1. Tennessee Aquarium
For several decades, the idea of planning to visit Chattanooga for fun would have been dismissed by most travelers who didn't have business or family connections here. The downtown area was in decline. Local attractions were not consistently pulling in visitors from other areas. But travelers began taking notice of downtown with the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium in 1992. The aquarium formed the centerpiece of a revitalization along the Tennessee River that now includes restaurants, recreational attractions, and new hotels.

AquariumThe aquarium's annual economic impact is estimated to be in excess of $100 million, and it attracts 700,000 yearly visitors. What's the attraction for budget travelers? Admission charges are not cheap, but far less than what would be required to spend the day at a theme park. You can also buy tickets to IMAX movies and a trip on the River Gorge Explorer, billed as a "high tech vessel" that cruises the Tennessee River. The cruise, at this writing, costs more than admission to the aquarium, but you can bundle all three experiences at a discounted price. The aquarium admission includes the two major buildings, one of which is devoted to saltwater exhibits, while the other is focused on freshwater displays for species that can be found in local waters. This distinguishes the experience from other major aquariums.

Tickets are good for the entire day, but it's possible to complete a tour in half of that time. Look for public parking to avoid the aquarium parking charges, which will run higher. With good weather, visit The Passage, a nearby public water park that runs between the aquarium and the riverfront. It's a great place to cool off at no charge. The aquarium is recent and ultra-modern. Next, see about visiting an ancient wonder just a few miles from the city center.

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Published by Trip Savvy on Sept. 13, 2016: Written by Mark Kahler