20 Best Things to Do in Roanoke, VA

Roanoke, VA
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Roanoke is the largest municipality in Southwest Virginia, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Its sights, attractions, and festivals make it a terrific travel destination.

The city is fun, full of life, and overflowing with uniqueness, so you're lucky if that’s what you want for your vacation.

If you’re looking for the charm of a Virginian city, then this is the place to go.

Here are just a few of the best things to do at Roanoke, Virginia’s doorstep:

Marvel at the Mill Mountain Star

Daytime view of Mill Mountain Star
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The Mill Mountain Star, also known as the Roanoke Star, is a city icon, and it’s one of the first things you’ll want to see up close the moment you enter the area.

It sits atop Mill Mountain, large and impossible to miss, like a giant glowing neon beacon guiding new visitors to the city and dazzling them with its shining light.

History marker under the Mill Mountain Star
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Roanoke installed the star in 1949 because the Roanoke Merchants Association wanted to do something special for the Christmas shopping season.

And while the structure was designed to be permanent, the merchants weren’t sure that it could be lit all year round.

Luckily, the gorgeous star became so popular with the locals that local officials decided to keep it, and it’s remained a symbol of the city ever since.

Colorful lights of Mill Mountain Star
Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grab a Treat from the Scratch Biscuit Company

Now that you’ve seen the icon of Roanoke, it’s time to try out some classic homemade Virginia cooking.

Head to the Scratch Biscuit Company at 1820 Memorial Avenue SW and try their heavenly made-from-scratch biscuits.

Take a seat at one of their outdoor tables, admire the city, and let the noise of the cars buzzing around and people milling about wash over you.

Order a plate or two of biscuits with your travel companions.

Maybe you want the butter biscuit or the bacon one.

It doesn’t matter because they all taste amazing and are great treats for friendly banter and conversations.

You can also try out some of their platters if you’re looking for something heavier to fill you up for a day of traveling and sightseeing.

Visit the Animals of Mill Mountain Zoo

The entrance of Mill Mountain Zoo
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Climb back up Mill Mountain to visit the zoo and observe the many animals it houses, ranging from the cute to the majestic.

The zoo wants to focus on taking care of animals native to their Appalachian home, highlighting the blue eagle, black bear, and bobcat.

They also keep several Snow Leopards and various Asian species for as long as possible, an excellent treat for the animal enthusiasts looking forward to seeing those animals.

They host several events and programs to educate visitors on the wildlife in their facilities and their organization's conservation work, so participate in those if you get the chance.

Exterior of O. Winston Link and History Museum of Western Virginia
Brian M. Powell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The main goal of this museum, located at 101 Shenandoah Ave NE, is to preserve, interpret, and promote the history of the Roanoke region.

Stop by this place to learn everything you need to know about Roanoke.

They have exhibits about different aspects of Roanoke life across the years.

You'll learn so many things by walking the elegant halls of this museum.

Join a group tour to get a comprehensive experience of the history that the museum’s trying to tell.

Let the guide paint a picture of the past for you as you go through exhibits.

Imagine the different things that have occurred in the area over the centuries.

The museum also has a gift shop if you’re looking to snag some interesting, history-related souvenirs with you while you’re there.

Transport Yourself to the Virginia Museum of Transportation

Exterior of Virginia Museum of Transportation
Warfieldian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another museum worth a spot in your travel itinerary!

The Virginia Museum of Transportation, located in downtown Roanoke, is all about transportation.

You may not know much about this subject, but this place can certainly teach you.

The establishment first opened in 1963, housed in an old freight depot.

Unfortunately, a fire razed the site, together with a majority of its collection, in 1985.

Steam locomotive at Virginia Museum of Transportation
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It reopened a year later in its current location, and it’s gotten back on its feet as strong and vibrant as ever and just as ready to tell the story of transportation.

The museum now houses exhibits about air, road, rail, and water transportation, so whatever form you’re interested in, they’ll have some information.

Old trains at Virginia Museum of Transportation
Donnie Nunley from Boones Mill, Virginia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Relax with a Meal at Inka Grill Peruvian Cuisine

After a day of tourist activities, you must want some interesting local cuisine to fill your stomach after such a long day.

The Inka Grill Peruvian Cuisine at 611 S Jefferson Street offers a unique Peruvian menu that all their customers will surely love.

