17 Pros and Cons of Living in Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville is the third-largest city in Tennessee with 190K residents and is located near the state’s eastern border with North Carolina. This 104-square mile city sits on the Tennessee River, in the center of the Tennessee Valley section of the Appalachians. 

Knoxville has a history of economic ups and downs depending on local wars, the state of the American economy, and the rise and fall of transportation technology such as the railroad. But each time Knoxville has been knocked down, it has managed to redefine itself and rebuild.

In this article, we will examine what Knoxville is like in modern times, and what the pros and cons are of calling the city home.  

11 Benefits of Living in Knoxville, Tennessee – Pros

An aerial photograph of a bridge crossing over the TN River. Knoxville can be seen in the distance behind the bridge.

First, we’ll look at the positive aspects of Knoxville which might make you consider a move to this city.

1. Low Cost of Living/Housing

One of the most attractive reasons to live in Knoxville is that it has an overall cost of living that is 15% lower than national averages. In fact, the city has a lower cost for every major price category. The most important low cost is that of housing, with Knoxville having a median home cost of $257K versus the national average of $291K. 

It must be noted, however, that salaries in Knoxville are also lower than the national average ($23K in Knoxville versus $28K in the US).

2. Decent Schools

The Knoxville school system is in the Top 80% of school districts in Tennessee. The downtown schools have average performance, but there are many top-ranked schools to the west and north of downtown. It may also be worth noting that the athletic programs within Knoxville schools are considered to be in the Top 5% of the country. If you are looking for alternatives to public schools, then Knoxville has 45 private schools to choose from.

3. No Traffic

It is very rare to be able to list traffic in the Pros category for a city, but Knoxville deserves this recognition. The city ranks first in the world for being the least congested city. When the Knoxville roads get congested, the traffic adds just 7% more to a driver’s trip. So on a 30-minute drive across town, a driver will be delayed just 2 minutes by city traffic. Given this fact, it is little wonder that Knoxville residents spend an average of just 19 minutes on their commute, below the national average of 26 minutes.

4. The Mountains

A photograph of the Smoky Mountains, showing over a dozen rolling hills, with clouds lying in the valleys between the hills

Knoxville is called “The Gateway to the Smoky Mountains” as the city is only 34 miles from the 500K acre national park that protects most of the Smokies. This is the most visited national park in the country, attracting over 12 million visitors each year. 

Visitors come to hike the park’s 850 miles of trails, including 70 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. Others visit for camping and can choose between both formal or primitive campsites. After hiking and camping, the next most popular activity is fly fishing for the native trout.

If you are interested in less crowded park options, Knoxville is near at least 5 state parks. Activities include birdwatching at Seven Islands, fishing and paddling at Norris Dam, and hiking at Big Ridge (3K acres), Cherokee (650K acres), and Cumberland Gap (21K acres)

Finally, as if the above forest land isn’t enough, residents of Knoxville have access to an impressive 92 parks inside its city limits, totaling over 2,200 acres of protected lands. In these parks, you will find a little bit of every forest and water activity imaginable. 

5. The Water

Knoxville is most commonly associated with mountains, but one shouldn’t forget that the city is in a valley; a valley that has been carved into the mountains by running water. Knoxville sits a the point where the French Broad River and the Holston River merge to form the Tennessee River. From here, the Tennessee river travels 652 miles until it reaches the Ohio River. 

Along the path of the Tennessee River, mankind has placed 9 dams to control flooding, provide electricity, and make the Tennessee River navigatable to barges. At each dam, a lake or reservoir is formed. Knoxville has four dams/reservoirs nearby (Douglas, Cherokee, Fort Loudoun, and Norris). 

These waters provide Knoxville residents with opportunities to engage in a variety of water sports, including paddling, swimming, fishing, boating, and water skiing. Some unique opportunities also include birdwatching, sightseeing historic homes, and stopping at restaurants right on the river banks.

