Updated Aug 2021
If you are spending the day in Chattanooga, I have the itinerary for you! We spent a fun day in this delightful city and I have to say I was impressed with what Chattanooga has to offer. Let’s dig into our top things to do for an enjoyable day (or two!) in Chattanooga.
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1. Coolidge Park
This breezy little park is right on the Tennessee River, which cuts through the middle of town. It has a carousel (still closed due to Covid) and a splash pad area. One thing that made the splash pad a little extra special were the stone animals around the perimeter that you could climb on!
There were picnic tables and charcoal grills, a little area with wind chimes kids can play with, lots of green space, a walking/biking path along the river, and even stairs down to the river’s edge where you could climb on rocks and watch the occasional kayaker embark.
2. Walnut Street Bridge
The Walnut Street pedestrian bridge also starts in Coolidge Park. I love pedestrian bridges! This extra long truss bridge has wooden decking and bright blue trusses. You can enjoy the cool river breeze and the views up and down the river as you make your way across. The other side of the river heads right into downtown Chattanooga.
3. Riverwalk Path
Before you hit downtown though, there are two fun stops. The first is the Riverwalk Path. This path goes parallel along the river for several miles! There are a lot of restaurants and museums you can get to from the Riverwalk, or just enjoy the views and nature setting!
4. The Passage
The Passage is possibly the most unique splash pad I’ve seen! This “splash pad” is actually set on stairs going to an underpass near the Tennessee River. The water runs downs the steps and pools in the underpass. It’s different and interesting, and a great place to cool off on a hot day!
5. Downtown Chattanooga
Downtown Chattanooga is full of cute local restaurants (many of whom have patio seating), tree lined streets, brick buildings – and in many places, brick sidewalks -, a church with a Rapunzel-style turret, the popular aquarium, and an easygoing and convivial vibe. It’s definitely worth walking around – which you almost certainly will, as there are several attractions and tons of restaurants down there.
6. Lunch: Maple Street Biscuit Company
This biscuit-based restaurant was recommended by some friends and was on just about every food recommendation list we saw, and since I *love* biscuits, we had to make a stop.
We got the Chicken Club and the Squawking Goat biscuit sandwiches, waffles, sweet potato fries, and cinnamon-glazed biscuits. They were all delicious – but the biscuit sandwiches were far and away the standouts. The fried chicken in them was a highlight in and of itself, the biscuits were flaky and tender, and the other fillings were high quality.
Definitely grab a seat on the patio! The staff was also very personable, engaging, and threw in some fun twists. For example, instead of asking for your name when taking the order, they asked for what you wanted to be when you grew up.
The term “museum” is used a little loosely here because the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum is more of a living, experiential museum. While there are several trains in the yard that you can look at (not touch or climb on), the real experience is going on a train ride. The train rides are all on historic, restored trains.
We chose the shortest option – a one hour train ride. It was only 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back, with about 25 minutes to watch the train turn around. There’s a guide that shares fun historical facts about the train, the area, and the places that you are passing as you go by.
After the 15 minute ride out, everyone disembarks from the train to be able to watch the train turntable in action. They drive the engine on and turn it around in front of you – it’s a fun demonstration.
Experiencing a little piece of history and seeing a historic train up close was really fun!
8. Historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel
For decades, all trains going through Chattanooga stopped at the Terminal Station. It was an important train station in the south because so many trains went through Chattanooga. In fact, the convergence of multiple train lines made Chattanooga a fairly strategic city during the Civil War.
In the 70’s, to prevent the station from being demolished, the train station was converted to a hotel + restaurant area. Even if you are not staying in the hotel, you are free to come in and look around. The hotel lobby is a beautiful room from the original train station, with a soaring dome, skylights, and lots of Beaux-Art style details.
Behind the lobby is a terrace area. You can access some bars and restaurants back here, as well as enjoy some pretty garden spots.
