A Traveler’s Guide to Christmas in Knoxville, TN

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
January 2, 2015

Beautiful Christmas lights, exciting events, the Holiday Market, and fantastic local food and shopping make Knoxville, Tennessee a wonderful place to visit during Christmas.

Christmas in Knoxville means fun family activities, exciting events, beautiful Christmas light displays, and lots of local shopping. Centered around Market Square and spread throughout Northeast Tennessee there are plenty of ways to enjoy the Christmas season in the city. One year Visit Knoxville hosted me for a week in December and took me around the city to see the events, lights, discover some local shopping, and devour delicious meals.

Here is a traveler’s guide to where to shop, eat, sleep, and enjoy everything about Christmas in Knoxville for yourself.

People enjoy the skating rink at Market Square in Knoxville, TN on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

Visitors enjoy an evening in the ice skating rink in Market Square during the Holidays on Ice. Do you know how to skate on ice?

Market Square Events and Activities

At the heart of downtown Knoxville, Market Square becomes a hub for several Christmas events and activities. It’s a wonderfully exciting place to visit any day of the year but during this time of year Market Square becomes a Christmas in Knoxville wonderland. An ice skating rink, the Holiday Market, the Regal Celebration of Lights, boutique shops, and local restaurants make this a one-stop destination for Christmas fun in Knoxville.
Here are a few of the events and activities in Market Square this time of year:

  • Regal Celebration of Lights – The day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the annual Regal Celebration of Lights in downtown Knoxville. It all begins with the tree lighting ceremony that local travel blogger Clayton Hensley said was “like Christmas and the Fourth of July all wrapped into one.” For the next few weeks Market Square and Kutcher Park come alive every night with photos with Santa, live music, and carolers. After the initial ceremony the beautiful Christmas lights remain throughout the urban park through the end of the year, making for a beautiful walk after the sun goes down.
  • Holidays on Ice – Where can you find 160,000 pounds of ice covered with giddy adults and children? The Holidays on Ice is an open-air ice skating rink installed each year in Market Square. With a giant canopy tent overhead it’s the perfect evening activity for adults and children alike.
  • Market Square Holiday Market – Each Saturday in December before Christmas the Market Square Holiday Market brings local arts and crafts to downtown shoppers. Food trucks line the streets around Market Square while local artisans display their wares from 11am – 5pm.

Read More: Market Square: A One-Stop Destination for Christmas Fun in Knoxville, TN

People fill the seats for a free screening of the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life" at the historic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, TN on Sunday, December 14, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The crowd slowly filled the Tennessee Theatre in anticipation for the annual screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, my favorite Christmas movie.

Christmas Events

The Christmas events in Knoxville are not just limited to Market Square. All around the city and surrounding area are exciting events for the whole family spanning nearly five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here are a few of the highlights of Christmas events in Knoxville. Click here to see their full list.

  • Christmas in Chilhowee Park – There is only one place in Knoxville where you can get a photo with Santa, enjoy live music, devour some fresh s’mores and hot cocoa, and go for train rides through a beautiful light display around a small lake. Christmas in Chilhowee Park is one of the more family-friendly events during Christmas in Knoxville, but it also happened to be my only chance to get a photo with Santa.
  • WIVK Christmas Parade – Usually on the first Friday in December the WIVK Christmas Parade marches down Gay Street complete with high school marching bands, floats full of holiday decor and cheer, and exciting exhibitions.
  • Tour de Lights – Have you ever wanted to dress up in a Christmas costume, decorate your bicycle, and pedal through downtown Knoxville? The Tour de Lights is an amazing event where participants get to do just that as well as win prizes for best costume, bicycle decor, and helmet design.
  • Christmas in the Cave – Have you ever wanted to explore a cave filled with Christmas lights, holiday music, and get your photo with Santa fifty feet below ground? That’s exactly what you can do at Cherokee Caverns every Saturday and Sunday night for two weeks in December.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life Screening at the Tennessee Theatre – An annual Christmas tradition in Knoxville includes the screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the historic Tennessee Theatre. Best part? It’s free!

Read More: 8 Exciting Christmas Events in Knoxville, TN

Christmas lights decorate trees down an alley off Market Square in Knoxville, TN on Monday, December 15, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The streets stay lit all night with Christmas lights on trees, buildings, and around ever corner throughout downtown Knoxville.

Christmas Lights

Christmas in Knoxville is most apparent when the sun goes down and the millions of lights twinkle to life. Giant trees, wreaths on every post, and lights draped over shrubbery are just a few ways the nights come to life.

The Regal Celebration of Lights in Market Square is one way to enjoy the Christmas lights in Knoxville. Another great location to take a stroll is Gay Street just one block away where you’ll find lights strung across the street and dozens of window shops decorated for the holidays.

