Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a clean, pleasant city nestled amid the ridges and mountains in the southeast corner of the state.

Despite the growth of the waterfront, the thing still most associated with the city is probably the Chattanooga Choo-Choo (and the song of the same name), a train route that was a major rail link between the North and the South. The original trains no longer run (the last one left Terminal Station in 1970), but you can learn more about the route at an attraction called the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. It includes the restored train terminal (which now houses shops and restaurants) and one of the original Chattanooga Choo-Choo railroad cars. At the hotel in the complex, you can spend the night or have dinner in a restored Victorian railcar. There's a model railroad (with 3,000 ft/914 m of track) and old train cars to walk through, but don't expect to find any quality model trains in the gift shop; this attraction may be of great interest to train enthusiasts, but general visitors may not be as impressed.

You can get an even better feel for the golden era of trains by taking a ride on the Tennessee Valley Railroad, which employs a vintage steam locomotive. It travels 6 mi/10 km between Grand Junction Station and Chattanooga Choo-Choo, passing through the Civil War-era Missionary Ridge Tunnel along the way. Trip schedules vary by route—it's best to call or consult the website during planning.

Along the Tennessee River, the renovated and expanded Riverwalk connects several sights: the aquarium and Hunter Museum of Art, as well as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Rowing Center and Ross' Landing Park and Plaza. The Tennessee Aquarium provides a look at river creatures, from the catfish of the Tennessee River to the alligators of the Mississippi to more exotic species from other parts of the world ( There's an IMAX theater nearby, as well as the Creative Discovery Museum, where children can create in an artists studio and an inventors workshop, among other activities and exhibits.

Another downtown attraction is AT&T Park, the home of Chattanooga's minor-league baseball team. And don't overlook the offbeat:The International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum showcases antique tow trucks and other recovery vehicles from throughout the U.S. and overseas.

Another must-see in the Chattanooga area is Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, which extends across the border into Georgia. It commemorates two major Civil War engagements that took place in 1863: the Battle of the Chickamauga and the Battle of Chattanooga. On the Tennessee side, the preserve encompasses Point Park on Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob in downtown Chattanooga and Signal Point on Signal Mountain. In Georgia, you can visit Missionary Ridge, where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant led Union forces to a decisive victory over Confederate troops. There's an interpretive museum and visitors center that offers an impressive multimedia show. The park also offers auto tours, re-enactments, horseback riding and hiking.

Just outside the park is the lower station for the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, which is the best way to reach the top of the mountain. Built in 1895, the railway has one of the steepest grades you'll find anywhere: 72.7 degrees. The Victorian-style Lookout Mountain Station has an observation deck that provides spectacular views.

While in the vicinity of Lookout Mountain, you may want to visit those twin attractions that you've seen touted on billboards (and on the sides of old barns) throughout the Southeast: Ruby Falls and Rock City. Both have been so heavily promoted for so long that they've become pieces of Americana. Ruby Falls is a 145-ft/44-m waterfall that's contained in a cave 1,000 ft/305 m underground. Rock City Gardens is 10 acres/4 hectares of unusual sandstone formations that include tunnels and a swinging bridge. And it's true: You can see seven states from Rock City—if the weather cooperates.

Take time to visit the Hunter Museum of American Art, which has a number of excellent paintings by Mary Cassatt and Thomas Hart Benton. And we got a kick out of the collection of 15,000 glass pitchers at the Houston Museum (be sure to look for the mustache cups). The Bluff View Arts District, on East Second Street, features galleries, unique shops, restaurants and historic homes. Music lovers will want to stop at Bessie Smith Hall, a performance hall for blues artists, dedicated to the memory of the great singer. It includes the Chattanooga African American Museum, which has exhibits on Smith and other prominent figures from the Chattanooga area.

The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau has an excellent visitors center adjacent to the aquarium, where you can buy tickets for many of the city's attractions, as well as find brochures and useful information to help with your planning.

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