When you think about the state of Tennessee, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? The iconic cities of Memphis and Nashville, or perhaps the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are likely at the top of most lists for weekend getaways in Tennessee. However, after visiting the historic town of Clarksville, we would argue that this should be near the top of your next Tennessee adventure. After reading this post, you will be well equipped to know the best things to do in Clarksville, and perhaps you will be ready to book a weekend getaway here in the not too distant future.
The city of Clarksville epitomizes the philosophy of Tennessee being home to a number of “hidden gems” that many visitors fail to appreciate. Frequently left in the shadow of the nearby city of Nashville (for good reason as we love Nashville!), visitors that take the time to drive less than one hour from Nashville International Airport (BNA) will have the opportunity to discover a college town that has a plethora of things to do.
From awesome attractions such as a whiskey distillery (Old Glory), to local eats and coffee shops, and many other reasons that will likely make you want to visit time and time again, Clarksville is a town that admittedly has fallen under our radar…until now! Let’s take a look at what Clarksville has in store for you, and after reading this post, we are convinced you will be ready to take the journey just like we did and we can 100% attest that you will not regret it!
Where is Clarksville, TN?
Located less than a hour from Nashville, Clarksville is in the northern half of the state of Tennessee and just a short drive from the Kentucky state line. Whether you are planning a weekend road trip from Memphis to Nashville, or perhaps simply looking to create an adventure exploring the very best of the Volunteer state, Clarksville is in the perfect location to add to any type of itinerary.
Visitors flying into Nashville should look at renting a car to take the short drive over to Clarksville, primarily because it will give flexibility to experience many of the attractions located around this area of the state. From the great outdoors to hidden urban gems, road tripping is undoubtedly the best way to explore everything Clarksville has to offer.
10 Best Things to Do in Clarksville, TN
Clarksville is home a myriad of attractions, ranging from historic sites to local restaurants that will capture your attention. Dependent on how long you plan on staying in the area will determine how many of the following you will choose to add to your itinerary, but we would argue that at least 2 or 3 days is required to get a true impression of everything this beautiful town has to offer.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and we are always intrigued to hear other suggestions, so that we can explore something different on our next trip to this destination.
- Explore Port Royal State Historic Park
- Visit Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretative Center
- Local Coffee Shops
- Local Restaurants
- Experience Customs House Museum
- Visit the Local Downtown Market
- Have Fun at City Forum
- Wander the Aisles at Miss Lucille’s Marketplace
- Visit a Pioneer Settlement at Collinsville
- Enjoy a Sweet Treat or a Shot of Whiskey
Explore Port Royal State Historic Park
Let’s start with one of the most historic locations in the Clarksville area. Port Royal State Park has played a significant role in shaping the historical landscape around this part of Tennessee, dating back to 1797 when the town of Port Royal was first founded. Today, visitors can enjoy an informative ‘townsite tour’ by the park ranger, and we were fortunate to experience a personal tour which is a great way to learn about this part of the state.
Throughout the 19th century, Port Royal played an integral role given the creation of a tobacco inspection point and it’s proximity to both a river and also being part of the Trail of Tears Highway. This regional town flourished due to the frequent presence of flatboats passing through the area to have their tobacco inspected, and subsequently sold which helped the growth of the area. Unfortunately, due to technological advancements (namely the creation of rail transportation), the demise of flatboat transportation saw the area begin to suffer, along with the American Civil War.
One of the best reasons to visit Port Royal beyond the history, is this is the perfect location to represent a microcosm of perhaps the US. Everything is interconnected, whether it’s from the story of enslaved men, women, and children, to the Cherokee nation, and agriculture and commerce.
You can see with your own eyes where a town that once prospered slowly saw generations move away due to technology, but how this area has been preserved is a credit to the local state government as it truly offers a unique perspective on life in the 19th century.
Visit Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretative Center
Another of Clarksville’s historic attractions can be found at the top of a bluff above the confluence of the Red and Cumberland Rivers. Fort Defiance Civil War Park and Interpretative Center offers visitors the opportunity to explore this historic fort that played an integral role in the Civil War. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, this area became a trading center and settlement before being captured by Union forces during the Civil War in 1862.
Today, visitors can take a meandering walk through the site, exploring the iconic canons that are scattered throughout the park, before heading inside to learn all about this location. The more than 1,500-square-foot Interpretive Center features exhibits about Clarksville and the surrounding area, along with the fort during the Civil War years.
