What is Tennessee known for?
Tennessee is famous for its musical heritage, delicious foods, and rolling hills. Tennessee is known also for its major cities and the popular tourist attractions in them.
If you love good food, good music, and natural beauty, there’s one place in eastern North America you can’t afford to miss. This state is home to the most visited national park in America and you could even go for a cruise on a vast underground lake. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the many things that make Tennessee famous!
- 1 28 Things Tennessee is Known For
- 1.1 1. Nashville, Tennessee
- 1.2 2. The Grand Ole Opry House
- 1.3 3. The Country Music Hall of Fame
- 1.4 4. Bluegrass Music
- 1.5 5. Blues Music
- 1.6 6. Vanderbilt
- 1.7 7. Memphis, Tennessee
- 1.8 8. Elvis Presley
- 1.9 9. Aretha Franklin
- 1.10 10. The Mississippi River
- 1.11 11. An Unusual Border
- 1.12 12. Chattanooga, Tennessee
- 1.13 13. The Civil War
- 1.14 14. Rolling Hills
- 1.15 15. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 1.16 16. The Appalachian Mountains
- 1.17 17. Caves
- 1.18 18. The Lost Sea
- 1.19 19. Knoxville, Tennessee
- 1.20 20. The Volunteer State
- 1.21 21. Barbecue Joints
- 1.22 22. Hot Chicken
- 1.23 23. More Fried Food!
- 1.24 24. Other Southern Staples
- 1.25 25. Tennessee Whiskey
- 1.26 26. Mountain Dew
- 1.27 27. Tennessee Mountain Cake
- 1.28 28. Banana Pudding
- 2 FAQs About Famous Tennessee Things
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28 Things Tennessee is Known For
1. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville deserves its nickname “Music City.” Many famous musicians from different genres have recorded music in Nashville, but country music may be the most popular here. Nashville has 74 different recording studios, surpassed only by Los Angeles (366) and New York City (275). Given that both those cities also have several times the population of Nashville, 74 is no mean feat!
While out on the town enjoying the tunes, consider stopping by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. This restaurant brought “hot chicken,” a local fried chicken specialty, to the world (more on that later). There are also numerous restaurants serving international dishes as well as good old-fashioned Tennessee grub.
2. The Grand Ole Opry House
One of the best places to hear your favorite country music artists, whether stars or rising talent, is at this concert venue. The Grand Ole Opry broadcast, for which the hall is named, is the longest-running radio broadcast in American history, having started on November 28, 1925.
The country music scene may be the main focus of the Grand Ole Opry, but other genres such as bluegrass, gospel, and folk fill the air and the airwaves there too. The hall also hosts comedic performances and skits.
3. The Country Music Hall of Fame
What better place in America could there be for the Country Music Hall of Fame than Nashville? Opened in 1961, the hall preserves exhibits on the genre’s greatest artists as well as the roots and history of American country music. Among the first inductees in 1961 was country music legend, Hank Williams.
❓ Trivia Time: Tennessee is known for the Country Music Hall of Fame, but what state is known for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
4. Bluegrass Music
Tennessee also has a thriving bluegrass music scene. Bluegrass, by most people’s standards, is a subgenre of country music, relying more on acoustic instruments and greater musical complexity than “ordinary” country music.
Lester Flatt, of the famous duo Flatt and Scruggs came from Tennessee. Flat and Scruggs pioneered professional bluegrass music, introducing the wider world to this distinctively Appalachian form of American folk music.
5. Blues Music
Besides country and bluegrass, blues music has a long history in Tennessee. The city of Memphis got the nickname “The Home of the Blues” because of the role it played in the popularization of the genre in the early 1900s. Blues clubs can be found throughout the rest of the state as well.
Nashville’s number one legacy may be music, but it is famous for its schools too. Vanderbilt University is one of the most prestigious schools in the country, even if it is not part of the much-lauded Ivy League.
Vanderbilt alumni have made significant contributions in the fields of politics, science, and the arts. Former Vice-President Al Gore is one of the most well-known graduates of Vanderbilt University.
7. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis’s main claim to fame is its musical heritage. At the same time, several other things make this city famous. One popular attraction is the Memphis Pyramid. It now houses a Bass Pro Shops store, but previously served as a sports arena.
Memphis also has the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Before the Civil Rights Movement, Memphis played a major role in the Underground Railroad and the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum preserves the memory of this movement.
8. Elvis Presley
In addition to being the birthplace of the blues, Memphis also served as home to The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Elvis was born in neighboring Mississippi but made his home in Tennessee. During his career, he often performed at many clubs and venues in Memphis. Memphis’ most famous Elvis-related attraction, though, is his former home, Graceland.
9. Aretha Franklin
The King of Rock and Roll may be Memphis’ most famous musician, but it is also the home of the Queen of Soul–Aretha Franklin. Unlike Elvis Presley, Franklin was born in Tennessee and spent the first two years of her life in Memphis before her family moved to Buffalo, New York. Her childhood home still stands, but no one has yet taken the initiative to transform it into a museum.
10. The Mississippi River
The “Mighty Mississippi River” as locals call it, forms the western border of Tennessee. The river served as a major commercial route during the state’s early years. Visitors to Memphis can take a step back in time, by booking a cruise on an old-fashioned riverboat.
❓ Trivia Time: What states does the Mississippi River run through?
11. An Unusual Border
Looking at a map, you’ll notice the unusual shape of Tennessee’s western border. The boundary lines follow the original course of the river at the time these places became states. Since then, the river’s course shifted. Adjusting state borders with the river was seen as too much of a hassle, so the boundaries remained as they were.
❓ Trivia Time: What state borders the most states?
12. Chattanooga, Tennessee
This city in southeastern Tennessee won fame as the birthplace of moon pies. The Chattanooga Bakery started making moon pies in 1917. The origin story states that a traveling salesman working for the Chattanooga Bakery asked a miner what kind of snack he would enjoy. The miner wanted something “as big as the moon.” Moon pies are traditionally enjoyed with RC Cola.
Besides sweets, Chattanooga is famous for the Tennessee Aquarium and the beautiful nature surrounding it. The city serves as a jumping-off point for caving, hiking, fishing, and many other outdoor activities.
13. The Civil War
Tennessee sided with the Confederacy during this conflict. Many battles, and some of the fiercest battles, at that, raged over Tennessee soil. The state’s location made it vital for controlling shipping supplies and moving troops. Some of the first major conflicts occurred along the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River.
14. Rolling Hills
The classic Tennessee landscape, to most minds, is rolling hills or low-lying mountains. West Tennessee, where Memphis is located tends to be flatter, but most of the state is hilly. Elevations tend to rise the further east one goes, with east Tennessee having the highest elevations.
15. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park runs through Tennessee and is one of the most visited national parks and consistently the most popular tourist attraction in the state.
One visit will show you why. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has rolling mountains covered in lush forests, gently wandering streams, and a wide variety of plant and animal life.
16. The Appalachian Mountains
Besides the Great Smokies, Tennessee has many other mountains and valleys. Many smaller ranges join together as part of the large Appalachian Mountain Range. Like the Great Smokies, they are lower-lying than the rugged peaks out west. At the same time, no one can deny their majestic beauty.
❓ Trivia Time: What states do the Appalachian Mountains go through?
Underneath the hills and mountains lies another natural treasure of Tennessee–its many caves. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has several caves, as do many other sites throughout the state.
The caves house unique rock formations in their depths and several caves enhance the surroundings with lighting and music. One site, “The Caverns” even serves as a concert venue, holding up to 1,200 attendees!
❗ Fun Fact: Check out this article, “Which US state has the most caves?” to see where Tennessee ranks in this category.
18. The Lost Sea
One of the most remarkable of Tennessee’s subterranean treasures is the Craighead Caverns, especially well-known for its Lost Sea. This massive underground lake sits beneath the earth of eastern Tennessee. The Lost Sea measures 800’ long by 220’ wide.
Divers have explored several flooded compartments under the surface of the lake. They have not yet fully mapped its depths, though. Boat tours skimming the surface of the lake are available for tourists.
