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6 Best Places to Live in Tennessee

By: Susan Finch
August 5, 2021

Tennessee embraces its gorgeous mountain living, urban gems, and rich history and culture. It still holds true to its name, the Volunteer State, when a high number of volunteers helped during the War of 1812. You'll still see southern hospitality on display whether you live in the bustling city of Nashville or family-friendly Clarksville.

Tennessee locals also enjoy no state income tax and occasional sales tax holidays, putting more money in their pockets for rent and recreation. Whether you want to settle into Music City or get away from the bustle, you can find it in Tennessee.

Moving to Tennessee and not sure where to start? Here, we did the work for you and rounded up some of the best places to live in Tennessee.

1. Nashville

  • Population: 670,820
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,754
  • Median Household Income: $59,828
  • Walk Score: 28
  • Transit Score: 24
  • Bike Score: 30

Nashville is the capital and most populated city in Tennessee along the Cumberland River. The city was founded in 1779 and flourished for its riverfront proximity and local railroad center. Today, Nashville is known for its roots in the music industry and higher education.

Music City attracts young professionals, families, and students looking for opportunity, urban amenities, and a vibrant backdrop. Although Nashville is known for its country music scene, there are other thriving industries to choose from. Healthcare, automobile, finance, publishing, technology, manufacturing, and tourism are also big employers around Nashville’s neighborhoods. Students also call the city home while attending Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State University, and Belmont University.

Despite Nashville’s rising cost of living, it’s still a desirable place to live with varying rents. People are moving into Nashville from Memphis, Chicago, and Clarksville. When locals move out of Nashville, they're moving to Atlanta, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

Nashville has a booming tourism industry, making it a fun place to live and play. The Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium are a must. For a taste of country music history, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum features Nashville's oldest surviving recording studio with historic RCA Studio B. Downtown Nashville is also a stomping ground for honky-tonks, print shops, boutiques, and dining. Dozens of live music venues also open their doors to local talent.

Locals stroll around Downtown Nashville or head over to Nashville's Centennial Park. Here, you’ll see The Pantheon, which was built for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition. It's an original replica of the original Parthenon and features artwork and history inside. Over at Shelby Bottoms Greenway, locals explore forested areas, fields, streams, and wetlands housing various species.

2. Memphis

  • Population: 651,073
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,084
  • Median Household Income: $41,228
  • Walk Score: 36
  • Bike Score: 44

Memphis lies along the Mississippi River and was first discovered by European explorers in 1541. The city was officially founded in 1819 and grew into one of the largest cities in the Antebellum South for its agriculture, cotton, and lumber. Today, Memphis is a hub for media, art, entertainment, commerce, and education. Memphis has a reputation for its historic blues clues, country, rock and roll, and all things barbecue.

It is a diverse city, attracting young professionals for its low cost of living and entertainment options. The city is home to advanced manufacturing, agriculture, professional services, and technology industries. However, locals are also never far from the music scene and great food. The city also attracts students to the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, and private institutions like Baptist Health Sciences University.

Living in Memphis requires exercising some caution and being proactive about knowing your surroundings. People move into Memphis from Nashville, Jackson, and Atlanta. When locals move out of Memphis, they're moving to Nashville, Atlanta, and Dallas.

Memphis' main attractions and appeal are all about music. Graceland preserves the memory of Elvis Prestley, and Sun Studio marks the birthplace of rock and roll. Locals and visitors head to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to trace the history and roots of soul music. For local music, Beale Street is a staple for live music and nearby soul food eateries.

For a day outdoors, the Mississippi River Park features hiking trails, and the Wolf River Greenway is perfect for a bike ride. The Memphis Zoo and Aquarium is also a major draw with theme-based habitats and global wildlife.

3. Knoxville

  • Population: 187,603
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,217
  • Median Household Income: $40,341
  • Walk Score: 31
  • Transit Score: 28
  • Bike Score: 30

Knoxville started as a fort along the Trans-Appalachian frontier in 1786 and became the first city in Tennessee in 1796. The town flourished as a station for migrants traveling west, as well as a commercial center for surrounding communities. In 1850, a railroad arrived, and Knoxville experienced a boom. Today, Knoxville is known for the University of Tennessee, Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, and a growing foodie destination.

