Trying to decide between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for your next Smoky Mountain vacation? Many people confuse these two touristy East Tennessee towns…or lump them together entirely. Although Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are neighbors, both situated along the famed Parkway and both great for a family vacation, they are both unique — with plenty of shopping, food, and entertainment options. And while some aspects may be similar, each town offers a different vibe.
Gatlinburg feels more laidback with a passion for tradition and classic mountain fun, whereas Pigeon Forge gives off excitement around every corner with modern mountain touches and a wide variety of activities. So, which is better — Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? Whether you’re planning to hit all the shops, enjoy meals with friends, or play at local attractions, let’s put these Smoky Mountain towns head to head to see who packs a bigger punch!
When it comes to specialty shops and handmade creations, Gatlinburg takes the cake. The streets of downtown Gatlinburg are lined with dozens of shops selling items like tobacco and cigars (Gatlin-Burlier Tobacconist), old fashioned wooden toys (Once Upon a Time – Children’s Store), fishing equipment and licenses (Smoky Mountain Angler), and American Indian jewelry and artifacts (The Silver Galleon).
One of Gatlinburg’s best and most popular places to shop, The Village Shops, is a collection of 27 stores and eateries in a charming European village setting. The NOC’s Great Outpost also has everything that the outdoor enthusiast could possibly want. And Gatlinburg is home to the largest group of independent artisans in the nation — the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. Along this 8-mile loop, you’ll find one-of-a-kind pieces, including handwoven baskets, quilts, oil paintings, blown glass ornaments, metalwork, statues, soaps, pottery, and much more.
Top Gatlinburg Shops
- Paula Deen Store
- The Village Shops
- Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
- Jonathon’s The Bear Necessities
- Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
If you’re looking for designer brands at great prices or country chic options, Pigeon Forge has it all. Visit the Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall for 196,900 square feet of shopping fun. Locally known as the “Red Roof Mall,” you’ll find low prices on books, furniture, clothing and more. Need a little holiday cheer year-round? The Incredible Christmas Place is a magical shop filled with lights, ornaments, stockings, gifts, wreaths, trees, and classic holiday tunes. Sevierville’s Tanger Outelts are also nearby, offering more brand-name goods at low prices.
A great place to shop all day in Pigeon Forge is The Island. This shopping and entertainment complex boasts 40+ experiential shops that sell everything from monogrammed tees, hats, and sunglasses to natural soaps, paintings, and moonshine! Plus, as you cruise the Parkway, you’ll notice plenty of shops fully loaded with Smoky Mountain souvenirs as far as the eye can see…
Top Pigeon Forge Shops
- Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall
- The Incredible Christmas Place
- The Old Mill General Store
- Ole Country Store
- The Island Shops
Gatlinburg has a wide variety of tasty food options, including pancake houses, burger and pizza joints, steak houses, and international cuisine. For hearty breakfast options through lunch, stop by The Pancake Pantry – a classic Gatlinburg restaurant staple – or Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. Up for the fresh catch of the day? Head to the Smoky Mountain Trout House that serves locally caught trout — be sure to try the fritters! In the mood for classic American favs? Opt for out-of-this-world burgers at The Hard Rock Café or scrumptious slices made with fresh dough at Geno’s Pizza.
Pair a relaxing ambiance with great flavors at downtown Gatlinburg restaurants that offer more than just a meal. Dine riverside at No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina (spicy dishes) or The Peddler Steakhouse (the best steaks in town). Or go for the nightlife atmosphere at Ole Red (Blake Shelton’s Restaurant) that features live music on stage, an outdoor terrace, and ace cocktails.
Top Gatlinburg Restaurants
- No Way Jose’s Cantina
- The Peddler Steakhouse
- Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que
- Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
Whether you’re in the mood for Southern cooking, burgers and wings, steak and seafood, or sizzling hibachi, Pigeon Forge is ready for YOU. Pancakes are no stranger to Pigeon Forge either…with fluffy stacks piled mountain high in more pancake houses than we can count! For classic flavors from the South, like fried chicken and homemade cornbread, check out Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant or The Old Mill Restaurant. Order locally sourced options that include burgers, a rack of ribs, or a plate of hot wings at the Local Goat or go for a steak dinner with a side from the sea (delivered daily) at Bullfish Grill. And if you’re craving something from around the world, try Kinkaku Japanese Steakhouse, the Smokies Cuban Café, or the classic Johnny Carino’s chain.
