Moving to Knoxville, TN: A Guide to Cost of Living, Jobs and More

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Knoxville at a Glance

A big college football town with a small-town vibe, families adore Knoxville for its friendly, close-knit community. The walkable downtown district turns into a wonderland in wintertime, and — of course — those gorgeous mountain vistas are a backdrop for every season.  

This East Tennessee city is now home to just under 200,000 people, which means that nearly half the population could comfortably fit in the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. But thanks to a healthy job market and a low cost of living, Knoxville is growing fast, and the city has welcomed 20,000 newcomers in the past decade. The greater Knox County area is now home to almost half a million residents, and it has expanded by more than 60,000 residents in the last ten years.  

The Great Smoky Mountains are less than an hour away, and the Blue Ridge Mountains are no more than three, but the city itself is beautifully hilly, with winding roads and wooded trails, perfect for in-town mountaineering. 

Knoxville is also the first home of the Queen of Country Music — Dolly Parton was born just outside the city in the tiny mountain town of Locust Ridge. 

If you’re ready to make good ole Rocky Top your Tennessee Mountain Home, take a look below for some things to know before moving to Knoxville. And, learn more about the Volunteer State in our Guide to Moving to Tennessee

Live, Work and Play in Knoxville

Four-Season Knoxville

The mild climate of Knoxville is a major draw for newcomers, particularly those moving from other steamier places in the South. Knoxville experiences four distinct seasons, with a sometimes-snowy winter, a flower-filled spring, warm summer months and a spectacular autumn, when the colors of the fall foliage ignite the rolling hills in a coat of many colors.  

In January, you can expect an average temperature of 39°F, with the mercury reliably dropping below freezing at night, and sometimes plunging into the single digits and even below zero, on rare occasions. Knoxville only sees about five inches of snow a year, while the mountains surrounding the city could receive twice that.  

The risk for frost runs from mid-October through mid-April, which makes for a perfectly chilly Thanksgiving, when temperatures average 45°F. But expect nippy egg-hunting weather on Easter, when temperatures average only 57°F, making you secretly long for some rabbit-fur earmuffs.  

In July — the hottest month in the city — the average high is only 88°F, and temperatures usually drop into the upper 60s°F at night. This relatively moderate summer weather is becoming increasingly rare across the country, particularly in the southeastern region, and it makes the city a popular destination for visitors. 

As a bonus, Knoxville receives an average of 52” of rain a year, which is great news for gardeners, who’ll have good luck with everything from roses to tomatoes, assuming the local squirrels don’t get to them first.  

Cost of Living: Affordable Living in the Heart of Tennessee

The cost of living in Knoxville is far below the national average. Healthcare, transportation and utilities all fall well below the mark, coming in at 89.1, 90.5 and 95.9 (compared to the U.S. average of 100), and but housing costs, surprisingly, are where you’ll save the most. On average, Knoxville residents spend only 72.8 cents for every dollar the rest of America spends on housing. All told, it is 13.5% less expensive to live in Knoxville than in the average American city. 

Though the median home value in Knoxville averaged only $154,500 between 2017 and 2021 — far lower than in Nashville where homes cost nearly 100% more — only 47% of Knoxville residents own their own home, compared to 54.1% of Nashville residents and 66.9% of Tennesseans. Rental costs in Knoxville are also more affordable — by both state and national standards — and the median gross rent in Knoxville averages $938/month. 

One thing that Knoxville residents will never have to volunteer to do in the Volunteer State is pay income taxes. In addition to not having this burden on your paycheck, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce offers numerous tax incentives to businesses and individuals alike. But be warned, Tennessee’s no-income-tax policy may not come without a cost. The average combined sales tax rate is 9.55% — the very highest in the nation.   

Please note: we are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances. 

Economy: Thriving and Steady Job Market

Knoxville has a large and growing labor force and a diverse job market in which to build a meaningful career. Unemployment in October 2023 was only 3.3% — below the national average of 3.9% — and total employment was up 3.4% in October 2023, compared to that point last year.  

