Christmas in Knoxville is a time of family activities and holiday events. With thousands of Christmas lights strung between the poles along Gay Street and dozens of trees decked out with decor in Market Square the city is a gorgeous place to visit. I visited Knoxville one year for a week in December and went to a few of these exciting Christmas events.
Christmas in Knoxville
This article is part of the Christmas in Knoxville series, a travel guide I wrote after spending a week in December in Knoxville, TN. The travel guide will help you discover Christmas in the city during a weekend visit for the events, light displays, local shopping, dining, and lodging.
Regal Celebration of Lights
November 26, 2021 from 6-9 p.m.
The Friday after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the annual Regal Celebration of Lights with the tree lighting ceremony. When fellow travel blogger Clayton Hensley attended the event in 2018 he described it as “Christmas and the Fourth of July all wrapped into one.” Every night for the next few weeks (typically through the end of the year) Market Square and Kutcher Park are brightly decorated with lights and Christmas trees for visitors to enjoy.
Along with live music, the Holidays on Ice skating rink, and roaming groups of carolers, the Regal Celebration of Lights is a great way to end a day of shopping, eating, and exploring in Knoxville.
Admission is free.
WIVK Christmas Parade
December 3, 2021 at 7 p.m.
Everybody loves a good Christmas parade! The annual WIVK Christmas Parade winds through downtown Knoxville featuring high school marching bands, quirky entertainers, non-profit groups, and lots of Christmas-themed floats and decor. The parade is held at night so the majesty of the city’s Christmas decor adds to the thrill of watching the parade saunter past.
Admission is free.
Tour de Lights
Saturday, December 11, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
The Tour de Lights is one of the more funky Christmas events in Knoxville. The event is a 5-mile bicycle ride through downtown with participants decorating their bikes and wearing Christmas-themed costumes. Hundreds of people participate each year in an event that is increasingly popular and always interesting. Don’t want to participate? That’s fine, too. Bring out a chair along the parade route and just watch the people pedal past. The event lasts a few hours so it’s a great excuse to get downtown while doing some local shopping and dining along Gay Street and Market Square.
Admission and participation in the event are free.
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Christmas in the Cave
Select Days December 3-19, 2021
The annual Christmas in the Cave event is exactly that: it’s a Christmas event inside Cherokee Caverns. Thousands of Christmas lights line the cave walls as visitors gradually walk through the tunnels beneath the ground. Somewhere deep inside a Santa Claus photo booth awaits children eager to explain their Christmas wish lists. It’s an interesting event to attend and perfect for families!
The complete Christmas in the Cave 2021 schedule:
- Friday, December 3 from 5-9 p.m.
- Saturday, December 4 from 3-9 p.m.
- Sunday, December 5 from 3-9 p.m.
- Friday, December 10 from 5-8 p.m.
- Saturday, December 11 from 3-9 p.m.
- Sunday, December 12 from 3-9 p.m.
- Friday, December 17 from 5-9 p.m.
- Saturday, December 18 from 3-9 p.m.
- Sunday, December 19 from 3-9 p.m.
Admission is $12 per person ages 4 and older.
Christmas in Chilhowee Park
Friday, December 10, 2021 from 5:30-9 p.m.
Chilhowee Park is converted into an amazing Christmas destination throughout December called Christmas in Chilhowee Park. Thousands of lights are put on display around the small lake. Visitors can hop on a train ride around the park, get a photo with Santa Claus, enjoy hot cocoa and life music, and take part in one of the many free activities.
Admission is free.
Christmas at the Mabry-Hazen House
Friday and Saturday, December 11 & 12, 2021
The Mabry-Hazen House, built in 1858, has an impressive view atop a hill near downtown Knoxville. One weekend in December each year the house opens for a special tour during Christmas at the Mabry-Hazen House. Visitors will find authentic period Christmas decor, historically-inspired refreshments, and antique Christmas cards on display. It’s a really wonderful event and rather exclusive with just two days to enjoy it each year, although the museum is open for regular tours throughout the rest of the year.
The tours are offered on Saturday, December 11 from 5-8 p.m. and Sunday, December 12 from 2-5 p.m.
Price of admission is a requested donation of $5 per person.
Market Square Holiday Market
December 4, 11, and 18 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Throughout December, the Market Square Farmers’ Market is replaced with the Market Square Holiday Market. Hundreds of local artisans come out with their arts and crafts on display just in time for Christmas shopping. Food vendors set up along the side streets, carolers fill the air with Christmas melodies, and shoppers scour for the perfect unique gift idea.
Where to Stay
As home of the University of Tennessee, HGTV, and the largest city in eastern Tennessee, there are a lot of great hotels. Staying downtown would be preferred for convenience, but there are lots of other options depending on your budget.
Located at Exit 108 on I-75, the Red Roof Inn is an excellent budget-friendly choice. The renovated rooms of the motel feature faux hardwood floors, new furnishings, and plenty of outlets to charge all your devices. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or the Deluxe King Room with a sofa.
Also located at Exit 108, Best Western features an indoor swimming pool and hot tub perfect for those frigid December days. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single bed, or a suite with sleeper sofa.
Formerly a Holiday Inn, Marriott Knoxville Downtown is an excellent place to spend a few nights in the city. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown Christmas events, shopping, and dining. With an indoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant and bar, and comfortable rooms, you’ll enjoy your nights here.
Hampton Inn & Suites is always a great place to stay. The hotel is located downtown, though it would be a bit of a walk to shopping and dining. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or an additional sleeper sofa.
Hyatt Place is my top recommended hotel for Christmas in Knoxville. It’s located on Gay Street across from Krutch Park, making it the closest hotel to all the lights, events, shopping, and dining. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or a suite with sleeper sofa.
The Oliver Hotel is one of the best hotels in Knoxville. Located downtown, some of the rooms offer a stunning view overlooking Market Square and the downtown skyline. Choose from rooms two queen beds, a single king bed, or a suite with sleeper sofa.
The Tennessean is located beside World’s Fair Park at the edge of downtown. The hotel features on-site parking, on-site restaurant and bar, and some of the rooms are designed with marble walk-in showers. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, a single king bed, or the One Bedroom Suite with king bed, sleeper sofa, and stunning city view.