The local businesses get into the action with lights inside and out at restaurants, boutique shops, hotels, and more. In fact during my five days in Knoxville for Christmas I rarely walked into any business without seeing decor all day and lights all night.

Read More: 14 Favorite Photos of Christmas in Knoxville, TN

Beautiful lantern jars from Wright Mason at the Holiday Market at Market Square in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, December 13, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The Holiday Market is a great place to find locally made arts and crafts and find the perfect Christmas gift for someone in your life.

Shopping

You’ll find some of the best local shopping around Market Square, especially during the Holiday Market each Saturday in December before Christmas, but that’s not the only place to do some shopping for the perfect gift.

Here are a few “shopping districts” in and around Knoxville to explore:

  • Market Square – Right in the heart of downtown Knoxville is Market Square. It was once the sight of the train station (that is sadly gone now) but today is a public park and square surrounded by local shops and eateries.
  • Downtown Knoxville – Expanding out from Market Square you’ll find great local shopping on Gay Street and Union Avenue. The “Old City” across Summit Hill Drive has a few shops to enjoy.
  • Shops at Turkey Creek – Dozens of national chain retail shops await your exploration, and money, at the Shops at Turkey Creek about twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville. You’ll also find some great food with Calhoun’s and Smoky Mountain Brewery. http://turkeycreek.com/
  • West Town Mall – Located on Kingston Pike about ten minutes from downtown, the West Town Mall is a traditional indoor shopping mall with over a hundred stores. It’s the perfect place to shop on cold wintry days and features a few restaurants and a movie theater. www.visitknoxville.com
  • Bearden – Once a suburb of Knoxville, The Bearden District has become it’s own destination for shopping and dining. With over a dozen unique retailers and local eateries it’s possible to get everything done in one place.

Read More: Christmas Shopping at the Market Square Holiday Market in Knoxville, TN

Christmas decor adorns the rails and tables at The Copper Cellar in Knoxville, TN on Sunday, December 14, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The Copper Cellar goes all-out with Christmas decor and they’re food is top-notch.

Downtown Restaurants

Knoxville isn’t known as a foodie town, but it could be. Especially the downtown area. Downtown Knoxville restaurants offer a wide variety of options with some mouthwatering meals. A lot of the restaurants are pet-friendly with outdoor seating for you and the pooch. And many of them have spectacular views to enjoy along with your meal.

Here are a few of best locally-owned restaurants to visit in the downtown area after your day of Christmas shopping is done:

  • Stock & Barrel – Crafty burgers, delicious fries, and good drinks await you at this restaurant located in Market Square. They’re open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. http://www.thestockandbarrel.com/
  • Not Waston’s Kitchen + Bar – This local joint has a grew origin story to go along with their fantastic food (this was my first chicken and waffles meal). They have comfortable seating inside and out and a bar if you just want a quick meal and drink. http://notwatsons.com/
  • The Tomato Head – This place has some pretty amazing pizzas but they’re really known for their amazing sandwiches, including The Tomato Head with ham, pepperoni, monterey jack, and pesto. thetomatohead.com/
  • Calhouns – This growing locally-owned chain of restaurants has a few locations in Knoxville (including Turkey Creek) but the one on the Tennessee River near downtown is the original. They’re known for fantastic BBQ but they also have steak, salad, and burgers. https://calhouns.com/
  • Downtown Grill & Brewery – This two-story restaurant on Gay Street puts the bar right in the center of attention, along with fantastic food and their craft beer made on-site. www.downtownbrewery.com/

The downtown skyline view in Knoxville, TN on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The downtown skyline, dominated by the Sunsphere, is a great place to spend a few nights while enjoying Christmas in Knoxville.

Downtown Hotels

There are several fantastic downtown hotels in Knoxville that make it easy to enjoy all the Christmas events, activities, and shopping without spending all your money on your accommodations. All the hotels listed below are within easy walking distance of Market Square, Gay Street, and most of the things I enjoyed during my time in the city.

  • Crowne Plaza Knoxville Located on the north edge of downtown across Summit Hill Drive, this hotel is closer to Old City (with a few local shops and eateries) but still an easy walk to downtown along Gay Street.
  • Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park Between downtown and the Sunsphere this is the hotel where I stayed during my visit to Knoxville. The rooms are eco-friendly and pet-friendly and the staff always eager to assist. It’s a five minute walk to Market Square to enjoy the city.
  • Hyatt Place Knoxville Downtown Located on Gay Street beside the Tennessee Theatre this is the most easily-accessed downtown hotel to enjoy the Christmas season. The recently-converted historic building features modern rooms and facilities.
  • Hilton Knoxville This 18-story high rise hotel will certainly have a room available for your visit during the Christmas season. It’s located about two blocks south of Market Square and makes it an easy walk to enjoy everything Knoxville has to offer.
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