Tennessee’s fourth largest city has several unofficial nicknames, including “River City” and “Gig City.” The latter reveals Chattanooga’s assertion of having the fastest Internet service in the Western Hemisphere. However, travelers who have been to this southeastern Tennessee community probably agree that “Scenic City” is the proper nickname, and it is the official one.
Surrounded by mountains and ridges along with lakes that are part of the Tennessee River, which runs through the city, Chattanooga is a natural photo opportunity. Over the years public and private partnerships have committed to maintaining the scenic beauty with which Chattanooga has been blessed.
An early success was the restoration of the 1891 Walnut Street Bridge, the oldest surviving Camelback truss bridge in the southeast. More recently the 21st Century Waterfront Plan has invested $120 million in redeveloping the city’s waterfront and downtown area. Although residents may have been the primary beneficiaries of this forward thinking, the savvy group travel planner is discovering the fruits of a Chattanooga tour.
Adjacent to the Georgia border and serviced by three interstate highways, Chattanooga is less than a three-hour drive from Atlanta, Birmingham, Huntsville, Nashville, Knoxville and Pigeon Forge. A prime location certainly makes Chattanooga accessible. However, it’s a range of attractions, outstanding dining options, comfortable accommodations and a group- friendly welcome that excites the tour and travel industry.
It just makes sense to begin a Chattanooga visit at the Tennessee Aquarium. Remarkably, this cornerstone of the Waterfront Plan has been rated “Best Aquarium in America” for three consecutive years,” based on IMPACTS 2013 independent, nationwide guest satisfaction survey of more than 30,000 visitors to U.S. attractions. The main lure is certainly the diverse collection of 10,000+ animals from butterflies and reptiles to fish and birds. Yes, the penguins are adorable and the sharks are toothy. Stay as long as you like, but there’s still more to see close-by.
Just a block from the aquarium is the IMAX 3D Theater, where giant-screen films take the viewer from memorable underwater adventures to lands far away. Rounding out the trifecta is a riverboat cruise. Board the catamaran River Gorge Explorer for a scenic cruise downstream to the Tennessee River Gorge. An aquarium naturalist accompanies you, pointing out the plants, animals and history of “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.” Fall Color Cruises are exceptionally popular.
“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” the 1941 song by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (words), was originally recorded as a big band/swing tune by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. The song was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade. Today, the Choo Choo Terminal Station is home to a Historic Hotel of America, two group-friendly restaurants, shops and the Model Railroad Museum.
These scenic beauty of Chattanooga provides a full day of touring and memories. Your day begins at Lookout Mountain’s outstanding attractions.
Guided tours at Ruby Falls take you through a variety of cave and rock formations. The highlight for many is the 145-foot underground waterfall illuminated by a spectacular LED light show. Be certain to take a sweater. It’s always 59 degrees inside the caves.
Referred to as “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” the Incline Railroad takes guests on an astonishing ride to the top of Lookout Mountain. Your coach will meet you at the Incline Top Station and take you to the Battles of Chattanooga Museum, part of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park System and Point Park. The latter was the site of the “Battle Above the Clouds.”
Rock City Gardens provides natural splendor throughout the year. There’s always something blooming along the pathways through the boulders. Seven States Flag Court at Lover’s Leap offers a memorable view. All of Lookout Mountain’s attractions are just six miles from downtown Chattanooga.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a rolling trip back in time. Refurbished equipment and outstanding facilities share the historical perspective of train travel. Daily rides, extended excursions on select days and annual events provide numerous opportunities to hear the conductor call those magical words, “All Aboard.”
To this point we’ve been up close to Chattanooga’s natural beauty from the rails, roads, paths and even a catamaran. It’s time now to leisurely explore the scenic Tennessee River aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. A relaxing, narrated afternoon lunch cruise introduces the passenger to the sights along the river. Music, a prime rib dinner and an evening tour are the perfect ending to a perfect day.
The Bluff View Art District sits above the Tennessee River and provides spectacular views. The historic district is dedicated to the visual, culinary and horticultural arts. Master gardeners tend to the district’s landscaping. Treats to please every palate are featured in three remarkable restaurants.
The visual arts take center stage at The River Gallery. Nationally known artists exhibit regularly and working artists often provide instruction and demonstrations. The Smithsonian has recognized the River Gallery Sculpture Garden in its “Archive of American Gardens.”
Located in a stunning architectural setting that parallels its focus on art from the colonial period to the present day, the Hunter Museum of American Art exhibits a wide collection. From well-known artists as Andy Warhol and Winslow Homer to lesser known contributors, virtually every medium is presented. The Hunter welcomes groups, and both adult and student/youth tour planners have program options. The museum’s scavenger hunt is very popular.
Another can’t-miss opportunity in the Bluff View Art District is the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. Anna Safley-Houston is a story in herself – married and divorced nine times, shrewd businesswoman and bargainer and noted expert on all things Victorian. Her collection of glass and antique furniture was left to museum trustees for future generations. More than 15,000 pieces are on display for visitors.
Still looking for just one more reason to visit Chattanooga? Well, their way of saying, “thanks for coming” is special. Since 1917 Chattanooga Bakery has been making the legendary MoonPie. Bring your adult group for an overnight in Chattanooga and let the CVB know you’re coming. A complimentary MoonPie will be waiting for every guest along with a history page and welcome.