A collection of the most picturesque towns in Tennessee awaits you on a road trip where you can escape the glitz and big-city feel of Nashville and Memphis. For one, there’s Gatlinburg that’s both known as a popular gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and gets a frequent mention as among the prettiest towns in Tennessee – if not the whole of the United States.

    There are many other charming towns set against the natural beauty of smoky skies and lush flowing hills, as well as small townships with incredibly walkable downtown streets flanked by historic sites and antique galleries. Find your hidden gem of a town in Tennessee with these picks for your next road trip through this landlocked southeastern state.


    Gatlinburg, Tennessee

    An answer to your call of the wild

    Gatlinburg is your gateway to exploring the Great Smoky Mountains, where the beautiful Appalachian wilderness awaits. This friendly little resort town is a popular base for taking in the fresh mountain views and air, with skiing slopes, adventurous hiking, and horse-riding trails at its doorstep.

    In town, you’re treated to plenty of fun, be it through a stroll on the Historic Arts & Crafts Trail or the live entertainment choices available. Families can hit Gatlinburg’s amusement parks and arcades – check out the Pinball Museum for a bit of nostalgia. For all, a ride on the Space Needle or the Sky Lift to Ober Gatlinburg offers you more breathtaking views of the Smokies.



    Find the other ‘peaceful side’ of the Smokies

    Townsend is a much quieter starting point for adventures into the Smokey Mountains than the bustling Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It’s the small town that’s often touted as ‘the peaceful side’ of the mountain range. Affordable stays abound in Townsend, with breathtaking views right on their doorsteps. The same goes for great outdoor activities such as rafting down cascading rivers and biking or hiking along trails lined by old-growth trees.

    Not so much into action and adventure? Townsend offers cool cultural highlights, too – log cabins lining community roadways lead to churches you can visit to watch a local choir. Visit in autumn to take part in the town’s heritage festival.

    Location: Townsend, TN 37882, USA



    Soak in the historical charm of Tennessee’s oldest town

    Jonesborough is Tennessee’s own time capsule as the town’s streets are lined with living remnants that date back to the 18th century. Add to that with the stunning surroundings of the natural beauty of the Appalachians and you have a quintessential Southern experience.

    The heart of Jonesborough is in its historic district, which boasts among the state’s oldest and most charming old buildings. Among the many, check out the 1778 log cabin of Christopher Taylor, deemed to be the oldest home in Jonesborough. You can also please your sweet tooth at The Old Sweet Shop, housed inside the 18th-century Old Masonic Hall.

    Location: Jonesborough, TN 37659, USA


    photo by Sodei8971 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Bell Buckle

    A small town and antiques-lovers mecca

    The railroad village of Bell Buckle, in the heart of Tennessee, is a sight for sore eyes with its beautifully preserved Victorian homes and churches. Some of the pretty historic inns even accept guests who want to stay the night during their road trip in Tennessee.

    Strolling through the town, you’ll have plenty of art and crafts and antique shops to choose from. This quaint town an hour’s drive southeast from Nashville also treats you to beautiful hillsides that are home to farms and stables. Besides soaking up the Southern charm, you can also learn about equestrian history at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum just south of town.

    Location: Bell Buckle, TN 37020, USA


    photo by Brian Stansberry (CC BY 3.0) modified



    Stroll past centuries-old buildings through Tennessee’s second-oldest town

    Rogersville isn’t only the second oldest town in Tennessee – it has been a thriving marketplace for 2 centuries and has become a shopping haven for arts and antiques. Rogersville’s whole Historic District is listed on the National Historic Register for boasting one of the largest collections of Federal-style building in Tennessee.

    You can take a stroll through the red-brick Main Street for most of the sights and activities. It’s the hub of the town’s main events, like classic American automobile festivals and Rogersville’s annual Heritage Days, held every October. On any other day, you can see old inns, the county courthouse, and a synodical campus before shopping or dining at the locally-owned restaurants.

