12 Unique Things to Do in and around Gatlinburg

by Paul Joseph  |  Published October 18, 2023

The mountain town of Gatlinburg is best known as a jumping-off point for trips into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park –  but it has plenty of attractions of its own, too.

The Space Needle seen through lush green landscapes (Photo: Eric via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Nestled amid the formidable mountains of eastern Tennessee, the quaint town attracts large numbers of visitors throughout the year with it’s beautiful natural scenery, great shopping, and colourful history. Many of its attractions are lent extra drama by sweeping vistas of the neighbouring national park which dominates the surrounding landscape. We’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do in and around Gatlinburg.

Take in the views from the Space Needle observation deck

Adorning many a postcard and promotional tourism poster, the Gatlinburg Space Needle is arguably the city’s most recognisable landmark. Overlooking downtown Gatlinburg, the 407-foot tower has been a beacon on the cityscape since its completion in 1969, and attracts huge numbers of visitors who come to enjoy the panoramic views of the city, the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond from the observation deck, reachable via a glass elevator. At the base of the tower is also an entertainment centre complete with video games arcade, escape games, and a magic show theatre.

115 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg / Mon-Fri 10am-1am Sat 9am-am Sun 9am-2am

Hit the rides at a famous theme park

One of Tennessee’s most famous attractions, Dollywood theme park draws huge numbers of visitors every year. Co-owned by iconic American country singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, the 150-acre park, perched in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge offers a dazzling assortment of rides and activities including roller coaster, live shows, and more. Visitors can also upgrade and gain access to the nearby Splash Country, a 35-acre outdoor water park with high-speed water slides, lazy rivers, splash pools, and wave pools.

2700 Dollywood Parks Boulevard, Pigeon Forge / Weds-Mon 10am-9pm Closed Tues

You can book tickets for Dollywood at GetYourGuide

Pumpkins on display at Dollywood (Photo: Joel via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

Explore a majestic national park 

Perhaps Gatlinburg’s biggest draw is its proximity to the awe-inspiring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this sprawling landscape teems with, lush forests, blooming wildflowers, streams, rivers and waterfalls that make it a mecca for lovers of the great outdoors. There are several hiking routes, including a section of the legendary Appalachian Trail, while an observation tower atop the area’s highest peak, Clingmans Dome, offers sensational views of the mist-covered mountains.

Attend a craft fair

Visitors to Gatlinburg in July or October who are seeking a gift or a memento from their trip need look no further than the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair. Held biannually, the hugely popular event sees artisans and craftsmen from across Tennessee and beyond congregate to demonstrate their talents and sell their creative wares. All items presented are handmade, with everything from pottery pieces, painted artwork, moulded leather, copper art, local candy and photography on show. There’s plenty to do for kids as well, including demonstrations, hands-on arts and crafts, and a chance to meet and engage with the artists in attendance. Meanwhile daily music shows featuring contemporary country, bluegrass, and gospel add to the atmosphere.

Gatlinburg Convention Center / July & October each year

Watch a dazzling display of cheerleading

Twice a year, Independent Cheer & Dance Event Producer Spirit Brands plays host to two eagerly awaited events right here in Gatlinburg. In December, the festival cheer and dance championships take place comprised of stunts, jumps, tumbling, pyramids and dance, while in April the Spirit Brands Nationals comes along. Both events are open to all-comers aged 3-55, with teams from anywhere in the US able to compete – including college, recreation, school, private clubs, all stars, novice, prep teams, and dance troupes.

April & December each year

An acrobatic performance at a Spirit Brands event (Photo: Spirit Brands)

Relive the fateful story of the Titanic

Located in Pigeon Forge, around 10 miles north of Gatlinburg, is a museum that bring to life a tragic event that has gained almost mythical dimensions down the years. The Titanic Museum features a half-scale model of the original ship which embarked on its fateful maiden voyage over a century ago before sinking in the North Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg. Visitors to the museum can relive the harrowing tale while following the story of a real passenger, with the chance to explore recreations of the Titanic’s cabins and suites, along with exhibits that include a real iceberg and original artifacts from the ship itself.

