University of Tennessee Game Day
A Survival Guide
"It's Football Time in Tennessee!"
Fall means turning leaves, cooler weather, and my favorite, University of Tennessee football games. I love tailgating and meeting up with people that I may not have seen since last season. Downtown Knoxville turns into a sea of orange and white, from the Vol Navy on the river to the waves of people on the UT Strip (Cumberland Ave). The atmosphere is plenty family-friendly, and I have attended many games with my nieces and nephews as well as friends’ children.
If you are from out-of-town or just daunted by the thought of taking your kids to such a crowded event, here is my lowdown on where to park, where to eat, and what to see and do.
Basic Orientation for Knoxville
How To Get Here
Most people arrive via the interstate, either I-40 or I-75. If you are flying into Knoxville, then you can catch a taxi, Uber, or Lyft from the airport which is about 30 min from downtown.
* A word about traffic - Imagine bringing 100,000 people into a confined space, add in some serious tailgating, and you can see why traffic can be brutal. Interstate exits will back up and the Strip is nearly non-navigable by an hour or 2 before game time.
Plan to arrive early if you are driving in on the day of the game. There is plenty to occupy everyone for hours before kickoff and nothing kills the fun like sitting in traffic. If it is a noon game, then 9am is good; a 330pm game, aim for before 11am; and a 7pm game, try to arrive around 1-2pm. The later the game, the earlier people arrive for tailgating.
Where to Park on Game Day
You have many options here and they all work like this: the closer to the stadium, the more you pay. Everybody with space in their driveway will be selling and you can expect to pay $40- $60 for a place on campus, the Strip, or in Fort Sanders. Students will have taken most of the free street parking on campus unless you arrive very early in the morning, drive around for awhile, and get extremely lucky. As in "go buy lottery tickets right now" lucky.
My advice is to avoid the hassle and park downtown. The State Street Garage is free on Saturday and Sundays (and everyday after 6pm). It is easy to get to from the interstate, and I have never seen it completely full on a game day. You’ll find a pedestrian walkway from the garage to Gay Street that puts you right into the middle of everything downtown. From downtown, it is a mile to the stadium.
Other free parking areas include the Market Square Garage (this fills up quickly) or the large Jackson Ave Lot under the James White Parkway. The Jackson Ave. parking lot is in the Old City, and is a great option if you want to eat or drink in this part of town. Check out Barley's, Jig and Reel, or Crown and Goose.
What To Do On Game Day
One of the reasons I like to park downtown in the State Street Garage is that I get to walk through the Farmer’s Market in Market Square on my way to the stadium. I usually buy breakfast or lunch from one of the food trucks (Good Golly Tamale is a favorite) and if I have time, poke through the food, crafts, and clothing.
Market Square is a nice place to let the kids explore. There is a mini fountain for them to play in (if you brought a change of clothes), and a small park nearby (Krutch Park), with a stream and interesting sculptures. Market Square is home to many good and inexpensive restaurants as well- try Soccer Taco, Tomato Head or Market House Cafe.
From Market Square, you can walk approximately 1 mile to Neyland Stadium through the World’s Fair Park and its iconic Sunsphere. If you would like a great view over Knoxville, then take the elevator to the 4th floor observation deck of the Sunsphere. (Warning- this might be the slowest elevator known to man.)
Getting To The Stadium From Downtown
If you don’t feel like walking, you can take the Game Day Shuttle from Krutch Park. (There are also shuttles that leave from Barley's Restaurant in the Old City and the Civic Coliseum). It costs $6 a person round-trip, and kids are required to buy a ticket unless they are an infant (per the KAT office). It operates 3 hours before kick-off until the game starts. Return rides run from the beginning of 4th quarter until an hour after the game ends. Keep up with your wristband or they will charge you the one-way fare ($3) to ride back from the game. The drop-off for all the shuttle routes is Walters Life Sciences building on campus.
If you decide to walk, you can detour to the river as you get near the stadium and take a look at the Vol Navy. There is always a fun mix of large, multi-million dollar yachts all the way down to some jon boats tied to the end of the line.
Enjoy a nice riverwalk on the Neyland Greenway down to Calhoun’s on the River which has great BBQ and brews their own beer. It gets packed on game days though so be prepared for a wait. I would put your name down first and then go walk and look at the boats. (There also used to be docks for the Vol Navy in front of Calhoun’s, but a boat driver took them out this summer so, sadly, the Vol Navy is a little depleted this year.)
