The best family weekend trip from Nashville: Chattanooga!
The best weekend getaway from Nashville is less than three hours away: Chattanooga! A weekend in the Scenic City is the perfect way to entertain the kids and spend time as a family while making sure the parents have fun too.
This vibrant city offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, rich history, and a thriving arts scene that will captivate your senses. Nestled in the scenic Tennessee River Valley, Chattanooga boasts breathtaking views of mountains and the winding river, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts (which, unfortunately we are not, ha!). For those of us whose idea of nature means drinking wine on the patio, Chattanooga offers a lovely walkable downtown where we can be surrounded by nature.
While most people probably find themselves in Chattanooga to hike the scene trails of Lookout Mountain or explore the enchanting Ruby Falls, we love the walkable, revitalized downtown area! We’ve been visiting Chattanooga since 2009 (it was our very first trip as a couple!) because we’ve been totally charmed by the unpretentious beauty and hospitality of the town.
You’ll find an array of trendy boutiques, local food spots serving up mouthwatering flavors, and a bustling arts district teeming with galleries and tons of great photo opps. Chattanooga is a destination that will steal your heart and leave you with unforgettable memories. I bet one trip won’t be enough. 🙂
How long does it take to get to Chattanooga from Nashville?
Google Maps suggests the drive from Nashville to Chattanooga takes between 2 and 2.5 hours. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate, and travel times may be longer during peak hours or if there are any road constructions or detours along the way.
We usually leave mid-day or after work, and have been in the car for up to 3 hours.
What can you do with kids in Chattanooga?
The itinerary that I share in this post is just a very small sampling of the variety of kid-friendly activities in Chattanooga. Chattanooga offers so much for a family to enjoy with their kids that it would be impossible to detail it all out in one post!
Here is a list of other kid-friendly activities that are on our “To Do” list. Have you experienced any of the following? What would you add or subtract from this list?
- The downtown Art Walk
- Classic Arcade Pinball Museum
- The Chattanooga Zoo
- Coolidge Park (see the century-old carousel!)
- Incline Railway, a one-of-a-kind trolley that climbs the steep slopes, offering breathtaking views along the way. (Okay, I have done this but not since I was a kid! I can’t wait to take Skyler on this.)
- Rock City
- Ruby Falls
- High Points Climbing
- Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
- Go on a Duck Tour
- Catch a Lookouts ballgame
Where should you stay in Chattanooga?
The answer to this question will depend on the type of adventure you’re hoping to have, the number of people in your traveling party, and the ultimate goal of the weekend.
For the itinerary I share in this post, you will want to stay downtown within walking distance of the riverfront, and I can only recommend the places we’ve actually stayed. We have stayed at the Residence Inn Chattanooga and the Courtyard Marriott Chattanooga. Both are located one block away from the aquarium on Chestnut St. We are members of Marriott Bonvoy and usually try to use points to stay in one of these properties. We earn Bonvoy points and extra free nights through the Marriott Bonvoy Chase credit card.
Here are a few resources for more information on the different neighborhoods or best places to stay in Chattanooga:
- 5 amazing neighborhoods in Chattanooga, TN
- Where to Stay in Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Best areas to stay in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Easy and fun 2-night kid-friendly Chattanooga itinerary from Nashville
The point of this 3 day, 2 night kid-friendly trip to Chattanooga is simplicity. Keep things as simple as possible to maintain low stress levels. Sometimes, we just need to get out of town for a couple days, for a change of scenery. But we’re tired or want to be able to turn our brains off.
This trip, which I’ve done twice, is so simple, so easy breezy, that I would do it again in a heartbeat. Name a weekend, let’s go.
Play hooky from work and school for the whole day or pick the kids up in the early afternoon to drive to Chattanooga. Budget 2.5 hours to get down there, but don’t rush. The drive is gorgeous. (Even when traffic gets backed up, it’s hard to be too annoyed when you’re surrounded by such beautiful mountains.)
Remember that Chattanooga is in the Eastern time zone, so you effectively lose an hour on the way down. We usually try to leave Nashville between 12 – 2 so we arrive in Chattanooga around 4 or 4:30, no later than 5 pm.
Check into our hotel and get settled. Let Skyler burn off some energy after sitting in the car for so long. Go for a walk around the area to get oriented and scope out dinner spots or walk along the river to take in the sunset.
Eat dinner. Have that glass of wine (or two) or that dessert (or two). Chattanooga may be the perfect spot for a preschooler’s dream vacation, but it’s Mama’s trip too. So indulge a little. You’re not driving anywhere tonight!
