All’s Fair at the World’s Fair

Celebrating in Knoxville

While New Orleans was busy planning for the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, all eyes were on Knoxville. The east Tennessee city hosted its own World’s Fair in 1982, officially titled the Knoxville International Energy Exposition with the theme, “Energy Turns the World.” Louisiana folks watched to gage its success.

And the city pulled it off, attracting millions of visitors from 22 countries and revitalizing a section of Knoxville’s downtown. Today, the heart of town sports an amphitheater and park space regularly used for live performances and special events, both outgrowths of the event. The Sunsphere, what some call the largest disco ball, towers over the city at 266 feet high with a 75-foot gold glass sphere.

This summer, Knoxville celebrates the 40th anniversary of its World Fair, and New Orleaneans may wish to keep eyes on the city once again, for its own World’s Fair celebration approaches in two years — and we doubt the fact that our Fair went bankrupt will stop us from remembering. 

Fair aside, and SEC sports included, Knoxville remains a fun place to visit.


There’s twice to love at the corner of Clinch and Henley in downtown Knoxville, both hotels bathed in the shadow of the Sunsphere and adjacent to the World’s Fair Park. The Tennessean Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond property, offers 82 guest rooms adorned in local artwork with a river theme, since Knoxville and East Tennessee contain numerous waterways. Enjoy High Tea in The Drawing Room or a drink in the lounge or lobby area with its own array of art. Connected by a corridor is the new Marriott Hotel with its 302 rooms, also spotlighting local artists at its Maker Exchange restaurant, lounge and comfy gathering space. Visitors may even purchase items from Knoxville’s vibrant art scene in the hotel’s gallery space.

Get Outside

The natural corridor fronting Knoxville and the Tennessee River that runs through the city creates the expansive Knoxville Urban Wilderness. There are more than 50 miles of parks, Civil War sites, hiking and biking trails and paddling opportunities. Be sure to visit the non-profit Ijams Nature Center with its 12 miles of hiking and mixed-use trails, a former quarry now used for swimming and paddling and exhibits inside the main building.


Knoxville is home to numerous breweries, and the World’s Fair 40th Anniversary Ale Trail helps visitors find them all. Even better, when visitors enjoy brews at participating breweries, they get their “passport” stamped and receive stickers and beer glasses for their efforts. Visit them all and receive a 1982 World’s Fair commemorative glass. 

If distilleries are more your thing, visit the Post Modern Spirits downtown for a distillery tour and tasting of their single malt whiskey and other unique spirits made from natural botanicals, grains and fruits. 

Relive the Fun                                     

Take a trip up to the Sunsphere’s fourth floor observation deck to view not only downtown Knoxville, the University of Tennessee campus and the Tennessee River, but the Smoky Mountains located not far from the city. Exhibits within the 360-degree sphere showcase information and memorabilia from Knoxville’s 1982 World’s Fair, which initiated the building of the iconic landmark. For tickets and information, visit

Over at the East Tennessee History Museum, visitors may learn more about the city’s World’s Fair in the exhibit, “You Should’ve Been There: The 40th Anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair,” on display through October. 

Events will be happening all summer in celebration of the anniversary. Visit for a sampling.

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