Knoxville, TN

5 Fun Things to Do in Knoxville This Winter

John M. Dabbs
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Are you sick and tired of being good and minding your manners? We can still be mindful citizens and get out of the house and enjoy the city. What are you waiting for? Be prepared, courteous, mask-up, and live your life.

1. Peppermint Grove's Christmas lights

Many people know downtown Knoxville is a special place. This is especially true during the holidays. in Market Square, you find it lit with holiday lights, bringing magic to the dark nights of winter. The lights brighten the mood and provide a safer outdoor environment.

The Peppermint Grove is lighting up Market Square. They wrap the large oak trees in thousands of red and white lights and top them off with peppermint stick lampposts. The festive flashing lights and storefronts sporting holiday decorations have created the square's own winter wonderland. As you walk through the area, you can't help but embrace the warm holiday cheer.

You'll find plenty of places for photos throughout Gay Street and Krutch Park. The 42-foot tree and holiday murals are pure magic. Embrace and feel the romance flowing through the area. You'll find even more in Old City, with its lampposts and artwork.

2. It's Hockey time in Tennessee

The Knoxville Ice Bears started in 2002 and was an inaugural and charter member of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) in 2004. Four-time SPHL Champions, the Ice Bears are experienced, and a well-established team. The Bears give fans unique and exciting intermission activities and lots of interaction with the players. The Ice Bears are an affordable, family-friendly way to enjoy hockey in the Knoxville area.

They play their home games at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. The Ice Bears made the playoffs every season since coming into existence. They defeated the Florida Seals in 2006 to take their first President's Cup. They also won back to back President's Cup Championships in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. In April of 2015, the Ice Bears defeated the Mississippi RiverKings 4-2, sweeping the 2015 SPHL Finals to win their 4th President's Cup.

3. The Zoo

Zoo Knoxville is not just an exhibit space. They are involved with conservation work and have received awards and recognition for saving East Tennessee's endangered bog turtle, and conduct ongoing research with native hellbender and mudpuppy salamanders. Zoo employees have traveled to distant lands to study animals in their native habitats, in places like the Komodo Islands, Madagascar, and Indonesia.

The zoo works with other zoological parks accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) on a collective Species Survival Plan for all animals that live in AZA-accredited zoos in North America ( They hope to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population within zoos, to ensure animals aren't lost to extinction when wild populations are in danger.

Zoo Knoxville's mission is to deliver a dynamic guest experience and inspire action for wildlife and wild places. Currently, Masks are required for entry to the zoo to comply with the Mayor of Knoxville's executive order. Masks or cloth face coverings are required for ages 12 and up. Masks must be worn inside all zoo public indoor areas (restrooms, viewing areas, restaurants, and shops). They are not required for outdoor areas. You'll be asked to show your mask during entry, and the zoo will be selling disposable masks at cost for visitors who do not have a mask.

Zoo Knoxville appreciates your help and to follow the order and asks guests to help them stay open by following core actions, such as:

  • Practicing social/physical distancing
  • Wearing a mask or cloth face covering (for those 12 and older)
  • Staying home if you are sick
  • Practice proper and frequent handwashing

We have made changes due to the pandemic to ensure we can continue operations. Here are some changes you'll notice during your stay:

  • Advance online purchase for general admission tickets is recommended.
  • Indoor seating will be available at Beastro Cafe, following the Knox County Health Department-Phase 2 guidelines.
  • Kids Cove will be partially opened as safe physical distancing allows
  • Night Club and Aviary will remain closed at this time.
  • Animal contact yard will be open.
  • Sandbox and playground are partially opened as safe physical distancing allows.
  • The Fuzzy-Go-Round Carousel and Zoo-Choo Train are open.
  • Wee Play Adventure is open for animal viewing only.
  • Elephant indoor viewing and Langur indoor viewing are open. Traffic is one-way traffic and doors are to be propped open.
  • Kids Cove Barn Loft is open as a nursing station.
  • Asian Trek Treehouse is open but tiger viewing at the bottom level will be restricted.
  • Strollers and electric scooters are not allowed on the Asian Trek swinging bridge. Access is limited to one group on the bridge at a time.

