Gatlinburg vs. Nashville (By a Tennessee Local)

Gatlinburg vs. Nashville, which is right for you? Travelers come to both cities for their rich cultural history and beauty. But the two cities have very different atmospheres.

Deciding whether to visit Nashville or Gatlinburg can be a difficult choice. Both have a lot to offer visitors.

As a Tennessee local, I’m here to give you the highlights of each city and help you decide which one is best for your visit. Here’s what you need to know about Gatlinburg vs. Nashville!

Table of Contents

Which is Better, Gatlinburg or Nashville?

Although only 3.5 hours apart, Nashville and Gatlinburg are very different places. Gatlinburg is firmly situated within the Great Smoky Mountains. It boasts stunning views, outdoor adventures, and a unique vacation where you can truly appreciate the beauty of Tennessee and the mountains.

Gatlinburg is also only 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge, deep within the heart of the Smokies. Both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg boast many tourist attractions that are great for family vacations. Places like Dollywood, Ripley's Museums, zip lining, and gondolas up the mountain. I wrote a complete guide to Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge here.

Nashville is not in the mountains. Although walking trails and waterfalls exist, you must go further outside the city to experience them.

Nashville is known as “Music City”. Tourists flock to the city by the millions every year to experience the atmosphere of live music on Broadway, country music at the Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry, or the food and drink that Nashville has become famous for.

There are many music museums, live country music, concerts, and sporting events every day of the week. It's a city that musicians flock to to make a name for themselves. Its history goes back to celebrating names like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, and more.

Whether you choose Gatlinburg or Nashville, you're in for a different experience. In this post, I'll lay out the pros and cons of each to help you decide.

Advantages of Nashville 

  • Music industry hub.
  • Iconic music history to explore and enjoy.
  • World-class live music everywhere.
  • Incredible Museums.
  • Family-Friendly attractions.
  • Wide variety of restaurants.
  • Outdoor activities.

Advantages of Gatlinburg

  • In the Great Smokey Mountains.
  • Family-friendly attractions.
  • Fantastic hiking and wildlife opportunities.
  • Great shopping.
  • Easy to walk downtown.
  • Incredible views.
  • Theme parks.

Nashville is Best For

Gatlinburg is Best For

  • Experiencing mountain life.
  • Arts and crafts.
  • Shopping.
  • The outdoors.

Gatlinburg vs. Nashville – Detailed Comparison 

Gatlinburg and Nashville are both worth visiting. It depends on what kind of trip you want to take to decide which is best for you.

In the table below, I compare cost & budget, things to do, the music scene, food, family-friendliness, and crowds. Keep reading further for a more detailed overview of each category.

Feature/CategoryNashvilleGatlinburg🏆 Winner
Cost & BudgetHotels, transportation, and food can get pricey.Hotels and food are cheaper.Gatlinburg
Things to DoGreat museums, outdoor spaces, and activities for all interests.Skylifts, hiking, waterfalls, arts and craftsDepends on preferences!
Music SceneA music industry hub with iconic music venues and live music events.Local bands and shows.Nashville
FoodNashville hot chicken + a wide range of restaurants.Southern-style comfort food.Souther-style comfort food.
Family FriendlinessHands-on museums, playgrounds and parks, and a water park.Interactive museums, trails, zoo.Gatlinburg
CrowdsExtremely busy during holidays and the summer.Busy during peak seasons but less rowdy.Draw.

Nashville vs. Gatlinburg: Cost & Budget

A common complaint about Nashville is the high cost of hotels. This is due to the demand placed on the city during peak events like concerts and festivals. There are cheap options to eat in both places and luxurious options, too! I've broken down the costs in the following tables.


Things:Estimated Costs (*approx):
Meals$20 to $50 per person
Drinks$10 to $20 per drink
Transportation$10 to $50 per ride
Bus Travel$30 to $50 per person
Hotels$110 to $300 per night
Entertainment$30 to $195 ticket cost


Things:Estimated Costs (*approx):
Meals$20 to $50 per person
Drinks$5 to $15 per drink
Transportation$5 to $30 per ride
Bus Travel$20 to $40 per person
Hotels$80 to $250 per night
Entertainment$10 to $155 ticket cost

🥇 Winner: Gatlinburg

Nashville vs. Gatlinburg: Accommodation

Top Traveller-Rated Hotels in Gatlinburg

For more top-rated Gatlinburg hotels, click here.

