Market Square

Best Thing in Town to Show a Visitor With a Three-Hour Layover & Best Thing to Do on a Sunday Afternoon

  • Best Thing to Show a Visitor Runners-Up: Downtown, The Old City, The Sunsphere
  • Best Thing on a Sunday Afternoon Runners-Up: Knoxville Zoo, Go to the Mountains, sleep

The downtown institution which is slightly older than the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a runaway winner of the Layover vote (and hot on its heels was "Downtown," which may just be a vaguer version of the same answer). If it's been more than five years since you've been to Market Square, a concrete rectangle not quite as big as some suburban back yards, this particular winner will puzzle you, especially the Sunday afternoon aspect. Market Square always had a weekday commuter lunch crowd, and occasionally even Ronald Reagan or Ingrid Bergman would show up to enjoy it. But a decade ago, you'd have to drive all the way to Kentucky to find a place bleaker than Market Square on a Sunday. Even the vagrants found little of interest there, and the pigeons turned up their beaks in indifference.

But in 2009, the historic square presents a different tableaux every time we walk through it. On this small swatch of urban landscape, people walk their dogs; run barefoot through the fountains; make videos of each other; get drunk; shop for clothes, furniture, or gifts; listen to live music; play live music; go to church; juggle; flirt; conspire; ride a bike. And they eat. They eat a lot. Thai, pasta, sushi, pizza, burritos, soup, bagels, submarines, eggs Benedict. And you never know whom you'll run across; in the last year or two, people have encountered Elvis Costello, magician David Blaine, actress Patricia Neal, Sen. Bob Corker, musician David Byrne, and lots of other interesting folks, all looking for food, probably, and maybe inspiration, on Market Square. Some, we suspect, just hang out and wait for the next celebrity to show, like people wait at Old Faithful.

Some even do what we recommend, which is sit down in the sunshine and read the paper.