It’s definitely worth a stop to see this historic and beautiful building! We relaxed on the terrace for a while while the kids played bocce ball.
Across the street from the Choo Choo hotel are several locations with murals. There is a polka dot wall, a wings mural, and a mural that is a whole line up of windows with different objects in them (the telescope and the kitten were our favorite here), and many more. Even the electrical transformers on the street had drawings on them!
10. Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain
This waterfall is located in a cave on Lookout Mountain. It’s claim to fame is that it’s the tallest and deepest underground waterfall available to the public. To start, you descend in a glass-front elevator to get into the cave system.
A guide takes you through the path in the cave (about 1 mile round trip) that ends at the waterfall. They’re called Ruby Falls because the waterfall itself is lit by a bunch of lights.
This is a great activity do on a hot afternoon because the cave system always stays cool!
Tickets are $23 for adults and $13 for children.
11. Point Park on Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain is a very tall hill on the south end of Chattanooga. Point Park is one spot on Lookout Mountain and is located at the very top, north edge of it. The edge of the mountain at Point Park is fairly sheer so you get a sweeping view of the city and the Tennessee River.
It took me a while before we left to understand how Lookout Mountain is set up, because there are a lot of things you can do there. Ruby Falls, Point Park, Rock City, the Incline Railway, and several hikes (plus probably more things) are all on Lookout Mountain. Most of these attractions require you to pay and each one requires a separate ticket and fee. Online it said that Point Park had a fee for adults, but the gate was open and no one was taking tickets when we arrived – however if there is someone taking tickets and you have a National Parks Pass, you can use that here.
If we had to pick a favorite thing from our day in Chattanooga, it would definitely be Point Park. It is a Civil War historical site, as there was a big battle on this hill. There are still old cannons around that overlook the valley (we saw three different spots with cannons), some trails, plus several memorials and historical markers.
If you follow the trail down here, you get to another really cool overlook – enter through the stone arches onto a stone balcony overlooking the valley. There is a little room built into the cliff that houses a small exhibit, but it was closed when we were there. No matter – the cannon and the views really were the main exhibit.
If you are there with kids, pay attention – the edges are quite steep and are pretty close to the trails.
12. Watch the Sunset from Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain is also a fantastic spot to watch the sunset. I had read that there is a spot on the back end of Lookout Mountain called Sunset Rock and is apparently THE spot to go (at least, it was the first on every list I read).
We considered going over there, but found another spot on the west edge of Point Park that had the *perfect* view (and we had completely to ourselves).
On the west side of the park, there is a trail that leads down to the museum. Pretty quickly, you’ll pass some tall rocks – sit on the top of these rocks for a great sunset view.
13. Get Dessert from City Café
This cafe/diner has lots of meal offerings – but we went there solely for dessert. They have a huge display case of cakes and pies that all looked fantastic. We ordered four slices to split with our family of six which was more than enough – the slices are gigantic and the cakes are rich! This was a really fun end to our day in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga has its own airport (airport code CHA). Alternatively, the Knoxville, Nashville, and Atlanta airports are all a 1.5-2 hour drive from Chattanooga.
Where to Stay
I personally think the best area to stay is downtown – that area is just so pedestrian-friendly and cute. I recommend this hotel situated in an old, historic building. There are gorgeous, 1920’s-era details throughout the building, which just oozes charm! Plus it’s within walking distance to a lot of Chattanooga’s main attractions!
You will definitely need a car to get around Chattanooga. While the downtown area is totally walkable, Ruby Falls and Point Park on Lookout Mountain, as well as the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum, are both 15-20 minutes outside the downtown area and require transportation.
If you don’t have time in your day in Chattanooga to do all the things on this list, my personal must-dos were Point Park + the sunset, Walnut Street Bridge, and the Choo Choo Hotel.
Overall, we were completely blown away by how much we loved the day in Chattanooga! We will definitely be coming back to Chattanooga sometime soon!