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In a time of social distancing, we are all looking for safe ways to connect ­– with our own communities and those we are visiting. Knoxville, Tennessee is uniquely situated to accommodate these concerns, balancing a thriving city culture and a responsible travel mindset.

With a delicious food and drink scene and a thriving arts culture Knoxville has embraced a safety-oriented approach to welcoming visitors, and those looking to responsibly enjoy The Maker City will find no shortage of options.

Knoxville Tennessee Downtown Restaurants and Bars on Market Square
Colorful restaurants, bars and businesses border Market Square in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee © benedek / Getty Images

Al fresco dining in Appalachia

Knoxville has fostered an exciting culinary energy, and visitors can choose from a wide selection of local businesses that provide safe dining experiences.

Oli Bea, located in the Old City, offers a fresh take on breakfast focusing on local and sustainable ingredients. Owner Jeffrey DeAlejandro has crafted a simple, effective menu that showcases playful food combos, many of which are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Don’t miss the Cruze Farm Buttermilk Lemon pancakes, a tasty staple with a citrusy twist. Oli Bea offers dine-in, take-out and patio dining options.

On Knoxville’s Market Square, the large covered patio of Café 4 makes for an ideal setting to enjoy a meal and take in the city scenes. Its menu features modern American dishes to suit a wide range of tastes, and the restaurant’s bar offers a solid list of signature cocktails.

For a more contemporary take on local flavor, head to Central Filling Station – an open-air food truck park – to sample the best of Knoxville’s culinary scene on wheels. Check the daily lineup on its website and choose from trucks serving up ramen, barbecue, tacos and more. On Wednesday nights, test your knowledge with the Knox Trivia Guys.

Schulz Bräu has a large Biergarten to enjoy drinks with plenty of social distance © Bailey Freeman / Lonely Planet

Beer gardens of the Knoxville Ale Trail

Knoxville has seen a beer renaissance over the last ten years, with breweries coming to define a large part of the city’s food and drink scene. Each one brings its own flavor to Knoxville’s Ale Trail, and craft beer aficionados can grab an Ale Trail passport from any participating brewery to document the journey.

Schulz Bräu brings the famed suds of Germany to East Tennessee – their takes on Deutschland classics delight beer enthusiasts with their malty, nuanced flavors, and the brewery has won national and international awards for its work. Schulz Bräu’s large Biergarten allows for folks to enjoy their drinks with plenty of social distance; order a small, medium or ambitiously large stein and a soft pretzel and feel yourself transported to Oktoberfest.

Housed in a former auto garage in the Knoxville neighborhood of Bearden, Abridged serves a nice selection of beers and a particularly well-conceived pub food menu. Grab a seat on the patio and dive into the Fried Green Tomato BLT and the New England IPA Toppy Rock for a delightful interplay of bright and savory flavors.

Hops and Hollers’ astro-turfed patio serves as a perfect spot to enjoy a pint, the weather, and a rousing game of bocce ball. This friendly beer bar serves up a variety of options from local and regional brewers, giving visitors a good cross-section of what the area has to offer. Come on Thursday nights for trivia and special deals on pitchers.

The Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville was built in 1928 in the 1908 Burwell Building, which is the city's first skyscraper © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock

Knoxville’s alternative art experiences

Knoxville’s creative energy isn’t limited to its restaurants, bars and breweries – a thriving arts and maker community runs through the town as well.

Knoxville’s outdoor spaces are splashed with murals from local and visiting artists, depicting everything from Appalachian wildlife and Knoxville history to the region’s patron saint Dolly Parton. Visit Knoxville has compiled an interactive map of the city’s outdoor art – design your own walking tour and check off your favorites.

Indoors, The Maker City has a sophisticated gallery scene and these spaces are doing their due diligence when it comes to COVID-19 safety. Don’t miss the Emporium Center for Arts and Culture, the University of Tennessee Downtown Gallery, and the Art Market Gallery, all located in Knoxville’s Art District.

While Knoxville’s famed Tennessee Theatre – the official State Theatre of Tennessee – has temporarily gone dark, the passionate people behind this institution have quickly adapted new ways for people to enjoy the remarkable space. Built in 1928, the ornate movie palace turned world class performing arts center is now offering behind-the-scenes tours to small groups, giving people an up-close look at one of the city’s most storied art venues. A Basic tour ($15) takes you through the history of the theater’s main rooms, while the Deluxe tour ($25) explores unique spaces including the projection booth, attic and more.

Knoxville is located within a relatively short road trip from many large cities in the United States © Kevin Ruck / Shutterstock

Getting there & around

Knoxville is located less than four hours from several major cities including Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Lexington, making it an ideal hub from which to explore southern Appalachia.

Once you’ve arrived, the city itself is accessible by car, but also by bike – it’s home to 85 miles of paved, cycle-friendly greenways. Downtown and the Old City are walkable, and a free trolley allows for quick transport around the city.

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Sponsored by Visit Knoxville

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This story was crafted collaboratively between Visit Knoxville and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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