While the place is new, established only in 2019, it’s proven its ability to keep up with the competition.

If you’re looking for the restaurant specialty, try one of their Civechez dishes and marvel at the rich and flavorful meal.

And, if you’re looking for something closer to home, you can also order their juicy steaks or chicken.

Inka Grill also offers a lunch special if you want to try everything this restaurant offers.

Go to the Center in the Square

High angle view of Center in the Square's exterior
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Once you’re done with your lunchtime meal and rearing to go again, it’s time to visit one of the city's most exciting destinations.

Center in the Square, located at 1 Market Square, consists of five buildings that they rent out to 11 other nonprofit organizations for free or drastically reduced rates.

They all provide fun and education to residents and any visitors who may stop by.

The place has everything you can imagine, from science and history museums to gigantic aquariums.

You can even catch a performance from the Mill Mountain Theatre or the Roanoke Symphony orchestra if you’re lucky.

Attend an Event at the Berglund Center

If you’re a big sports fan, you’ve probably heard of the Berglund Center and are probably looking forward to visiting and possibly catching a game.

The place is a multi-purpose arena built in 1971 and was the former home to the American Basketball Association.

However, the place is most well-known for being the home base of the hockey team, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.

Did you know sporting events aren’t the only things you can see in the Berglund Center?

They also host theater shows and concerts, so try to catch one of the events if you’re there.

You’re in for a treat at the Berglund Center, whatever the event.

Lose Yourself in Explore Park

Scenic view at Explore Park
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When people go on vacation, they usually do it because they’re looking for the chance to kick back and relax, unwind from the stresses of their daily lives, and find their inner peace again.

Traveling from one stressful city to another bustling one a few states away may not be everyone’s idea of relaxation.

However, Roanoke offers many attractions where you can find peace and serenity if you want.

Trail lined with trees at Explore Park
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Explore Park is one of the best places to forget all your responsibilities at Milepost 115.

Wander the hundreds of acres of woodlands, hills, and river frontage.

Follow the hiking trails and see where they’ll lead you.

Who knows?

You may find something interesting and unique while walking through the woods on an aimless and straightforward walk.

Exterior of a cabin at Explore Park
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Have a Great Meal at Bernard’s Gastropub & Eatery

Bernard’s in downtown Roanoke is one of the most well-known restaurants in the area, and you’ll want to try out one of their dishes if you get the chance.

The place features a local chef’s modern interpretation of classic meals, and the results are interesting, delicious, and unexpected.

If you want to start with something simple, try one of their burgers or sandwiches.

There’s also a brunch menu if you’re looking for a full meal comprising delectable dishes.

Play around at Roanoke Pinball Museum

Downtown Roanoke is full of sights to see and things to do, making it a place you’ll never want to leave once you enter.

One of the more unique attractions would be the Roanoke Pinball Museum.

As the name suggests, this place is all about pinball.

Some exhibits and displays teach you the science and history behind the fun but seemingly innocuous game.

But the best part about this place is that it’s entirely interactive.

Play a game or two while learning information about the game that headlined arcades and game rooms.

Marvel at the Taubman Museum of Art

Close view of Taubman Museum of Art's exterior
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Here’s another treat for the people visiting downtown Roanoke: the Taubman Museum of Art.

One of the first things you’ll notice about this place is its unique architecture.

You’ll see sweeping curves and points that seem to reach out with their mind to touch the sky.

Far view of Taubman Museum of Art's exterior
Warfieldian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

World-renowned architect Randall Stout designed this marvel of glass and steel.

Once you enter, you’ll find countless art collections, and you’ll find yourself wandering the establishment, trying to appreciate them for hours on end.

You’ll find the works of artists like John Singer Sargent, Purvis Young, and John Cage, to name just a few.

Taste the Dishes of the River and Rail

The River and Rail is a Southern-style bistro restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients to prepare the best dishes for its guests.

The menu changes daily; expect creativity and innovation.

Their house-cured meats pair well with their in-house condiments.

There’s also a bar for people looking to have fun over a few drinks.

The cocktails are interesting and inventive, meaning you’ll enjoy happy hour with your friends and traveling companions.

Learn from the Harrison Museum of African American Culture

Save the best Roanoke attraction for last.

The Harrison Museum of African American Culture at 1 Market Square SE is an educational and cultural institution committed to promoting and celebrating the art and history of African Americans.

