Tennessee : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Tennessee - state review
It’s hard to write about Knoxville, Tennessee, without humming “Good ole Rocky Top.”
This eastern Tennessee city sits along the Tennessee River and is home to the University of Tennessee.
This is Tennessee at its finest.
Another bonus of Knoxville is its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the beautiful cities of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
This of Pigeon Forge as the Branson of Tennessee.
I’ve been there many times, and I can tell you – the fall foliage and holiday season events are simply amazing.
That’s not to say there isn’t much to do in Knoxville.
It’s a great wealth of indoor, outdoor, rural, and urban adventures.
See the skies from the Sunsphere tower, or walk through one of the many districts:
- Gay Street: The gun battles that once filled this street are long gone, but now it’s rich with history, art, theaters, and local events. It’s ranked as one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association.
- Historic Old City: This is the intersection of eclectic vibes and architectural marvels in Knoxville. Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or an evening nightcap, this is the place to get local spirit and charm.
- Market Square: Shop, eat, and be entertained in this gathering place. Whether you want to be close to campus or close to the wilderness, this is a great spot for people-watching. Check out the Oliver Hotel to see historical elegance.
- Happy Holler Historic District: This up-and-coming neighborhood brings vintage to the South. Get your retro on for old-school fun with a modern flair.
Knoxville also has a prominent Black-Owned business scene.
Dining options range from leave-with-bbq-sauce-on-your-face ribs to fancy Southern-style dishes.
Don’t forget to savor the sweet tea in this Southern gem of a city.
Warnings & Dangers in Knoxville
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
For all Knoxville has to offer, it comes with medium risk. The city is facing a history of racial disparities and poverty, which fuel crime. A wake-up call of increased violent crime in 2021 has the city taking action, but there are real systemic challenges happening here that won't be fixed by the time you visit.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Katbus is the public transportation in Knoxville. There is a fixed route bus service, but you're probably going to use the free downtown trolley that only goes between major attractions or destinations. Rideshares, taxis, and rental cars are also available. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
In a city of 190,000 people, there were just 18 pickpockets or purse snatchings in 2020. While there's a low risk, you should use the standard caution and be extra vigilant during big events or game weekends.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Knoxville runs the gamut with severe weather risks. That's why it's a medium risk overall. You can get flooding, severe storms, tornadoes, winter storms, and wildfires here. You must stay weather aware when visiting here because storms can quickly turn a good day on its head if you aren't paying attention.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
The robbery rate here is nearly 40% higher than the national average. We also know from 2020 crime data that 47% of violent crimes happen against strangers. Treat this as a medium risk, but you'll likely never notice it if you stay in the local districts and destinations geared toward tourists.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
While Knoxville isn't one of the top terror targets in the South, it's big enough and near enough tourist attractions to stay vigilant. There was an act of domestic terrorism in 2008 when a mass shooter went into a church in a violent hate crime spree.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Scams in Knoxville are usually geared toward locals, and nothing stands out from the run-of-the-mill scams nationwide. If you are renting a home in or near the mountains, always be sure the landlord has a rental permit and NEVER wire money to secure your investment. Using a local travel agency is the safest way to ensure you are in good hands.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
Women have the same medium risk as everyone else, but use caution if you're drinking since the sexual assault rate is 40% higher than the national average. It's not a city where you should walk around at night alone and stick to the main streets and highways when driving around.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. The only concerning time for water quality would be during or after floods or heavy rains.
Safest Places to Visit in Knoxville
VisitKnoxville.com is the official tourism website for the city.
You can see local attractions and regional opportunities too.
Download the Visit Knoxville app to have all the website information in the palm of your hand.
Take a look at Knoxville from above by ascending four stories high in the Sunsphere.
You can’t miss it – it looks like a giant gold disco ball in the sky.
It was made for the 1982 World’s Fair.
Heads up – the attraction is closed on Mondays.
If you see a giant basketball on top of a building, that’s the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Historic House Museums of Knoxville offers a look inside and outside seven homes, but you can buy a combo pass to save money and see all of them.
From stately homes to log cabins, this is a great way to see how Knoxville residents have lived over the past few centuries.
Hop aboard the Star of Knoxville and see the city from the Tennessee river from a steamboat.
Cruises of all kinds are available, whether you want a meal on board or just want to watch the sunset.