There are many restaurants within walking distance of the two downtown Marriott hotels we recommended above. These are just a few of the many restaurants in downtown Chattanooga that you can choose from:
- Burger Republic
- Mellow Mushroom
- Thai Smile
- Sitar Indian Cuisine
- Mayan Kitchen
- Big River Grille Downtown
- Wooden City Chattanooga
Go for a post-dinner stroll through the Chattanooga art district, starting with the Hunter Museum of American Art perched on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. Walk along the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge to take in the peaceful scenery around you (and snap some gorgeous photos of the river). Get a cupcake or ice cream, some kind of treat. This should be a fun weekend!
Make your way back to the hotel. Take a quick evening dip in the indoor pool or go straight for the PJs. Snuggle in bed for a movie night [or a YouTube night]. Get some sleep.
The whole point of this trip is simplicity so enjoy the free continental breakfast in the lobby of your hotel. Stumble right on down in your PJs or get dressed first while you enjoy a cup of coffee that you brewed in the room. Either way, there’s no need to rush out and find breakfast when it’s right there… and your kid might not want to eat anything but the corner of a piece of toast anyway.
At 10 am, head over to the Children’s Discovery Museum. Less than two blocks away from both Marriott properties mentioned above, this interactive museum is worth the drive alone. Unlike Nashville’s outdated but still decent Adventure Science Center, the Children’s Discovery Museum feels more fresh and modern, with constant improvements being made. Depending on the age of your child(ren), I would budget at least 3 hours here.
I particularly love the mashup of science and art, with exhibits teaching STEAM concepts through a legit treasure trove of hands-on exhibits. They can build towering structures with giant blocks, play pretend in the kid-sized market, unleash their inner artist in the art or dance studio, and build miniature robots. My son fell in love with the RiverPlay exhibit, an interactive water play room where kids can manipulate water flow and experiment with currents. He completely ignored the massive and amazingly designed treehouse play area surrounding him!
Pro tip: You can leave and come back! So if your littles need a nap, if someone has a meltdown, or you all decide you’re hangry, you can always return later that same day to finish your visit.
Eat lunch at one of the many downtown locations mentioned above.
If you’re itching to leave the downtown area, then plan to stay at the museum for longer to maximize the play time, and then head out to Odd Story brewery. This is a great place to bring kids, dogs, or bachelorette parties. The huge outdoor space offers plenty of seating for adults and open space for the kids to run wild. We chatted away for a couple hours enjoying the sunshine while Skyler ran around the yard with other kids, making up games. The drinks were great and the food had such incredible flavors. Seriously, the food is so good. A fun mashup of American, Indian, and Southeast Asian traditions: curry fries, samosa egg roll, thai fried chicken sando, kimchi grilled cheese… so many interesting and enticing options!
Play by the river. There’s a great little playground just a ten minute walk down the riverfront called Riverfront Playground. There’s a lot of shade and tables so you can rest your back while your littles play. If you had an early lunch, grab a snack or another light meal.
Enjoy the evening either eating again (there’s so much good food in Chattanooga!) or relaxing at the hotel. Take advantage of the indoor pool or have a family snuggle movie night. But don’t stay up too late, we have more adventures on Sunday!
Enjoy another free continental breakfast in the lobby, pack up your stuff, load up the car, and check out of your room.
Learn about Tennessee’s rivers and the ocean at the Tennessee Aquarium! You’ll want to spend 2-3 hours walking through the two-part aquarium. The Tennessee Aquarium is divided into two main buildings. In the River Journey, you’ll embark on a journey through freshwater habitats, beginning with a walk-through forest that showcases the diverse flora and fauna found in the Appalachian region. Next, venture into the Ocean Journey, where you’ll be transported into the depths of the ocean. Prepare to be mesmerized by the vibrant coral reefs, graceful sharks, and a breathtaking variety of tropical fish. Explore the Secret Reef, a stunning exhibit that showcases the delicate balance of a coral reef ecosystem. Marvel at the majesty of jellyfish gracefully gliding through the water.
Grab lunch at one of the many great restaurants within walking distance of the hotel before driving back to Nashville. Consider saving the playground for after the aquarium to let the kiddos burn off energy before the road trip back home.
The first time, Justin and I took Skyler on a trip, just the three of us, when he was almost 3. The second time, two of Skyler’s aunties and I gave Dad some alone time and took Skyler for the weekend when he was four. Both times went very smoothly! I imagine we’ll do a variation of this itinerary a few more times in the coming years. Next time, I would replace the aquarium with a train-centric activity since Skyler is more into mechanical creations than fantastical creatures.
Chattanooga truly knows how to cater to families, making it a destination that’s sure to please kids and parents alike. So pack your bags, gather the gang, and get ready for an adventure-filled journey that will create memories to last a lifetime. Chattanooga, here we come!