Even though Gatlinburg is not a very big city, it has undoubtedly become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tennessee. It is home to plenty of attractions for people of all ages. This is what enables it to attract millions of visitors every year. The things offered by Gatlinburg, Tennessee, include a top-notch mountain resort, local shopping malls, stores of all kinds, adventure rides, mesmerizing natural beauty, and so much more.
The most prominent attraction of Gatlinburg is the Great Smoky Mountains, National Park. With a subtropical climate, you are sure to enjoy quality time in the park and its surrounding areas. Besides the national park, Gatlinburg hosts several man-made attractions that are a must-see for every visitor. Here, we have rounded up a list of the city’s top 10 things you can experience.
Top 10 things to do in Gatlinburg, TN
1. Gatlinburg Trolley
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States, welcomes nine million visitors every year. They come to see the spectacular views to enjoy the bountiful nature around them and to experience the beauty, history, and intrigue of the past, as well as the fun attractions of the present. Gatlinburg is nestled amid this majestic mountain range.
There is something to delight people of every age in this fascinating area and activities, attractions, and scenery to pique the interest of anyone ready to explore. And the best way to do that is to climb aboard a Gatlinburg Trolley. Established in 1980 with only six trolleys, the Gatlinburg trolley system has grown to a fleet of 24 trolleys covering a large 50-mile area in and around Gatlinburg, serving 800,000 passengers every year. This makes it the 5th most extensive mass transit system in Tennessee and the most convenient way to get around when visiting Gatlinburg. All trolleys are handicap accessible, environmentally conscious, and technologically advanced. As a result, they are well-equipped to get you where you need to go, and you also enjoy a clean, convenient ride along the way.
By following the link on their official website, you can view the GPS locations and approximate arrival times at many trolley stops. There are more than 100 locations throughout Gatlinburg to catch a trolley for your convenience. Because Gatlinburg Trolleys use fuels that protect the environment, it is better to park your car and hop aboard. You can park your car and catch the trolley at the free Gatlinburg Park & Ride by City Hall or by the ever-popular and free Park & Ride of the Gatlinburg Welcome Center located between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Riding the trolleys also saves you money in gas and parking fee. Money that can then be used to enjoy your vacation.
All-day trolley passes, route maps, and time schedules are available at the Mass Transit Center, City Hall, City Welcome Centers, and many hotels and attractions. All Gatlinburg trolleys operate out of the Mass Transit Center at the Aquarium and are color-coded by the route. So, be sure to notice signs posted on the front and the sides of every trolley to make sure that that particular trolley is going where you want to go.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Consistently ranked as the most visited national park in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans over 800 square miles across North Carolina and Tennessee. Known for its natural beauty, easy access, diversity of animal and plant life, mountain beauty, and Appalachian heritage, it keeps visitors coming back. So whenever you are in Gatlinburg, you need to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for it has so much to offer.
Begin your park visit at Sugarland’s Visitor Center and see the exhibits, video, and ranger-guided hikes. This is one of the best spots to begin your adventure. Newfound Gap is the main pass across the mountain ridge from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Cherokee, North Carolina. Some of the park’s features are accessed from this paved road, situated at an altitude of more than 5,000 feet. Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain in the park at 6,643 feet. Visitors can have a spectacular view across the mountain ridges from the observation tower. Take a hike on one of the 150 trails throughout the park, including the Appalachian Trail, which runs for over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. There are several access points, so wear your comfortable shoes and enjoy nature at its very best.
You can also explore the pioneer life and step back in time as you visit the many buildings and exhibits that portray the settlers’ experience. The rivers and lakes offer plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. Fontana Lake is a man-made reservoir formed by a dam offering boating and other recreational activities. So, do not forget your fishing pole when you are packing for Gatlinburg. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a slow traffic loop through the forest and historic sites. Along the loop road, you can walk to Rainbow and Grotto Falls. Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must for anyone coming to Gatlinburg.