Before leaving, head outside on the patio to enjoy epic panoramic landscapes of Clarksville, and if you choose to visit late in the day, you may well be rewarded with incredible sunset pictures with a gorgeous backdrop.
Local Coffee Shops
We love exploring the local coffee shop scene when we visit a new destination, and Clarksville was no different. It’s fair to say, Clarksville did not disappoint and while we only visited a small number of the local establishments scattered across the town, we had amazing experiences at each one of them.
Perhaps our favorite was the first one visited during our stay – The Amsterdam. This European style coffee shop has a great atmosphere, with Dutch inspired decor providing the stereotypical European vibe. We sampled two of the seasonal favorites – a Belgian Biscoff Latte, and a Chai Latte. While the taste of the coffee is undoubtedly the most important, presentation is definitely appreciated and The Amsterdam goes the extra mile to ensure your preferred drink is perfectly prepared and appetizing.
Other coffee shops in the area that are worth visiting include, Founding Frothers (love the name!), Sanctuary on Main Street, The Thirsty Goat and inside Miss Lucille’s Marketplace. Again, these are just a small number of available options but you cannot go wrong with any of them, or the other local spots that make Clarksville a haven for coffee aficionados.
When it comes to finding the best places to eat in Clarksville, there is no shortage of awesome local restaurants awaiting your visit. Whether you are planning to head downtown to sample one of the various local spots, or perhaps prefer to enjoy a relaxing dinner overlooking the gorgeous Cumberland River, there are countless options to satisfy every appetite.
Upon arrival in Clarksville, we wanted to find something close to our Airbnb. Located in the heart of downtown, Strawberry Alley Ale Works is a great option if you are looking for delicious local dishes, combined with a selection of craft ales on tap. Recognized as a restaurant offering a combination of chef-inspired food, expertly made craft beer, and perfectly situated in the heart of downtown, Strawberry Alley Ale Works is a place like no other.
We opted for one of the iconic burgers and fish and chips for our dinner options, but it’s fair to say you couldn’t go wrong with anything from the menu. Combine that with the 1820 Kölsch from the craft beer and cocktail menu, and you will quickly realize you made the right choice visiting this restaurant.
Other options close to this restaurant include several with awesome rooftop patio dining areas – The Mailroom and Skyline 500 are two of the best options if you are looking for sunset views while indulging in your meal, but there are several other places that are equally enticing.
We visited the Blackhorse Pub & Brewery to sample the infamous “beer cheese” which doesn’t disappoint, while our trip to Liberty Park Grill overlooking the river was another great choice. Regardless of what cuisine option you are looking for, Clarksville likely has something to satisfy your palate.
Experience Customs House Museum
If you chose to visit Port Royal early in your itinerary, head over to the Customs House Museum in the heart of downtown to learn much more about the history of the region. Located inside a historic building dating back to 1898, originally constructed as a Federal Post Office and Customs House to handle the large volume of foreign mail created by the city’s international trade in tobacco, today this museum is home to over 22,000 artifacts, photographs, manuscripts, and books.
The Customs House Museum is the state of Tennessee’s second largest museum and offers a combination of award-winning exhibitions, interactive exploration areas for children, and beautiful spaces for special events. A self-guided tour throughout the various museum floors will give a historical perspective on the area, along with highlighting some of the iconic sports starts from this part of Tennessee – namely the iconic Olympian, Wilma Rudolph, who was the first woman from the United States to receive three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Other stories to be uncovered here include the story of Pat Summitt, possibly the most infamous women’s basketball coach from her tenure overseeing the Tennessee Volunteers. Don’t forget to head on down to the banks of the Cumberland River to explore the Pat Head Summitt statue. Walking around this museum and admiring what was the area of the post office is an enlightening experience, especially as you consider how this location relates to the nearby Port Royal townsite.
Visit the Local Downtown Market
If you visit Clarksville during the summer/fall months (May to October), head downtown on Sunday morning to experience the local market. With a number of stalls offering fresh, local produce, local handmade crafts, this is a great way to explore the local community and support small businesses in the area. It’s also great to hear that local farmers receive priority on booth space, while others will be given space dependent on availability.
