Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Bristol, VA

  • Published 2022/03/24

A visit to Bristol, an independent city in Virginia, is a buy-one-take-one prospect.

This is because its twin city of Bristol, Tennessee, is direct across State Street, the corridor serving as the boundary between the two cities as well as Virginia and Tennessee.

But even as the twin cities have common a downtown district, Virginia’s city of Bristol boasts many points of interest within its 34-square-kilometer jurisdiction.

Founded in 1853, this city in southwest Virginia is home to the world-famous Bristol Motor Speedway, hosting the widely popular NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Bristol also has the bragging right as the Birthplace of Country Music, declared no less by the US Congress.

In addition, Bristol nestles amid the majestic Appalachian Mountains and its area on the caress of South Holston Lake and the Holston River.

With all these to the city’s favor, the list of things to do in Bristol below can be quite irresistible.

Rehearse a Tune at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Exterior of Country Music Museum

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This museum keeps some of the earliest recordings of US country music from this genre’s origin—the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

Located on Country Music Way off Cumberland Street, it also features interactive exhibits, including a mini studio where visitors could rehearse Bristol Sessions vocals.

The entrance and name sign of Country Music Museum

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The museum likewise presents timelines of historical music milestones, the Bristol area events, and audio technology breakthroughs.

In addition, there is an informative video featuring current artists dishing out their renditions of Bristol Sessions songs and having detailed discussions on their original musicians’ styles and techniques.

The recordings in the museum, notably an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, continue to inspire and influence contemporary music.

A vintage acoustic guitar in front of Country Music Museum

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Swing to the Beat of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion

This annual music festival is held on the second weekend of September in the shared downtown of Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.

Each year, more than 100 bands participate in the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, which features 13 indoor and outdoor venues in Downtown Bristol.

A three-day music festival, this event presents a wide range of music genres, such as country, Americana, Celtic, old-time, bluegrass, rock, and Piedmont blues.

The festival’s presentation of the very best in Appalachian music—past, present, and future—never fails to bring a high level of excitement to thousands of Bristol locals and visitors.

Watch a Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway

Exterior of Bristol Motor Speedway

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Major racing events in the Bristol Motor Speedway, including the NASCAR extravaganzas, are typically held in April and August.

The Speedway’s stadium-like grandstand can seat over 150,000 spectators and draw fans from across the US and over a dozen other countries.

Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most popular NASCAR tracks because of its distinctively thrilling features.

Interior of Bristol Motor Speedway

User:B, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Speedway tests racing skills in the extraordinarily steep banking of its all-concrete surface with two pit roads.

It has also earned the reputation of being among the loudest on the NASCAR schedule.

The Speedway also offers its visitors several climate-controlled, luxury public suites where you can watch the races in style.

Vehicles inside Bristol Motor Speedway

Mike Kalasnik from Unionville, CT, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stay at Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards

This Bristol mountain oasis spreads over more than 450 acres on Flame Leave Drive off south of US 58.

Family-owned and operated, its various facilities include a 28-room luxury boutique inn overlooking the marvelous sceneries of the property.

Nicewonder also boasts a world-class culinary and wine program in its restaurant with a wood-fire kitchen.

The menu choices here include cucumber salad for starters, then an entrée of cumin-spiced meatballs over beet hummus with tzatziki, smokey tahini, and fresh dill, mint, and lemon.

For wines, Nicewonder offer picks from its Viognier, Chardonnay, and Merlot, all drawn from grapevines on its 10 acres of vineyards.

While staying at Nicewonder, you can also have access to its acres and acres of lush gardens, five miles of wooded trails, and disc golf course.

Play It Short or Long at The Virginian Golf Club

This golf facility on Clubhouse Ridge is a sister development of Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards.

Located on Clubhouse Ridge off Old Jonesboro Road, this club features a 21-hole course.

Here, you can play just a 9-hole round or hit around with your kids at the 3-hole practice links.

Going on a full 18-hole play at The Virginian Golf Club calls for a par 72 play over 7,025 yards from the longest tees of its course with a rating of 73.6 and a slope rating of 136.

In addition to its golf course, The Virginian Golf Club also features a 50-yard pool, a poolside restaurant, tennis courts, and a fitness center.

Book a Seat at Paramount Bristol Theater

Exterior of Paramount Bristol Theater

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Paramount Bristol is a prolific performing arts center on State Street, right the heart of downtown Bristol.

Its presentations include film, music, dance, comedy, theater, and family entertainment.

Colorful name sign of Paramount Bristol Theater

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Remarkably, in just about six months, Paramount Bristol can come up with 50 unique events.

As remarkable, this historic theater built in the 1930s has been revitalized to restore its original art-deco grandeur.

Paramount Bristol Theater during the evening

Dee Browning /

Choose Golf Club or Fishing Pole at Clear Creek

The city of Bristol operates an 18-hole public links, the Clear Creek Golf Club on Harleywood Road perpendicular to the corridor of Wallace Pike.

The centerpiece of the golf course, the 35-acre Clear Creek Lake, also provides a fishing pier and a birdwatching spot.

If you go for golf at the Clear Creek Golf Club, you will bat for a par 71 on its splendid 6,516-yard layout.

The greens and fairways of this course are very well-maintained and regarded as one of the finest-conditioned municipal links in the region.

The fishing pier on Clear Creek Lake is in its northeastern part, and you have to check at the golf club’s office for access to this spot.

A record 31-pound flathead catfish was one of the notable catches at Clear Creek Lake.

