From its rich military history to the iconic landmark of the city's rebirth, the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga packs a lot into a midsize city. Whether you're looking for a taste reserved for those age 21 and up or something the whole family can enjoy, you'll find plenty to see and do.
Take in a guided tour that culminates with an LED-illuminated waterfall spilling into a pool in a cavern deep underground. Located more than 1,120 feet beneath Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is the nation's deepest commercial cave and highest and most-visited underground waterfall. 1720 S. Scenic Highway, Lookout Mountain, Tenn. Call 423-821-2544 or visit rubyfalls.com.
With an ongoing expansion, the Chattanooga Zoo has transformed in recent years from a neglected novelty into an accredited institution with success in breeding several critically endangered species. Recent expansions include a deserts and forests exhibit that adds camels, fennec foxes and sloths to holdings that already included chimpanzees, jaguars, red pandas and snow leopards. A capital campaign is in the works to significantly expand the zoo and add more exotic animals. 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave. Call 423-697-1319 or 423-697-1322, or visit chattzoo.org.
Creative Discovery Museum
With a mission to "inspire all children to explore, innovate, create and play," the museum features both rotating and permanent exhibits, all of which are interactive to teach guests about subjects such as archaeology, music and simple machines. 321 Chestnut St. Call 423-756-2738 or visit cdmfun.org.
IMAX 3D Theater
See movies on a scale few other theaters can match on a "Certified Giant Screen" that is six stories tall and about 4,500 times larger than the average living room TV. In 2016, it became one of the first theaters worldwide to install digital laser projectors, enhancing color and picture quality. Occasionally, mainstream feature films also are shown, but the listings typically are environmental- and adventure-themed. 201 Chestnut St. Call 1-800-262-0695 or visit tnaqua.org/IMAX.
Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park and SoakYa Water Park
For decades, this amusement park — whose name is American Indian for "bountiful waters" — has attracted Chattanoogans across the Georgia state line with dozens of carnival games and rides, including the "world famous" Cannonball roller-coaster and OH-ZONE!, a 14-story free-fall experience. In 2013, the park added SoakYa, a five-acre water park, including a Crazy River inner-tube float that features a series of rapids and a relaxing beach with swimming area. 1730 Lakeview Drive, Rossville, Ga. Call 1-877-525-3946 or visit lakewinnie.com.
Rock City Gardens
Arguably Chattanooga's most well-known tourist attraction, Rock City offers a 4,100-foot walking trail in a scenic, 14-acre park located atop Lookout Mountain. Visitors can see a variety of interesting rock formations — many of which have been given endearing names — explore the gnome-filled Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, and take in a stunning view of seven states from Lover's Leap. Plus, there are special events throughout the year. 1400 Patten Road, Lookout Mountain, Ga. Call 706-820-2531 or visit seerockcity.com.
Ruby Falls ZIPstream Aerial Adventure
Adventurous types can take in an unusual view of the Scenic City and its natural splendor while hanging from 700 feet worth of zipline within and above the canopy of trees near Ruby Falls. Various self-guided challenge courses are available and are color-coded by difficulty. These include 30 high-wire elements, such as ladders, nets, walkways, bridges, tunnels and, of course, ziplines. 1720 S. Scenic Hwy. Call 423-821-2544 or visit rubyfallszip.com.
Consistently rated America's best aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium houses more than 10,000 animals between its two themed buildings. River Journey features fresh-water species, including giant catfish, otters, alligators and snakes. Its next-door neighbor, Ocean Journey, includes exhibits for seahorses, jellyfish and lemurs as well as a penguin gallery. Guests can get up close and learn more via the aquarium's animal outreach ambassadors. 1 Broad St. Call 1-800-262-0695 or visit tnaqua.org.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Celebrating Chattanooga's historic role as a hub of the railroad industry, the museum's holdings include about 10 steam and diesel-electric locomotives, as well as a number of passenger cars. With daily excursions (in season) and a variety of special events, trains still depart from the station. 4119 Cromwell Road (Grand Junction) and 727 Tennessee Ave. S, Etowah, Tenn. (Etowah Station). Call 423-894-8028 or visit tvrail.com.
