17 Knoxville

PopulationMetro: 857,111
Never short on keeping locals and visitors busy, Knoxville’s tradition of collaboration is now creating a food and drink scene to watch.

A scintillating fusion of small-town charm and big-city amenities has helped propel Knoxville to the number six spot in the Product category. A walker’s paradise, downtown Knoxville has lots to explore and discover, from vibrant murals to local music venues, historic sites and museums.

Knoxville is also home to the University of Tennessee and its rabid college-football fan base, who paint the town orange on game nights when they pack Neyland Stadium. No surprise then that this small city lands at #1 for Attractions and #2 for Sports Teams, and #20 for University Ranking.

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Instead of playing second fiddle to nearby Asheville and Chattanooga, Knoxville is finding its own groove to become an increasingly prominent destination for foodies—the state’s first James Beard Award winning chef, Joseph Lenn, operates JC Holdway right downtown. What makes the food scene so spectacular is the collaboration of local chefs with other chefs, brewers, distillers and wine makers. Group efforts, like a longtable dinner down the middle of a downtown street in 2017, have resulted in a number of unique culinary experiences. The city’s location on the banks of the Tennessee River, just north of the Smoky Mountains, also helps to capture the hearts of romantic souls who are drawn to riverfront dining and a lively nightlife.

For a weekend each year, the Big Ears Festival brings to town the highest concentration of Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and Grammy Award winning musicians and artists of any city in the country. Meanwhile, cyclists from around the country are recognizing Knoxville as a great destination for mountain biking, with some of the most scenic and challenging trails in the Southeast. Even better, some of these trails are just three miles from downtown in the Urban Wilderness, a recreational, cultural and historic preservation initiative that incorporates 50 miles of connected trails for all levels of cyclists. For those without a bike of their own, the city just launched a partnership with Pace, a new nationwide bike-sharing program for cities.