With nearly 88,000 workers, trade, transportation and utilities is the city’s largest single sector, which grew by 3.7% over the past year. professional and business services, the second-largest industry, grew by 5.8% over the past 12 months, and the government, which employs 64,000 individuals, expanded by a similar amount. Only the financial activities sector experienced a decline, and that was by a meager 1.0%. The highest average weekly wages in the greater Knoxville area is found in Anderson, Knox and Roane counties.  

With nearly 16,000 individuals in its workforce, the single largest employer in the area is the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Covenant Health, the University of Tennessee and UT Medical Center, Knox County Schools, Walmart and DENSO Manufacturing all employ more than 5,000 individuals.  

The University, of course, also makes for a diverse cultural base in the city. As a major research institution, UT brings faculty and students from around the world to its campus. In addition to its fierce football loyalties — “Go Big Orange!” — UT Vols (that’s Volunteers, to the uninitiated) are known for their diverse programs, from the UT Space Institute and the UT Institute of Agriculture to their renowned art program, particularly in printmaking. 

Knoxville Neighborhood Guide

Downtown Knoxville is a charming, historic area whose southern edge glides along the gorgeous Tennessee River. On the west side of downtown, World’s Fair Park is a destination for live music, picnics and play. The splash pad is a favorite of the shorter set, and there’s a cool comic book shop around the corner for teens who are more into zines than splashing. Everyone will like the observation deck at the newly renovated Sunsphere, where you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the city and Smokies.  

Get used to seeing the sea of orange in this area. Those are just University of Tennessee Volunteers fans, and they’ll give you nothing to worry about … unless you’re wearing UGA gear.   

In the wintertime, an outdoor ice rink in Market Square brings the heart of the city to life, made merrier by peppermint lights on the street trees and snowy-deco storefronts. You can pick up some one-of-a-kind gifts for your favorite people at the Winter Market or treat yourself to a pick-me-up at Coffee & Chocolate — two essentials for surviving modern times — where the confections are hand-painted and almost too beautiful to bite into. When it’s dinnertime, the most elegant bites can be found at the Brass Pearl, an upscale but cozy oyster bar where you can get perfect fish & chips but also impeccably prepared sea bass with lobster risotto. Be sure to start out with a seafood tower to sample all their great starters. 

The artsy downtown area known as the Old City is one of our absolute favorite spots in all of Eastern Tennessee. You might hear an Irish jam session one night at Boyd’s Jig & Reel and see a vaudeville performance the next, a nod to the area’s bygone days as a heavily salooned red-light district. Residents are spoiled with Victorian architecture and rich, red brick store facades, which once housed wholesalers and meatpackers and dry goods factories. The Old City’s watering holes have stood the test of time, and the Knoxville Trolley can take you from barstool to barstool if you’re enjoying a night out with friends. Before you hit the bars, check out some of the area’s arts establishments, like the brand-new Arrowmont Gallery, the exhibition space of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. To prepare for this full evening, we recommend caffeinating at Awaken Coffee with a Black Bear Latté or calming your social nerves with a Minted Fog.  

Downtown’s Gay Street is no less historic. Committed to the annals of literary history by Knoxville native and writer extraordinaire James Agee (who has his own park just west of the downtown core), Gay Street embodies the community-centric spirit of the city. You can get some good home cooking at the Brown Bag (always save room for their banana pudding) or some unforgettable tapas at the contempo-elegant Babalu. If you’re in the mood for a big night out, head to the historic Bijou Theatre, where you can hear a performance from the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra or even a blowout show by St. Vincent. If you’re looking for lower-key fun, hit the pins at Maple Hall, a bowling alley that has elevated the sport to an elegant experience without ruining its simple knock-down pleasures. 