    Location: Rogersville, TN 37857, USA


    photo by Walker Kinsler (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Pigeon Forge

    Big on fun with great views of the Smokies

    Pigeon Forge offers a more spread-out town experience compared to its close sister, Gatlinburg, with a myriad of things to do alongside great views of the Smokies. Once a peaceful farming town, Pigeon Forge is now the place to be for light-hearted entertainment and family fun. Among the many fun highlights are the Dollywood amusement and waterpark as well as The Island, with its options for dining, shopping, and a 200-ft-tall observation wheel.

    The great outdoors is just outside town via short hiking trails and historic homesteads. For quieter pleasures in town, try the many fascinating and quirky spots such as the Alcatraz East Crime, Hollywood Wax, TITANIC, Southern Gospel Music, and the Chasing Rainbows museums.

    Location: Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, USA



    Explore the hometown of the nation’s 17th president

    • History

    Greeneville is a quiet small town in northeast Tennessee, known for its charming Historic District. Main Street is the center of life here, offering plenty of well-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s alongside wonderful galleries and shops.

    Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the USA, has strolled along this very street – Greeneville is home to a National Historic Site dedicated to him. You can also take in the town's unique and rich heritage by checking out the Doak House Museum's collection of artifacts that date back to 1794.

    Location: Greeneville, TN 37743, USA


    photo by Steven C. Price (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Leipers Fork

    A small town known for scenic countryside and whiskey

    Leipers Fork is a small and relatively quiet town in rural Williamson County, just a short drive from Franklin and 45 minutes’ drive south of lively Nashville. It’s probably best known for its grain-to-glass spirits – a good place to sample Tennessee whiskey.

    To put it simply, Leiper's Fork is a great stop on road trips through Tennessee. The town also serves as a central base for exploring the Natchez Trace – a 444-mile national park and scenic drive that spans 3 states. It's loved by hikers, bikers, horseback riders and campers, especially in summer.

    Location: Leipers Fork, TN 37064, USA



    From historic downtown to turkeys and iconic chocolate bars

    Pulaski is a quiet small town with a complex history that traces back to the Civil War and Restoration era. The town is nicknamed ‘Tennessee’s Wild Turkey Capital’ thanks to its large turkey and wild bird population. Be there in April for the Giles County’s hunting season, which concludes with a banquet and auction in Pulaski.

    Take a tour of the historic downtown to see well-preserved public and commercial buildings like Elks Theater and Christ Episcopal Church, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those with a sweet tooth can pay a visit to Milky Way Farm – the historic estate of confectionary legend Frank Mars.

    Location: Pulaski, TN 38478, USA


    photo by Skye Marthaler (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified



    Even the drive in is picture-perfect

    Cookeville is a small and tucked-away town in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland region, about an hour from Nashville. The winding drive up through this southern part of the Appalachians is part of the experience, especially in autumn when the dramatic seasonal foliage fills your windshield and side windows.

    The town has a rich history that you can delve into further at Cookeville Depot Museum, with its 1909 central railroad exhibits and a 1913 Baldwin steam engine that the kids will love. Shop and dine ‘back in time’ at the Historic Putnam County Courthouse Square – it offers a great laidback vibe with pedestrian walkways and a great variety of unique stores. Enjoy shopping at the Arcade Building and admire its beautiful architecture with stained-glass panels on its ceiling.

    Location: Cookeville, TN 38501, USA


    photo by Brian Stansberry (CC BY 3.0) modified



    Take in the classic charms of a Southern town

    Columbia is a thriving small town and Main Street community just a 45-minute drive south from Nashville. Columbia’s downtown area, with its beautiful Town Square, is where most of the sights and action take place. On Main Street itself, you’re treated to a host of boutique and antique shops, with cool dining spots that often host good old country music. 

    Autumnal colors take over Columbia’s countryside. You can wander and discover old landmarks harking back to the railroad days of the 1900s as well as miles of train tracks that crisscross the area.

    Location: Columbia, TN 38401, USA


    photo by Matt Locke (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler

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