Earlier this spring, we traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee for a four-day, three-night family trip. Chattanooga is less than 3 hours from Nashville, and we absolutely loved our time there.
Below is an overview of what we did over the course of three days (we left on the fourth day), which I hope will be helpful if you ever plan a trip there and in determining how much time you need for various attractions. Our kids are 7, 4 and 1, so that also played into what we chose to do!
We drove to Chattanooga early one morning, so we had about 2/3 of a day to enjoy. Being located less than 3 hours from Nashville + having the benefit of a time change really worked in our favor. We enjoyed lunch downtown, checked out some of the cities amazing sculptures, then headed to our first excursion.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum: For a quiet, memorable morning or afternoon, check out the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. When you come upon the museum, you’ll have the opportunity to check out a bunch of old trains and go inside several train cars.
Then, get a ticket to ride on Missionary Ridge. Our kids LOVED the steam coming out of the train when it pulled up to the station. The whole experience took less than 2 hours.
We decided to do an AirBNB for our lodging in Chattanooga and checked in late in the afternoon. It was way more affordable than a hotel and gave us more space with the kids. We loved the little apartment (The Carriage House) we stayed in on Lookout Mountain.
Our first full day in Chattanooga was so much fun.
Creative Discovery Museum: As one of the nation’s top children’s museums, the Creative Discovery Museum is perfect for young families.
We spent about 2.5 hours there, which was ample time to enjoy most of what the museum had to offer. A few of my kids’ favorites included the water play area, the art and music exhibits and the toy cars.
Tennessee Aquarium: Like the Creative Discovery Museum, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is ranked one of the nation’s best. It might be my favorite that I have ever visited.
The aquarium is divided into two buildings – the ocean building and the river building. A few friends recommended to start in the river building because the ocean building is better and therefore makes the whole experience better to end there. Honestly, we loved the river building, so I think you could start with either.
The Aquarium’s website is excellent in describing all that you will see. A few favorites included Stingray Bay where you could touch the stingrays, the Butterfly garden (it was amazing having butterflies fluttering around and landing on us), the jellyfish exhibit (Ezra’s favorite!) and the River Giants.
IMAX: An IMAX 3-D theater is always fun for kids and adults! The IMAX is affiliated with the aquarium and in the same general area. We visited it after lunch and it was good way to have a quiet time before going to the aquarium.
Note: Our family did the Creative Discovery Museum in the morning (including eating lunch there), then went to the IMAX and then the aquarium. It was a full day, but very doable and fun. All three are in walking distance of one another.
The Pumpkin Playground: We found out about Chattanooga’s Pumpkin Playground from our AirBNB hosts and I am SO glad they told us about it.Without question, it is the coolest playground I have visited. It blew my mind, and my kids were in heaven. Pictures can’t do it justice.
The Pumpkin Playground has so many different areas to explore and includes jungle gyms made of tires, a zipline, swings, the biggest slide I have ever seen at a playground and so much more. We could have stayed half a day and my kids would have been happy. DEFINITELY worth adding to your Chattanooga vacation list.
Day three was all about the iconic Ruby Falls and Rock City, both extremely well-known when people think of the Chattanooga area. We had never visited either and had a blast!
Ruby Falls: Ruby Falls is a waterfall located 1,120 feet below ground in Lookout Mountain. It was discovered in 1928 and opened as an attraction in 1930.
We really enjoyed our guided tour through the underground cavern and the kids were still talking about it well after the visit. Definitely worth experiencing!
Rock City: We absolutely LOVED Rock City. Before going, we really didn’t know much about it – just that everyone who vacations in Chattanooga goes there.
Rock City has so much charm and wonder with its massive ancient rock formations, lush gardens and breathtaking “See 7 States” panoramic views.
It also includes an “Enchanted Trail” with fairy and gnome statues, as well as Fairyland Caverns and Mother Good Village, which are reminiscent of old school Disney puppets. It is a must-experience for a Chattanooga family vacation.
Note: We did Ruby Falls and Rock City before lunch. No need to plan a whole day to do these two attractions. For lunch, skip eating at Rock City and instead go to Cafe on the Corner. It was one of our favorite restaurants in Chattanooga.
Clumpies Ice Cream: If you have time, definitely make a stop at Clumpies Ice Cream for some delightful and unusual ice cream flavors. I had the carrot cake ice cream and it might be one of my favorite ice creams ever (clearly it was seasonal due to Easter being around the corner!) The shop is charming and the ice cream is delicious.
Shop: Chattanooga has many charming stores to visit, especially on Frazier Ave. While you are there, be sure to check out Blue Skies. It’s utterly adorable and has an amazing selection of books, paper products and gifts.
Incline Railroad: We did the Incline Railroad on our way out of town and this was the only fail of the trip. I would not recommend people spend money on this attraction. It is very short and not worth the ticket price. I’m only glad we did it to tell you not to do it.
Chattanooga is a wonderful city for families and a perfect vacation getaway.
For more inspiration of what to do in Chattanooga, check out this post of 30 Things for Your Family to Do in Chattanooga. It makes me want to plan my next trip right away!
Disclosure: Thank you to the Chattanooga Visitor’s Bureau who, after learning we had booked a visit, provided adult passes for Matthew and me for some of our excursions.