Waltzing into a Tennessee retirement won’t break your heart or your bank account, state officials promise.
“Tennessee is ideal for retirement for our lower cost of living, no state income tax or pension tax, mild four-season climate and quality of life,” Mark Ezell, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, tells Money Talks News. “Our music, scenic beauty, state-of-the-art health care, rural and urban communities make it easy to call Tennessee home.”
And many do. Of the 2020 Census Bureau estimate of 6.9 million Tennessee residents, 17.3% are age 65 and up.
The state boasts 12 Certified Retire Tennessee Communities, each with resources and amenities making them a viable retirement destination, Ezell says.
But that’s not all. Here’s a look at some the best places to retire in Tennessee, roughly from east to west.
Estimated population: 3,600 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 22.4%
This gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be packed with tourists, but it offers a small-town atmosphere with plenty of events and opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, skiing and even songwriting.
You can golf at eight area courses. Ride a coaster or ski at Ober Mountain Adventure Park and Ski Area, which is accessible by car or by aerial tram based in downtown Gatlinburg. Be amazed by the Ripley’s oddities museum and its Aquarium of the Smokies. Visit the 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower and the scenic Gatlinburg SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge, which links two peaks.
Down the road in Pigeon Forge is entertainer Dolly Parton’s Dollywood amusement park, where you can play or even work.
Gatlinburg was also featured in our article on “16 Great Places to Retire in the Mountains.”
Estimated population: 190,700 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 14.3%
Urban amenities, vibrant culture and natural beauty blend in this historic university town where the Holston and French Broad Rivers join to form the Tennessee River.
Explore urban wilderness including the Ijams Nature Center. Tee up at more than 20 area golf courses. From the Sunsphere Observation Deck at World’s Fair Park, where you can also enjoy concerts and festivals, you can check out the 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, downtown Knoxville, the Market Square dining and culture hub, the Tennessee River and the University of Tennessee flagship campus. There, you can take courses for credit at a reduced fee and cheer for the Vols sports teams.
Keep busy with hiking clubs, field trips, cards, billiards and more organized activities at the city’s senior centers.
The renowned UT Medical Center is the area’s top-rated hospital.
Estimated population: 7,300 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 70.6%
Stay engaged in this planned community nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains foothills along 33-mile-long Tellico Lake.
Tellico Village’s eight neighborhoods are not age-restricted but do emphasize an active adult lifestyle. You can golf on three championship courses where leagues are resident-run and golf association members participate in weekly events and other social activities.
Other amenities feature recreation centers, boating, fishing and swimming. Residents stay active in clubs including art, hiking and woodworking.
Estimated population: 61,100 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 31.5%
With 10 nearby courses, the area calls itself the Golf Capital of Tennessee. Check out the view from the top of the Homesteads Tower Museum’s octagonal water tower, from which you can see most of the original 252 New Deal farmsteads. See a live theater performance at the Cumberland County Playhouse. Go hiking, golfing, boating, swimming, biking or bird watching at Cumberland Mountain State Park. Learn about conflicts from the Civil War to the current day at the Military Memorial Museum.
Estimated population: 181,800 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 17.4%
Ride the Tennessee Valley Railroad steam-locomotive train through a pre-Civil War tunnel or take a mile-long ride up one of the world’s steepest tracks, the Incline Railway, to the top of Lookout Mountain, 2,000 feet above sea level. Under the mountain is Ruby Falls, the nation’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall. Take in a minor league ballgame of the Chattanooga Lookouts.
You’ll see why Chattanooga is nicknamed “Scenic City” as you tee up at nearly 20 area golf courses, stroll or bike along the 16.1-mile Chattanooga Riverwalk, view giant catfish, turtles and more at the Tennessee Aquarium, smell the roses and play bocce ball at the Glenn Miller Gardens, or tour Civil War battle sites. Audit classes for free at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Estimated population: 689,400 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 13.3%
The country music capital is also home to Tennessee’s State Capitol, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Johnny Cash Museum, National Museum of African American Music and President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.
Cheer on the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, Nashville Soccer Club and Nashville Sounds. Golf at more than 40 area courses; join a senior dance club; walk, jog, stroll or play at more than 100 city parks. Sprint about 40 miles north for horse racing, slot machines and entertainment at The Mint/Kentucky Downs.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center is ranked the top Nashville hospital.
Estimated population: 10,300 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 22.5%
Southern charm comes with a French accent in this delightful Tennessee city that is also a gateway to outdoor recreation.
A 60-foot lighted Eiffel Tower includes a selfie platform in a park where you can also stroll nature trails, play disc golf and attend festivals. Tour the historic district’s turn-of-the-century buildings as well as antebellum and Victorian-style homes. Learn the area’s history at the elegant Paris-Henry County Heritage Center. And don’t miss the annual World’s Biggest Fish Fry, featuring 12,500 pounds of catfish with all the trimmings, parades and rodeos.
The Henry County Medical Center is the area hospital.
Estimated population: 633,100 as of 2020
Share of the population age 65 and older: 15%
You’ll find whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on as you find your own retirement rhythm in this mighty Mississippi River city influencing American music.
When you’re walking in Memphis, you can tour Elvis Presley’s Graceland, including the King’s mansion, gardens and burial site, and Sun Studio, Elvis’ first recording studio and the place other musical legends including B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison also laid down tracks.
Learn more about Memphis culture and music at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which is located in the vibrant Beale Street entertainment district and offers senior discounts. It is also next to FedEx Forum, where you can watch the Grizzlies play basketball.
Golf at 25 area courses. Dance, learn piano or walk with a fitness group at the J.K. Lewis Senior Center, and enjoy sports and activities at other city parks. Examine art at the Brooks Museum (free admission on Saturday mornings), or study the period of change at the National Civil Rights Museum (free for state residents on late Monday afternoons). Embrace the river on a boat ride or explore Mud Island and other parks.