Christmas in Tennessee

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Dolly Parton. Dolly is the truest of queens, one of the most giving souls out there, and also one of the most talented. She’s beautiful and hilarious and I’d honestly be ok with her running for president. So the fact that I planned a trip to Tennessee solely so that I could make a pilgrimage to Dollywood shouldn’t surprise you in the slightest.

Dollywood is only a few hours drive from Nashville, so flying into their airport seemed like a great opportunity to check out the city and experience its overwhelmingly good food scene. We also decided to hit up Great Smoky Mountains National Park while we were out there. The park is located about an hour outside of Dollywood, so hitting all three destinations seemed very well-rounded and wise.

To give this post some structure, I’ll split it up by location.

Nashville (4 days): 

Nashville is an interesting city to visit. There’s music everywhere, a weirdo replica of the Parthenon (y’know, the one in Greece), and a food scene that is popping off with zero chill. They also have plenty of shopping and kitsch.

I don’t have any good food pictures from this trip, but I’d highly recommend checking out Butcher & Bee (fun fact: the feta dip at this restaurant inspired my baked whipped feta dip!), Henrietta Red, Rolf and Daughters and Pepperfire.

Fair warning, though, Pepperfire is wild. It’s a hot chicken joint and it is directly responsible for my decision to go vegetarian. This is not a joke. It was delicious, but so heavy it made me want to die. To be fair, I ordered hot chicken atop a deep fried grilled cheese sandwich with baked apples, fried okra and mac and cheese. So it was a lot (and in my defense I didn’t realize how intense it’d be when I ordered it). But good god, I longed for death.

WHY. IS. THIS. HERE??!!?!?

This picture was taken at the Opryland resort on Christmas morning. We didn’t stay there, but we’d heard they had beautiful Christmas decorations and it was one of the only places that was open. It was fine.

This was one of my favorite things I saw in Nashville. It’s one of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, on display at the Frist Art Museum. Really, the entire exhibit is strikingly beautiful, and I’d encourage you to visit it if you’re in the area while it’s running.

We shopped and did all the super-touristy things that you’re required to do while in Nashville (looking at you, Country Music Hall of Fame and honkeytonks), but these were some of my favorite things. Ok, maybe not the concrete Parthenon. That I’m still just flabbergasted by.

Pigeon Forge (1 day)

Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood, and the town around it is one of the biggest tourist traps I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s really pretty jarring. Honestly, there are only two things worth visiting here in my opinion: Dollywood and alpine coasters!

Here we are in the motherland; dressed enviably and definitely not freezing our asses off. Dollywood is strange. It’s got some of the best rollercoasters I’ve ever ridden, incredible (and incredibly unhealthy) cinnamon bread, and lots of Dolly memorabilia (but only in designated areas). There’s less Dolly theming than I would’ve thought? But the areas that feature it have such a high concentration that it’s kind of ok. If you venture over to Dollywood, you should definitely consider staying at the Dollywood DreamMore Resort. It’s not all that expensive and there’s a shuttle that makes getting to and from the park super-convenient. ALSO THEY GIVE YOU FRONT OF THE LINE PASSES.

Here’s a Dolly artifact that filled me with joy.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg (2 days): 

I’m going to start by saying that Gatlinburg is a terrible place. It’s a tiny little tourist town with a strip of shops, restaurants, moonshine tastings, a very small ski mountain, some truly bizarre tourist attractions, and nightmarish traffic. It may be tempting to stop and check this place out while driving in to the nearby national park, but I’d recommend avoiding it if you can. We took the bait and stopped and ended up in such bad traffic that it took an hour to drive one mile.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, however, is definitely worth your time. Apart from being beautiful, it’s actually the only national park in the country that’s completely free! I’m not going to try and itinerize the Great Smokies for you. If you stop by the welcome center a park ranger will be happy to assist you in selecting trails and stops. They have up to date info on road closures and conditions, so talking to them may change your plans for the better. We wound up hiking the Abrams Falls and Alum Cave trails, which were both moderate trails ranging from 5-7 miles long.

LOOK HOW NICE THEY ARE. In addition to hiking, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is packed with history. There’s a scenic drive called Cades Cove that’s got centuries-old houses, churches, and at least one spooky cemetery. It was also recommended as a great way to see wild animals, and it did not disappoint. We encountered like 9000 deer and a gang of wild turkeys.That’s about it for this post, but I want to finish it off by introducing you to a dear friend who I met in the Great Smokies. This wild boar ran out in front of us while we were hiking. Our lives flashed before our eyes, but she ended up being chill as hell and didn’t seem interested in ramming us to death. WHAT A PAL.

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