You had an idea.
Vacation in the mountains, you thought.
We’ll get there, find some peace and quiet, enjoy a little mountain life – maybe have a little fun in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. It will be a nice, relaxing getaway.
Then you arrive in Sevier County and discover a few hundred thousand of your closest friends had the same idea.
The Parkway? Bumper to bumper.
Pancake houses and moonshine distilleries? They’re lined up 20 deep at the door.
The good news is there’s more to East Tennessee than Sevier County. There are a lot of interesting towns and cities near Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg if you need a getaway from your getaway.
7. Greeneville, TN
Greeneville, the second oldest town in Tennessee, was the capital of the State of Franklin, which in 1785 failed in its bid to become a state.
Named after Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, Greene County was home to a couple of famous early Americans with varying degrees of popularity, Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States and frontier legend Davy Crockett.
Today, downtown Greeneville is historic and charming with shops, restaurants and the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, which draws nationally known concerts, plays and comedians to town.
Greeneville also hosts the Andrew Johnson National Historic site, a 16-acre complex over three separate sites all filled with the history of the man many consider to be the worst U.S. President of the country’s first two centuries.
In order to keep politics out of this debate, we will tastefully exclude any president serving after the bicentennial to allow more time for historical perspective.
Greene County is also home to the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, 105 acres of history and natural beauty celebrating the birthplace of the legendary frontiersman.
6. Morristown, TN
Crockett’s history also plays a major role in Hamblen County’s seat.
The Crockett Tavern is a 19th-century reconstruction of John Crockett’s tavern, which served travelers making their way through East Tennessee.
Davy had long since left his father’s care when John Crockett owned the Tavern, but the boy returned home and helped his father work off debt before moving on to other adventures.
Also be sure to check out Morristown’s historic downtown shopping – complete with the overhead skywalks.
The downtown offers a variety of restaurants, antique and specialty shops. The 1907 Brewery is a popular new destination downtown for craft beers.
The Little Dutch has proudly served the community for more than 75 years as arguably the best restaurant in town.
5. Dandridge, TN
Established in 1793, Dandridge, named for George Washington’s wife Martha Dandridge Washington, is now chiefly known for its charming downtown and lake life with boating, fishing and lake access.
Each fall, Dandridge hosts a popular Scots-Irish Festival in the shadow of a levee created when residents petitioned Eleanor Roosevelt to save the town when the TVA dammed the French Broad to create Douglas Lake.
4. Townsend, TN
Known as the quiet side of the Smokies, Townsend is still a great place to get away from the crowds – though it isn’t exactly quiet anymore.
Townsend offers access to the National Park and Cades Cove, swimming at the Wye and some of the most popular tubing in the area. Townsend has a nice variety of restaurants and a lot of places where you can find some peace and quiet.
3. Wears Valley, TN
Located between Townsend and Pigeon Forge, Wears Valley has grown into a truly eclectic mountain getaway.
A wide variety of restaurants and burgeoning tourism attractions makes Wears Valley a bustling little place to get away to the mountains.
Metcalf Bottoms remains one of the best picnic locations on the Tennessee side of the Smokies.
2. Sevierville, TN
Sevierville used to be the boring, all-business older brother to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
If Sevier County’s towns were the members of N*SYNC, Sevierville would have been Joey Fatone. For the record, Seymour is Chris Kirkpatrick and Kodak is JC Chasez.
But over the years, Pigeon Forge’s Justin Timberlake-ness has leaked into Sevierville.
Now, in addition to shopping at the Tanger Outlets and the various businesses along Parkway out to the interstate, Sevier County offers some truly interesting dining locations like the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and the new but culinarily exciting, The Appalachian.
At this rate, Sevierville might get an upgrade to Lance Bass status before our very eyes.
Sevierville, like many of the other small East Tennessee towns, boasts a truly charming downtown area.
1. Knoxville, TN
I have a soft spot for Knoxville. I love it.
In the Tennessee hierarchy of cities, usually, it ranks well below Chattanooga, Nashville or Memphis.
Most of the best functioning parts of the city are frankly not that interesting.
West Knoxville is all very “O’Charley’s”. There’s plenty of stuff to do, it offers all the amenities of a decent-sized city but it’s not particularly memorable.
Still, there are places of real excellence.
Obviously, the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium is amazing even in these long, dark times.
The Old City is full of cool and interesting shops and places to eat.
The Tennessee Theatre is a great venue, and the waterfront between Calhoun’s and Ruth’s Chris is pretty cool.
Knoxville also has the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Peyton Manning’s fancy Saloon 16.
I love Peyton, I do. I would give him my own right arm if it helped him play another season.
And if you have the money, go to his Saloon for the experience. But if you want to eat a truly memorable meal in Knoxville, go to Gus’s Good Time Deli. It’s a Knoxville institution.
Bonus destination: Maggie Valley, NC
Maggie Valley is a tourism town that “lost out” to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Or depending on your view, maybe it won.
Known for its natural beauty, Maggie Valley sits at a higher elevation with less room for more tourist attractions.
But, the higher elevations do provide other advantages, including majestic views. Maggie Valley is absolutely gorgeous and offers a bit of the feeling of visiting the Smokies the way they used to be, if that’s what you’re looking for.
What are your favorite surrounding cities to visit near Pigeon Forge TN? Let us know in the comments.