Top Traveller-Rated Hotels in Nashville

Budget-Friendly Hotels

If you're on a tighter budget but still want a comfortable stay, Nashville has plenty of budget-friendly hotels for you. Here are some excellent choices:

  1. Hilton Garden Inn Nashville Vanderbilt – This hotel offers clean, spacious rooms and is ideally located for easy access to local attractions.
  2. Westin Nashville – Affordable luxury in the heart of downtown Nashville, the Westin offers reasonable rates while still providing upscale amenities.
  3. Fairlane Hotel – This mid-century modern hotel provides budget-friendly accommodations without sacrificing quality.
  4. Omni Nashville – A large hotel with various facilities and services, the Omni offers affordable rooms in a convenient downtown location.

Luxury Hotels

If you're in the mood to spoil yourself, Nashville has some fantastic luxury hotels to choose from. Here are some of the top options:

  1. Hilton Nashville Downtown – This high-end hotel is in the heart of Music City, providing easy access to various tourist attractions.
  2. Thompson Nashville – Located in the trendy Gulch neighborhood, Thompson Nashville offers chic design and incredible amenities.
  3. The Joseph – This elegant hotel in downtown Nashville features luxurious rooms, an upscale restaurant, and an impressive art collection.
  4. Bobby Hotel – A boutique hotel with an eclectic design, the Bobby Hotel offers unique rooms and a stunning rooftop bar.
  5. Kimpton Aertson Hotel – Located in the heart of Midtown, this stylish hotel offers incredible views and superb service.

For a list of the top 10 hotels in Nashville and the best deals, click here.

Things To Do in Gatlinburg

Nashville vs. Gatlinburg: Things to Do

Both Gatlinburg and Nashville have a lot of things for visitors to do. Activities in Nashville include the Musicians Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, Johnny Cash Museum, Grand Ole Opry, Andrew Jackson's home, Opryland Resort, and the honky-tonk highway.

👉 For a complete guide on things to do in Nashville, click here.

In Gatlinburg, there are an incredible array of activities. A popular one to start with is the skylift ride to the top of Anakeesta mountain, the 800-foot rope bridge, ziplining, gem mining, arts and crafts, Ober Gatlinburg Mall, or visit one of the many distilleries.

👉 For a complete guide on things to do in Gatlinburg, click here.

Roberts Western World Nashville
Roberts Western World

Nashville vs. Gatlinburg: Music Scene

There will obviously be a large difference here! 😁

Nashville, a music city, has live music flowing out of every bar and restaurant. With institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman Auditorium, live concerts, and Lower Broadway, Nashville is where you go to experience a world-class live music experience.

There will obviously be a large difference here! 😁

Nashville, known as “Music City,” has live music from every bar and restaurant. With institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman Auditorium, live concerts, and Lower Broadway, Nashville is where you experience a world-class live music experience.

You may find the following Nashville guides helpful:

Gatlinburg offers a music scene intimately intertwined with its picturesque surroundings and regional culture. While it doesn't have Nashville's vast music industry infrastructure, Gatlinburg boasts a rich tapestry of Appalachian folk music, bluegrass, and mountain melodies.

The town's music reflects its history and the stories of its people often played on traditional instruments like banjos, fiddles, and dulcimers. Festivals, local taverns, and theaters, such as the Smoky Mountain Opry, offer visitors a chance to experience this unique musical heritage.

🥇 Winner: Nashville

Nashville vs. Gatlinburg: Food

Gatlinburg's native food tends to have a Southern and Appalachian twist. Think big breakfasts with ham, grits, and biscuits. Think fried chicken, rainbow trout, and apple stack cake for dinner. Home cooking is the name of the game.

Gatlinburg also doesn't shy away from the restaurants you know and love. You'll find chain restaurants in any city in the US. But don't shy away from the local favorites. Try The Peddler Steakhouse, Howard's, Cherokee Grill and Steak, or Chesapeake's Seafood. These are all restaurants that source their ingredients locally.

Nashville is known for hot chicken and BBQ. You'll want to visit Hattie B's or Princes Hot Chicken. You also won't want to miss Jack's BBQ on Broadway.

👉For a great guide on Nashville hot chicken, click here.

👉 For a guide on Nashville BBQ, click here.

👉 Click here for a guide on the best foods to try in Nashville.

Gatlinburg vs. Nashville: Family Friendliness

Gatlinburg is a very family-friendly destination for families with children. There are a million kid-friendly things to do in Gatlinburg. There is just no such thing as boredom in Gatlinburg.

Kids can join in almost any activity that an adult chooses, such as hiking to waterfalls, mini-golf on the side of the mountain, riding the skylift, arts and crafts, Ripley's museum and aquarium, and more.

