Knoxville has walked the line between a semi-sleepy town iconic of southern Appalachia and a bustling metropolis in a constant state of change.
The most impressive piece of recent growth is the complete overhaul of the city’s Market Square district, located in the heart of downtown Knoxville’s business sector. For a long time, it “didn’t have much going on,” but has completely redeveloped to include dozens of new shops and restaurants, according to Jennifer Morris, senior director of sales and services for Visit Knoxville. In addition to new businesses in the square, the area is also still used for its regular slate of concerts, farmers markets and outdoor ice skating each winter.
“Knoxville is one of those mid-size cities that’s gone through that urban development process as many have, but the nice thing is that for us it hasn’t stopped,” Morris says.
And all the new gastronomic options surfacing in Market Square translates into new ways for groups to get that Southern-fried, stick-to-your-ribs, only-in-Knoxville experience.
“[Groups] always want to have some sort of food tour, especially Southern food,” she says.
And since moonshine was legalized in Tennessee during the Great Recession, traditional bourbon has to take a back seat to another regional-favorite spirit—moonshine. Morris suggests a tasting tour at the Ole Smoky Distillery, located about an hour’s drive to the south in the town of Gatlinburg, known as The Gateway to the Smokies, the most-visited national park in the U.S.
Knoxville offers a 500,000-square-foot convention center near downtown and World’s Fair Park. New properties include an Embassy Suites that opened earlier in the year and which is the flagship of a new Embassy Suites redesign. Also new to the hotel scene is the centrally located Hilton Garden Inn at the University of Tennessee, which also sports a new brand design concept.
“It’s definitely been under the radar over the years, but Knoxville really is a gem of East Tennessee,” Morris says.