Gatlinburg, Tennessee is just one of those special places around the holidays. It just “feels” like Christmas. The entire town is drenched in sparking Christmas lights – it literally glows in the evening. The streets are lined with quaint shops selling all kinds of interesting items, many hand-made by the artists in the local arts-and-crafts community (which is the biggest in the world, by the way). Christmas music fills the air (and maybe a little bluegrass, too). You see snow people everywhere you look (often sitting on benches). Before you head into town, let us tell you everything you need to know about doing Christmas in Gatlinburg.
At times, getting around Gatlinburg in your own vehicle can be difficult. It’s a small town, and on a busy day the streets can get absolutely saturated with cars. On certain days in the month of December, it’s not bad. But some days, especially the weekends, are still quite congested. There are two good ways to combat the need to drive:
- Stay in a room in town and walk where you want to go. Gatlinburg is not that big, so you can easily walk from one end of town to the other, unless you want to go to the Arts & Crafts district, which is further out. If you have a downtown room (might we suggest the Edgewater?), you can easily walk wherever you want to go in the downtown area.
- Ride the trolley. Gatlinburg has an excellent trolley system that is absolutely free. You should take the time to become familiar with the different routes so you get on the right one. The trolleys are clean, efficient, and, honestly, adorable. There are several spots where you can park your vehicle and catch a trolley, including the Welcome Center and the Mass Transit Center next to Ripley’s Aquarium. You can learn more about the trolleys here.
Bonus travel tip: if you are trying to drive down Parkway toward the entrance to the Park, take River Road.
You will LOVE shopping in Gatlinburg. Here are a few of our top recommendations for where to start:
- The Village. This is a gorgeous little shopping center that contains 27 unique shops. Just a few include the Day Hiker (for hiking enthusiasts), the Silver Tree (specializing in silver jewelry), Pop Culture (specialty pop corn), Pepper Palace (all kinds of hot sauces) and Toy Crazy (unique kids’ toys). That is just a small sample. There are also several shops where you can get a donut, cup of coffee, or even a Guinness stout.
- Mountain Mall. This is one of the more unusual malls you are likely to encounter. It is vertically built, with several floors. A combination of stairs and escalators (or the elevator) will get you to the various floors, where you will find shops like the Rhythm Section (a true old school record store – highly recommended!), Shades of Gatlinburg (sunglasses), Paws ‘n Claws (for pet lovers), Cowboy Way (Western-themed attire and footwear), and Doug Wyatt Music (musical instruments), among many more.
- Baskins Square. Walk across the street from the Village, and you find yourself at Baskins Square, which also has a very interesting combination of shops and eateries. Just a few include Earthbound Trading Company (eclectic gifts and bohemian fashion), Doc’s Magic Shop (magic tricks, with live demonstrations), Bigfoot HQ (Bigfoot-themed merchandise), and God’s World (Christian gifts). Ready for a bite to eat? Try New Orleans Sandwich Shop or Tennessee Jed’s.
The above list is just a starting point. The fun of shopping in Gatlinburg is exploring all the little nooks and crannies around town for the different shops you will find.
We love to eat in Gatlinburg. That ain’t no joke! Here are just a few recommendations:
- No Way Jose’s Cantina and Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina. We grouped these two together because they are our top two recommendations for Mexican food. Burritos, chimichangas, top shelf margaritas – whatever you want, you really can’t go wrong with either one. From a scenic standpoint, No Way Jose’s sits right on the Little Pigeon River for a wonderful river view, while Loco Burro offers outside seating with a fantastic elevated view of downtown.
- Cumberland Jack’s LeConte Kitchen. Serving hearty, Southern-style dishes like fried chicken, roast beef, pork chops and fried catfish, this restaurant will leave you full and happy. It also has a wonderful ambience, with a rustic décor and a theme based on the life of Cumberland Jack, a German Shephard owned by the first caretaker of the LoConte Lodge, which would travel on its own into town to retrieve supplies for the lodge. The general store in town would fill the dog’s saddle bags with the supplies, and the dog would make its way back up the mountain. A wonderful story and a wonderful restaurant.
- Smith and Son Corner Kitchen. Serving All American food such as burgers, sandwiches, chicken, pasta and wings, there is definitely something on the menu that will satisfy everyone in your group. The food is great, the atmosphere is quaint, and you can also get a great elevated view of Gatlinburg from its balcony.
- Fannie Farkle’s. We could also include this in the entertainment section below, with its large arcade, but it’s in this section because you really shouldn’t leave town without having one of Fannie’s world famous corn dogs.
The most obvious entertainment option when coming to Gatlinburg is to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. However, during the wintertime, that can become difficult. The main road that takes you to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, two of the top locations to visit, is often closed in the winter due to inclement road conditions. Therefore, for our purposes here, we are going to focus on in-town entertainment.
- SkyLift Park. The Gatlinburg SkyLift has been in existence since the 1950’s. It is one of Gatlinburg’s oldest attractions. Having said that, this version is actually quite new, having been rebuilt following the Gatlinburg fire of 2016. Since then, the attraction has expanded with the creation of SkyLift Park, the SkyBridge (the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America, with its legendary glass center), SkyTrail and Tulip Tower. We highly suggest you spend some time riding the SkyLift and exploring the incredible views offered from the SkyBridge.
- Anakeesta. Anakeesta also has a lift that takes you to the top of Anakeesta Mountain, where you will find the longest tree-based skywalk in North America (yes, we like to break records around here), ziplines, a WILD mountain coaster, and a tower with the highest elevation in downtown Gatlinburg.
- Space Needle. This replica of the original Space Needle in Seattle stands at 407 feet tall, and it provides a fantastic 360 degree view of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains. The facility also houses the largest arcade in Gatlinburg.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. One of top aquariums in the country, Ripley’s allows you to really immerse yourself in an underwater playground. They also have special events throughout the year. For the Christmas season, you can see Santa and his elves performing dive shows!
- Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler. Even during the coldest Winter months, you can still see and hear live bluegrass on the stage in Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler.
- Miniature golf. Mini golf courses are all over Gatlinburg, so if that is your thing, it is very easy to find.
We’ve really just scratched the surface here. We would have to write a whole book to tell you everything there is to know about visiting Gatlinburg, but hopefully this information will help you get started enjoying your vacation.
And, of course, we invite you to visit us at Edgewater Hotel. Everybody have a great Christmas!