Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Bristol, TN

  • Published 2023/05/22

Bristol is a small yet incredibly tourist-friendly city in Tennessee’s Sullivan County, and I’m fortunate enough to call it my home.

What’s unique about Bristol is that it also has a twin city in Virginia that goes by the same name.

Despite its size, there are plenty of things to enjoy in this lively city.

One of the things Bristol is most famous for is its motorsports facilities, which are considered to be the biggest in the entire country.

As a resident, I can attest to the excitement and energy that surrounds these events. But there’s more to Bristol than just motorsports.

The city is blessed with majestic mountains, beautiful hills, and some of the most indescribably beautiful locations.

I love spending my weekends exploring the surrounding areas, going hiking, and camping. The natural beauty that surrounds Bristol makes it a perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts like myself.

So if you ever find yourself in Bristol, TN, know that there’s plenty to see and do in this charming city.

From motorsports to nature, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Watch a Heart-Pumping Race at Bristol Motor Speedway

Car race in Bristol Motor Speedway

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Famously known as Bristol International Raceway in the past, Bristol Motor Speedway was constructed in the year 1960.

It is located in the Northeast Tennessee area and is a very famous short track that’s also known as the “Last Great Colosseum.” Its nickname comes from its Roman-inspired architecture and unbelievable race car battles.

This vast speedway is one of the most famous racing venues around the world and can accommodate more than 150,000 spectators at one time.

Besides this speedway, the city also has a drag strip that is used for Thunder Valley Nationals, an annual racing event. The entire attraction boasts beautiful scenery and is located amid a very lush green setting.

Exterior of Bristol Motor Speedway

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A while back, I took my son to Bristol Motor Speedway for a reservation I had booked for him to go on a Nascar Race Car ride along with a professional driver.

Everything from beginning to end was a wonderful experience

Aerial view of Bristol Motor Speedway's interior

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I can’t recommend Bristol Motor Speedway enough. Whether you’re a die-hard racing fan or just looking for a unique and exciting experience, this is definitely a must-visit attraction.

Enjoy the Many Facilities at Steele Creek Park

Rock formation on the grounds of Steele Creek Park

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Opened to the general public in the year 1964, Steele Creek Park is one of the most beautiful as well as the largest municipal parks in Bristol and all of Tennessee.

The park spans a whopping 2,000 acres. Within its property, there is a 52-acre lake, multiple golf courses, night shelters, and a nature center.

I love spending time at the park, especially indulging in a leisurely game of golf on their multiple courses.

The night shelters can be rented for private stays and events, and I’ve attended a few family gatherings there.

There is also a lodge that accommodates a party room, 20 picnic tables, a conference room, and a kitchen, which makes it ideal for any family vacation.

In addition, you’ll find multiple exercise trails and grounds, soccer goals, as well as some swings that can be enjoyed by children.

The park also has a nice (air-conditioned) nature center, which is perfect for escaping the heat.

One of my kids’ favorite activities at Steele Creek Park is riding the little train, known as the Steele Creek Express.

It’s a replica of a real steam engine and adds a unique touch to the park. They also enjoy going out on the water in the paddle boats, which is a fun way to explore the 52-acre lake.

The park has several shelters that can be rented for parties, and the playgrounds are really nice and well maintained. It’s a great place to take your bikes and ride around the lake.

The trails around the lake offer both hilly, woodsy areas and flat sections, so you can choose your adventure or do both.

The parking area can be a bit confusing with its gates, but they open automatically, so it’s not a big issue.

Admire the Views at South Holston Dam

Daytime view of South Holston Dam

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The damn never ceases to amaze me. Built in 1940 over the South Fork Holston River, it was one of three dams constructed with the main objective of controlling floods and generating hydroelectricity.

Nowadays, the dam has a footbridge that leads to a long loop of wildlife trails along with Osceola Island, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely nature walk.

View from the top of South Holston Dam

Dee Browning /

South Holston Dam surrounds South Holston Lake, which is quite popular among fishermen, including myself. In fact, the lake is famous as a fly fisherman’s paradise.

It’s perfect for enjoying some adventures like fishing, boating, water skiing, and observing nature in its natural setting. The views are magnificent and definitely make this place worth visiting.

I often drive across the dam to take in the breathtaking views of the lake and the river at the same time. TVA does a great job keeping it clean for picnics, hikes, biking, or fishing.

I love planning a day right here in town, packing a lunch, and bringing the kids’ bikes so they can ride the island while I walk. It’s a hidden gem with tranquil surroundings, and I highly recommend slowing down this summer and enjoying our local areas.

The only downside is that the signage can be a bit unclear, but once you find your way, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

So, if you’re ever in the area, don’t miss out on the chance to visit South Holston Dam and experience its beauty for yourself.