Places to Avoid in Knoxville
Since a majority of the crime happens in disempowered and poor communities, you should just avoid going through the different neighborhoods, especially in East Knoxville.
Poverty is not a tourist attraction.
Much of the crime here is in the neighborhoods, with 45% of violent crime happening in homes.
While the city works with cultural leaders to address the systemic racism and poverty struggles, tourists should stick to the areas designed for them.
Crime spreads across the city, and no neighborhood is exempt from it.
Avoid planning wilderness adventures if thunderstorms are in the forecast.
It’s dangerous to be outside in the lightning and storms can quickly develop tornadoes, especially in the spring.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Knoxville
- If you need 911, you can call or even text. You should reserve texting only when necessary, like in a situation where you can’t speak up. Calling is always preferred, but don’t put yourself at more risk if texting is the best option.
- You can report crime tips to Crime Stoppers of East Tennessee Valley. The hotline is (865)215-7165. You will remain anonymous but can get a reward of up to $1000 if your tip leads to an arrest.
- The police department releases an annual report so you can see the trends from the previous year. There is also a community crime map with an interactive search function. You can see crime trends happening closer to your visit.
- If you are involved in a small fender bender, you still need to report it to the police even if you don’t need an officer to respond. Call the non-emergency number at (865)215-4010 to get proper guidance.
- Download the My Knoxville app to have all the city service information readily available. You can also call 311 if you need help with specific issues, like reporting a pothole or asking a question about parking.
- The free trolley is available Monday through Saturday until 8:00 pm. There is no service offered on Sundays. You can choose from three lines, but if you are out past 8:00 pm, you’ll need a taxi or rideshare to get back to your hotel.
- When driving or riding a bicycle in Knoxville, you should stay three feet away from the other vehicle. Drivers need to slow down or give space to a cyclist on the road. Cyclists should pause to get out of the way if they are impeding traffic. You can get ticketed for not following the “Three Feet Law.”
- On UT game days, traffic flow changes near the stadium. Look at the changed routes on the city’s website, so you know the right way to drive, even if it goes against what your GPS is telling you.
- TN511 is the best website to get up-to-the-minute traffic information in Knoxville and Tennessee. You can see crash locations, traffic slowdowns, construction projects, and road conditions. There are live cameras as well.
- While nobody will stop you from swimming in the Tennessee River, you should check the water quality through the Tennessee Valley Authority before you do. There are plenty of quarries and lakes, plus public pools, to cool off in the summer. The river can be polluted or swift, causing more dangers than you bargained for just for a refreshing moment.
So... How Safe Is Knoxville Really?
Knoxville is a city that is safe for some and not safe for others, and that’s where the real problems start.
The trend of African American crimes, whether as the criminal or the victim, is concerning and has been for decades.
There’s a new trend of younger people getting involved in all sides of criminal activity.
47% of the violent crime is against strangers, but that could be breaking into someone’s house – not necessarily strangers on the street.
45% of all violent crimes happen in a private home.
36% of all thefts are car break-ins.
Another 31% of the thefts are related to shoplifting.
While there are many root causes of the crime in Knoxville, the systemic changes that need to happen – higher wages, lower poverty rates, for example – aren’t going to help police in the short term.
On top of that, the overall city poverty rate was looming near 23%.
At the end of the day, if you mind your own business, don’t go looking for trouble, and stay out of neighborhoods you aren’t familiar with, you’ll likely never realize the underbelly of crime and disparity here.
How Does Knoxville Compare?
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A U.S. Travel or Work Visa is required to get into the United States. You'll also need a passport and make sure it's not within six months of exploring. You can travel throughout the area without having to show your Visa, but keep your passport handy.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here and exchange currency before you arrive or at the airport for the safest transaction. Don't use public ATMs. Go into a bank during business hours if you need service. Carry little to no cash and use a credit card for all purchases.
You'll need to dress season appropriately since this area gets a good mix of all four seasons. Summers will be very humid, so avoid fabrics that might be damaged by excessive sweating. Always bring comfortable walking shoes and don't forget hiking boots if you're heading to the mountains. Bring several bottles of bug spray and keep one in the car and one on you at all times.
McGhee Tyson Airport is the commercial airport in the region and sits about 20 minutes south of Knoxville in Alcoa.
You'll want travel insurance to avoid losing money on delays or cancellations. Make sure you understand what protection you have against weather-related issues.
Knoxville Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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Tennessee - Safety by City