Gatlinburg, TN, is at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains and has been a family-friendly vacation spot for well over 50 years. The sheer number of things to do in this part of the state are plentiful and possibly invoke some fascinating childhood memories for those who have traveled to this magical place in their younger years. No matter what the age, you are sure to have a good time. Here are 21 things to do in Gatlinburg, TN, that will add more fun to your next mountain getaway.
1. Chair Lifts for the Ultimate Views
Get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Smoky Mountain area with the help of Anakeesta, a beloved Gatlinburg family adventure. Anakeesta offers rides to the summit via Chondola or Ridge Rambler, Rail Runner Mountain Coaster, and TreeVenture Challenge Course.
2. Pancake Pantry
Whether it’s your first time at the Pancake Pantry or your 50th, you will enjoy a delectable breakfast that will more than please your palate. The pancakes are out of this world, but then again, so are the blintzes. I love the Marvelous Blintz dish , paired with a side of breakfast sausage. But then again, nothing screams southern breakfast quite as much as Pecan Pancakes. You honestly can’t go wrong. Arrive early, there is always a wait.
3. Plentiful Shopping
You can wander the shops along the main drag in Gatlinburg for hours without running out of selections. From sampling chocolate and taffy to moonshine and fried goodies, you’ll find an arsenal of things to buy in the food, home decor, clothing, accessories, souvenirs, and seasonal categories.
A few of my favorites are Misty Mountain Soap Company, All Sauced Up, Paula Deen Store, and Candle Cottage.
4. Multiple Moonshine Shops
It is only fitting that you cut your teeth, so to speak, on some delicious Tennessee moonshine. You can do that at Ole Smoky, the region’s most beloved brand name, featuring”kkick-in-the-mouth” shine flavors in Blackberry, Lemon Drop, and Apple Pie.
But, Tennessee Shine Co. is another option, quickly making a name for themselves after opening in 2015. A few of the seasonal and popular flavors include Butterscotch Moonshine (the best seller), Strawberry Cream Moon Pie, and Big Orange Creamsicle.
5. The Great Smoky Mountains
You’ll find yourself in sight of the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg. There is nothing that tops my list when traveling quicker than a National Park. In Gatlinburg, you’ll be at one of the most visited National Parks in the country, as well as arguably the best one near the East Coast. Whether you have time to take hikes, plan out your adventures, or simply drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a 16 mile-round-trip option that will take you about any hour with traffic to complete. There is something at this park for every type of wanderer.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to get your National Park passport stamped and pick up a unigrid (map) to save.
On my 2021 fall visit, I saw a mama bear with her three bear cubs. It was almost surreal since I wasn’t expecting it. I totally froze, but did get some pictures with my cell phone. It was truly one of the most special moments in my 53 years of traveling.
6. Celebrity Restaurants
Gatlinburg is becoming one big celebrity endorsement after another, and I am there for it. Beginning with Paula Deen and her crazy busy restaurant chain, the mountainous area has grown to include country music singer Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, and most recently Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy, a place we fell in love with at Disney Springs.
7. Mountain Mall
Besides shopping in the individual boutique shops throughout Gatlinburg, there are also a couple of malls that are great rainy day activities, and good for those with limited walking abilities. My top pick is Mountain Mall, the premier indoor mall in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, playing Appalachian music on the speakers. You’ll find Pepper Palace (chock full of all heat levels and brands), TN Cider Company, Gatlin-Burlier Tobacconist, and plenty of souvenirs shops. Shout out to the super cool whiskey barrel trashcans.
Pro Tip: This mall is a two-minute walk from Anakeesta.
8. Hollywood Star Cars Museum
This super cool museum houses dozens of collectible and famous cars that have been used for movies, videos, and celebrities. Some of the star attractions are the Fast & Furious collection (cars from 2001-2015), Batmobiles, and Michael Jackson’s Mercedes-Benz 500. A few other cars of interest include a 1977 Pontiac Trans AM from Smokey and the Bandit, ‘ECTO-1’ – 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura from Ghostbusters, and 1967 Volkswagen Beetle from Herbie the Love Bug.
9. Classic Eateries
Besides the celebrity restaurants mentioned above, there are some classic eateries in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that should not be missed. My family’s favorite is The Melting Pot, a fondue eatery serving cheese, chocolate, and broth fondues for cooking your own meats and vegetables. The entire meal takes about 2-3 hours and is great fun or perfect for date night or a celebration.
Two other names that come to mind are Howard’s Steakhouse and Ruby Sunshine. Howard’s has been serving customers since 1946, so they must be doing something right. Come for the Rib-Eye Strips appetizer or Howard’s USDA Choice steaks, which pair perfectly with the macaroni & cheese and sautéed veggie medley.
At Ruby Sunshine, truly one of the best breakfast joints in America, you’ll be hooked after one bite of the Pig-Candy Bacon Bites. The Migas, Stuffed French Toast, and Pancakes are all off-the-hook, but my favorite item is The Peacemaker, a combo plate of two different Benedicts. Mmm, mmm, good.
Pro Tip: Join the waitlist from Ruby Sunshine’s website; a great timesaver.
10. Gatlinburg’s Village Shops
A step back in time or through Old-World Europe, you be the judge, is what you’ll feel walking through the Village Shops, a Gatlinburg classic. Pick up treats for your pooch at Bonediggity Bakery and Gifts, souvenirs at Candle Cottage, or take home cheeses and wine from Cheese Cupboard.