Nashville, in my opinion, as someone who has two kids, is less kid-friendly. The activities revolve around music. Of course, there are many museums and outdoor activities. For example, Centennial Park, The Parthenon, and The GRAMMY Museum Gallery. For a complete guide on Music City for Kids: A Parent's Ultimate Guide, click here.

🥇Gatlinburg (Due to lack of hands-on activities in Nashville).

The Gulch Mural Nashville
The Gulch Mural Nashville

Gatlinburg vs. Nashville: Crowds

The busiest time to visit Gatlinburg is between June – August (the summer break) and October, when the fall colors are spectacular. Gatlinburg has become known for its crowds, so if you go during this time, you can expect a lot of people to be out and about. All you have to do is head over to YouTube to see videos of what you can expect. To avoid crowds, you must visit during winter, but most of the attractions may be closed, and it's very cold.

Nashville Is a larger city than Gatlinburg, and more spread out. The peak time to visit is between March – October, the warmer months. You'll find that Broadway is the busiest place where you may be shoulder to shoulder with other visitors, especially in the evening and on weekends. For a guide to Nashville crowds, we wrote this post.

Cheaper to Fly into Nashville or Gatlinburg?

It is usually significantly cheaper to fly into Nashville than Gatlinburg. That's because Nashville is a larger airport with more flights offered and more people flying there.

When Should You Visit Nashville and Gatlinburg?

The best times to visit Gatlinburg is during the Fall or Spring. The summer months can be stiflingly hot, and during the cold months, many attractions close. During the Fall foliage season (October to November), Gatlinburg is stunning, while Spring (April to May offers warm weather and beautiful spring blooms.

In Nashville, the best times to visit are also Spring and Fall. Music festivals and events go on throughout the year.

Final Verdict – Gatlinburg vs. Nashville

Gatlinburg and Nashville are two distinct places. One is in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the other is “Music City USA.” Gatlinburg offers the peace, serenity, and relaxation only the mountains offer. Nashville offers a bustling environment full of music and activities.

Gatlinburg is cheaper and better for families, and Nashville is better suited to the grownups who want to have a good time and are musically focused.

It comes down to personal preference and the needs of your family.

FAQs About Gatlinburg vs. Nashville

Is Gatlinburg Dangerous?

Gatlinburg, a popular tourist destination in Tennessee, is considered safe. Like any tourist area, it's wise to be aware of your surroundings and take standard precautions. The main concerns in Gatlinburg aren't necessarily crime-related but are associated with its location in the Great Smoky Mountains. This means potential risks from wildlife, such as bears, and natural elements, especially if you venture into the national park for hiking or other activities. Traffic can also be heavy during peak tourist seasons, leading to congestion and increased accident risk. In the winter, icy conditions can make roads treacherous. Overall, while Gatlinburg has its inherent risks tied to its mountainous location, it can be a safe and enjoyable destination with proper precautions and awareness.

Is There Good Hiking in Nashville?

While Nashville is not known for its hiking opportunities, some nearby parks and trails are worth exploring, such as Radnor Lake State Park, Percy Warner Park, and Shelby Bottoms Greenway. However, if hiking is a priority for your trip, Gatlinburg's proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a better choice.

Is There a Train from Nashville to Gatlinburg?

Unfortunately, there is no direct train service between Nashville and Gatlinburg. The most convenient option for traveling between the two cities is by car, with a driving distance of approximately 220 miles. Alternatively, you can consider taking a bus.

Is Gatlinburg Expensive?

As with many tourist spots, the cost of visiting can vary based on personal preferences and activities chosen. Accommodations range from budget-friendly options to upscale resorts. Dining can be relatively inexpensive at local eateries, though there are also gourmet restaurants that command higher prices. Attractions like the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park, ski area, or various guided tours can add to expenses. Moreover, the proximity to the national park may entail costs like entrance fees or tour packages. Shopping, especially in local souvenir shops, can also impact your budget. While a visit to Gatlinburg can be managed on a modest budget, costs can add up depending on the choices, so it's wise to plan ahead.

Do You Need a Car in Gatlinburg?

Having a car in Gatlinburg makes it easy to access popular attractions and nearby outdoor activities. However, if you prefer to explore the city without a vehicle, there are plenty of walkable areas and local transportation options, such as the Gatlinburg Trolley service. Additionally, most hotels offer shuttle services to popular destinations. Walking in downtown Gatlinburg is easy and accessible to many attractions, shops, and restaurants.

Which city is better suited for nature lovers: Gatlinburg or Nashville?

Gatlinburg is better suited for nature lovers, as it is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering access to numerous outdoor activities such as hiking, wildlife spotting, and scenic drives. Though a charming city, Nashville focuses more on music and cultural attractions.

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