Southern hospitality. 

There are numerous exciting destinations to explore, from little alpine villages bordering the Great Smoky Mountains to scenic riverfront towns along the banks of the Mississippi. Each locality presents a slow pace of life with distinct attractions and endless outdoor opportunities. Whether a historian, culture connoisseur, culinary enthusiast, or outdoor adventurer, these charming towns in Tennessee should be on your itinerary. 

Pigeon Forge

Old Mill District in the tourist area of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Image credit littlenySTOCK via Shutterstock

Pigeon Forge is riddled with family-friendly attractions and surrounded by picturesque natural landscapes. Sitting a short distance from Dolly Parton’s hometown, it houses Dollywood, a popular theme park and entertainment hub by the iconic country music singer. The park features an array of thrill rides and an adjoining water park, promising continuous fun for the whole family. The town is also home to the TITANIC Museum, which tells the story of the ill-fated sea vessel through an impressive collection of over 400 prehistoric artifacts. 

Silver Screen enthusiasts will enjoy exploring exhibits inside the Hollywood Wax Museum. This magnificent facility houses life-size replicas of celebrities from movies, music, television, and other forms of entertainment. After a long day of exploring this beautiful town, you can rejuvenate with Southern-style cuisine. The Old Mill Restaurant serves tasty dishes that tickle your taste buds in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

Bell Buckle

Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Image credit Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons
Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre. Image credit Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

This tiny community in Bedford County charms newcomers with a friendly atmosphere and boasts a quaint downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Strolling through quiet streets in the Bell Buckle Historic District exposes you to well-preserved Victorian-style structures housing adorable cafes, antique shops, boutiques, and other businesses. You can stop by the famous Bell Buckle Café to enjoy a hearty meal in a casual, old-fashioned eatery. Meanwhile, souvenir hunters can find an impressive exhibit of handmade pieces at Blue Birds Antiques to add to their collection. 

For the outdoor inclined, Bell Buckle Park is one of the best nature spaces in the little locality. It presents a laid-back atmosphere with lush greenery, perfect for a lazy stroll along its isolated trails. Lastly, Bell Buckle hosts exciting annual festivals and events celebrating its heritage, welcoming visitors from afar. The RC-MoonPie Festival is one of the best times in town, featuring parades, Southern dishes, live music, and games. 

Gatlinburg

The main street in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock
The main street in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock.

Gatlinburg’s claim to fame is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a popular jump-off base for the millions of tourists who experience the state’s crowning jewel yearly. From hiking and sightseeing to wildlife viewing and cross-country skiing, the park is an adventurer’s paradise, providing endless outdoor opportunities. But Gatlinburg also has local attractions, such as the adrenaline-inducing SkyLift Park. This exciting chair lift takes guests to a 1,800-foot lookout point, where they can soak in breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains and walk on a glass-bottom glass bridge. 

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must-visit for those seeking a family-friendly pursuit. The state-of-the-art facility houses at least 10,000 exotic sea species, granting visitors close-up encounters with sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, and penguins. When you feel hungry from the exploration, the Pancake Pantry serves delicious made-from-scratch pancakes, waffles, and sandwiches. 

Jonesborough

Overlooking Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough.
Overlooking Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough.

As the oldest town in Tennessee, Jonesborough boasts a longer legacy than the state itself. Its beginnings date back to 1779 when it was founded, and within its sleepy downtown lies a treasure trove of historical gems. The Jonesborough Washington County History Museum preserves the town’s heritage by showcasing old artifacts, photographs, documents, and antique exhibits.  

If you are a fan of interesting oral narrations, do not forget to pass by the International Storytelling Center, which attracts performers from around the globe. The venue also hosts the National Storytelling Festival, a unique event celebrating the art form with live performances, seminars, and other events. But you would not prefer to spend your entire stay in the town confined indoors. Whenever you feel like stepping outside, Persimmon Ridge Park presents an idyllic nature space with scenic trails spanning over 130 acres. 

Greeneville

Downtown historic district of Greeneville, Tennessee.
Downtown historic district of Greeneville, Tennessee.

One of the oldest towns in Tennessee, Greeneville is steeped in American history and surrounded by scenic Appalachian beauty. The locality is famous for being the hometown of America’s 17th president, Andrew Johnson. You can explore his rich legacy at his former home at the Andrew Johnson Homestead and pay your last respects at the President Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, where his remains were laid to rest. But if you are more interested in the region’s history, you can tour the Greeneville Greene County History Museum to examine artifacts spanning centuries, including the Civil War period. 

Greeneville is also an exciting destination for outdoor lovers. It is a short distance from the Cherokee National Forest, where you can take advantage of opportunities like hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and fishing. For a city steeped in history, antique collectors will fancy the chance to leave with a priceless souvenir. The Burlap Bunny is the perfect spot to go souvenir hunting in Greeneville. 

Paris

Paris Landing near Paris, Tennessee. Image credit MedstockPhotos via Shutterstock
Paris Landing near Paris, Tennessee. Image credit MedstockPhotos via Shutterstock.

This tiny Henry County town shares more than a name with the world-renowned French capital; it hosts a 70-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, which stands inside the Eiffel Tower Park. Besides posing for spectacular photos with the iconic landmark, tourists enjoy amenities like sports fields, walking trails, and picnic areas in a family-friendly setting. The Paris Landing State Park, which lies on the edge of Kentucky Lake, is a popular nearby outdoor recreation hub with activities like fishing, boating, nature hiking, and fishing. It also features an 18-hole golf course for those looking to perfect their swing. 

Culture connoisseurs should schedule their visit to coincide with the World’s Largest Fish Fry for an immersive cultural experience. This annual, week-long festival draws guests from around and beyond, who gather to witness grand parades and almost 5 tons of catfish getting fried. But if you visit outside the festival period, you can still enjoy the local cuisine at different downtown joints, including Perry’s BBQ.