This hour-long guided tour of downtown Chattanooga takes visitors through downtown and down the Tennessee River in DUKWs or "ducks," a World War II-era amphibious troop transport. The tour continues from the asphalt straight into the river for a round-trip upstream along the riverfront to Maclellan Island. 503 Market St. Call 423-756-3825 or visit chattanoogaducks.com.
The Chattanooga Tennesseer
A modified open-top conversion van takes up to 14 passengers on a guided tour of downtown that's billed as covering more territory and history in one hour than any other tour group. In addition to landmarks, history and trivia, the guide is known to share recommendations for other things to see and do. Tours are offered on the weekends. Visit tennesseer.us/home.html.
Southern Belle Riverboat
For a trip up the Tennessee River that's a throwback to the paddleboat days, the Southern Belle riverboat offers 1 1/2-hour narrated sightseeing and lunch cruises as well as slightly longer dinner cruises. The cruises with meals usually include some form of live music, whether by a live band or courtesy of the paddleboat's calliope. When docked, guests can still board to grab a drink or dinner from the 3rd Deck Burger Bar. 201 Riverfront Pkwy. Call 423-266-4488 or visit chattanoogariverboat.com.
Hunter Museum of American Art
High atop an 80-foot cliff overlooking the Tennessee River, the Hunter Museum is built around a historic mansion near the site of a former iron smelting plant known as the Bluff Furnace. Its collection offers a comprehensive overview of American art, from the Colonial period to the present day, and includes works by Thomas Cole, Mary Cassat, Helen Frankenthaler and Andy Warhol, among others. 10 Bluff View. Call 423-267-0968 or visit huntermuseum.org.
Bessie Smith Cultural Center
Formerly known as the Chattanooga African-American Museum and Bessie Smith Performance Hall, this facility on M.L. King Boulevard was unified in 2009 under a single name, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, in honor of the native Chattanooga vocalist known as "the Empress of the Blues." The site still functions as a museum celebrating black and African heritage, with permanent and rotating displays, and regularly plays host to musical performances. 200 E. M.L. King Blvd. Call 423-266-8658 or visit bessiesmithcc.org.
Bluff View Art District
This picturesque neighborhood is packed with gourmet restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and museums. Overnight accommodations are available at the charming Bluff View Inn, formerly the Maclellan House, which was built in 1898. The entire district is perched atop the titular bluff and offers fine views of the Tennessee River, downtown and North Shore. The Hunter Museum of Art and Tennessee Riverwalk, a 15-mile pedestrian path along the river, are accessible from within the district. 411 E. Second St. Call 423-265-5033 to be connected to the various entities there, or visit bluffviewartdistrict.com.
New South Tour Company
This company offers an interactive look at the city's arts scene with tours lasting from 2 1/2 to three hours. Via foot and Uber, the tours take visitors to see public art pieces, galleries and artists' private studios, where they can interact with creative professionals. Tours are offered the first and third Saturday of the month. Call 423-290-2477 or visit newsouthtourco.com.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
This homegrown label opened a brand-new, 46,000-square-foot distillery on Riverfront Parkway at the end of 2017 to increase production. Those wanting a look at how the signature whiskey is made can tour the micro-distillery in the Southside, where the brand began its historic endeavor to change state distillation laws to allow for the startup to make whiskey here. In addition to the tours, tastings are offered, and there's an onsite gift store and full-service cocktail lounge. 1439 Market St. Call 423-760-4333 or visit chattanoogawhiskey.com.
Launched in April 2018, this four-hour tour capitalizes on the city's growing craft beer scene. The "brew bus" takes visitors to a rotating selection of three local breweries, where they can sample signature beers and seasonal selections and go behind the scenes to see how it all comes together. Call 423-232-0427 or visit chattabrewtour.com.