A bench overlooking the South Holston Dam

Dee Browning /

Take a Walk Down Memory Lane at the Ernie Ford House

The Ernie Ford House is a beautiful small clapboard house of historical eminence I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this historical site multiple times,

Bristol is the birthplace of famous entertainer and musician Ernie Ford, and this house represented the struggles he went through at the beginning of his career.

I’ve always been a fan of his music, so visiting the place where it all began is truly special.

The residence has been restored and presently houses various artifacts that exhibit his struggles and his life as an artist.

On my most recent visit, I was particularly struck by the collection of his personal belongings, including his iconic guitar and stage outfits. It’s incredible to see these items up close and imagine the man himself using them.

The Ernie Ford House is quite calm and is located in a very serene place that gives very tranquil vibes to all the visitors.

Whenever I visit, I always take a moment to sit on the porch and soak in the peaceful atmosphere. It’s a great place to reflect on the impact that Ernie Ford had on the world of music and entertainment.

Catch a Movie at the Twin-City Drive-In Theatre

For all the lovers of movies, the Twin-city Drive-In Theatre is an excellent spot to add to your Bristol itinerary.

The drive-in theater allows visitors to enjoy their favorite movies under an open sky. You can also enjoy beverages and snacks at discounted prices while enjoying with your family or friends.

I recently visited the Twin-City Drive-In Theatre and had an amazing time! The sound quality was great, both through the hang-on-your-window speaker boxes and the FM station 93.3 for my car stereo.

The screen was large and clear, and they offered classic movie refreshments. I also appreciated that I didn’t have to hear every person rummaging through their popcorn box, crinkling wrappers, and slurping their drinks.

It was a perfect way to enjoy a movie without all the problems inherent in a traditional movie theater.

The first time I went there, I was impressed by the great price to see a first-run movie or two. The next time, I brought lawn chairs and loaded up my truck bed with pillows for an even more comfortable experience.

My husband and I always enjoy coming here during the summer. The staff is super helpful and polite, and they always put on a good show for families and couples.

The Twin City Drive-In Theatre has become a favorite place for us to visit,

Book Tickets to a Live Performance at the Paramount Center for the Arts

Marquee of Paramount Center for the Arts

Dee Browning /

I recently attended a live performance at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, and I must say, it was an incredible experience.

The theater, built in the late 1930s, is a multi-use performing arts center located right in the heart of Bristol. It’s famous for organizing various events in the field of music, dance, film, theater, family entertainment, and comedy.

The lavish and vintage interior design adds to the charm of this historic venue, which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Paramount Center for the Arts is operated by a non-profit organization, which means that the fees for the shows are quite affordable.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching numerous talented artists from around the world perform here, including some who’ve received prestigious awards. It’s also a great place to enjoy local art and music, making it a must-visit spot in Bristol.

During my last visit, I was blown away by the theater’s gorgeous design and character. The size of the theater is perfect, ensuring that everyone has a good seat with great sound quality.

The staff was polite and efficient, making the experience even more enjoyable.

Attend the Annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

The famous and award-winning Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival first took place in the year 2001 as a tribute to the city’s legacy of country music.

Every September, I look forward to attending this amazing festival that celebrates various artists, upcoming acts, and diverse headliners.

It’s the perfect place to watch some really great and unadulterated live country music shows.

The festival has 16 different stages and welcomes more than 100 artists from around the globe.

It’s held in Bristol’s bustling downtown area, which makes it very easy to grab some food as well as other necessary items while enjoying the festival. I

‘ve been to numerous music festivals over the years, and I can confidently state that the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion is, indeed, “As good as it gets!”

Every aspect is first class: quality and quantity of the musical acts; venues; sound; friendliness of staff and vendors; food/drink options.

The only downside I can think of is that it can be an embarrassment of riches at times.

There was a point last year where there were five acts performing simultaneously at different venues that I would have liked to have seen.

However, that’s just a testament to the incredible lineup this festival offers

Shop for Fresh, Locally Sourced Produce at State Street Farmer’s Market

I remember when State Street Farmer’s Market first opened back in 1999.

It’s been a fantastic addition to our community, and I love that it’s supported by the government agencies of Bristol in Tennessee, Sullivan County in Tennessee, Bristol in Virginia, and Washington County in Virginia.

The market is a gathering place for local vendors and farmers to display and sell their produce.

It’s open seasonally from May to October, and I always look forward to the fresh, locally sourced items available there.

One of the things I enjoy most about the market is the various festivals and events that take place throughout the season.

National Farmers Market Week, Tomato Fest, Corn Fest, and Pumpkin Palooza are just a few of the fun and lively events that showcase our city’s agricultural setting.

I’ve had some great experiences at these events, like trying delicious homemade salsa at Tomato Fest and participating in the corn shucking contest at Corn Fest.

