The culture in this fine southern state can feel synonymous with cities, with the rock-and-roll of Memphis, the blues of Beale Street, the rich country heritage of Nashville.
But, if you step outside, the small towns in Tennessee are where you can really get a feel for the state.
With just a little imagination, you can explore towns that are nestled in the mighty Smoky Mountains to ones that cling to the flow of the Mississippi.
You can find some of the best southern cooking in the country, and wash it down with the best country music in the state.
So, let’s explore!
Hey! Before we dive in, check out more fabulous Tennessee content here!
1. Jonesborough: Tennessee small towns
To start, let’s take things back to the beginning.
Jonesborough is the oldest town in Tennessee.
It’s a place of historic buildings like the beautifully colored Chester Inn that also doubles up as a museum to get to know the town, or just drift the streets and soak in their old school charm, dining at restaurants that have been tried and tested throughout the years.
And, if you want to put a modern spin on the town, head up to Depot Street Brewing for some delicious locally brewed craft beer.
If you’re looking to get into the mountains, you’ll want to be heading to Gatlinburg!
The town is the perfect jumping-off point to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with some of the best hiking, camping, mountain climbing, and any kind of outdoor adventure you can dream of.
The area around the town is lush woodland growing up into the foothills of the mountains and you can get the best views of it from some of the town’s main attractions.
Head up the Space Needle, a 407ft observation tower, or take a ride on the Sky Lift cable car to get panoramic views of some of the best scenery in the state.
3. Lynchburg: small towns or cities in Tennessee
This town is a sleepy place, a loose meandering of homes and businesses scattered throughout a green, lush landscape that is famous for only having one traffic light.
But it’s given its glamour by the famous Jack Daniels distillery.
If you’re in the area, a visit to the world-famous drinks makers is a must, not only because you can take tours to get the insight into how it’s made, but also because Lynchburg is in a dry county, so the distillery and the winery across the road are the only places you’d be legally able to drink anyway.
4. Bell Buckle
A tiny little place that is only home to around 400 people, thousands flock to Bell Buckle every year for its mix of quirky artisanal vendors and warm southern hospitality.
The region is famous for its crafts and cooking, and you can buy a whole range of the expected and unexpected here while dining on some of the state’s best homemade food and listening to some sweet country music!
5. Sweetwater: best small towns in Tennessee to visit
Above ground, Sweetwater is typical of the best little towns in Tennessee, a charming mix of independent businesses, wide open landscapes, and a close-knit community spirit.
But it’s most famous for what lies below.
It’s home to the Craighead Caverns, an amazing system of caves and tunnels that sprawl down deep into the rock.
The jewel in their crown is the Lost Sea, the largest underground lake in the US. You can’t swim out into the dark depths of it, but you can take a glass-bottom boat tour that drifts out into this subterranean world.
It’s definitely a unique and charming little place!
Dandridge is a gem of a town that you’ll find lodged in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, a perfect mix of small-town living and large-scale nature.
It’s so immersed in nature, from the waters of Douglas Lake to the Cherokee National Forest to the beautiful mountains themselves that fill the horizon.
If you’re looking to hike, fish, or just soak in something pristine, it’s one of the best small towns in Tennessee.
And, if you’re with the family and want to make that hike that little bit more special, check out the Smoky Mountain Llama Treks, it’s not your usual style of mountain walk.
7. Dayton: charming towns in Tennessee
Dayton’s a town that celebrates its long history, most famously the Scopes Monkey Trial which was argued over the teaching of evolution in schools.
Today, it’s a place of quirky antique stores and independent restaurants (don’t miss Screen Door Kitchen‘s delicious brunch!) and is best visited in July when the town puts on large-scale events and musical acts that celebrate the town’s past.
And, if you’re a keen angler, the town is on the edge of Chickamauga Lake, the number one place in the country to come to fish for largemouth bass.
Its name literally translates as High Forest in German, and you can see why the early settlers christened it that.
The landscape around it is a lush green that can be seen whether you’re hiking the trails that sprawl out for mile after mile or taking a scenic drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Hohenwald stands out among all the cute towns in Tennessee for its flagship attraction, The Elephant Sanctuary, a natural habitat refuge for elephants that have come here to kick back and relax and their time in circuses and zoos.
9. Leiper’s Fork
This is a tiny little place of only around 600 people but is dense with possibilities.
It’s home to some of the best drinking and shopping in the state, with multiple quirky, independent businesses setting up store here.
You can sip on fine wines by the riverside at Wines in the Fork, a converted historic home turned gorgeous winery.
You can meander around fine art at the Leiper’s Creek Gallery, exploring the daring collections or relaxing by the fire pit outside.
And the showstopper, the Leiper’s Fox Distillery that is proudly leading the way with grain-to-glass distilling in Tennessee, producing some of the finest spirits in the state.
And there’s so much more. For a tiny little place, it’s got everything you could want.