3. Sweet Fanny Adams Theater
Most people that have been to the Sweet Fanny Adams Theater in Gatlinburg come back year after year to see the fantastic performances. This theater has had several generations of local visitors and foreigners regularly visiting them. No wonder it is the longest-running theater in the entire area. This year, the Sweet Fanny Adams Theater celebrated its 40th season. Every year, they perform 2 to 3 different shows for varying spectators.
Pat and Don McPherson started this theater. Pat and Don are the parents of the lead actor there nowadays. They met in Las Vegas for the very first time. They both were professional dancers of the Folies Bergère. After a while, they started their three-person dance troupe called the Piccadilly Dancers and traveled around Europe. Since then, it has been a family-run operation. Once they settled in Gatlinburg and founded this theater, the travelers coming to Gatlinburg praised them for their impressive performances and incredible shows.
Their most requested routine is the world-famous, classical paper dance. They started performing that in the early 1980s, and every year since then, they have been doing that routine because of the popular demand. All artists in this theater are locals from Gatlinburg. They have seen it change from a relatively small town into a booming tourist destination. This makes them ideal for displaying the culture, history, and overall taste of Gatlinburg through their art.
4. Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
This candy store was started in 1950, making it the most extended-standing original store in Gatlinburg. It was the dream of Maggie Atchley’s grandparents, one of the cooks in this kitchen today. The Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen specializes in top-quality homemade candy. They are situated in the heart of Gatlinburg. So, whenever you are in town, you need to visit them.
The chief candy maker here, Marion King, has been doing this for more than 27 years. You can taste his experience and skill in the candies here at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen. If you have got a sweet tooth, then it might be one of the best places in Gatlinburg for you to spend your time. Apart from candies, they have also got all sorts of chocolates, serums, jellies, pretzels, and other sugary treats. All candies are made right in front of the customers. Here, you can satisfy your inner child and learn the art of candy making. It is one of the unique experiences Gatlinburg has to offer.
5. Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
While you make your way into the station for the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, you will get the feel of its splendid and impressive essence. Unlike other popular mountain coasters, you do not have to take a lift to the start point. But, let us tell you that is not the only difference you will notice between this and other mountain coasters if you have ever been on any. This Alpine coaster provides you with the most stunning views and spectacular viewpoints. Most of the rides in Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster are offered at an ace discount, so if you are an ace member, make sure to bring your ace card with you.
The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster can be described as a thrill ride with nature. You go up and down these beautiful mountains and are made to praise the incomparable beauty of this area. As the ride starts, you will get strapped into a single-seat or double-seat coaster with hand-held brakes. These brakes allow you to control your speed along the way. If you have got a kid with you, then they can ride with you on a single-seat coaster as well. There is enough space on it for an adult and a kid.
We have to say that this coaster is just as exciting as making it sound. It is worth a visit for anyone coming to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If the idea of your vacation is to take in exceptional experiences, do not miss this ride at any cost. Here, it is just as important to mention that Gatlinburg has other coaster rides as well. However, the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster exceeds them all in fun and adventure. On it, as you rush past the scenic mountains, you can even touch 35 miles per hour. There are no strict time restrictions as you can ride on this coaster at night. However, if you truly want to absorb the beauty and nature around you, it is advised to go there while the sun is not down.
6. Mountain Mall
The Mountain Mall of Gatlinburg started its story in the mid-1970s on the land of what was once the Ogle General Store. This store closed in 1975 to make way for the mall, which opened in September 1978 under the guidance of the Ogle family. The mall was quickly touted as the area’s first year-round shopping center. All were built out of stone and wood. With no anchors to mention, the mall relies on its inline tenants, and because Gatlinburg is a big tourist spot, the mall has the opportunity to succeed heavily. Being a 45-year-old mall, it does very well, and it is taken excellent care of.
