I hope you all enjoyed my recent post about Sevierville and Pigeon Forge as well as my guide to one of Pigeon Forge’s most popular tourist attractions, Dollywood! Today I’d like to talk about another fun place we visited on our trip: Gatlinburg.
Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is one of East Tennessee’s most popular tourist towns. Its bustling downtown core is filled with fun shops, eateries, distilleries and various attractions. While Pigeon Forge also has a main strip lined with fun things for tourists to do, they’re located along a major roadway and are spaced far enough apart that you have to drive from spot to spot. The nice thing about Gatlinburg is that it’s completely walkable! You can spend an entire day just strolling the main street – you won’t believe how much there is to experience. While Pigeon Forge was fun, Gatlinburg was definitely my favourite of the two areas. Here are some my favourite things we did in Gatlinburg.
Things To Do In Gatlinburg
Anakeesta: If you do a quick search for top tourist attractions within the Smoky Mountains, Anakeesta will show up high on the list, and with good reason. It’s a relatively new attraction, having only opened in 2017, but it’s one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies. Just getting to this mountain-top theme park – via chondola ride – is an adventure in itself (don’t look down!!) Once you’ve arrived, you can enjoy various outdoor rides and adventures, live music, shopping, food and drinks, and unparalleled, panoramic views of the Smokies. Both Tania and I agreed that Anakeesta was our favourite part of the whole trip. Similar to Dollywood, it’s such a fun-packed place that it really deserves its own post, so stay tuned for my guide to Anakeesta in a few days!
Downtown Gatlinburg: As I mentioned earlier, downtown Gatlinburg has so much to offer, and its walkability is one of its main assets. You can park in the morning, spend the day exploring the area, and have more than enough to keep you occupied until the evening. (In fact, I recommend doing this, as parking in the area is pricey and you’ll want to stay put if you can!) In addition to major tourist attractions like Ripley’s and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, you’ll find tons of gift shops, food vendors, and yes, those famous Tennessee moonshine distilleries.
Distilleries: You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging with that distilleries comment, did you!? Tennessee is famous for its moonshine: high-proof liquor that was made and smuggled illegally during the Prohibition era (and was typically distilled at night, hence the ‘moonshine’ moniker!) The moonshine you’ll taste in Tennessee today is far from the traditional illegal moonshine of the 20s, which I can’t imagine tasted very good. The modern distilleries along the Gatlinburg strip now produce novelty moonshine in a variety of different flavours. Typically these distilleries will either offer free tastings, or charge a nominal fee that they often let you apply to a purchase. That’s the case at Ole Smoky Moonshine, arguably the most popular moonshine distillery in Tennessee, with four different locations in the state (and two of those are on the Gatlinburg Strip!) You can taste several different samples for a $5 fee, which gets you a coupon to use towards a purchase afterwards. Although I was excited to try moonshine, I was also pretty nervous: I’m not a hard liquor drinker, and I have a sensitive stomach, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The lady in charge of tastings was very nice and walked me through all the options, even though I only ended up trying about half of them! My favourites were the refreshing, fruity Strawberry and the sweet, cinnamon-y Apple Pie flavours, and I also had fun trying the moonshine-soaked pickles. Truth be told, while I enjoyed learning about moonshine and tasting the different samples, I can’t imagine myself ever wanting more than a small sip at a time – I guess I’m just not a true whiskey drinker! But it was something fun to try – one of those “only in Tennessee” experiences – and I’m glad we went. Ole Smoky also hosts live music events, and offers distillery tours for the true whiskey aficionado.