6. Golfing

The Appalachian Mountains are not exactly known as a golfing paradise, but Knoxville has done quite well in regards to developing a reputation as a golf destination. The city has 14 golf courses with another 11 courses within 20 miles. Of these 25 nearby courses, 7 are municipal, 9 are public, and the remaining 9 are private. This variety of courses ensures there is an option for every budget and skillet. 

7. Sports Crazy

An aerial photo of the University of TN football stadium. This city of Knoxville can be seen behind the stadium. Mountains are seen in the far off distance.

If you love sports, then the Knoxville area is probably a good fit for you. The city ranked #2 in the nation for being the Best College Sports town. Its residents are obsessed with the University of Tennessee sports programs, especially football. 

Knoxville is also one of the few sports towns that go crazy over women’s college sports, which is understandable seeing the UT women’s basketball team regularly competes for the national title.

Gameday is a party before, during, and after the big games. Potential residents had better enjoy, or at least tolerate, large crowds of neon orange.

8. Jobs

Knoxville has been ranked 11th on the country’s Best Cities for Jobs list with the city scoring well due to its robust job opportunities and employment growth.

Top employers in the city include state agencies, federal agencies, education, healthcare, tech, banks, aluminum manufacturing, defense contractors, retail, tourism, and many more.

9. Art and Culture

Knoxville has a variety of cultural institutions located in or near the downtown area. These include museums related to the history of the local people, art, natural history, and the railroad. There is also a children’s museum and several old historic houses to tour. You will also find a half dozen professional, community, and children’s theatres, along with an opera and a symphony. The Knoxville Zoo is always a hit with the family and its Asian exhibit has been rated one of the best in the country. 

10. Exciting Nightlife

One of the perks of living in a major college town is that you often have an exciting nightlife, if you want it. The Downtown and West neighborhoods have over 60 bars, a half dozen dance clubs, and several live music venues. This same area has over 250 restaurants and two dozen breweries, most of which are locally owned. 

11. Events and Festivals

Knoxville is a festive city and there are usually multiple events taking place every weekend throughout the year. The most popular festivals focus on Dragon Boat racing, arts, Mediterranean culture, beer, live music, Hispanic culture, Asian culture, film, Pride, farmers, flowers, the environment, and much more.

6 Drawbacks of Living in Knoxville, Tennessee – Cons

A photo of downtown Knoxville showing a government building on the left and two tall black buildings in the center and right

Living in a major college town can create some unique challenges that should be considered prior to making the big move. 

12. Crime

A major college town full of drunk sports fans is going to have challenges with crime. Knoxville has been ranked as the most crime-ridden city in Tennessee, behind even Nashville and Memphis. In 2019, Knoxville had over 10K reported crimes. It is considered more dangerous than 96% of cities of similar size. Violent crime rates are double the national averages (45 Knoxville versus 22 US) and property crime is more than double the national averages (81 Knoxville versus 35 US)

While the above statistics are scary, please note that nearly zero online reviews of the city listed crime as one of the downsides of living in Knoxville. Crime maps show that crime is concentrated in the University-Downtown area, while most of the town’s adult residents live in the much safer areas in the northside and westside of the city.

13. Game Days at University of Tennessee

Participating in huge celebrations every game day is a lot of fun when you are a 20-year old college kid. But what happens when you are 40 and just need to get your kid to a soccer game, or just need to grab a few things at the Walmart? The novelty of orange craziness probably wears off quickly for Knoxville residents. As one online review nicely stated, “Home football game days are ugly if you live in [Knoxville], so it’s best just to stay indoors when the drunken orange masses invade the area.”

14. Lack of Public Transportation

The city of Knoxville operates a bus service that has about a dozen routes. The most popular routes are from the college campus to the downtown area. Most students survive fine using the bus for their downtown travel needs. 

However, working adults who usually live outside the college-downtown corridor find using the bus to be a struggle. Bus stops can be too far away in some areas, pickups occur too infrequently, routes are too long, some routes don’t run on weekends, connections are often required, etc. Even the lack of sidewalks in some neighborhoods can make the walking trek to the bus stop a risk. 