As you walk in from the main entrance, it is hard not to notice the wooden architecture. This gives the mall a distinctive look from both inside and outside. Rather than a typical retail mall, it is best described as a tourist attraction. If you enjoy the old west meeting the 1970s vibe, this is the mall for you. Full of local shops, the feeling of warmth and comfort inside is truly unique. The mall has six different levels from ‘A’ to ‘F’. Each level is dedicated to specialized shops and stores. Positioned in downtown Gatlinburg, Mountain Mall is one of the best places to spend your time at.
7. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium
At this Odditorium, dark spinning tunnels will give you pause. Ancient torture methods will shock you while the world’s tallest man stands guard over everything. This Odditorium originally opened in 1970. Unfortunately, they lost the entire museum to fire in 1992. It was again wholly reopened in 1995 with a brand-new three-story building with over 500 different exhibits. It usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half to go through. It is self-guided, so you can take as much time as you want to wonder at each oddity.
The strange and mysterious have always fascinated all of us. With dozens of interactive displays, Ripley never fails to entertain. In here, you will find all sorts of things from ancient artifacts to lifelike reproduction of the violent death suffered by the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, the death mask of John Dillinger, shrunken heads that beg for a closer inspection, and much more like this. Each room has its unique attributes, and the chances are that you will find something that interests you. For those fascinated by exploring the unknown uniquely and entertainingly, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium in Gatlinburg is one place you would not want to miss.
8. Gatlinburg Space Needle
With all the fun stuff in Gatlinburg, this attraction is the one that kind of gets left behind. But the views you get from the Gatlinburg Space Needle are outright stunning. You get to see the clouds cast shadows on different parts of the landscape. It is majestic and impressive to see the whole region in one single view. You can also see the Gatlinburg Sky Lift from up there.
This Space Needle is 407 feet tall and serves as an observation tower in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When it was completed, the Gatlinburg Space Needle was the second-tallest tower in the entire state of Tennessee. Once you are on the top, you can take a 360-degree view of the whole town. Apart from the views, there is also an entertaining arcade center and a magic show theater at the tower’s base. This makes Gatlinburg Space Needle a complete tourist attraction with plenty to offer.
While you are in Gatlinburg, you get the opportunity to visit the Anakeesta. It is conveniently located in downtown Gatlinburg. If you are staying in a nearby hotel, you can even walk up to the location, or if you would prefer to drive, there is public parking right next to the main entrance. After purchasing your tickets, your adventure begins with a scenic sky-lit ride to the 600-feet high Anakeesta Mountain. The ride itself takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and you have the option to choose between an open chairlift or an enclosed six-person gondola.
At the top, you will see the Firefly Village. Here, you can browse shops, have something to eat, or walk on the Memorial Trail. There are plenty of seating areas and picnic tables, and each of them has beautiful mountain views. If you have kids, they will enjoy playing in the Anakeesta Treehouse Playground. A series of treehouses are linked through rope bridges and aerial platforms. You can also enjoy the treetop canopy walk, where you will be 60 feet above the ground while making your way along 16 hanging bridges. You will want to have at least 2 hours exploring all that Anakeesta offers and take advantage of the fact that your tickets are good all day.
10. Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Discover the secrets of movie magic in Gatlinburg at Hollywood Star Cars Museum. They have over 40 cars featuring the best of Hollywood’s movies, TV, and real-life cars of the stars. You can see up close the famous Bumblebee from the Transformers movie, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, the Batmobile, and many more.
You can also see the personal cars of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Bob Hope, and Dolly Parton. The museum also features the car collection of George Barris, the famous Hollywood movie car creator. This museum is located next to the Gatlinburg Convention Center on the Parkway. If you are a car lover, make sure to stop by this museum when you are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.
Round the year, Gatlinburg provides a plethora of activities and events. Just a mere walk in Parkway offers more prospects for family fun than many other cities. Within walking distance, you will find countless world-class attractions for kids and adults alike. So, what do you have to wait for? Put Gatlinburg, Tennessee, right on your bucket list and start packing.