These 3 Attractions in Gatlinburg Were Enough To Make Me Move Here

purple lights in the astra lumina night walk experience at anakeesta in gatlinburg, tennessee

Anakeesta was one of the attractions that made me want to move to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Pictured: The Astra Lumina Night Walk experience (photo by Daniel Munson/

I moved to my favorite tourist town, and here are three attractions that helped in that decision

My family and I made dozens of trips to Gatlinburg before moving here. We often would alternate restaurants or try to squeeze in a new one with every visit. Attractions, for us, were secondary. After our first few visits, Gatlinburg became less of a place for fun and more for relaxation and taking our minds and bodies into a better place. That doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy ourselves. But three attractions in particular were so good that they heavily influenced our purpose for living here.

Gatlinburg is a place to be enjoyed by tourists. But there are a few attractions that made it easy for my family to go from visitors to residents. For example, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the country, and it’s our top choice. Anakeesta is our favorite attraction in Gatlinburg that’s not a natural wonder, featuring fabulous mountain views and kid-friendly activities also suited for adults. And finally, The Village Shops is a unique, Old World Village environment for relaxation, shopping and eating that locals and tourists love.

A trailhead sign for The Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail is walkable from downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an expanse of mesmerizing beauty. Those of us who’ve visited throughout the years have experienced this. In addition to spectacular mountain views, there is diversity in plant and animal life you won’t find in most other parks in the country. I love hiking trails such as The Little River Trail by the Elkmont Campground and Laurel Falls Trail, a short distance away. Notably, I don’t even have to get in the car for The Gatlinburg Trail. It’s another easy favorite, beginning at the end of River Road in downtown Gatlinburg.

Also, the park is free to enter. But the Park It Forward program requires either a $5 daily pass, a $15 weekly pass or a $40 yearly pass – and we were proud to purchase the latter. You need one if you are parked for more than 15 minutes anywhere in the national park. You can find them at kiosk locations throughout the park and visitor centers as well. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is the most convenient, located on the Gatlinburg side of Newfound Gap Road.

young woman looks at views at anakeesta in gatlinburg tn
Anakeesta offers some of the best views in Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

2. Anakeesta

This attraction in Gatlinburg made us want to move here so much that we bought annual passes as visitors from Ohio. And it’s also why I work here now. So it’s safe to say that this is easily on my list, despite the obvious bias. Anakeesta is a mountaintop theme park in Gatlinburg. It boasts dozens of acres of beautiful landscape work, fun activities for kids and adults, cool retail shops, plus some mouth-watering food options. The AnaVista Tower, which is the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg, gives me chills, even in the summer heat. In my opinion, you won’t find better mountain views at any other attraction in Gatlinburg.

Anakeesta is located in downtown Gatlinburg at 576 Parkway across from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Adult admission ranges from $34.99 to $39.99, depending on the season. Some of the activities are available at additional cost, such as gem mining, the mountain coasters and the Astra Lumina Night Walk. There is a parking lot next to Anakeesta for $20, which is good for 10 hours. There’s also parking behind the Aquarium nearby for a $10 day ticket. You can either ride the open-air chairlift, enclosed gondola or the Ridge Rambler trucks to this adventure park.

the fountain at the village
The Village Shops in Gatlinburg allows visitors to step back in time (photo by James Overholt/

3. The Village Shops

Okay, so I know you’re thinking: This isn’t an attraction. But let me say, it’s one of the best places to spend some free time on vacation. In my case, it’s a daily routine I feel fortunate to experience. The Village Shops in Gatlinburg is a 27-shop Old World Village whose charm is unmatched in an area full of burgeoning modernity. You’ll feel like you’re stepping into a centuries-old European Village. Here, you are welcomed by a beautiful fountain that serves as its centerpiece, along with tasty food options like the incomparable sugar treats from The Donut Friar, Maddie Mae’s Cafe & Creamery and Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.

The Village is located at 634 Parkway next to Pancake Pantry, which is another can’t-miss breakfast stop in downtown Gatlinburg. There are a couple of lots for a $15 fee behind The Village accessed from light #6. Or, for early risers, it’s free on the Parkway until 9 in the morning.

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