The museum showcases different memorabilia related to the African American experience.

Listen to recordings of stories and tales told by elders of the Black community in the city.

The establishment also hosts various events throughout the year, promoting and showcasing its exhibits, so attend one if you get the chance.

Taste the Delicious Dishes of Lucky Restaurant

The mark of a good destination isn’t just the number of sights to see, but also the number of places you can eat.

Lucky Restaurant may not be the first place people will recommend to you in Roanoke, but it’s a fantastic place with unique charms that any visitor will love.

The place specializes in serving small, shareable plates, making it an excellent destination for people with many traveling companions.

By that point, you’ve probably seen a lot of things from the city.

Maybe you're also bursting with stories you want to tell and things to talk about.

Take the time to recall what you’ve seen.

What were your favorite parts?

What left a mark on you?

What will you take back with you when you return home?

Start a Joyride along Blue Ridge Parkway

Scenic views from Blue Ridge Parkway
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Up for a bit of mindless driving amidst the beautiful terrains of Virginia and North Carolina?

Then, you're in for a treat at Blue Ridge Parkway.

This 469-mile scenic byway dives deep into the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the central Appalachians.

With regional flora, the route traverses through diverse vegetation and varied habitats.

Some of the more notable nature sites within this byway include Whitewater Falls, which is the highest one of its kind east of the Rockies.

The road of Blue Ridge Parkway
mzglass96 / Shutterstock.com

Get ready for views of Linville Gorge and Mount Mitchell, too.

Blue Ridge Parkway offers you a gateway to nature's best-kept treasures, so get your bikes and vehicles ready.

Your adventure is sure to be a blast!

Get to US Route 221 to reach one of the byway's access points.

Explore the Aviary Exhibits at the Science Museum of Western Virginia

Located within downtown Roanoke, the Science Museum of Western Virginia sits as a beacon of educational endeavors.

Established in 1970, this museum became the first of its kind within the state of Virginia.

If that's not impressive, the fact that the museum underwent various relocations as it grew larger and larger through the decades may be.

Among this museum's exhibits include animal and organism exhibits, fossil digs, and ocean-based touch tanks.

One of its more promising exhibits is the Parakeet Garden, which is home to over 150 parakeet species!

No matter where you go within this museum, you are sure to learn a thing or two about the world and its inhabitants

The Science Museum of Western Virginia is on Market Square.

Seek Shade and Relaxation within Nature at Carvins Cove Natural Reserve

Carvins Cove Natural Reserve may be the city's greatest source of freshwater, but it's also one of the place's hidden nature gems.

Owned by William Carvin in 1746, this preserve spans more than 12,000 acres.

Most of the site's foliage comprises mixed pine and hardwood forests.

It also features a 630-acre reservoir and multi-use trails that are a hit among hikers and equestrians.

Some of the activities you can engage in while in this park include paddling, picnicking, and mountain biking.

See the unfiltered nature beauty of Carvins Cove Natural Reserve on Reservoir Road.

Test Your Physical Abilities at Treetop Quest

It's time for a round of daring challenges and obstacle courses!

Treetop Quest is your best bet for an otherworldly family adventure up in the air!

This outdoor aerial course facility is open seasonally.

It features Tarzan swings, zip lines, and a 1,500-cargo net trampoline.

Jump through tightropes, duck around caved platforms, and overcome your fear of heights!

Treetop Quest is on Roanoke River Parkway Road, but you can access it via the Blue Ridge Parkway on Milepost 121.

Go for a Romantic Stroll Amidst the Illuminights

If you visit Roanoke during the holiday season, you shouldn't forget to drop by the Illuminights.

This public art spectacle is a yearly tradition.

It features a wooded trail that shines with over 650,000 bedazzling lights.

There are various photo opportunities within the half-mile walk for you and your partner or group, too!

If you would like to make your festive celebrations more meaningful, enjoy the Christmas display and marshmallow roasting sessions within the site.

Explore Park hosts the Illuminights on Roanoke River Parkway.

Final Thoughts

Before every trip, prepare a complete itinerary.

However, leave some room for adventure.

A little unpredictability and unexpected twists and turns spice up every vacation.

Luckily, Roanoke should give you many things to do without realizing it.

Start with just a few items in your travel itinerary, and then let your intuition tell you where to go next.

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