Eat Sip Walk
Featuring around five restaurants, this offers a way to sample Chattanooga's expanding palate. Each stop includes a personal sample of the restaurant's choosing, along with a drink. As guests walk from one stop to another, the guides share tidbits about the city and its history. Tours last three hours and are currently only offered in the Southside on select days, though a North Shore version is in the works. Call 423-708-5328 (5EAT) or visit eatsipwalk.com.
Dedicated to preserving the grounds on which the Union and Confederate armies fought some of the most decisive battles of the Civil War, Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is the largest of the four Civil War national military parks established in 1890 by Congress. (The others are Shiloh, Gettysburg and Vicksburg.) The visitor center at Chickamauga Battlefield includes extensive exhibits, an orientation film and maps of hiking and biking trails, and living history demonstrations and other special events are common. 3370 Lafayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Call 706-866-9241 or visit nps.gov/chch.
Battles for Chattanooga Museum
The decisive Civil War battles fought on Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain and Orchard Knob "sealed the fate of the Confederacy." The centerpiece of this dedicated museum is a massive "electromechanical map" featuring 5,000 miniature soldiers, 650 lights and sound effects to re-create the major battles. 1110 E. Brow Road, Lookout Mountain, Tenn. Call 423-821-2812 or visit battlesforchattanooga.com.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Named for a Cincinnati-based, wood-burning steam locomotive that was the first to provide nonstop service to the South, this terminal was built in 1908. The station, which was designed by students at Paris' prestigious Beaux Arts Institute, served as a major hub of rail traffic for years, but ceased passenger service in 1970, after which it was saved from demolition to become a hotel in 1973. Now a National Register of Historic Places designee, visitors can still gawk at the foyer's towering dome, eat at a number of restaurants on-site, enjoy new entertainment venues and see rail cars that have been converted to hotel rooms. 1400 Market St. Call 1-800-872-2529 or visit choochoo.com.
International Towing and Recovery Museum
Formerly toured around the country in a tractor trailer, the museum set down permanent roots in Chattanooga and opened its doors in 1986 — just a few miles from where the first wrecker was fabricated at Ernest Holmes Co. Guests can view a Hall of Fame, Wall of the Fallen and exhibits and displays including a collection of towing and recovery artifacts and memorabilia recognizing "outstanding individuals in the towing and recovery industry worldwide." 3315 Broad St. Call 423-267-3132 or visit internationaltowingmuseum.org.
Enjoy a 15-minute trip at 10 mph up a historic railway that is, in places, 72.7 percent grade, one of the steepest in the world. At the bottom station, you can explore the downtown shops and eateries of the historic St. Elmo neighborhood. At the upper station atop Lookout Mountain, you can buy souvenirs and snacks from a gift shop and enjoy a panoramic view of the Tennessee Valley from the observation deck. 3917 St. Elmo Ave. (bottom station); 827 E. Brow Road, Lookout Mountain, Tenn. (top station). Call 423-821-4224 or visit ridetheincline.com.
National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History
This museum honors the recipients of the highest distinction awarded to U.S. military personnel. Featured exhibits include artifacts from the Vietnam and Revolutionary wars and a special exhibit honoring Army and Navy veterans with future exhibits planned for other military branches. The museum is planning to relocate to the plaza near the Tennessee Aquarium downtown. Northgate Mall, 368 Northgate Mall Drive. Call 423-877-2525 or visit mohm.org.
Technically part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, this Lookout Mountain location was the site for the engagement commonly referred to as "The Battle Above the Clouds." The park includes numerous trails and monuments to units that participated in the battle. The visitor center features "Battle for Lookout Mountain," a massive, government-commissioned mural painted by James Walker, who was an eyewitness to the battle. 110 Point Park Road, Lookout Mountain. Call 423-821-7786 or visit nps.gov/chch.