Top 4 Museums in Knoxville, Tennessee

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Whether you're visiting Knoxville in the middle of winter or are local and looking for something to do on a rainy day, this Tennessee city has no shortage of indoor activities to choose from.

And one of its top attractions is its many museums. From history museums to art museums, there's a museum for every taste and interest, as well as every age, to choose from.

But these museums are more than just a great day trip or vacation outing for your family; they also make for the perfect thoughtful gifts for friends and family. With a virtual GiftYa card, you can choose a museum that will inspire or entertain the recipient. Unlike a generic gift card to a store or restaurant, choosing a museum that you're certain they'll love shows that you put thought and care into choosing just the right gift. Adding a personalized message of congratulations, to say happy birthday, or even just to tell them to have a great time makes this a simple, yet meaningful gift for anyone in your life.

If you have someone in your life that you'd like to gift an experience this birthday or holiday rather than material things, keep reading to learn 4 of the best museums in Knoxville, Tennessee.

1. Knoxville Museum of Art

A modern art museum showcasing the art and artists of East Tennessee.

Stroll a mix of modern and vintage artwork made by artists across East Tennessee. Image courtesy of Yelp.

1050 Worlds Fair Park Dr. | Knoxville |

Whether you're interested in art or in learning more about the rich history of East Tennessee, the Knoxville Museum of Art is a must-see. Located in downtown Knoxville, at the site of the 1982 World's Fair, this museum is free for all to visit. It features a mix of permanent and rotating art exhibits. It specifically features art and artists of East Tennessee. While this may not be a segment of art that you've previously thought about, you certainly have a newfound respect for the culture and talents of this region after you visit this museum.

While the museum is free, if you want to encourage a friend or family member to visit and enhance their time at the museum, a gift card is still a great choice. They can use it for workshops or special events that charge a fee. Or, they can browse the museum's gift shop for hand-crafted jewelry, art, children's toys and games, and more.

"Beautiful art museum, and for free! They're taking all safety precautions by requiring a mask, social distancing, etc. you have to reserve a time slot to go in which is nice so the museum is never crowded. I loved their range of art from modern, contemporary, to classic. So happy I visited on my trip to Knoxville! "-Yelp Review

Purchase a GiftYa card for the Knoxville Museum of Art.

2. McClung Museum Of Natural History & Culture

Family-friendly museum offering exhibits on natural history and culture in the region.

A Smithsonian Affiliate museum with exhibits on Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, and more. Image Courtesy of Yelp.

1327 Circle Park Dr | Knoxville |

Operated by The University of Tennessee, what this museum lacks in size it makes up for in its many diverse and immersive exhibits. The McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture is home to a number of interesting permanent exhibits, as well as special exhibitions that are rotated every few months. Permanent exhibits include:

The museum was officially founded on June 1, 1963, and it has the distinction of being a Smithsonian Affiliate. While admission is free, a gift card is perfect for purchasing a souvenir of your visit from the museum's gift shop.

"This is a small but lovely museum that has prehistoric, ancient, decorative arts, human evolution, and local history exhibits.

Displays are quite beautifully curated and designed. Excellent descriptions and explanations and good flow and lighting throughout. There are several videos throughout the museum. Highly recommend the downstairs human evolution exhibit, which is beautifully presented and informative.

Staff is friendly and helpful. There is a small gift shop at the entrance/exit. Free admission and free parking. Great place for kids." -Yelp Review

Purchase a GiftYa card for the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture.

3. Museum of East Tennessee

A museum showcasing the art, culture, and history of East Tennessee.

Immersive exhibits await in this regional gem. Image courtesy of Yelp.

601 S Gay St | Knoxville |

If you're looking to dive a little deeper into the rich history of the region, a visit to the Museum of East Tennessee is a great choice. While the region may not be on the first page of most textbooks, it has a rich history. It's the home of an atomic energy facility, the site of Civil War battles, and an area rich in artifacts and sites that once belonged to Native American tribes. The Museum of East Tennessee aims to showcase these and other facts about the area.

The museum features a collection of more than 13,000 artifacts showcasing the history of the region. This includes artwork, furniture, textiles, and more, dating back to the Civil War and Native American times. There are also rotating exhibits that center on a variety of subjects. As of March of 2021, the current rotating exhibit is called, "Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee." Past exhibits have included "Black& White: Knoxville in the Jim Crow Era" and "It'll Tickle Yore Innards: A (Hillbilly) History of Mountain Dew."

"Beautiful museum in the heart of Downtown "K-town"... better known as Knoxville. Being in my hometown is always an amazing experience but I really enjoyed my day at the Historical Society because we learned so much about the area, its people, and our history.

There are free genealogy classes on Saturday and remember if you are planning on going into the research area with all the book on the third floor you will be required to put your purse or back pack in a locker. " -Yelp Review

Purchase a GiftYa card for the Museum of East Tennessee.

4. Old Smoky Railway Museum

A small museum showcasing a collection of historic railway cars and cabooses.

Climb aboard a train car or caboose at this small, but unique museum. Image courtesy of Yelp.

If you have a train lover in your family, or anyone with an interest in the history of transportation, this small but unique museum is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. The Old Smoky Railway Museum is located just a short distance from downtown Knoxville. It's situated near a once-grand train depot that welcomed millions of travelers from across the country arriving in or passing through this southern city. In sharp contrast, and perhaps as a testament to the use of trains in this country today, the museum is also close to an active Norfolk Southern freight yard, where trains continue to pass in and out of delivering a variety of goods.

While there isn't a large traditional museum on-site, there are several train cars and cabooses that you can view and even climb aboard. It's a great chance to learn about what travel on the rails was like just a century ago. Run by railroad enthusiasts, there are staff members on-hand to answer any questions or to educate little ones on the history of a public transportation form that has almost entirely disappeared in this country today,

"Viewed the exterior of cars being upgraded on the interior for tours and events. Knoxville's railroad history is rich with past passenger routes and freight today. There is a viewing platform to watch the occasional thru freight and a retail business inside the depot. A written text available for self-guided tours has much about passenger trains thru here when these cars were in use." -TripAdvisor Review

Purchase a GiftYa card for Old Smoky Railway Museum.

Knoxville is a city that sometimes flies under the radar. But whether you're a local or passing through, it offers an abundance of southern charm, as well as plenty of world-class museums, that make it well worth a visit--or two! Whether you have little ones who love trains or are a couple looking for a great date at an art museum, any of the options on this list could be a great choice.


Written by

Trae Bodge

Trae Bodge is the shopping expert here at GiftYa. Trae helps people find the best deals and ideas on popular new items to purchase.

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