Knoxville regularly ranks among the best cities to live in, with a strong job market and potential for future growth. Newcomers may be surprised that Knoxville is an urban center for coal and zinc mining along the Cumberland mountains. Major employers around the city also include retail trade, healthcare, social services, and educational services.

People move into Knoxville from Nashville, Sevierville, and Morristown. When locals move out of Knoxville, they also move to Nashville, Sevierville, and Morristown.

The community supports arts and entertainment around Knoxville, with stops like the Tennessee Theatre. Locals also gather for live music, drinks, dining, and shopping along Market Square. The pedestrian-friendly area is also the perfect spot for street art in the alley and sculptures. Ijams Nature Center offers 315-acres for hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing, and exploring for an outdoor fix for some outdoor exercise.

If Knoxville seems like the place for you, read about its best neighborhoods!

4. Chattanooga

  • Population: 182,799
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,168
  • Median Household Income: $45,527
  • Walk Score: 29
  • Transit Score: 25
  • Bike Score: 35

Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River, just a short drive to Georgia. The city was integral during the American Civil War for its multiple railroads and large industrial hubs. Today, the city lives up to its nickname as "Science City" for its surrounding mountains and ridges.

The majority of Chattanooga's population are rising professionals or Millenials looking for job opportunities or to raise a family. Major industries fuel the job growth in Chattanooga, with healthcare, automotive, advanced manufacturing, and food and beverage production, among others. College students flood the city to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and private options like Southern Adventist University.

Chattanooga's quaint Downtown is easy to explore by foot with spots like the Tennessee Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum, shops, and dining. There's always a pub nearby and a treat shop ready to welcome visitors of all ages.

You can also bike, walk, or drive over the Walnut Street Bridge across the Tennessee River to the developing North Shore neighborhood for even more fun. The North Shore is celebrated for its eclectic scene of gastropubs, cafes, and restaurants with riverside stops like Renaissance Park and Coolidge Park.

Chattanooga offers an urban core nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Outdoor opportunities are plentiful, like the Incline Railway scaling Lookout Mountain, the nearby Ruby Falls, and Rock City with sweeping views. Downtown Chattanooga is also a haven for families looking to cool off in hot months. Fountains and shallow canals are chlorinated and welcoming for a good splash.

5. Clarksville

  • Population: 158,146
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,072
  • Median Household Income: $1,072
  • Walk Score: 18
  • Bike Score: 27

Clarksville, Tennessee, was founded in 1795 and incorporated in 1807. Clarksville takes its name from a frontier fighter and Revolutionary War hero, George Rogers Clark. But Clarksville is also a nod to William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Clarksville is an affordable, family-friendly town where young professionals and millennials come to settle. Clarksville's major economic drivers and employers include Fort Campbell Army Post, Austin Peay State University, and a robust manufacturing scene. Students also come to Clarksville to attend Austin Peay State University and community colleges like North Central Institute.

Clarksville isn't known for its urban amenities but offers family-friendly stops throughout the city. For example, McGregor Park Riverside is a picturesque place to gather with friends. Liberty Park and Marina feature a playground, waterside fun, paths, and a restaurant for waterside dining. For mountain biking or exploring, Roary Park is perfect for creekside exploring.

6. Murfreesboro

  • Population: 146,900
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,113
  • Median Household Income: $62,003
  • Walk Score: 25
  • Bike Score: 40

Murfreesboro is a suburb of Nashville and among the fastest-growing cities in the country. It was founded in 1818 and was once the capital of Tennessee. After the Civil War, it grew into an agricultural community before several colleges and universities settled in. It was once known as the "Athens of Tennessee" for its higher education opportunities.

Murfreesboro welcomes students attending area universities, families, and millennials building their careers. Major employers around the city include Vanderbilt University, Schneider Electric, and Dell Technologies. Locals can also make the 35-mile commute into Nashville for more job opportunities. Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center welcome students looking to advance their education.

Murfreesboro's roots in Southern history make it a popular place to see Civil War-era sites. Stones River National Battlefield and Cannonsburgh Village showcase artifacts and representations from the 1800s to 1900s. The Oakland Mansion is located in the heart of Murfreesboro and represents plantation home living during the 1800s. For a different type of history lesson, the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History offers a collection of shells, dinosaur replicas, and fossils on display.

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Move to In Tennessee?

Ready to make a move to Tennessee? Sign up for Apartment List to find the best places to live in Tennessee.

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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