Farragut is one of the city’s premiere western suburbs, with well-appointed homes and easy access to country clubs, parks, shopping and restaurants. Fort Loudoun Lake is one of the best spots near the area, and families can spend the day paddling and fishing on the waters, or picking blueberries at the Abby Farm, a picturesque spot that’s a favorite for weddings. One of the neighborhood’s newest dining spots, Elkmont Station, creates elevated new American fare with a strong Southern drawl. Green goddess deviled eggs and pimento cheese fritters are two of the menu’s delectable starters. The pickled peach and baby green salad with blue cheese is a harmonious middle course, and the low country bouillabaisse and roasted Carolina trout are highly memorable mains.  

Note: If you’re planning to move to Knoxville, it’s important to thoroughly research the neighborhoods and areas in the city you might be interested in living. Before you decide where you are going to reside, make sure you understand the neighborhood’s cost of living, commute time, tax rates, safety statistics and schooling information. 

Things You Can Only See and Do in Knoxville

One of Knoxville’s greatest treasures is its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains. The foggy, mysterious peaks that enshroud this national park are a truly sublime sight, and they’re sacred site to hikers, bikers, climbers, and anyone seeking a little divine inspo after a rough work week.  

The Smokies are also home to the rare synchronous fireflies, who all march to their own beat…in unison. This species of the beloved lightning bug illuminates its body — strobing for mates — like a million pulsing mountain twinkle lights. To witness this harmonious phenomenon, you literally have to win the lottery. The NPS issues a limited number of vehicle permits each spring to view the bioluminescent spectacle in June.  

But you needn’t drive far to experience all the fun outdoor activities this mountain town has to offer. Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness Area comprises over 1,500 acres of spectacular wooded areas throughout the city, where you can take your family hiking, climbing, swimming, paddling and biking.   

Knoxville is a mountain biking mecca, and there are easy routes for newbies to learn the ropes and pro-level blowouts where you can throw caution (and yourself) to the wind. The Barn Burner trail at the Baker Creek Preserve Bike Park was built for experts looking to level up. This 0.6-mile downhill thriller will test your skills and proclivity for spills. Baker Creek has plenty of beginner’s trails too, so don’t hesitate to bring the tiny tots to ride their wheels on the asphalt pump tracks. 

Hikers new to the area will really enjoy a trip to the Ijams Nature Center, where they can learn about the native flora and fauna before setting out on the trails. There are 12.3 miles of easy-to-moderate pathways in this area — including four miles of paved trails — many with views of the Tennessee River. After a long hike, take a dip in the chilly waters of the Meads Quarry and picnic on the rocks.  

Intrepid climbers will want to check out the Knoxville Navitat — a ropes course and zipline adventure park perched above the river. 

But enjoying the fresh air in Knoxville doesn’t always have to be so much work! You can kick up your heels at a concert at the Tennessee Amphitheatre in World’s Fair Park, see a Tennessee Volunteers football game or watch other animals do their thing at Zoo Knoxville.  

Moving to Knoxville Soon? Let Mayflower Get You There

If the Smoky Mountains are calling, let Mayflower help you move to Knoxville. We can give you tips on how to find the right professional moving company and provide you with the services you need to simplify your relocation. 

Get a quote on moving to Knoxville now.  

Whether you’re moving cross-country to Knoxville or within Tennessee, our professional movers will be there for you Every Step of the Way®. For nearly 100 years, Mayflower has been the country’s most trusted moving company. You’ll know that when you trust your move to a long-distance moving company like Mayflower, your move to Knoxville can be worry-free. We’ll keep all the details of your move organized and at the ready in the Mayflower Move Portal so you can easily track your progress.  

Are you making a cross-country move to Knoxville? Mayflower’s nationwide network of long-distance movers is licensed for interstate moves, and we can help get you to Knoxville from anywhere in the country. If you are looking full-service moving solutions, like packing or unpacking services, debris removal, car shipping or storage, our dedicated agents can help you build custom moving packages for your move to Knoxville. 

Are you moving locally in Knoxville? Mayflower’s Tennessee movers and our local Knoxville movers perform moves independently in the Volunteer State under their own brands and businesses.   

Moving to Knoxville on your own? Check out Mayflower’s moving resources and our handy moving checklist and planner to manage your DIY like a pro.  

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