Experience the Best of Bristol’s Bustling Downtown Area

Sunset over Downtown Bristol

Dee Browning /

I’ve always been proud to call Bristol my home, especially because it’s believed to be the birthplace of country music.

The downtown area is a vibrant place that celebrates this form of music and everything that our city has to offer.

Marquee of theatre bristol artspace at Downtown Bristol

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I’ve seen it grow and develop since the early 2000s, with many buildings being renovated, new ones being installed, and others diversified.

Nowadays, downtown is home to more than 20 businesses, including various restaurants, nightclubs, antique stores, and a few specialty shops.

It’s the perfect mix of classic Bristol and the fancy vibe of the city. I love strolling through the streets and discovering new places to eat and shop.

Exterior of a restaurant at Downtown Bristol

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Explore the Mesmerizing Bristol Caverns

Bristol is a great place to visit for all those people who are interested in exploring underground caverns.

As a local, I have been to the Bristol Caverns several times, and I highly recommend it.

It’s located far below the surface of the earth and is one of the city’s most majestic attractions.

Every time I visit the caverns, I have a very exciting yet strange experience.

Most of these chambers are paved, well-lit, and vaulted along the banks of an ancient underground river.

Some of these caverns are as old as 200 to 400 million years, while others were formed about 50 to 100 million years ago.

Most of the formations are a combination of different colors like red, blue, grey, brown, and white, brought about by the mineral content of the rocks.

The caverns are not uniform in shape, and some are huge while the others are very tiny.

You can experience the artistic mastery of nature as you admire the caverns from their floors to their ceilings. These are definitely worth checking out for a unique and one-of-a-kind experience in Bristol.

On my last visit, I opted for a private tour of the caverns, and the price was very reasonable.

The place is very safe and well-kept. I was so amazed by the size of this cavern, and the whole experience lasted about an hour. It’s a great place for all family members.

Catch a Glimpse of the Famous Country Music Mural

I’ve always loved living in Bristol and one of my favorite things about our Downtown Center is the Country Music Mural.

This creative and colorful art piece honors the legacy of the Bristol Sessions, which are believed to be the actual reason behind the development of country music in the world.

The mural is inspired by those sessions and represents some artists and their musical instruments.

Every time I walk by, I can’t help but admire the beauty and exquisite detail of this work of art.

It’s well-preserved and maintained by both the locals and authorities of the city alike. I’m proud to have such a significant piece of history in my hometown.

Watch a Brilliant Comedy Show at Blue Ridge Comedy Club

Comedy and laughter have been seen to be the best medicine for any mood. Blue Ridge Comedy Club is Shawn Carter’s passion project—one that came about after spending time in the Tri-Cities scouting for a location for his club.

Shawn has spent the last decade living in Boston, Massachusetts and producing comedy shows for his local community.

He found his calling in creating opportunities for people who never thought they would be able to perform live on stage.

Blue Ridge Comedy Club is a fun spot to take friends and family for a good laugh. I’ve been there a few times, and I can say it’s a great comedy venue.

There’s lots of seating, plenty of room, and I love that they also display art for sale.

I remember seeing Cliff Cash there, who is so very funny. I like that the venue’s door is down an interior hall, so no need to line up outside for doors to open, and bathrooms are clean and spacious.

On Wednesdays, you can enjoy the open mic and be amazed at the talent the comedians have to offer.

Alternatively, if you’d like to play a fun game, you can come on a Tuesday and get in on some of their competitive games.

If you’re interested in trying your own hand at standup comedy, stop by Thursday’s Last Comic Standing.

Hang Out in Whitetop Creek Park

I remember when the design work of Whitetop Creek Park started back in 1993. It’s amazing to see how it has transformed into a fantastic place for the community to enjoy since its opening in 2001.

Located along Highway 394 and just past the Bristol Dragway, this delightful 55.8-acre park has become a go-to spot for me and my family.

Whitetop Creek Park boasts an abundance of amenities that make it the perfect place to relax and enjoy time with family and friends.

One of my favorite activities is fishing at the 1.5-acre pond. It’s always so peaceful and calming, and I’ve had some great catches there!

I also love walking and jogging along the one-mile trail, which offers a great opportunity to get some exercise while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

As a sports enthusiast, I appreciate the variety of sports facilities available at Whitetop.

With six soccer fields, four softball fields, a four-sided score tower, a basketball court, and a multi-purpose field, there’s always something going on.

I’ve played in several softball games and even participated in a few soccer matches with friends.

Experience the Craziest Sixty Minutes of Your Life with Tri-Cities Escape Game

An adrenaline rush lasts a minute; try something that lasts an hour.

Tri-Cities Escape Game runs real-life escape games that are unlike any I’ve ever experienced before.