Birding is also enjoyable at Clear Creek Lake, especially during winter when migrant waterfowl, swallows, and shorebirds nest in this area.

Hike or Bike the Mendota Trail

This trail stretches between the city of Bristol and the Virginia village of Mendota, offering a 12.5-mile hiking and biking corridor.

It is accessible from Bristol via a trailhead on Island Road, which proceeds onward to lush forests and tranquil countryside.

The Mendota Trail features a more natural, rugged trail surface but offers gentle grades.

On some of its stretches, you can still trace some wooden remnants of the old railroad from which the trail was developed.

Watch a Show at the Cameo Theater

Exterior of Cameo Theater

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Check this theater’s calendar for some epic entertainment in concerts, live performances, and stage productions within a historical setting.

Cameo Theater is one of Virginia’s oldest theaters and stands as a Bristol landmark.

It opened in 1925, offering family entertainment through plays, films, and live music.

The stage and screen of Cameo Theater were dormant onward from the 1970s, but these have been thankfully resurrected to delight audiences anew.

Tour Bristol’s Art in Public Places

Outdoor public art thrives in Bristol, as can be best seen in the city’s Bristol’s Country Music Mural on State Street.

This mural on an entire building’s wall across a public square measures 30 feet by 100 feet.

It was first painted by radio DJ White, a local artist and musician, featuring the iconic images of the big players in the 1927 Bristol Recording Sessions.

Besides this mural, Bristol also has an Art in Public Places project that has been adding sculptures in the downtown area since 2006.

Check out Bristol’s city parks, such as Cumberland Square Park, for some of these remarkable sculptures.

Jimmie Rodgers. First painted in 1986 by local artist, musician, and radio DJ Tim White, the mural was recently refurbished to great effect during the summer of 2020.

Camp at Sugar Hollow Park

This 400-acre park is located on Sugar Hollow Road off north of Lee Highway and provides 75 campsites.

The park’s campground can accommodate all types of RVs, with each campsite with a charcoal grill and picnic table.

The campsite’s facilities include a sewage dump station and two comfort stations with hot showers.

Campers can also conveniently access the various facilities of Sugar Hollow Park, including a scenic 18-hole disc golf course.

They are also just a short walk away from the park’s pool, playground, soccer and softball fields, and pavilion.

Go on a Photo Shoot at Bristol Train Station

Exterior of Bristol Train Station

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This vintage train stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is a Bristol landmark not to be missed.

The Bristol Train Station was built in 1903, and it has undergone a meticulous restoration which again unveiled its original grandeur.

The station blends the Romanesque and European-style architecture, with a notable highlight of a hipped-roof pavilion on one of its edges.

The station, now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places, inspires period photoshoots and now serves as a venue for social gatherings, business meetings, and parties.

Have a Laugh at Blue Ridge Comedy

This Comedy Club is the pet project of Shawn Carter, a producer and professional comedian from Boston, MA, who has appeared in popular shows like Comedy Central.

The 100-seat venue hosts top comedians from New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.

The Blue Ridge Comedy Club, located on State Street, provides not only laughter to Bristol’s historic downtown district.

In addition, it also holds comedy workshops, which can lead up to the participants joining the club’s open mic nights.

On Tuesdays, it also holds a game night hosted by one of its local comics.

Pay a Visit to State Street Brewing Company

This brewery on its eponymous downtown street was established in 2019 by a small group of young Bristol entrepreneurs.

Its taproom flaunts a welcoming ambiance, enabling you to enjoy games and a selection of good music.

The beers of State Street Brewing Company are new craft brews that are helping solidify Bristol’s beer-making tradition.

One of this craft brewery’s best bets is its remarkably drinkable Trail Runner, an American light lager with a clean, balanced, and slightly sweet taste.

Buy Veggies or Join the Jam Downtown Center Session

The empty Downtown Center

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Bristol’s Downtown Center off State Street hosts the State Street Farmers Market and the Full Moon Jam Concert series each year starting from May.

The farmers market is open up to end-October on Saturdays from morning till around noon.

Bristol’s merchants and artisans enliven this market with fresh local produce, homemade food items, and unique arts and crafts.

The free concert series Full Moon Jam, on the other hand, is held every night on Tuesday and Thursday, May through September.

As many as 30 bands participate in this concert series that starts from 7:00 p.m. and draws hundreds of locals and visitors.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore the Bristol Caverns

These amazing caves are located off the Bristol Caverns Highway in Tennessee, some six miles southeast of Bristol city proper in Virginia.

You can explore the Bristol Caverns via paved, well-lighted walkways winding through vaulted chambers.

You will walk along the banks of an ancient underground river that carved these remarkable caverns from the earth’s bowels some 200–400 million years ago.

You will be able to explore vast rooms with columns, arches, and natural rock formations of varying sizes and types.

These ancient stone formations display colorful veins of minerals in hues of red, blue, brown, gray, and sparkling white.

Stalagmites and stalactites of varying sizes, some bigger than tree trunks and others smaller than straws, will tease and fascinate your imagination.

Some of these rock formations have joined in some sections, forming massive, floor-to-ceiling columns of lofty, cathedral-like rooms.

Final Thoughts

The city of Bristol is a unique travel destination that practically wraps up the best that Virginia and Tennessee have to offer.

The city’s legendary musicians of the past have also left a legacy that serves as a magnet for visitors to the Bristol twin cities.

Listing these twins to your travel itinerary, moreover, opens access to a wide selection of outdoor activities in the natural wonders not only in Virginia but also in Tennessee.

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