Study: Best Cities to Retire in Tennessee

Tennessee, known for great music and even better barbecue, isn't usually one of the places that comes to mind when people think retirement. If you're getting ready to kiss the workforce goodbye, don't overlook the Volunteer State. When you consider how affordable housing is and the overall cost of living, you won't be singing the blues. Throw in relatively mild year-round weather and lots of scenic rolling hills, and you've got all the makings of a great retirement spot. Check out these top cities we think are the best places for retirees to put down roots.

10 Best Cities to Retire in Tennessee

Study Methodology

There are a lot of cities in Tennessee so we began by narrowing our search to those incorporated municipalities with a population of 10,000 or more. Then, we used U.S. Census data to rank each of the remaining cities based on five specific criteria, outlined below. The cities that made it into our top 10 are the ones that scored the best overall across each of these categories:

  1. Senior Population
  2. Housing
  3. Income
  4. Recreation
  5. Healthcare/social assistance

Getting involved in the community and meeting other seniors is certainly easier when you're living in a city where there are plenty of other people in your age group. To find out where making friends won't be a hassle, we looked at the percentage of residents in each city who are 65 or older.

If you're paying a lot for housing, it can take a serious toll on your wallet. Downsizing into an apartment or condo when you retire can free up some extra cash. We considered the percentage of multi-unit housing structures for each city to find out where seniors have the best shot at finding a suitable place to live.

One of the things you have to be able to anticipate is what your income will look like once you've quit the daily grind for good. Whether you're living off Social Security or you've built up a sizable retirement nest egg, you have to be able to plan your budget accordingly. We ranked our cities based on the median household income for residents 65 and up so you can gauge how well other retirees are doing.

Retirement is a great time to take up a new hobby, pick up an old one or just get out and see the sights. To find those cities that have the most opportunities for staying busy, we considered the number of people versus the number art, entertainment and recreation establishments in each location.

Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is one of the most important things seniors can do for themselves, but it can be difficult if you don't have access to the right kinds of services. We looked at the how each city stacks up based on the ratio of people to healthcare and social assistance establishments so you can gauge how easy it will be to get the help you need.

10. Tullahoma

  • Population Over 65: 17.6%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 19.6%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $30,615
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 1,561.6
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 140.9

Even though it comes in at number ten, Tullahoma scored the best in terms of its low ratio of people to healthcare providers. Nearly 19,000 people live in the city and almost 18% are over 65. There are several parks and historical sites to explore, as well as a dedicated senior recreation center. You can also tour the George Dickel Distillery, where five different types of whiskey are produced.

Did You Know: Tullahoma was the site of an important Civil War campaign in which Union troops forced Confederate soldiers out of the Middle Tennessee region.

9. Chattanooga

  • Population Over 65: 15%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 34.9%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $30,057
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 1,841.7
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 194.9

With more than 171,000 residents, Chattanooga earns the distinction of being the largest city to make our study. Fifteen percent of the population is 65 or older and nearly 35% of the city's housing is composed of multi-unit structures. Although many of them serve students who attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, there are several senior living options. You won't have any trouble getting in to see a doctor, since there are nearly 900 healthcare and social assistance providers located throughout the city.

Did You Know: The Tennessee Aquarium, located in Chattanooga, is the world's largest freshwater aquarium.

8. Johnson City

  • Population Over 65: 15%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 35.1%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $33,708
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 2,581.1
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 225.6

Johnson City is nestled in Tennessee's far northeastern corner, close to the borders of both Virginia and North Carolina. Nearly 65,000 people live here and like Chattanooga, 15% of residents are over 65. Housing is abundant and prices are surprisingly reasonable for a slightly larger city. Johnson City boasts the state's first nationally accredited Senior Center and you're also within driving distance of attractions like Historic Jonesborough and the birthplace of Davy Crockett.

Did You Know: Johnson City's Sinking Creek Baptist Church is the oldest church in Tennessee.

7. Maryville

  • Population Over 65: 16.1%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 21%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $40,341
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 2,791.4
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 177.8

Maryville is also located in eastern Tennessee, close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Almost 28,000 people call the city home and just over 16% are seniors. Residents over 65 earn the third best median household income in our study, at $40,341, and lower housing prices make it easier to stretch those dollars farther. Maryville ranked second best for its healthcare ratio but if you need more specialized services, you're just a short drive from Knoxville.

Did You Know: Before going on to play a key role in securing the independence of Texas, Sam Houston was once a schoolteacher in Maryville.

