5 of the Most Underrated Things to Do in Knoxville

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Knoxville, Tennessee is the place to go if you want to see the beauty of the state without the tourist crowds of Nashville and Memphis. When you visit Marble City, there are a lot of popular destinations you can explore, but there are also a lot of hidden gems.

If you’d rather stay off the beaten path and away from the throngs of visitors, there are many socially distant activities around the city. 

Try one of these five underrated things to do on your next trip to Knoxville, or check this guide for a list of other ideas.

1. Asa Jackson’s Perpetual Motion Machine

Just outside of Knoxville in the town of Clinton, you’ll find this marvel of science created 150 years ago. It’s housed in the Museum of Appalachia, which is an interesting place to explore by itself. But Asa Jackson’s Perpetual Motion Machine is the crowd-drawing exhibit.

Jackson built the machine in the mid-1800s. Stories hold that his idea was possibly due to a rumor going around at the time. Supposedly, the federal government was willing to pay $1 million to anyone who could prove perpetual motion existed.

The machine was so unusual at the time that he took extreme care to keep it a secret and, during the Civil War, hid it in a cave in a nearby town. Eventually, he was able to patent it, although the machine is, alas, no longer in motion.

2. The Body Farm

This unusual research facility isn’t open to the public, but that doesn’t stop people from heading over to take a peek. The Body Farm, a small plot of land started by William K. Bass and dedicated solely to the organic breakdown of human cadavers, is the only one of its kind.

The 2.5 acres are located behind the University of Tennessee. The place is used by forensic scientists and researchers to study the decomposition of humans. The bodies usually get there when an interested party donates them to the school.

With over 150 decaying humans in various “crime scene” poses, you never know quite what you’ll see.

3. The S.S. Sultana Memorial

Dating back to the end of the Civil War, the wreck of the S.S. Sultana is an oft-overlooked historical tragedy. The ship’s mission was to bring the thousands of prisoners who had finally been released back to their homes.

Unfortunately, the 2,300 people squeezed into a ship that was only supposed to carry less than 400 were never to make it. An ignored leaky boiler resulted in an explosion just a few days later.

In the horrible aftermath, 1,700 people died. Yet, with so much else going on in the country, their deaths went almost unnoticed. Finally, more than 50 years later, this memorial to the victims was dedicated on July 4, 1916.

4. Blount Mansion

Dubbed “The House With Many Eyes,” the Blount Mansion has a long and torrid history.

Built-in 1792 by the governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount, the mansion was to celebrate Tennesse’s admission into the union. Blount chose Knoxville as the state’s capital and then went on to become one of the signers of the Constitution.

Throughout the past centuries, the house held stories of the residents who lived there and guests who visited. Blount and his wife both were victims of deadly epidemics and their surviving children went on to keep the mansion out of disrepair.

Those interested in history can learn about the true stories and the myths in the tours offered Tuesday through Friday.

5. Knoxville Food Tours

A food tour is a fun and unusual way to spend your day in Knoxville. The companies that put on the tours partner with some of the most interesting restaurants in the city. Chances are, you would miss these gems otherwise.

If you enjoy mom-and-pop shops, quaint local stores, and learning the behind-the-scenes history of Knoxville, the food tours are right up your alley. Even the residents learn something new when they attend a tour!

Be sure to have your walking shoes because most of the tours are on foot, exploring a small radius of the fascinating parts of town. Tours last around 3.5 hours. During that time, you’re wined, dined, and entertained by professional storytellers.


On your next visit to Knoxville, go outside the box of the normal tourist destinations. Check out one or all of these underrated activities, then come back and do the rest soon!

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