They pride themselves on creating an environment that is entertaining and welcoming for everyone.

My friends and I spent an hour solving puzzles, searching for clues, and ducking out of sight to escape from impending doom—just like we were in our own real-life video game.

With a myriad of different game styles to choose from, there was always something for everyone to enjoy.

Tri-Cities Escape Game is located at 642 State Street, across from popular hotspot The State Line Bar & Grille.

We had an hour to spend trying to solve a series of puzzles and working as a team to make our way out of the escape game.

We had a blast, and the game host was great! We’ve played many escape games before, and this one was well thought out and so much fun. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in town.

We tried the Amazon room, and they did a phenomenal job with the theme!

This was my 6th room (plus playing the “escape room” card games), and some of the puzzles and techniques were unusual, which made it even more fun. Just a tip: the room is dimly lit, but it fits the theme perfectly.

Drop by the Tennessee Welcome Center

One of the first stops I always recommend to visitors as soon as they arrive in Bristol is the Tennessee Welcome Center on Interstate 81.

Nestled in a cozy log cabin structure, the center truly embodies Southern hospitality with its welcoming atmosphere and relaxing rest area.

Many travelers, including myself, stop by here for bathroom breaks and coffee, and to get more information not only about Bristol but about the entire state.

The staff here can also help you out with booking your hotel, campground, and other attractions in Bristol; free of charge.

There are brochures provided and other helpful information for your travel.

Go on a Shopping Spree at The Pinnacle

I absolutely love spending my weekends at The Pinnacle, a 240-acre shopping mall that opened in 2014.

It’s the perfect place to go on a shopping spree, with over 70 shops to explore, including boutiques, restaurants, a movie theater, a trampoline park, and even The Pinnacle Park with a lake and a trail.

One of my favorite things about The Pinnacle is that it’s home to the region’s only Bass Pro shop.

I can spend hours browsing through their extensive selection of outdoor gear and apparel. Plus, there are so many popular brands like American Eagle, Belk, and Marshalls, that I can always find something I love.

Enjoy Retro Gaming at Flipside Retro Arcade

I recently brought my family and friends to Flipside Retro Arcade for some real fun that reminded us of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s!

This place has more than 35 pinball machines, and classic consoles such as N64, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo.

We were thrilled to find everyone’s all-time favorites like Frogger, Pac-Man, Ms PacMan, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Space Invaders, and other classic games.

The atmosphere was fantastic, and the staff was friendly and helpful. They even had a great selection of snacks and drinks available for purchase.

We only had to buy a pass, and we got to play all day for as long as we wanted! It was an excellent way to spend a day with friends and family, and we can’t wait to go back

Go Skating at Bristol Skateway

I absolutely love spending my weekends at Bristol Skateway on Skateway Drive; formerly K-Mart Drive.

The award-winning skating rink is huge, and it’s always a blast to roll around and interact with fellow skaters.

One of the things I appreciate about this place is the concession stand. I can easily grab a snack whenever I get hungry after skating for a while. They have a nice variety of options, and the prices are reasonable too.

I also like that there’s a skate shop on-site for any skating needs. I’ve bought a few items from there, and the staff has always been helpful in finding the right gear for me.

Plus, there’s a gaming area which is perfect for taking a break from skating and having some fun with friends.

Get Your Coffee Fix at Trailblazer Coffee

Kickstart your day on a fine morning with a fresh, delicious cup of your favorite coffee at Trailblazer Coffee on West State Street.

This drive-thru coffee shop offers premium coffee and espresso drinks, as well as bubble tea, smoothies, and delicious pastries. It offers its own signature coffee and regularly rotates its seasonal offerings like Honey Lavender Latte, Matcha Madness, Luck of the Irish Latte, and The Volunteer Latte.

Enjoy any of its offerings and go on with your adventures in Bristol! Trailblazer Coffee was established in 2020 by couple Mark and Bethany Sah.

I recently had an incredible Oatmilk Latte with some sugar-free Monin syrup at Trailblazer Coffee.

The service was great, and the latte was wonderful. The drive-thru makes it convenient to grab a quick coffee fix on the go.

On another visit, I tried their Frozen Caramel Coffee, which comes with three shots of espresso added – it was simply delicious!

Final Thoughts

Living in Bristol, Tennessee, I can’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to enjoy all the amazing experiences this city has to offer.

From beautiful parks and stunning natural attractions to theaters hosting captivating performances, there’s always something to do and see here.

As a resident, I’ve learned that the best times are often spent exploring and enjoying the city with loved ones and family members.

So, if you ever find yourself in Bristol, don’t hesitate to dive into the local culture and make some unforgettable memories.

I hope this list of things to do in Bristol, Tennessee has given you a glimpse into the vibrant life we locals enjoy. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll find yourself calling this charming city home too.

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