10. Ripley: quaint towns in Tennessee
You can read Ripley’s long, rich history in the colorful downtown storefronts that line the charming Main Street, beautiful buildings that have endured throughout the years and are now home to some brilliant galleries, stores, and restaurants.
It’s a town that is still in touch with its small-town southern heritage but is flourishing in the modern day.
Nowhere will you see this better than the Ripley Old Timers Festival, an annual celebration of history and heritage, with plenty of food and drink, that sees people flock to the area and celebrate together.
McMinnville mixes that community-led, small-town atmosphere with all of the amenities and services you could wish for.
Located between Nashville and Chattanooga, it’s easy to get to but still feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, making it one of the best small towns in Tennessee to live in.
The area around it is of course beautiful (we are in Tennessee), and its historic downtown area is a charming intermingling of local businesses and warm hospitality.
The showstopper of the area is the Cumberland Caverns, one of the state’s most extensive cave networks, a mysterious subterranean world to venture down into on a tour to explore before heading back up to the sunshine and fine food of the town itself.
To walk around Rogersville is to walk around a different time.
The whole downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, and meandering around the charming, amazing well-preserved streets is worth the trip itself.
The Swift Museum is the place to go to learn about the town’s rich history, and the Local Artists Gallery is a perfect window into how the town is flourishing today.
13. Tullahoma: cute towns in Tennessee
A town best known for its aerospace research facilities might not seem the most obvious destination to visit, but there’s a lot more to Tullahoma than that.
The downtown area is a mix of galleries, like the ever-charming Tullahoma Fine Arts Center, and great restaurants, while the surrounding landscape is full of great hiking and fishing opportunities.
And it’s just up the road from Lynchburg, so you can get two charming towns for the price of one.
This used to be a bustling coal mining town but today the industry has faded away and left in its place a charming small town that is nestled between the Watts Bar Lake and the Cumberland Plateau.
Its old-school downtown area is a quant mix of quirky stores and well-worn charm that will always make a pleasant place to while away an afternoon.
But it all changed during Thunder Road, the car festival that takes place here every year and features some of the best cars of the early 1900s, bringing some glitz and glamour to the quiet pace of life here.
You can find great food all around Tennessee, but if you’re looking for catfish, there’s only one place you should go.
Savannah, ‘The Catfish Capital of the World’, is a haven for fresh food caught right from the landscape that flourishes here along the banks of the mighty Tennessee river.
The town is a picturesque place of historic houses and cozy restaurants, serving up catfish every which way possible (other meals are available).
To put it simply, the landscape around Townsend is beautiful.
It’s a haven of mountain life, found right at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and offers everything you’d want in a mountain getaway.
There’s great accommodation to serve as your base, hearty homemade food to fuel your adventures, and all the outdoor pursuits you could dream of.
It’s the quintessential mountain getaway.
17. Tellico Plains
Of all the quaint towns in Tennessee, none quite match the slow-burn charm of Tellico Plains.
Life meanders here, moving slowly but with such depth to it, such a feeling of contentment that runs throughout the place.
Around the town, the landscape is all undulating farmland with picturesque buildings set against the fields that gradually grow up into the mountains.
You can fish, hike, walk, wonder.
Only around 800 people live here but the town feels rich with culture, there in the artisanal shops, the family-owned restaurants. It’s the perfect mountain town.
Laying claim to the prestigious title of the ‘Wild Turkey Capital of Tennessee’, Pulaski is a town known for the rich hunting possibilities that you can find here.
Every year, it hosts the Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt, a wild weekend where people travel from around the country to try and one-shot a turkey.
Aside from the hunting, the town is full of rural charm, from its regular farmers market to the annual Here’s the Beef Festival, a celebration of agricultural living.
19. Union City
This little town mixes that small-town ambiance with some world-class education.
It’s home to the Discovery Park Of America, a world-class facility that has interactive exhibits and displays on an encyclopedic range of subjects, from local history to the deep mysteries of science.
It’s an amazing place where people of all ages can while away a day meandering around.
If you like your education to be a little bit more agricultural, get an insight into the area’s past at the Obion County Farm Museum.
A town built for the outdoors, the charming Erwin is nestled within the Cherokee National Forest area and along the famous Appalachian Trail.
It’s the place to be for some pristine hiking routes, genuinely awe-inspiring scenery, and the rapid rafting of the Nolichucky River.
Or, just grab something warm at one Steel Rails Coffee House, kick back and soak it all in.
Granville is the quintessential small town, one of those places that not too many people have heard about and that still has all its own unique charm.
It’s surrounded on three sides by the Cumberland River and seems to flow at the same leisurely pace as the water.
Tours are available around the town, from the beautiful historic site of The T.B. Sutton Store to the Granville History Museum, and there’s a real commitment to keeping this little place thriving, from bluegrass festivals to the ever-lively Sutton Music hour.
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