Meeting planners wanting more intimate meeting and conference destinations with a touch of history, live country music and Southern charm should check out these smaller destinations across Tennessee that offer plenty of nearby attractions and meeting venues to rival those of their larger neighbors.
Bristol is unusual because it encompasses two states: Tennessee and Virginia. People come to town just to walk down the middle of State Street, which straddles the state line. The city is also the official birthplace of country music. Groups can learn about the famous Bristol Sessions that influenced many different genres of music at the Smithsonian-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which also makes a wonderful off-site meeting venue. Meeting planners can host events in the performance theater, the atrium or the learning center, giving attendees an opportunity to experience the museum and its exhibits as part of their conference.
Groups can attend a NASCAR or NHRA drag racing event at Bristol Motor Speedway, which has become an entertainment facility. Groups can plan events in the speedway’s numerous venues, including its most versatile conference space, the South Building, which has three bays that offer more than 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The Bristol Club is a luxury skybox with all-inclusive meals and drinks and space for up to 400 people.
Delta Hotels Bristol has 20,000 square feet of event space: 14 event rooms and up to 10 breakout rooms. The largest room can host groups of as many as 700 people. The Conference Center is being renovated and is expected to be completed this month. The Bristol Hotel is in a historic building with three smaller conference spaces. The Sessions Hotel, on the Virginia side of town, features Simply Grand, an event space housed in a historic mill with wood floors, brick walls, a private bar and an outdoor cocktail space.
Tucked into the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sevierville is known for its historic downtown area full of vibrant mural art, new restaurants and boutique shops. Visiting groups can take the free self-guided walking tour of downtown to see more than 40 historic points of interest, view the town’s ever-changing public art installations and take selfies next to the bronze statue of Sevierville’s hometown darling, Dolly Parton.
New attractions in the area include Skyland Ranch, which is set to open in April. Guests will take a scenic chairlift ride to the top where hours of fun await with a mountain coaster, a suspended bridge, canopy walks and a variety of rescued miniature animals, like cows and donkeys, to adore. The 50-acre Soaky Mountain Waterpark opened in 2020 and is adding a first-of-its-kind dueling water coaster called The Edge. The ride spans two football fields in length. After climbing the 70-foot tower, riders scream down a three-story drop that leads to the first valley before the competitors race to the finish line.
The world’s largest Buc-ee’s mega convenience store, a destination shopping experience, is set to open in town in December.
For meetings and conferences, the Sevierville Convention Center features nearly 150,000 square feet of customizable space, including a 108,245-square-foot exhibit hall, four ballrooms, several meeting rooms and prefunction spaces. The Wilderness at the Smokies Water Park Resort is connected to the convention center. The town has plenty of name-brand hotels and specialty resorts to choose from, many with meeting space.
Located in southeast Tennessee, Cleveland has much to offer in the way of urban amenities, like shopping and dining, but is surrounded by mountains and rivers. The Cherokee National Forest is 15 minutes from town. Groups can take a guided whitewater rafting trip down the Ocoee River or learn how to paddle on the calmer Hiwassee River. Visitors to Red Clay State Historic Park and the Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston can learn more about the Trail of Tears and the forced removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands in the area.
In town, the Museum Center at 5ive Points can host up to 400 people theater style and about 260 people seated for a banquet. The Cleveland Country Club can host about 200 people for a banquet. The Conclave, which is set to open later in 2022, will have retail and workforce training centers in it but will also have space to host larger meetings and events. The venue will be upscale with a stage, lighting and huge screens for presentations.
Unique venues include the Johnston Woods Retreat Center, which can sleep 82 people and has meeting spaces for groups of up to 225 for a banquet, and the Old Woolen Mill, which can handle groups of 100 people. The area has several familiar chain hotels with meeting spaces for smaller groups of around 50 people, including a Hampton Inn, a Fairfield Marriott and a La Quinta. The area has 1,700 lodge rooms in total.
Country music, whiskey and Civil War history permeate all facets of Franklin. Its beautiful historic downtown takes up 16 square blocks with locally owned shops, restaurants and live music venues. History buffs can tour a Civil War battlefield right in the middle of Franklin and visit three well-preserved Civil War-era homes. For fans of the state’s whiskey trail, Franklin has three distilleries with a wide range of tour and tasting experiences.
With 6,000 hotel rooms in town, there are plenty of lodging options with meeting spaces to choose from. The largest, the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs, is a full-service, 300-room hotel with a 29,000-square-foot conference center that can accommodate 1,200 people for a banquet and 1,900 theater style.
Among the unique venues is Gray’s on Main, a restaurant and live music venue that takes up a three-story building that used to be a pharmacy. It has kept the pharmaceutical theme and offers mid- to upper-end Southern cuisine, a pre-Prohibition brandy bar and a stage where top country music celebrities have performed. Puckett’s is a famous restaurant, grocery and live music venue. Its claim to fame is that several famous country music artists, including Jimmie Allen, were discovered there.
The Factory at Franklin is a former stove factory that has been converted into a shopping, dining, entertainment and event venue. The site has three different theater and performance halls that can be rented out for private events. For team building, Franklin offers cocktail and cooking classes.
A university town steeped in Civil War history, Murfreesboro offers visitors a number of important historical sites, including the Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery, which commemorates one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, and the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center, which teaches visitors about the importance of the U.S. Colored Troops during the war and the legacy of African Americans in the country.
The area is also known for its whiskey-making heritage. Visitors to the Short Mountain Distillery can learn about how the moonshiners distilled their illegal liquor during Prohibition and sample the sour mash moonshine distilled on-property. Mayday Brewery also offers tours, tastings, food trucks and live entertainment. Lucky Ladd Farms, the Discovery Center and the Murfree Spring Wetlands, and Earth Experience – Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History are other popular attractions.
Meeting planners can choose from two large full-service hotels: the Embassy Suites Murfreesboro Hotel and Conference Center, with 283 guest rooms and 63,000 square feet of event space, and the DoubleTree by Hilton-Murfreesboro, with 169 guest rooms and 3,840 square feet of event space. For more unusual meeting venues, smaller groups can host events at the Oaklands Mansion, the Sam Davis Home and Plantation, and Cannonsburgh Village, a reconstructed Southern village that features a town hall, a gristmill, a one-room schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop. The Grove at Williamson Place is an old farm that was turned into an event venue with a barn and outdoor function spaces that can accommodate 450 people.