Pardon me, boys. Is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? Well, if it’s not, it’s one that looks just like it. And you can stay overnight in it, if you like. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel is located in an old train depot, Terminal Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Pullman cars in the courtyard aren’t just for show, either. Yes, I meant it when I said you can stay in one. They have guest rooms so you can pretend you’re a luxury-style traveler on a long journey in the late 1800s. There are restaurants and events in the hotel making it easy to enjoy yourself without going too very far. But, you’ll want to venture out, even if you do stay there, because there’s plenty to see in this town.
If trains aren’t your thing, another unusual place to stay is the Delta Queen Hotel, which is actually an old steamboat. Moored at the shore, the boat never cruises anywhere, but just allows you the unique experience of staying on a steamboat instead of a regular hotel. Sure, the cabins are a little small compared to a regular room, but it gives you a taste of how travelers in 1925 made their way down the river. Accommodations range from upper and lower bunks to luxurious suites.
Now, what to do?
Tennessee Aquarium: Voted as a Top 10 US Aquarium on TripAdvisor, this one is a must-see. You can spend a morning there enjoying the fish, alligators, penguins, and other species. This is the kind of learning that happens when you don’t even realize it, because you’re having fun. From mountains to coral reef, see what lives in each habitat.
Steamboat tour: Just a stone’s throw away, you can pick up a riverboat cruise, if you’d rather ride than stay on one. Catch lunch, dinner, or a sightseeing cruise aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. There are also special events for the season, and the boat is available for private parties. This would make a great spot for a family reunion or celebration.
Incline Railway: A slightly tense but fun ride up the side of the mountain on one of these rail cars will allow some fantastic scenery. While you’re up there at the top, you are within walking distance of some Civil War attractions. After you make your way back down, you can enjoy the restaurants and shops at the base on the railway. The train moves pretty slowly, so it's a low thrill type activity.
Ruby Falls: Now, this is really something. If you’re claustrophobic, you may want to skip this attraction, but almost everyone seems to be able to handle this one. Ride an elevator over a thousand feet down into the inside of a mountain and take a short hike with your tour guide to see something you’ve probably otherwise not seen before – a waterfall inside a mountain. The water isn’t actually red, as the name would indicate, but rather named after the wife of the spelunker who discovered this fascinating place. At one point while getting to and from the falls, there’s a rather short portion where folks need to duck a bit to walk under the rock. But it’s not uncomfortable. Be advised that this is not a great activity for people with physical handicaps. Allot a couple of hours for this.
Rock City: You must see it! That’s what the roofs of red barns have always told us. Now it’s mostly just the birdhouses sporting the slogan, which I find delightfully campy and fun. Sad to say, this is one big Chattanooga attraction I have actually missed on my previous trips, but I do plan to hit it next time. See seven states from atop Lover’s Leap, let the kids mine for gems, amuse yourself in the Fairyland Gardens, or make your way across the Swing-a-Long Bridge. This attraction is another that will take roughly a couple of hours.