The eyes of the world were on Knoxville in the early '80s, when the city hosted the Knoxville International Energy Exposition, better known as the 1982 World's Fair. Legend has it the fair's profits came to a whopping $57, but the event impacted the city deeply regardless of its financial outcome. In fact, it made the walkways, waterfalls, and open spaces of World's Fair Park a central part of Knoxville, and led to the construction of perhaps the city's most recognizable structure: the Sunsphere. Climb to the top for a 360-degree view of the town, and from there you may even get a sense of the other interesting things there are to do in Knoxville.
For instance, after descending back to the ground, you can walk less than a quarter mile to The Knoxville Museum of Art. The museum showcases rotating exhibits such as Higher Ground, a celebration of art in East Tennessee. To the southwest of downtown, Confederate Memorial Hall preserves another aspect of the region's history. In 1863, General Longstreet and the Confederate Army made the hall their headquarters during the Union Army's siege of Knoxville. Bullet holes still pock the Italian villa-style house, where tour guides tell stories that bring key moments of Civil War battles to life.
You only have to drive 40 miles outside town to enter a completely different environment: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park encompasses 520,000 acres, including more than 850 miles of trails suitable for hiking and horseback riding. Visitors can also gaze out at mist-laden foothills from peaks that rise more than 6,000 feet. The Knoxville Zoological Gardens' Black Bear Falls area simulates these same Great Smoky Mountains, making the bears who inhabit it feel right at home.
Knoxville still has plenty to offer once the parks and museums close, especially in the area known as Old City. Beer aficionados should try The Crown & Goose, where bartenders pour two exclusive ales—a London IPA and a Royal Stout—behind a custom-built bar inspired by 19th-century London. The rest of the neighborhood features some of the city's best clubs and music venues, which host rock, country, blues, and jazz.
Visitors will need to return throughout the year to get the complete Knoxville experience. Fall paints the area's vast forests in brilliant warm colors, and spring covers the mountainsides in thousands of wildflowers. Come in May to sample light, flaky biscuits at the Biscuit Festival, or show up at the East Tennessee Historical Society in August to celebrate Davy Crockett's birthday. The Tennessee Stage Company stages outdoor performances of Shakespeare throughout the summer, filling Market Square with the Bard's verse.
People looking for nighttime Knoxville activities or things to do involving music can head to the section of town known as Old City.