6. East Ridge

  • Population Over 65: 18.2%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 33.6%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $34,787
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 4,258.2
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 409.4

East Ridge, a suburb of Chattanooga, is the perfect place to retire if you want to stay within driving distance of the metro area. Just over 21,000 people make their home here and seniors account for 18% of the population. Aside from being able to avoid the heavy traffic, you should be able to save a little money on housing and there's a fair number of apartments, condos and townhomes to choose from. East Ridge is largely residential but fortunately, it's not far from attractions like the Chattanooga Zoo and Ruby Falls.

Did You Know: The caverns at Ruby Falls are the deepest commercial caverns in the U.S., extending more than 1,000 feet underground.

5. Goodlettsville

  • Population Over 65: 12.5%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 33%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $47,143
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 1,262.7
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 224.9

Located just north of Nashville, the smaller city of Goodlettsville is the most affluent city for retirees, with seniors earning a median household income of just over $47,000. Of the 16,400 people who live in Goodlettsville, 12.5% belong to the 65 and up crowd. Housing is slightly more expensive, but it's a small trade-off for living so close to the capital city. If you're looking to fill up your free time, the fish are always biting on Old Hickory Lake and the Long Hollow Vineyard is a great place to sample local vintages.

Did You Know: The Dollar General Corporation has its headquarters in Goodlettsville.

4. Bristol

  • Population Over 65: 18.6%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 22.1%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $31,568
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 1,667.2
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 193.3

Bristol sees quite a bit of tourist traffic throughout the year but it's also a great choice for planning a permanent vacation in retirement. Over 18% of the city's nearly 27,000 residents are over 65. The Parks and Recreation department sponsors a solid senior activities program, which includes health and fitness classes, continuing education courses and regular outings to area attractions. If you're in the mood for a show, the Paramount Center for the Arts puts on several concerts throughout the year.

Did You Know: Although the title is often given to Nashville, Bristol is actually the birthplace of country music.

3. Kingsport

  • Population Over 65: 20.6%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 24%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $30,841
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 2,341
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 198.1

Kingsport is rich in history and frontiersmen; Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett once walked its streets. Today, this city of close to 52,000 residents is one of Tennessee's most popular spots for visitors, families and retirees. Just over 20% of the population is 65 or older and seniors are served by a sizable number of healthcare and social assistance providers. If you're interested in learning more about the area's history, the Netherland Inn and the Exchange House are two great places to start.

Did You Know: Kingsport has been recognized by several national publications as one of the best cities for walkers.

2. Sevierville

  • Population Over 65: 18.4%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 36.8%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $28,578
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 1,040.9
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 219.9

Sevierville sits just north of Pigeon Forge, nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. With less than 16,000 residents, it's the smallest city to crack the top ten but it's a clear favorite among retirees. Considered the shopping capital of the Smokies, Sevierville attracts plenty of out-of-towners as well as visitors from nearby Knoxville (25 miles). If you want to get out and breathe the fresh air, you're in the perfect spot for hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting or horseback riding.

Did You Know: Country music superstar Dolly Parton grew up in Sevierville.

1. Oak Ridge

  • Population Over 65: 18%
  • Multi-unit Housing Structures: 27.6%
  • Median Household Income 65 and Over: $44,987
  • People per Art, Entertainment and Recreation Establishment: 4,188.6
  • People per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment: 207.9

During World War II, the city of Oak Ridge remained largely secret due to its role in the government-sponsored Manhattan Project. The cat has since been let out of the bag and today, the city is an ideal retreat for work-weary retirees. Of the 29,000 people who live in the area, 18% are 65 or older. Overall, the city rates well in terms of health, housing and median incomes for seniors. There are lots of local attractions that commemorate Oak Ridge's history, like the American Museum of Science and Energy.

Did You Know: At the time it was constructed, the K-25 Building at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was the world's largest building under one roof.

Insider Tip: Check out the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning. They offer classes and field trips "presented by volunteer instructors from the area, including retired scientists, UT professors, retired teachers, people with in depth knowledge of hobby subjects and retired ministers," said Don Miller of Oak Ridge.

You may think we've made a mistake in omitting both Nashville and Memphis from our list, but it's important to keep in mind how we reached our final results. While both of them bring a lot to the table in terms of livability, we think the 10 cities included in our rankings are the best overall picks for retirees based on how the numbers add up...

The Top 20 Cities to Retire in Tennessee

RankCityPopulation Over 65Multi-unit HousingMedian Household IncomePeople per Art, Entertainment and Recreation EstablishmentPeople per Healthcare and Social Assistance Establishment
1Oak Ridge18.0%27.6%$44,9874,188.6207.9
6East Ridge18.2%33.6%$34,7874,258.2409.4
8Johnson City15.0%35.1%$33,7082,581.1225.6
12Nashville-Davidson metropolitan government (balance)10.3%37.6%$36,873954.9363.5

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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