Wineries: I may not be a whiskey drinker, but I sure enjoy my wine! The Gatlinburg strip has several different wine shops, most of which offer free samples. Those of you who follow my blog know that I’ve been to many a winery, but the wine makers in Gatlinburg are distinct for two unique reasons. First, we noticed that they seemed to specialize in sweet, fruity wines in all sorts of wacky flavours. If you’re looking for a crisp Chardonnay or a full bodied Cab Sauv, you may not find it here. What you will find? An array of fruit wines in flavours like Blueberry Pie, Peach Cobbler and Cotton Candy. I love sweet and fruity wines, so I enjoyed most of them, but I did draw the line at Cotton Candy wine! To be honest, most of what we tried tasted more like drink mixers than wines, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. The second thing we noticed is that all of these wineries are delightfully un-pretentious. While I love our Ontario wineries, there’s typically a certain amount of seriousness and (sometimes!) snobbery that comes with tasting territory. Not so in Gatlinburg, where the tasting bars post signs that say things like “high class, my a**” and staff members describe wines as tasting like “a fruit roll-up”. There was absolutely no pretension and no pressure to buy anything, which was refreshing. Three wine shops I highly recommend are Tennessee Homemade Wines, Bootleggers Wines, and Elkmont Winery (try the Peach Cobbler Moscato!)
Village Shoppes: Just a few steps away from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg’s main strip, you’ll find “The Village”: a quaint, cobblestone-paved enclave that feels more like a small European town. The Village is home to 27 boutiques, galleries and eateries and is anchored by a charming ‘village square’ with a fountain and benches where visitors can relax and take in this whimsical spot. It truly feels like stepping into a different world!
Where To Eat In Gatlinburg
The Donut Friar: A trip to the abovementioned Village Shoppes wouldn’t be complete without a stop at The Donut Friar, whose sweet, pillowy creations were voted the Best Donuts in Tennessee by the one-and-only Southern Living. Since 1969, this small and charming bakery has been delighting visitors with cinnamon bread, rolls, eclairs, and of course – donuts – that they bake from scratch each morning. They open daily at 5am, so early birds with sweet tooths can get their fix! I tried their famous cinnamon cake donut and Tania enjoyed a powdered cake donut; both were fabulous.
Southern Comfort: Located at Westgate Resorts, this restaurant is themed all around – you guessed it – Southern Comfort, and the décor details are on point: think SoCo bottles lining each table and cocktail recipes framed on the walls. The restaurant is architecturally stunning, with an A-frame design and floor-to-ceiling windows that show off the outdoors, while the wood paneling, crackling fireplace and wagon wheel chandeliers lend a cozy, country vibe indoors. We came for breakfast, where Tania enjoyed a classic Great American Breakfast (eggs, Applewood-smoked bacon, potatoes and a biscuit with apple butter) and I indulged my sweet tooth by ordering the “Make Them Savannah” pancakes, which came with candied pecans and praline syrup – decadent and delicious!
Ober Gatlinburg: This is a popular amusement park offering several outdoor activities, from skiing to a scenic chairlift to mountain coaster rides, but you can also just swing by to visit their restaurant, which is what we did. Seasons Of Ober is a mountaintop restaurant offering panoramic views of the Smokies. We came to check out their Oktoberfest celebrations: they had an oom-pah band doing live performances every afternoon. We both ordered schnitzel plates and I got a local craft beer. I’ll be honest, the food here was just okay, but the entertainment made it a fun experience! I love live music and themed events, so I’m always down for Oktoberfest.
Pancake Pantry: I’m including this on my list even though we didn’t actually eat here, because I’ve heard it’s one of the most popular breakfast spots in Gatlinburg! The line spanning the block when we passed by on a weekday morning must be a testament to that. Pancake Pantry has been around for 60 years, so they must be doing something right. I recently took a look at their menu and they have so many unique flavours of pancakes that all look amazing, from Georgia Peach to Austrian Apple-Walnut to Banana Pineapple Triumph. Not eating here is my only regret of this trip… I guess we’ll just have to plan a visit back!
I hope you enjoyed my round-up of places to enjoy in Gatlinburg. Stay tuned for a guide to the beautiful outdoor theme park Anakeesta… coming soon!
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