Tickets can be purchased on-site, but we encourage you to purchase tickets online to minimize contact for your safety and ours. You may be asked to delay entry if we are at capacity. If you are a member or pass-holder, you do not need a reservation - just show your pass at the front gate for entry.

All indoor areas and any outdoor areas that make it difficult to maintain physical distancing will be closed, so that we may stay in compliance with guidelines set forth by the Knox County Health Department to ensure everyone's safety. Our cleaning protocols include a scheduled wipe-down and cleaning of all benches, railings, and other similar contact points three times a day. We also use a deep-cleaning sanitizer spray before opening each day.

4. Tours

With a city the size of Knoxville, there has to be a few tours to check out. Here are a few notable tours - others can be found on the website.

Mural Tour

Most everyone enjoys Knoxville’s downtown mural tour. Get creative! Take photos of the murals and post them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever app is hip nowadays. Get the little ones in on the act and get them in the shots, or post a selfie!

The Maker City Tour

Knoxville is a city where things are made, hence "The Maker City". Dumpsters, PET-CT scanners, Dews, Brews, and distilled beverages are all made here. Knoxville has a heritage of craftsmen (craftspeople?) and manufacturers. Their legacy lives on today. Many of these can be found on the Maker City Tour.

Many of these are now open for drop-in visits on our new Maker City Tour. Visitors can see glassblowers in action, watch silk screening, metal workers, woodworkers, chocolatiers, potters, brewers, and designers. They make everything from glassware to gin, custom jewelry to forged iron sculpture. Take the tour and be inspired by these artisans. You may want to take home some of their wares for your own bit of Made-In-Knoxville history.

Knoxville Breweries

Knoxville, like many other cities, is home to an ever-expanding population of craft beer brewers. The tour allows you to relax with some of the country's best beer and the city's finest people. Enjoy a craft beer or experience artisans blowing hand-crafted beer glasses. Your brewers can be seen in action, perfecting their brews in an industrial space. You can view it or just relax and enjoy the tasting rooms. You can find these on tap in Knoxville, whether you prefer traditional beer, German brews, or maybe a mead.

5. Museums & Galleries

Knoxville has something for everyone. The museums and galleries tell the story of our culture and heritage. The city is home to a community of diverse artists, cultural and artistic organizations. You can find a concentration of these in the Arts District along Gay Street.

While some of the museums and galleries are still open, others have closed or have moved to virtual experiences only. Consult the individual facilities for the current status.


The Museum of East Tennessee History is home to award-winning exhibits that are always changing. It tells the story of the people and events that shaped the region.


The Knoxville Museum of Art is a celebration of the art and artists of East Tennessee. It is located near World’s Fair Park.


The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture building at the Univerity of Tennessee was funded by Judge John and Ellen McClung Green of Knoxville as a memorial to Mrs. Green’s father, Frank H. McClung—a Knoxville merchant and descendant of James White, the founder of Knoxville.

The museum's exhibits focus on natural history, archaeology, anthropology, decorative arts, and local history. The Museum hosts various exhibits of art, history, and culture which are ever-changing. The museum will host a four-week webinar featuring world-renowned experts on Easter Island, Chile (Rapa Nui), beginning January 21, 2021.

Women's Basketball Hall of Fame

The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame opened in June 1999. The facility is the only one of its kind dedicated to all levels of women’s basketball. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame celebrated its 21st Anniversary with the 2019 induction ceremony. It added seven new members to its prestigious Hall, honoring 171 inductees. In addition to preserving the history of the game, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is also used as a venue for special events, proms, wedding receptions, corporate meetings, birthday parties, reunions, and more.

There is much ado and much to do in Knoxville

You'll find lots to see and do in Knoxville, even during the winter months. I hope this list gives you some good ideas. If not, check out for more ideas. You'll also see more ideas at Tripadvisor, though the majority of them are outside of Knoxville.

It's a great city. A good place to work, live, raise a family... or just visit.

Get out and enjoy it.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN

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