19. Knoxville, Tennessee
This city in Eastern Tennessee acquired the nickname “The Marble City” from all the marble quarried from the surrounding area. The city also serves as a jumping-off point for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The abundant natural beauty in the surrounding area has inspired many people to move to Knoxville in recent years. Knoxville is also famous for several country music stars such as Kenny Chesney, Chet Atkins, and Hank Williams Sr. Chesney was born in Knoxville. Atkins started his career there. Hank Williams’ last performance was in Knoxville.
20. The Volunteer State
Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State. Tennessee got this nickname during the War of 1812. Tennessee militiamen proved to be some of the most eager and valiant fighters. Later, in the Mexican-American War (1848), when President Polk requested 2,600 volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, 30,000 men answered the call!
21. Barbecue Joints
Mountains aren’t the only thing in Tennessee that are great and smoky. No self-respecting Southern state would be complete without barbecue. Establishments throughout the state pride themselves on their pulled pork sandwiches, brisket, and more.
Traditional side dishes such as baked beans, cole slaw, and the classic southern staple, cornbread are often served at barbecue joints statewide. Tennesseans add some zest to their baked beans, often adding barbecue sauce to the recipe for a richer, smokier flavor.
22. Hot Chicken
This Tennessee twist on barbecued chicken began in Nashville before gaining nationwide acclaim. The basics are fried chicken and a spicy barbecue sauce. Nashville’s variants almost always include lard and cayenne pepper, and the level of spiciness depends on who’s cooking and what you can handle.
23. More Fried Food!
Tennesseeans love deep-fried food. For slightly lighter fare, there is fried catfish. Why stop at meat and fish though? Fried okra and fried peas are popular side dishes. For dessert, there are fried pies–pie dough filled with fruit (or a sweet pudding) and lightly fried.
24. Other Southern Staples
Tennessee, as a good southern state, also features several classic southern dishes in its culinary repertoire. One dish is country ham, ham that has been salt-cured and hardwood-smoked.
Another popular dish in Tennessee is biscuits and gravy. Biscuits made from rich buttermilk dough are doused in savory sausage gravy and often eaten at breakfast. There is also “poor man’s gravy” or, more simply, white gravy. There’s nothing poor about the flavor of the gravy, though.
❓ Trivia Time: What states are considered the South?
25. Tennessee Whiskey
What better drink to accompany all this hearty Tennessee grub than Tennessee whiskey? Jack Daniels whiskey may be the most popular of these distilled drinks, but the state boasts several brands. The interest in craft beverages has also seen smaller distilleries cropping up throughout the state.
26. Mountain Dew
Tennessee’s most famous beverage may be hard liquor, but the state also left its mark on the world of soft drinks. For one, Mountain Dew was first brewed in Knoxville, being intended as a mixer for local whiskies. The name Mountain Dew itself began as another term for whiskey before the soda stole the spotlight.
27. Tennessee Mountain Cake
Also known as a Tennessee mountain apple stack cake, this layered sweet has an interesting history. In short, it began as a wedding cake among Tennessee’s early pioneers. Each family invited to the wedding would bring a layer to add to the cake. The more layers, it was said, the more beloved the bride was among the community.
28. Banana Pudding
This creamy dessert is the official state dessert of Tennessee. Tennesseeans love it so much that they hold an annual festival, the National Banana Pudding Festival, in the town of Centerville! While the pudding is the focus of the festival, there are also concerts, crafts, and much more. Proceeds from the festival go to local charities.
👉 Read Next: What is Each State Famous For?
FAQs About Famous Tennessee Things
What famous people are from Tennessee?
Davy Crockett, Dolly Parton, and Morgan Freeman are just a few of the many famous people from Tennessee.
What foods from Tennessee are famous?
Hot chicken, moon pies, and Tennessee mountain cake are some of Tennessee’s famous dishes.
Now you don’t have to wonder “what is Tennessee known for” anymore!
As you can see, Tennessee is an incredible place. Whether you love nature, music, or good food, there’s more than enough of it waiting for you in the Volunteer State!