After five days of non-stop activity, we were looking forward to a couple days of rest in Knoxville. Our Airbnb was a giant loft in Old City above a coffee shop. The name, Awaken Coffee, is an obvious play on words, especially because there is a church that operates out of their back room.
For breakfast we decided to stop in. After we finished our meal of fresh local donuts and New Orleans style chicory cold brew, we set off to explore our surroundings.
Wandering around Old City, we found our way into Pretentious Glass Company and watched them work for a bit. Their workspace/shop sweltering, the furnaces adding to the already warm morning air. The two guys operating the place that day told us they try to stop working by 1pm because of the heat.
They had a variety of items available including vases, goblets, sculptures and more. We picked up two beer glasses, and retreated in to the slightly less hot air outside.
Before coming to Knoxville we had been under the impression that it was a large city. While researching our trip we discovered the population is only just over 185,000 people, and walking around the city it was pretty obvious this was a smaller city. Everything was in close proximity, and we were able to get to almost everywhere we were going with out our car.
A handful of blocks from Old City, near Knoxville's Downtown stretch, was Market Square. The square is a large open plaza surrounded by trees, shops, and restaurants. There was a lot going on in this area, and we would return many times.
In hopes of finding some local beers we visited the Bearden Beer Market. It wasn’t quite what we had expected: there was a courtyard with tables where you could enjoy draft beers, and a small store to buy six-packs to go. We had hoped to get a variety of single cans to try, but instead we grabbed a pack of Tennessee Times Pilsner from Blackberry Farms Brewery. We had been told many times that the pilsner was one of their first ever canned beers, so we where curious to try it.
Later that night we saw a performance of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged” in Market Square, and it was hilarious! In the play three performers reenact all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 90 minutes. They took many creative liberties, there where a lot of meta jokes, and one of the plays was even performed as a cooking show. I would highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance.
When the play ended we grabbed a flight of bourbon at Stock and Barrel, and enjoyed the city's night atmosphere.
The next morning we ate at OliBea’s, another restaurant in Old City. The name is a portmanteau of the names of the owners' children: Oliver and Beatrice. They have a friendly atmosphere, with lots of natural light, and fresh locally sourced food.
Our time at the first Airbnb ended, so packed up the car and drove to World's Fair Park, which had been the site of the final World’s Fair in 1982. There was some sort of retreat going on, but we were still able to explore.
The Sunsphere, a structure built specifically for the fair, stands near the edge of the park. The structure is comprised of a 75ft glass sphere that is positioned atop a 266ft tower. There is an observation deck on the fourth level of the sphere which offers some nice views of the park and city.
The park is also home to the Knoxville Museum of Art. It is a small but very nice museum consisting of 3 levels with two gallery spaces each, and two outdoor sculpture gardens. A large portion of what was on display celebrated East Tennessee art and artists.
From the museum we enjoyed a stroll through the park down to the Tennessee River, which runs through the city, and made a stop at a French crêperie for lunch and some afternoon coffee.
Knoxville’s first distillery, Knox Whiskey Works, was just down the street from our next Airbnb so we had to visit! We tried a sampling of their six liquors (corn whiskey, bourbon, gin, pink marble gin, vodka, and coffee liqueur), and a flight of cocktails made using the spirits.
It was fun talking with the two bartenders. The guy who poured our drinks was a Knoxville native, and the gal who came in later was a transplant from Washington. Hearing their differing opinions on how Knoxville has changed over the last 10 years was really interesting.
At this point we checked into our second Airbnb, and had some time to kill before the ghost tour we had booked for that night. I took the opportunity to explore Old City a bit more.
The tour started back at Market Square. The guys at Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours take a more scientific approach to the paranormal, equipping participants with tools used by professional ghost hunters. We went on the VIP Trolly Tour, and had the opportunity to explore a few of Knoxville’s haunted places more in depth.
Our ghost tour passes granted us free admission to Scruffy City Hall. The bar’s name comes from a 1980 article by the Wall Street Journal that called the city "scruffy". It was a great place to end our stay in what was once known as “America’s ugliest city” (John Gunther, 1947). Knoxville has seemingly come a long way since then, and we would be happy to return.
Our time in Tennessee had come to a close and the next morning we made our way back home. This was one of those rare vacations where it didn’t feel like the week flew by; it had been a perfect week.
Thank you for reading about our journey to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, I hope you enjoyed it! Check out my Instagram for more photos from Knoxville, and the rest of our trip.