If you are looking for for a great weekender, not too far from Atlanta, Chattanooga is a great option! It won’t be an expensive trip either with so many great free things to do.
Whether you are a city slicker or you love the great outdoors, you will find an abundance of activities in Chattanooga to suit any type of traveler.
As we were making the trip on a budget, here are our favorite free activities in the area.
Free Things to do in Chattanooga
One of the first things you will notice upon visiting Chattanooga is the Walnut Street Bridge, an old trestle style bridge that has the honor of being the longest pedestrian bridge in the USA!
On and around the bridge, along the Tennessee River, is a popular walking spot for locals. If you are looking for a great photo op of Chattanooga this is a great spot.
Attached to the Walnut Street Bridge is the Coolidge Park, one of the most beautiful and well loved riverside parks in Chattanooga.
Here you will see what life is really like in Chattanooga – it might even inspire you to move here as it is a very fit and healthy city.
In the park you will see people jogging or playing group sport. It is also a nice spot to soak up the sunshine or have a picnic. Parking is available at the park at a cost of $2 per hour.
After spending some tip at Coolidge Park, we would suggest walking over to the walk which is attached – Renaissance Park.
Walk along the riverfront or enjoy one of the many interesting food options surrounding the park including Julie Darling Donuts, Clumpies Ice Cream Co or Sushi Nabe for sushi lovers. Clumpies is known for having seriously delicious waffle cones.
If you have a cardbord box, bring it, as it is a thing to slide down the hill in the park on a cardboard box. We saw a couple doing in while we were there and later learnt that the hill has been nicknamed ‘Cardboard Hill’.
Parking is available at the park at a cost of $1 per hour.
Lookout mountain is one of the most popular free things to do in Chattanooga.
Along the mountain are various popular paid attractions like the famous Ruby Falls but if you are just happy to see a beautiful view you can drive straight to the top of the mountain.
Parking is available at the park at a cost of $3 per hour or free in the lot next to the visitor centre.
One of the coolest things just outside the downtown Chattanooga area is the Spaceship House, built in the 70s. Sometimes it features on TV for being one of the quirkiest houses in the country.
One of the most beautiful spots on Lookout Mountain is the Covenant College. Once a hotel, it is now a Christian liberal arts college. Go there if you are a fan of beautiful architecture.
Cemeteries are seeming like the new “it” thing to do while while travel. While we would usually poo-poo a cemetery, after experiencing interesting cemeteries in both Key West and Atlanta, our motto is never say never to a cemetery.
The Brainerd Mission Cemetery is a small but interesting cemetery dedicated to the Cherokee Indians.
The farmers market is one of the most popular places locals go in Chattanooga to get fresh produce. Other than produce, you can see local art and enjoy live music at the market. Open Sundays 11-4pm.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn
Probably one of the most interesting hotels and one of the best free things to see in Chattanooga is the Choo Choo Holiday Inn.
Back in 1906 this hotel was a train station. Inside, you can see what the former train station looked like as well as check out the shops and the restaurants.
If you are traveling to Chattanooga with kids you simply must make a stop at the Enterprise South Nature Park.
The great part about this park is you are able to see lots of animals including deer freely roam the park. For the active among us, there are also lots of walking and biking trails to enjoy in the park.
Another of the best nature centric places to check out while in the area is the stunning Tennessee Riverpark.
If you are up for a long or short walk, this beautiful piece of parkland stretches 10 miles along the Tennessee river.
Just outside of Chattanooga, you will find the small town of Chickamauga home to the Chickamauga Battlefield. Chickamauga is actually not in Tennessee but in Georgia as the town of Chattanooga straddles the Tennessee/ Georgia border.
It is thought to be one of cutest towns in Georgia with lots of darling restaurants and cafes to enjoy so its definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. One of the biggest drawcards of this town is the Chickamauga Battlefield.