Visitors can enjoy artisanal products, listen to live music, and even head over to the petting zoo, ensuring there is something for all the family to enjoy. Ample parking is available either on the side of the road around the many downtown streets, while you can also enjoy free parking in the transit parking garage on Franklin Street.
Exploring the market before heading to experience some of the other iconic downtown attractions is a great way to experience Clarksville on a Sunday morning. Don’t forget to first grab coffee at Founding Frothers to ensure you have plenty of energy to experience everything the local market has to offer.
Have Fun at City Forum
Are you ready to take yourself back in time to your childhood years? Get ready to have some fun at the City Forum where you can visit the arcade, play indoor putt-putt, race to your hearts desire in go-karts, and test your skills in bowling. After an afternoon full of fun-filled entertainment, head over to Dock 51 to enjoy some fine dining options with a selection of hand crafted burgers perhaps the highlight menu items.
Those that enjoy the arcade can test their basketball skills with a number of games, while your hand eye coordination will also be tested with the fun piano game to see how many notes you can accurately hit in a timed period. Make your way around the Monopoly board before heading over to the baseball stadium to see how many home runs you can hit before you are struck out!
Wander the Aisles at Miss Lucille’s Marketplace
Are you ready for a little retail therapy during your visit to Clarksville? Head on over to Miss Lucille’s Marketplace to meander around over 52,000 sq. feet of vendor space offering local boutique creations with something for everyone to enjoy. Known as an eclectic marketplace, this location offers a variety of merchandise ranging from vintage finds, handmade goods, rare antiques, and new upholstered furniture.
Don’t forget to grab a coffee or head inside the restaurant for a quick bite to eat before wandering the aisles of the marketplace. Southern inspired cuisine is available inside Miss Lucille’s Cafe, so whether you are intrigued by one of the homemade sandwiches or perhaps you want to devour a made-from-scratch dessert, there are plenty of options to satisfy your tastebuds.
As you venture out into the aisles, you can be sure there will be something unique ready to capture your attention and inspire you to find a few souvenirs from your visit to Clarksville.
Visit a Pioneer Settlement at Collinsville
If you are looking for a truly unique experience during your visit to Clarksville, head to the nearby historic town of Collinsville to explore a pioneer settlement dating back to the 1800s. This rural pioneer settlement features authentically restored log houses and outbuildings dating from 1830 to the turn of the 20th century. From the interior furnishings to the local actors playing the role of those pioneer settlers, this is a unique experience that paints a picture of life in this era.
In 1974, JoAnn Weakley and her husband Glenn began the work on their dream of rebuilding the settlement of Collinsville. Today, visitors can travel to this rural location between April and November to experience a guided (or self-guided) tour of the settlement, learning about how the local school operated along with an intriguing look at how photographs were created during the 19th century.
Enjoy a Sweet Treat
A visit to Clarksville wouldn’t be the same without indulging in one of the many sweet treat options that are available across a myriad of locations. Whether your preference is ice cream, cheesecake, donuts, or something else, you can be sure there is a local spot waiting for you. Golly G’s Ice Cream is a highlight attraction for those that cannot resist this frozen treat, and you can even grab your favorite espresso during your visit. With a variety of flavors on offer, the difficult choice is knowing which options to choose.
Parlor Doughnuts is a great choice any time of the day. Of course, it’s always a great way to start the day by grabbing coffee from one of your favorite spots before heading over to sample one or two of these decadent donuts. B’s Cheesecake is another classic option for those that want to grab dessert or perhaps just an an afternoon treat.
These are just a few examples of sweet treat locations and we are convinced you won’t be able to resist any of them! Of course, if you prefer something stronger, head over to Old Glory Distillery to take a guided tour of this location and learn about the short but eventful history of this thriving distillery. Don’t forget to visit the gift store before leaving, as we are sure you will be enticed to purchase a bottle or two!
Clarksville may not be the first place you think about visiting when planning a trip around Tennessee, but we hope after reading this you will be inspired to add this to your next itinerary. With so much history, cool attractions, awesome local places to eat and drink coffee, Clarksville is a destination that may fall under the radar but offers a plethora of reasons to justify a visit.
We feel that we barely scratched the surface with the variety of things to do in Clarksville but we cannot wait to return in the near future to uncover more hidden gems across this area of northern Tennessee!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Visit Clarksville for hosting us on this trip. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.