My friends rave about The Donut Friar, but caution, they only accept cash. There are nearly 30 businesses in total at the Village Shops, and Pancake Pantry (#2 above) is an anchor.
11. Trout Fishing
Believe it or not, some people come to Gatlinburg for the fishing opportunities. In fact, trout fishing is ultimate in this area and the city streams are stocked year-round. One of the most popular spots is on the main section of the Little River, while another is Middle Prong Little Pigeon River. A license is required, and you may keep a total of five rainbow or brown trout, brook, smallmouth bass, or a combo of these, each day or in possession.
12. Ripley’s Museums
Gatlinburg is busting at the seams with cool museums. I think you would need an entire month to get around to them all. A few of the really popular ones are Ripley’s Haunted Adventure (tour the creepiest mansion in town), Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (12,500 sq-ft of odd and weird stuff), and Ripley’s Moving Theater 5-D (two adventure films with loads of special effects and movement).
The Ripley’s fun doesn’t stop with museums, they also offer mini-golf, go-kart tracks, a mountain coaster, and a mirror maze.
13. The Iconic Space Needle
Seattle has their space needle, and Gatlinburg has theirs. Here, you can ride to the top of this 407-feet-tall all-glass retro attraction for $15.95 adults, or $9.95 children. Get 360° view s and the best photo-ops in town from the observation deck platform in this family-friendly Gatlinburg must.
The Space Needle has been around for ages, my husband can remember going as a child 50 years ago with his grandparents. Now you can even enjoy the massive 30,000+ square foot arcade and amusement, guaranteed to win you some brownie points with the kids.
Pro Tip: Buy the Family Pass, $36.95, a real money saver, which gets two adults and two children in on two visits—day and night.
14. Second-Story Photo-Ops
Oh…and tasty Mexican eats. Sit for a spell at Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina and munch on chips, queso, and salsa while you sip a refreshing margarita or cold beer. This stylish and fun restaurant offers two stories chock full of seating areas, plus a limited number of outdoor patio seating that makes for more excellent photo-ops.
15. Tennessee Spirits
Gatlinburg has a distillery that is a must visit. Sugar Lands Distilling creates award-winning whiskey, but they do have moonshine, too. It is currently rated one of the top attractions to visit while in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Take a blended cocktails tour or do a $5 tasting led by an expert TasteMaker. Sugarlands Distilling Co. proudly partners with Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners Legends to bring their traditional recipes to you online, and the strawberry & cream pops had me at Hello.
16. Tennessee Music Pathways
The TN Music Pathways trail meanders through the Volunteer State and has roots in Gatlinburg. The Gatlinburg Inn is where the iconic “Rocky Top” song was written. Now the official Tennessee state song, that’s a big claim to game.
17. Alpine Terrace Mall
Another mall space worth mentioning is the Alpine Terrace Mall. This one is picturesque and has plenty benches to enjoy people watching. Shop at the Jerky store, pick up some vino at Little Bear Winery, and grab a bite at the New Orleans Sandwich Company, to name a few.
18. The Awesome Aquarium
For as long as I can remember, families have been visiting the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies as a top attraction in Gatlinburg, if not the family favorite. This busy attraction features coral reef fish (clown triggerfish and butterflyfish), lion fish, jellies, rays, sharks, octopus, and darling penguins.
Kids will love some of the special events offered at Ripley’s Aquarium such as Breakfast with a Mermaid, Mermaid Slumber Party, and Sleep with the Sharks family overnights.
19. Unique Attractions and Taffy
Gatlinburg is a unique region in itself, so it is only fitting that you find some memorable and one-of-a-kind places that fit in so well. Somewhere in Time is where you can save those family memories via an old timey photo shoot. Dress up in vintage clothing and props to savor your Smoky Mountain memories for a lifetime.
Homemade taffy is another regional Gatlinburg specialty. My husband has been bringing home fresh pulled taffy from the Gatlinburg shops (namely Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, circa 1952) since he was just a little kid. Their original taffy logs are soft and super tasty, with 33 flavors like peanut butter, wild cherry, peppermint, key lime, and banana. They even offer sugar-free options, too.
Come watch the taffy being pulled and wrapped, or shop from other tasty treats like fudge, pecan logs, divinity, and chocolates.
20. The Sky Bridge
If you feel like doing something adventurous while in town, go walk the SkyBridge, at the upper end of town. While the Gatlinburg SkyLift offers an open-air chairlift ride to an overlook affording amazing views of the Smoky Mountains, you can also reach the Uber-cool Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America, from here. I think this is the prettiest part of the Gatlinburg Strip.
21. Reagan Terrace Mall
And yet another open-air shopping mall area deserves mentioning is the Reagan Terrace Mall. This venue has a wide variety for the entire family, including a chicken hut restaurant, Burg Coffee, mini-golf options, escape games, and even laser tag.
Helpful Hints When Visiting Gatlinburg
You’ll find parking at several lots for $20. While this may seem steep, there is one way in and one way out of town, and it’s a hugely popular tourist area. Save your time and energy for exploring and walking around, and splurge on the parking at the first available lot you find.
Check the Gatlinburg App for coupons, maps, events, and festivals.
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