Growing up, Brian and I had the opportunity to go to Gatlinburg occasionally and it was always a treat to walk in downtown Gatlinburg. Since then, the kids have had the opportunity to make their own memories walking the streets of downtown.
Strolling through The Village Shops is a highlight on our list. Rebecca loves to visit the Celtic shop and look at all of the sparkly jewelry. The boys love to look in the toy shop and make a mental list of everything they want to buy. Katie also enjoys looking at the cartoon-type items in the toy shop. Brian and I enjoy looking in the outdoor sports store. There are a few spots to get ice cream or donuts or maybe even some sausages from local restaurants and creameries located in the Village Shops plaza.
Mountain Mall is conveniently located on the north end of the strip across the street from the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s six stories with escalators, elevators, restrooms, and water fountains for convenience. There is a wide variety of shops and merchandise. For more information on the Mountain Mall, visit their website at http://www.gatlinburg-mountainmall.com.
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is HUGE!!!! It takes several hours to go through. Ranked #5 aquarium in the WORLD, there are several exhibits that engage the kids and inspire them. The kids’ favorite hotspots were the sharks and penguins. The tickets are about $28 per adult and $16 per child if you buy tickets at the door. You can save a little bit of money if you buy them online or by combo passes. Warning- you may want to come with a little extra money… the kids can’t resist the gift shop conveniently located inside the main entry way. Check out their website for more details: https://www.ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg. If you’re interested in more Ripley’s museums, they are dotted all over the north end of the strip.
If you’re looking for pizza, barbeque, steak, or just a quick burger, downtown Gatlinburg has a mixture of choices for restaurants. The Pancake Pantry serves some of the most scrumptious pancakes you will ever eat and the prices are reasonable. There’s even a McDonald’s nestled along the street.
There are multiple parking lots in downtown Gatlinburg but expect to pay a premium amount. There are also places nearby that you can park for free (i.e. the welcome center) but you should arrive as early as possible to secure a parking spot. They tend to fill up quickly. If you’re not up for much walking, need a break from the heat or walking, or you just want a generalized view of downtown Gatlinburg, we recommend taking a ride on the trolley. Depending on which line you want to take, the fare can be anywhere from about $.50 to $2.00 per person per ride. Note that they require exact change before boarding. There are quite a few stops and locations that you can board the trolley. The seats are comfortable and the staff is friendly. For more information about the downtown Gatlinburg trolley, check out their website at http://www.gatlinburgtrolley.org.
A couple of other traditions we enjoy when visiting Gatlinburg is buying fudge- about 4-6 types of fudge to be exact! (There are more options than that!) We also like to watch the taffy being made close to the Village Shops and buy a variety of flavors.
There aren’t many water fountains in downtown Gatlinburg so you might consider bringing a water bottle or buying one from the shops.
It’s usually pretty easy to find hotel rooms, cabins, or camping during the off-season. But, it’s best to book months or weeks in advance if possible. During the mid-summer and the month of October, the local places get booked fast and are often more expensive.
While you’re in the area, Pigeon Forge is just a fifteen minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg and caters to family entertainment as well. The restaurants in downtown Pigeon Forge are delicious and decently priced. There are shops that our kids love to visit while there in Pigeon Forge (i.e. The Christmas Place and Smoky Mountain Knife Works). We easily spend two hours in both stores. Dollywood is also a popular attraction nestled in Pigeon Forge but, again, not far from Gatlinburg. Visit their website for more details: http://www.dollywood.com. Still, there’s the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that is also close by. There are several hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife to observe, and more spread across a unique mountain range and park.
Here are a few other resources that will help with exploring the downtown Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Enjoy!!!!