Another option is to walk over to the Vol Village, a fun place especially for younger kids. This is a collection of sponsored tents and booths, and most are giving away something small, such as a pin, sunglasses, or face-painting. There is always a bounce house or two, and typically food trucks. I particularly like the gourmet Artistic Pops popsicle truck ($3 each but they are really good when it's hot outside, ).
Official University of Tennessee Events
The Vol Walk is a crowd favorite. Literally, as in a huge crowd of people will gather to watch the players and coaches walk into the stadium. (The players like to give high fives and photobomb selfies.) It takes place about 2.5 hours before kickoff but you need to be on Peyton Manning Pass about an hour earlier than that to make sure you have a front row view. (The time is subject to change so make sure you google Vol Walk and the game you are attending to get an official time.)
The Pride of Southland Marching Band (and usually some local high school bands as well) march through campus beginning about an hour and 30 minutes before kickoff. (I would check this the week before the game to get an official time. Google the specific game and "UT Salute to the Hill".)
This is really fun for the kids as it is loud and colorful. The cheerleaders, the dance team, the color guard, and Smokey the mascot will also march with the band. It is pretty easy to get a front row spot along the way as they play and march down Volunteer Boulevard, across the Pedestrian Bridge, and into the stadium.
The whole ensemble stops just in front of the stadium to perform the "Salute to the Hill," a 3 song set that ends with "Rocky Top." The crowds are the biggest here. My favorite spot is on the pedestrian bridge over Philip Fulmer Way where you can see them march by and also perform the set below. If you are in the Vol Village, you just have to walk across the street to see them come down Volunteer Boulevard.
UT's Game Day Information has some good information about game day activities as well as the rules for prohibited items in the stadium- bags, food or drink, etc. If you want to carry something into the stadium, it needs to be in a clear bag no bigger than 12 X 12 X 6 inches. There is no wiggle room about this.
Don’t miss the pre-game traditions inside the stadium either. Running through the “T” is one of the Volunteers’ most loved rituals and the crowd always gets excited. The new security makes getting through the gates a lot longer than it used to be, so I would be heading to your gate no later than 45 min before kickoff.
After the Game
Walk (or ride the shuttle) back to Market Square and celebrate the win with ice cream at Cruze Farm Ice Cream on Gay Street or dinner at any one of the restaurants in the Square or on Gay St. The traffic is terrible getting out of town so you are just as well off waiting for at least an hour before heading home. Hopefully, it will be a win and you can listen to the crowd serenade you with "Rocky Top" the whole way back.
What to Wear on Game Day
Orange. And more orange. We are not picky really, as long as it is of the fluorescent variety. You will see people in everything from hunting vests to cocktail dresses. My one recommendation is to skip the super cute shoes in favor of the super comfortable. And a word to the wise, the stadium gets incredibly hot during afternoon games in the early part of the season and incredibly cold during night games at the end of the season. Hats, gloves, and scarves are your friends to protect against the cold breeze coming off the river in November.
UT’s campus is technically a dry campus but many, many people will be drinking alcoholic beverages around you. If your drink is in a plastic cup or a koozie, the police will rarely stop you unless you give them a reason to.
They are not kidding about the "clear bag " policy. Know the rules before you go as there is no “left luggage” at the stadium for the backpack you tried to bring in. On the plus side, a whole cottage industry has now sprung up for people to bedazzle clear plastic bags with orange sparkly stuff. Some of them are remarkable in their inventiveness and amount of glitter.
"Rocky Top" will be faintly (or not so faintly) heard everywhere, all day long. You need to be okay with this. Teach your kids the words so they can join in. We love it and sing it often (and loudly).
All humans outside the womb and above the ground need a ticket for the game. They don't care that your newborn is clearly not going to be sitting in its ticketed seat.
The best tailgates near the stadium are on the top of the G10 garage next to the stadium, any of the parking lots immediately surrounding the stadium, and the parking lot behind the Clarence Brown Theatre which is located just west of the Vol Village.
The best bathrooms, outside of the ubiquitous port-a-potties, are in the Student Union. This large building is next to the big pedestrian bridge over Philip Fulmer Way catty- cornered to the stadium. See campus map.
If you need other ideas of things to do while you are in Knoxville, check out our 3 Days in Knoxville Itinerary. It is full of biking, hiking, and other ideas to entertain and enjoy yourself during your stay as well as lodging and restaurant recommendations.
That’s all from Rocky Top. I hope you have a great visit!
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