Knoxville, Tennessee: 3 Days of Southern Charm

We were so happy to get the chance to explore Knoxville, Tennessee recently, and let me tell you, there’s nothing scruffy about this city! The nickname “Scruffy City” came about after criticism that the city would not be a proper host for the 1982 World’s Fair. Of course, this incredible city rose to the occasion then and continues to grow, while maintaining its adorable charm and southern hospitality. 

Drew and I traveled to Knoxville for a 3-day birthday weekend, celebrating one of our dear friends. We decided to spend 4 days in all, two each at distinctively different, but both highly recommended hotels.

Our first two nights were spent at The Marriot Knoxville Downtown.

Marriott Knoxville Downtown
525 Henley St, Knoxville, TN 37902
Website | Instagram

This newly renovated hotel sits just steps from the World’s Fair Park and the Knoxville Convention Center. The property was previously a Holiday Inn, but I can assure you there are no traces of its former self here – every aspect of the hotel has gone through an extensive renovation. When you enter the lobby through the revolving door you immediately feel the comfort of a Marriot and the perfect touches of Tennessee.

You can’t help but peek through the foyer to the Maker Exchange! When you walk in you are greeted by a beautiful sitting area and a staggering floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Surrounded by deep blue walls, thoughtful textiles, and local art (that you can also purchase) you immediately feel the essence of Knoxville and its community. In fact, most of the furniture, light fixtures, and decor are created by local designers!

Depending on which way you look you can walk into the large billiards room and shoot pool while you watch the game (GO VOLS), tour gorgeous display cases filled with bespoke local art, or grab the BEST blue crab artichoke dip you have ever had in the bar/restaurant, Tavern. Seriously, I had it twice during our 2-day stay! Pro tip: The dish comes with crackers but DEFINITELY order the bread for the best dipping experience 😉

And, if you are anything like me, you are wondering…”Where’s the coffee”?  There is a darling coffee shop with a grab-n-go cooler that features fun and unique handmade mugs, also for sale!

As for the rooms, they are large, and beautifully furnished, but the best part…the lighting in the bathrooms! Which is always a must in my book! Overall, I love Marriot properties, and have to say this was one of my favorites. 

For part two of our stay we chose The Oliver Hotel.

The Oliver Hotel
407 Union Ave, Knoxville, TN 37902
Website | Instagram

I am a sucker for a boutique hotel and this spot didn’t miss a detail! Tucked inside a historic building from 1876, it’s been lovingly transformed and pays tribute to the downtown’s colorful history. The lobby is filled with eclectic artwork, beautiful furniture, friendly hotel attendants, and a secret passage!

Just off to the left next to the elevator, you will find a square spiral staircase that is flooded with natural light that shines on a beautiful collection of framed art. We actually found ourselves taking the stairs most of the time!

All of the 26 rooms have been carefully curated, from the fabrics to the wallpaper, each one has its own unique vibe. Our room was perfectly situated with views of Market Square’s beautiful red brick buildings and bustling crowds. Because the hotel is situated on Market Square, it’s within walking distance of all types of entertainment. Downstairs on the promenade, you will find everything from rooftop bars (that you can apparently smoke in), eclectic restaurants with traditional southern staples, a boutique popcorn shop, and soda and candy shops galore!

Honestly, I have to say, our favorite restaurants were right in the hotel. There is a hallway through the lobby that leads you to Tupelo Honey for everything from fried chicken to the yummiest pimento cheese dip in a skillet, and The Oliver Royale. We ate here twice, once for brunch and once for a nice dinner…and if they would have been open for lunch on our last day, we would have been a third time!   

For brunch, definitely go for the pulled pork breakfast tacos, and for dinner, we loved the wild mushroom ravioli as well as the confit pork belly.

After dinner, we checked out “The Peter Kern Library ” which is located behind a sliding art-covered wall. Remember when I said the lobby had a secret passage? Well, when that door slides open you are greeted with the coziest prohibition-era speakeasy. From the decor to the craft drink menu, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

If you are looking for boutique accommodations and everything you need within walking distance…The Oliver Hotel is for you.

Out and About in Knoxville

Even though you don’t really need to leave the hotel, there is even more to explode in walking distance of The Oliver. A must-see is Strong Alley which is about ½ a block away and filled with all types of murals and graffiti (and surprisingly clean for being a downtown back alley). It’s a fun place to take pictures, and of course, make sure you get one with Dolly! A few other honorable mentions from our walk around the block: Definitely get a look at the historic Tennesse sign-on Gay Street, grab a coffee and get some work done at the Frothy Monkey, and although we didn’t partake…the Knox Box Karaoke bar was buzzing!

All in all, it was the perfect weekend. We were surrounded by close friends, a kind community, and yummy food, and there was just such a lovely energy that vibrated through the city. We loved our stay in Knoxville and can’t wait to go back! 

On our list for next time, here are some of the other spots that were recommended to me!

JC Holdway: Fine Dining
Chivo: Upscale Taco/Mexican-inspired
Stock & Barrel: Fancy burgers/nationally awarded

Tern Club – tropical/quirky
Valet – Retro cocktail bar in an old bank building, a very pretty ambiance 

French Market – crepes & such, sometimes very busy. Go early in the morning
Pete’s Café – breakfast and lunch, quick, southern, hearty

Bliss + Tori Mason Shoes on Gay Street
Earth to Old City in Market Square
Fizz in Market Square
Nothing too Fancy near Market Square
Rala Gifts in the Old City

Other Stuff:
Knoxville Museum of Art… is free, open on Saturday, and is cool for photos. Very close to the Marriott.

It goes without saying, that this is seriously a football town that celebrates its Vols at the University of Tennessee! So a college football game will always be a good idea!