Looking for something special at mealtimes? Give family style dining a try! Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and Mama’s Farmhouse boast this unique serving style, where enough food for the whole family is brought to the table. And if your favorite dish runs out, grab the waiter to bring a complimentary refill!
Top Pigeon Forge Restaurants
- Paula Deen’s Family Restaurant
- Sawyer’s Farmhouse Breakfast
- The Old Mill Restaurant
- Alamo Steakhouse
- Timberwood Grill
In Gatlinburg, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies stands as my favorite entertainment – and one of the top attractions in the United States – but the city also has a ton of other great things to do. Fannie Farkle’s has all your favorite arcade games, the Gatlinburg Space Needle offers amazing 360-degree views of the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, and Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre has wonderful live entertainment that will keep you laughing through the night. Rafting in the Smokies and Wildwater Limited are also located in Gatlinburg, TN. From old-time photos and airbrush t-shirts to moonshine distilleries and attractions perfect for a family vacation or a large group getaway, Gatlinburg has you covered.
Of course, you can’t forget about the top Gatlinburg attraction, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s the most visited national park in the National Parks System, and for good reason. Along with 800 miles of trails where you can hike, bike, go horseback riding, drive, and more, it boasts historic homesteads and churches (take a scenic drive through Cades Cove), incredible mountain views, and peaceful spots for picnics and relaxing.
Top Gatlinburg Attractions
- Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
- Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park
In Pigeon Forge, Dollywood is an entire day of rides, shows, and tons of fun. In summer, visit the sister attraction, Dollywood’s Splash Country, to keep cool. The Titanic Museum Attraction is educational and fun, and Wonderworks is full of interactive exhibits, including an inversion tunnel and an anti-gravity chamber. In the downtown area, you’ll also find The Track (with bungee jump, go-kart tracks, and arcade games), Dolly Parton’s Stampede, The Lumberjack Feud, The Comedy Barn, and more great dinner shows.
Not only a great place to shop, The Island features boutique shops, plenty of places to grab sweet treats and ice cream, celebrity-owned restaurants (Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and Margaritaville), the Ole Smoky Moonshine Barn, an arcade, a ropes course, a kids’ train, The Escape Game, and much, much more!
Top Pigeon Forge Attractions
- Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show
- The Escape Game
- The Island
Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have amazing options for eating, shopping, and entertaining, but which is better? Well, that’s like asking, “Auburn or Alabama,” “deep dish or thin crust,” or “cake or pie,” (the answer to the last of those being – both). It depends on what YOU like. But at the end of round 3, here are my picks in each category.
SHOPPING — It’s a tie! We love Pigeon Forge for the brands and Gatlinburg for the specialty and local shops.
FOOD — With its blend of great nightlife, local spots, new restaurants, tall drinks, and sweet treats, we’re giving this one to Gatlinburg. But if you love Southern food or your favorite chain, be sure to stop by Pigeon Forge for a few meals too!
ENTERTAINMENT — Pigeon Forge is sprawling and packed with attractions, from mini golf and indoor skydiving to go karts and arcades. We’ll give this one up to Pigeon Forge, but just by a hair. There are SO MANY amazing attractions in Gatlinburg, including classics like Ober Gatlinburg and the top-rated Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. We always suggest allotting some vacation time to BOTH amazing Smoky Mountain towns.
Decide for yourself…
While we hope this has helped you make some decisions about your vacation, maybe whether you’d like to stay in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg?, keep in mind that these towns are only a 15-minute drive away from each other. So either place you stay, you can enjoy all that both have to offer! Oh, and of course we have the Cabins for YOU – no matter where you want to be.
Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge Cabins for YOU
Whether you’re planning a family vacation, a weekend with your team, a big family reunion, a church or corporate retreat, a getaway with friends, or a romantic weekend as a couple, we have the Cabins for YOU. You can choose a cozy 1-2 bedroom cabin, a spacious family retreat, or a large group lodge packed with everything you need. Here’s what you can choose from with us:
- Mountain, waterfront, secluded, or close-to-downtown locations
- Big screen TVs
- Theater Rooms
- Private Indoor Pools
- Blu-ray and DVD players
- Games: air hockey, pool, foosball, shuffleboard, ping pong, arcade games, and more
- King, queen, full, twin, and bunk beds
- Hot tubs and indoor jetted tubs
- Incredible mountain views
- Pet friendly, luxury, or budget cabins
- Fully equipped kitchens
- Fireplaces (wood-burning, gas, and electric)
- Grills and outdoor firepits
- Washers and Dryers
- and much more!