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Travel Guide to the Christmas Holiday Season in Knoxville, TN (Updated for 2021)

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

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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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.

Visit Knoxville 301 South Gay Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-523-7263 | www.visitknoxville.com/

Christmas Destination

This travel guide is part of my Christmas Destination series. With each new destination, I explore where to find the best Christmas light displays, events, local shopping, dining, and lodging.

Christmas in Knoxville Articles

Browse through previous articles written about Christmas in Knoxville, where to find light displays, Christmas events, and things to do while in Knoxville.

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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.

Regal Celebration of Lights

November 26, 2021 from 6-9 p.m.

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

Friday, November 26 – Sunday, January 2

Holidays on Ice is an exciting opportunity to spend an evening ice skating during Christmas in Knoxville. From the day after Thanksgiving until the day after the New Year, a giant white tent dominates one end of Market Square.

Admission is $12 per adult and $9 per children 12 and under.

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.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

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

Select Days December 3-19, 2021

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

December 3, 2021 at 7 p.m.

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

Saturday, December 11, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.

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

Select Days December 3-19, 2021

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.

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.

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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.

Regal Celebration of Lights

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.

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Local 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.

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.

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.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

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.

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/

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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.

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.

Mid-Range

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.

Luxury

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.

One Response

  1. Jason,
    Thank you so much for all of the information about Knoxville at Christmas time. We are planning a trip for next December and were considering stopping at Knoxville. Keep up the great information!
    Debbie

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