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How to make the most of your football gameday experience at Tennessee

Everything you should know in you make the smart decision to see a college football game in Knoxville.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Taking in a Tennessee football game isn’t just a three-hour experience. You’ll need the full day, maybe even a weekend! Knoxville offers so much to do, and if you want to expand your options, the Smokies in East Tennessee offer even more.

Here’s how to make the most out of your stay.


Ah, East Tennessee — God’s country. The Tennessee River, the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee football. What more could you possibly ask for? Knoxville is tucked away just before you hit those Smoky Mountains, serving as the home of the University of Tennessee. It’s a true college town in every sense of the phrase, revolving around the happenings of the beloved Volunteers.

Gay Street, World Fair Park, Old City, Market Square — there’s plenty to do around town in downtown Knoxville. But make no mistake, the campus is the lifeblood of this city, and it’s massive. Neyland Stadium, Thompson-Boling Arena and Lindsey Nelson Stadium are all settled directly on the banks of the Tennessee River, creating a beautiful college town atmosphere that really shines on gameday.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Where to eat

Knoxville isn’t short on options when it comes to restaurants, but quite frankly, none offer the quintessential Knoxville experience quite like Calhoun’s on the river. Settled on the banks of the Tennessee River, you can grab some true southern BBQ with Neyland Stadium serving as the backdrop. Sit down and enjoy a rack of baby backs before heading down the street for the game.

Dead End BBQ is another fantastic options for BBQ lovers. Any sort of smoked meat you can think of, Dead End probably has it waiting for you. Operated by a former competitive BBQ pitmaster, you can really get authentic flavor here on your way in for the game. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the nachos!

In more of a burger mood? How about Stock and Barrel in the Market Square? They offer a ridiculous amount of gourmet burgers, along with a unique selection of appetizers to get started with. Wash it all down with whatever bourbon you can dream up — they more than likely have it ready for you.

What to do

You can certainly make it a full weekend in Knoxville with all the options to explore downtown. Even on the outskirts, there are plenty of options to shop and eat at on your way into town. For the outdoorsy type, Knoxville offers seemingly endless options for entertainment.

Navitat, a tree-top zip lining experience, is just minutes from downtown. Urban Wilderness offers hiking, biking, climbing and paddling options, again just minutes from downtown.

If you want to venture out further and perhaps add a couple of days to your trip, Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge would be my recommendation. Grab a cabin in the Smokies and take in Dollywood the day before the game. Dolly Parton’s unique theme park offers something for everyone, from thrill-seekers to kids.

You can also spend the day at Gatlinburg, walking the strip to shop, eat, drink or even explore new heights on the tram at Ober Gatlinburg or Anakeesta. Don’t go if you’re scared of heights!

Pigeon Forge has endless activities. From live dinner shows, to mini-golf and go-karts, to a literal titanic exhibit, you’ll have your pick of things to do here. Even if it’s cold outside, you can always hit the indoor waterpark at Wilderness at the Smokies too. If it’s in season, Dollywood’s Splash Country or Soaky Mountain are also options.

Gameday Experience

Get there early, first and foremost. You want to make a day out of it, trust us, and more importantly, you won’t want to deal with the traffic an hour before the game. Parking can be an adventure too, but to me, the further out the better. That lets you take in all the bookstores, the strip, the campus, while also allowing for an easy exit if you don’t mind the walk back.

You’ll want to get there early to take in the Vol Walk and welcome the Pride of the Southland Band. Gathering in a sea of orange just outside of Neyland Stadium, the team comes down the hill and walks into the stadium, with fans lining both sides of the streets. It’s a fun tradition and an opportunity to see the team up close.

The Pride of the Southland Marching Band will follow, getting everyone revved up for the game. Rocky Top can be heard on full blast, with fans packed just outside the gate. Enter the stadium early and take the ramp up a few levels for a spectacular view!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Kentucky at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After that, get to your seat early for the team’s entrance — the famed ‘running through the T.’ If that doesn’t get you fired up for the game, nothing will. Of course, be ready to hear Rocky Top several dozen times, too.

Game weekends in Knoxville are truly like no other in the country. It’s something every college football fan should experience at least once. Hopefully now you’ve got some ideas to try out this fall!