If you want to live in Knoxville, you will need a car.

15. Mix of Politics

Being a college town, the city of Knoxville is liberal. However, it is surrounded on all sides by the conservative areas of rural Tennessee. Nearly every online review of Knoxville mentioned the political tensions that occur by having a blue city surrounded by a sea of red. Neither group can accomplish everything they want because of opposition and interference from the other group. 

16. Air Pollution and Allergies

A photo of a woman, standing net to tall yellow flowers, blowing her nose into a tissue.

The Knoxville area has been plagued with bad air for decades, likely caused by the nearby coal power plant and other industries creating smog that then got stuck in the valley. 

However, the city has been making a steady investment to improve the quality of its power plant and industry. In 2017, the city finally met Federal air quality standards for the first time. Today, the city is ranked 25th worst in the country for air pollution. Residents should continue to see improvements to air quality because the nearby coal power plant is scheduled to be turned off in 2023.

Even after the manmade air quality issues are fixed, the natural pollen issues will always remain. Knoxville ranks 10th for cities with the worst allergies.

17. Water Pollution 

The Smoky Mountain area is known for its pristine streams filled with native trout, and those waters do indeed exist up in the protected areas of the mountains. However, the water in and around the valley is not so pristine.

The Tennessee River is ranked in the top 20 of the most polluted rivers in America. A 2018 study found the river had one of the worst levels of microplastics of any river in the world. Knox County ranked in the top 10% of most polluted counties. Nearly 30% of the state’s streams are unable to support healthy fish populations and 40% of its streams are not safe for human recreation. 

The largest culprits of water pollution in the valley are from farm and sewage run-off, as well as plastic bag litter. 

Is Knoxville a Good Place to Live?

An aerial photo of downtown Knoxville showing a variety of buildings

Knoxville is home to a major university with a popular sports program. Living in a college town has perks such as having access to a robust Downtown area, plenty of nightlife, lots of cultural and art activities, and events happening in the city every weekend. 

The question is whether the novelty of college town life will wear off by the time you hit 30 and you just want to be able to take the kids to soccer and visit Walmart without having to navigate drunk, neon-orange-wearing sports fans. 

If you love the college sports scene, then Knoxville should be at the top of your list. If you just want a home near the mountains, then perhaps one of Knoxville’s neighboring cities is a better match for you.

What Does it Cost to Live in Knoxville?

One of the most attractive reasons to live in Knoxville is that it has an overall cost of living that is 15% lower than national averages. In fact, the city has a lower cost for every major price category. The most important low cost is that of housing, with Knoxville having a median home cost of $257K versus the national average of $291K. 

What is the ZIP code for Knoxville, TN?

Knoxville has 16 zip codes: 37849, 37871, 37902, 37909, 37912, 37914, 37915, 37916, 37917, 37918, 37919, 37920, 37921, 37922, 37923, 37931

Is Knoxville a Safe City?

A major college town full of drunk sports fans is going to have challenges with crime. Knoxville has been ranked as the most crime-ridden city in Tennessee, behind even Nashville and Memphis. In 2019, Knoxville had over 10K reported crimes. It is considered more dangerous than 96% of cities of similar size. Violent crime rates are double the national averages (45 Knoxville versus 22 US) and property crime is more than double the national averages (81 Knoxville versus 35 US)

While the above statistics are scary, please note that nearly zero online reviews of the city listed crime as one of the downsides of living in Knoxville. Crime maps show that crime is concentrated in the University-Downtown area, while most of the town’s adult residents live in the much safer areas in the northside and westside of the city.

What County is Knoxville, TN In?

Knoxville is in Knox County, Tennessee.

What is the Coldest Month in Knoxville?

The coldest month in Knoxville is January with average lows around 30 degrees. Note, the city averages just 5 days of the year where temperatures stay below freezing for the entire day.

Related: 25 Pros and Cons of Living in Tennessee