In the year 1863, Union and Confederate forces battled for the control of Chattanooga. Along the many trails in the area you can still see monuments and markers set up on the battlefield which is both interesting and educational.
While you are in Chickamauga, you might also like to check out the Point Park Battlefield. This battlefield is famous as it is known for being the place where Union forces got height over the Confederate army.
The visitor centre and entry for kids under 16 are free while adults pay $3 entry to access this battlefield.
For those who are interested in the American Civil War and other wars, you might also like to check out the National Medal of Honor Musuem.
There is lots of interesting history in the museum and the best part is that it is entirely free to enter!
If you prefer art you might like to check out the Hunter Museum of American Art instead.
It is usually $20 to enter the museum but if you find yourself in Chattanooga on the first Thursday of the month, there is free entry to the permanent collection and $5 general admission to special exhibitions from 4 – 8 PM.
If your stay in Chattanooga falls on a Friday night, we would recommend joining the locals for a nightfall concert with local acts and musicians performing. The best part about it is that it is great entertainment and entirely free.
One of the most interesting places to go in Chattanooga is the Bluff View Art district, a hip area with restaurants, cafes, cool architecture and even a sculpture park to enjoy.
The Patio at Rembrandt’s is a great place to go for coffee and a light bite to eat in a beautiful historic building in the Bluff View Art district.
North Chick Blue Hole
In the warmer months of the year, locals flock to the North Chick Blue Hole just 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga.
This waterhole is a great place for a hike and a swim. For the more adventurous, there are numerous rocks along the way to jump in from.
Another alternative place to go for a swim in the hot summer months in Tennessee is the Chickamuaga Reservoir.
If you don’t feel like a dip you can also go fishing and boating in the Reservoir. Access is provided to the public with no fee.
The Trail of Tears is a very interesting & educational place to visit in Chattanooga. It memorializes the removal of the Cherokee tribes from Ross’ s Landing in Chattanooga to Oklahoma.
Free Festivals and Events
There are numerous free festivals and events throughout the year in Chattanooga including the popular nine-day concert called Riverbend in June which ends with a grand display of fireworks.
If you are on a romantic getaway to the area you might like to check out the Debarge Winery. It is free to visit the winery but purchase of delicious wines costs extra.
Fun Inexpensive Things to do in Chattanooga
One of the biggest drawcards of Chattanooga is the caving as it is home to over 7,000 caves. There is caving available at Ruby Falls or Raccoon Mountain offers some great caving tours.
One of the most popular and fun things to do in the area is to take a riverboat ride on the gorgeous Southern belle on the on the Tennessee River.
If you decide to head up to Lookout Mountain and want a good but cheap hiking spot, Lula Lake is always a safe bet.
Note, it is not always open to the public so check their website in advance of your visit. It costs $15 per car for a reservation to access the lake.
One of the most fun and cheap activities in the area is to go to a Lookout’s baseball game.
The stadium is located in the downtown area and it is super cheap for tickets. Here is their website if you want to check out the schedule of when they are playing.
The aquarium is not the cheapest attraction in the area at $35 an adult but it is certainly provides good bang for your buck with the abundance of cool things to see there including otters, frogs, turtles, sharks and penguins!
If you don’t want to pay to visit the aquarium you can watch the cute penguins all day gratis on the free live cam.
Affordable Places to Stay in Chattanooga
- Athena Inn Chattanooga – Probably the cheapest place to stay in town that is clean, comfortable and has consistently high review scores
- The Wingate – The Wingate is another great place to stay if you are traveling on a budget in Chattanooga. The hotel consistently gets great review scores and has a gorgeous lobby to relax in after a long day sightseeing.
- Country Inn and Suites – We are finding that Country Inn and suites is a pretty consistently safe bet for those wanting a clean and comfortable hotel that won’t break the bank.
Where next on a USA Vacay? Why not consider heading to Pigeon Forge, home to Dolly Parton, only 2 hours drive away!
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