Dayton

View of green fields in Dayton.
Dayton, Tennessee. Image credit: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons.

Dayton came to national prominence after the Scopes Monkey Trial and when it was featured in the iconic 1960 flick “Inherit the Wind.” However, the town maintains a modest profile with just over 7,000 residents. It offers a charming mix of outdoor adventures and historical attractions. The Rhea County Courthouse allows you to return to the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. The building was built in 1891 and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Outdoor enthusiasts have countless options to explore in Dayton, including the Laurel Snow State Natural Area. This 2,200+-acre nature space houses a mix of natural gems, including pristine creeks, gorgeous waterfalls, and steep gorges. 

Alternatively, you can visit Point Park for a more family-friendly setting. The site sits on the picturesque shores of Chickamauga Lake and offers recreational activities like fishing, picnicking, and swimming. For those looking for the ultimate cultural experience, the Dayton community hosts the Tennessee Strawberry Festival, an excellent time to partake in a long-held local tradition. 

Townsend

Snow-covered Christmas Day in Townsend, Tennessee
Snow-covered Christmas Day in Townsend, Tennessee.  Image credit: JennLShoots via Shutterstock.

Dubbed the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” Townsend charms visitors with its relaxed rural vibe and picturesque natural surroundings punctuated by the Great Smoky Mountains. Before getting lost in adventure inside the park, you can pass by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center for a feel of regional cultural and historical heritage, with a chance to learn about pioneer settlers and Native American tribes that inhabited the area. Fans of the open spaces can access the Little River and make the most of fun water-based adventures like fishing, rafting, tubing, and swimming. 

Outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, animal lovers will fancy showing tender love and care to the injured and orphaned black bear cubs at the Appalachian Bear Rescue. Finally, you can cap off the day with a refreshing taste of the famous Tennessee whiskey at the Company Distilling.

Rogersville

Post Office in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Post Office in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Rogersville boasts a beautiful historic district with well-preserved 18th-century buildings that make visitors feel like they are stepping inside a time capsule. Before exploring the neighborhood, you can book a stay at the historic Hale Springs Inn to experience local history. The hotel’s rich legacy dates back to 1824, when it was built. It has hosted distinguished public figures like James K. Polk and President Andrew Jackson. There is further history to uncover at the Swift Museum, founded in 1883 as a pioneer historically Black College in eastern Tennessee. 

But there is more to experience in Rogersville than its history. At the nearby Cherokee Lake, adventurers can choose from fishing, boating, and swimming to partake in fun water-based activities. Lastly, do not leave town without popping into one of the many local restaurants for some Southern-style cuisine. The Hollywood Hillbilly is an excellent option to restock and unwind after a long day. 

Lynchburg

Aerial panorama view of a small southern town square with whiskey barrel houses on the hill and autumn colors in Lynchburg
Aerial panorama view of a small southern town of Lynchburg.

Most tourists in Lynchburg are drawn to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, with a chance to tour the fine establishment and experience the effort that goes into creating a world-class whiskey brand, not forgetting to sample the freshly made spirit. But there is more to partake in this tiny Moore County hamlet, and history lovers can check out the Moore County Old Jail Museum to look into the town’s past. The facility was constructed in 1893 and features well-preserved cells exhibiting artifacts, historical clothing, and other relics. For nature lovers, Wiseman Park has peaceful trails worth strolling through to experience an easygoing atmosphere and lush picnic spaces for relaxing. Meanwhile, fans of the dark, mysterious, and scary can enjoy classic spooks with the Tennessee Paranormal Ghost Tours.

Tellico Plains

Bald River Falls on the Tennessee side of the Cherohala Skyway in Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
Bald River Falls on the Tennessee side of the Cherohala Skyway in Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

This tiny Monroe County village provides the perfect rural escape for those craving a break from the urban hustle and bustle. Tellico Plains sits in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and spoils outdoorsy travelers with endless opportunities. Notable sites include the 90-foot Bald River Falls, a natural wonder and one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the region. Meanwhile, hikers can slip into their favorite trainers to take on the moderately challenging Conasauga Falls Trail. The scenic route stretches about 1.3 miles and rewards trekkers with up-close views of the stunning cascades. 

There is a bit of history to experience at the Charles Hall Museum. The facility boasts an impressive collection of artifacts chronicling the town’s rich past, from vintage cars and antique tools to old photographs and guns. Travelers can follow this up with a visit to the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center for further insight into Tellico Plains. 

Erwin

The town office building in Erwin, Tennessee.
The town office building in Erwin, Tennessee. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake / Shutterstock.com

Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts can look forward to an unforgettable experience in this tiny Unicoi County village. Erwin delights with rich natural scenery punctuated with dense forests, mountain peaks, and scenic waterways. There are numerous water-based adventures, and Blue Ridge Paddling provides thrilling rafting excursions down the choppy waters of the French Broad and Lower Nolichucky Rivers. Meanwhile, the Chestoa Recreation Area is a more inclusive option, welcoming all types of adventurers to revel in nature’s bounty. 

For hikers, test your mettle along the Erwin Linear Trail, which stretches almost four miles through woodlands and wetlands. But after all the tedious outdoor pursuits, relax and rejuvenate with a cup of coffee at the adorable Steel Rails Coffee House. 

The small towns in Tennessee demonstrate the rich history, diverse culture, and picturesque natural scenery that make the Volunteer State such an enticing vacation getaway. When needing a break from the city crowds and respite from life’s daily stresses, visitors will find the ideal atmosphere to relax, unwind, and rejuvenate in any of these pint-sized Tennessee gems. 

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