2134 Parkway, Pigeon Forge / Mon-Sun 9am-8pm

You can book admission tickets to The Titanic Museum at Viator

A recreation of the eponymous passenger liner at the Titanic Museum (Photo: Mike Burton via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

Enter a spine-tingling haunted house (if you dare)

Nestled among the Smoky Mountains is a Victorian-style house said to be occupied by the ghosts of a family that, legend has it, went insane and killed each other over a century ago. Ever since, Mysterious Mansion is said to have been brimming with paranormal activity. Those of a steely disposition can take self-guided tours of the three-storey house and its various nooks and crannies, including a creepy parlor room and a secret passageway. Throughout the walk, live characters in full costume and makeup will suddenly  appear to frighten the pants off you, before returning to their ethereal state. The attraction is recommended for children over 8.

424 River Road, Gatlinburg / Mon-Thurs 3pm-10pm Fri-Sun 5am-12am

Get up close and personal with an array of marine life

An ideal rainy day attraction, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies invites visitors to come face to face with an incredible collection of exotic sea life. Among the marine creatures that reside here are 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, penguins, jellyfish, stingrays and more. Highlights include the Penguin Playhouse where you can view these famously flightless birds from above or below the water, and even pop up on the penguins’ private beach to get nose-to-beak with your new feathered friends There’s also a shark lagoon that lets you pass over the fearsome beasts of the ocean aboard a glass bottom boat.

88 River Road, Gatlinburg / Mon-Thurs 9am-9pm Fri-Sun 9am-10pm

A shark enclosure at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (Photo: Todd Fowler via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Delve into Gatlinburg’s darker side

Every city has a dark underbelly and Gatlinburg is no different. Beneath the family-friendly facade, this former frontier town is steeped in violence, greed, and heartbreak that lives on through folklore passed from one generation to the next. From vengeful Cherokee spirits to wandering phantom pioneers, the city’s spooky and often sordid past lingers in the background – always. Among the city’s (supposedly) haunted sites that can be discovered on ghost tours are the bone-chilling White Oak Flats Cemetery, home of the infamous Gatlinburg Witch, and Room 11 at the Gatlinburg Inn.

You can book a Gatlinburg ghost tour at GetYourGuide

One of Gatlinburg’s spooky sites (Photo: US Ghost Adventures / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Test your mettle on a mountain zipwire

Not an attraction for the faint-hearted, Gatlinburg Mountaintop Zipline takes thrill-seekers on a captivating treetop adventure – at some serious speeds. Starting with an ATV ride to the top of the mountain, you’ll have the choice of six zipline runs, four sky bridges, and the opportunity to rappel off a platform. As you’re propelled along the zip wires, you can soak up the 360 degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains – if you dare to open your eyes, that is. Bottled water is included in the price.

You can book tickets for this zipline experience at Viator

Catch some live performing arts

With so much to see and do in the great outdoors, it’s easy to make the mistake of imagining that Gatlinburg’s appeal starts and ends with its picture-postcard natural scenery. But the city also offers plenty of man-made attractions, and at the heart of its vibrant cultural scene is Iris Theatre, which plays host to a busy programme of shows and events at its intimate, 89-seat, downtown arena. Whether it’s theatre, dance, comedy or music, there’s something to satisfy every taste on offer here.

115 Historic Nature Trail 

Admire Gatlinburg from the sky

Gatlinburg and its surroundings are pleasing on the eye from any vantage point, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the area from the sky. That enticing prospect awaits those who are daring enough to book onto a helicopter tour that offers a bird’s-eye view of the Pigeon Forge Parkway, downtown Gatlinburg, and other scenic spots including Mount LeConte, one of Tennessee’s highest mountains. As you soar through the sky, your pilot will provide interesting facts about the the landmarks below and the wider region.

You can book a Gatlinburg helicopter tour at GetYourGuide

A helicopter soars through the air above verdant trees near Gatlinburg (Photo: Scenic Helicopter Tours / Courtesy GetYourGuide)