The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA

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Visiting Bristol TN/VA means getting to explore awesome places in two states, because the Blue Ridge mountain towns‘ main street literally acts as a state boundary.

The Virginia side of the street is to the north, while the Tennessee side is to the south.

The town of Bristol is renowned for its history, beloved for its quirky location, and ideal for its proximity to natural beauty.

There are loads of fun things to do in Downtown Bristol (which is easily walkable), and there are some great places to visit in Bristol’s parks, lakes, and forests.

In short, Bristol’s activities and attractions are wonderfully diverse, with something to suit just about any traveler’s taste.

Many of the best attractions in Bristol are along State Street, where visitors can stroll past cool shops, cutting-edge restaurants, historic theaters, microbreweries, and old train stations.

Other fun activities include learning about the local musical roots, checking out a top NASCAR venue, exploring massive caves, and relaxing by the lake.

On our recent trip, we tried to hit up as many Bristol tourist attractions as possible, discovered things to see in Bristol that hadn’t made our wish list, and found a lot of free things to do in Bristol as well!

Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Bristol TN/VA, including the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol Motor Speedway, and other great places to see in Bristol.

READ MORE: 10 Best Virginia Mountain Towns to Visit

Best Things to Do in Bristol VA/TN Guide

  1. Catch a Show at the Paramount Center for Arts or Cameo Theater
  2. Enjoy Downtown Bristol Restaurants
  3. Explore the Birthplace of Country Music Museum
  4. Get Wet South Holston Lake
  5. Sample Spirts and Craft Beer in Bristol
  6. Sit under “The Resting Tree” at Sugar Hollow Park
  7. Spelunking at Bristol Caverns
  8. Toe the State Line to the Bristol Sign
  9. Visit the Bristol Motor Speedway
  10. Walk at Steele Creek Park

READ MORE: The 10 Best Historic & Covered Bridges in Virginia

Paramount Center for Arts Bristol TN/ VA
Paramount Center for Arts in Bristol TN/VA

1. Catch a Show at Paramount Center For Arts or Cameo Theater

Bristol music history dates back 100+ years, and it’s still a happening spot to catch a show today.Downtown Bristol TN/VA has two retro theaters that host live music throughout the year. 

Located at 518 State Street, the Paramount Center For Arts is a 1930s Art Deco movie theater-turned-music venue, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Paramount typically hosts multiple live music concerts each week, ranging from 90s grunge and mountain music to kitschy cover bands.

Another State Street venue, the Cameo Theater, is one of the oldest theaters in Virginia. It originally opened in 1925, and stayed open into the 1970s.

After being neglected for 40 years, it was almost torn down, but ultimately it was renovated and reopened.

Live shows at the Cameo Theater happen frequently throughout the summer, and continue less frequently in the winter.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA

Restaurants downtown Bristol TN- Bloom restaurant
Killer Eats at Bloom Restuarant in Downtown Bristol TN/VA

2. Enjoy Downtown Bristol Restaurants

There are lots of Downtown Bristol restaurants on or near State Street, including some excellent independent restaurants where you can have a unique Bristol meal.

Our top recommendation has to be Bloom, a farm-to-table restaurant with good cocktails, quirky décor, and top-shelf dishes. It stole the show for us in terms of the best places to eat in Bristol.

Located on one of the downtown Bristol VA side streets, the Blackbird Bakery was our favorite place for breakfast (try the fresh-baked donuts).

Quaker Steak & Lube and The Angry Italian were among the more popular Downtown Bristol eateries, and we loved eating lunch at 620 State Restaurant.

For restaurants close to the Bristol Motor Speedway, we had a fun outing at a local favorite called Mad Greek, which is oddly more pizza-focused than Greek food. 

We also had the best Indian meal we’ve had in years at Red Pepper Indian Cuisine. This impressive Bristol restaurant is only a couple minutes’ drive from the main drag on State Street. 

READ MORE: 20 Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Things to Do in city of Bristol VA - Outside The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol
Outside The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol VA

3. Explore the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

If you visit Bristol TN/VA, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is an absolute must-see. Even if, like us, you’re not a huge fan of country music.

We found that the museum completely sucked us in once we got past our preconceptions. It was incredibly interesting, focusing on a single recording session in Bristol that changed the face of popular music.

This 1927 recording session included country music pioneers like the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers. But there was also blues, hillbilly music, gospel, and other genres, showcasing the region’s unique sound.

The museum features myriad interactive exhibits, original recordings, and the original recording studio (which still functions and broadcasts today).

Visiting the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is one of the more unusual things to do in Bristol, and it’s unique to the city. It’s also one of the best things to do in Bristol TN/VA for families!

READ MORE: 40 Facts About the History of the Banjo (From Africa to Appalachia)

South Holston Lake in Bristol VA
South Holston Lake, photo via Canva

4. Get Wet at South Holston Lake

South Holston Lake straddles the boundary between Tennessee and Virginia, just a few miles east of Bristol. It’s surrounded by parks, forests, marinas, and even a beach.

Most of the lake is bordered by the Cherokee National Forest, the largest tract of forest in Tennessee (650,000 acres!).

The forest has 700 miles of hiking trails, 30 campgrounds, and 7 rivers that are perfect for white water rafting in Tennessee.

Jacob’s Creek Recreation Area in a great place to enjoy swimming in Lake Holston. It has a designated swim site, 27-site campgrounds, lakeside trails, and a huge grassy patch for picnicking.

The lake itself is nearly 8,000 acres. It’s open to kayaking, recreational boating, and fishing (for bass, crappie, and walleye), as well as scuba diving.

This lake is one of the top places for outdoor activities Bristol has to offer. In our experience, it’s also one of the best places to visit near Bristol TN/VA!

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in Tennessee to Visit

Craft Beer in Bristol VA - Tasting Flight at State Street Brewing Co in Bristol VA
Tasting Flight at State Street Brewing Co in Bristol VA

5. Sample Spirits & Craft Beer in Bristol

I’m a sucker for both locally brewed beers and locally distilled spirits. So I was thrilled to learn that there were three microbreweries, a draft house, and a distillery in Downtown Bristol.

Located across from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, the Michael Waltrip Brewing Co is a relative newcomer, offering a racing theme and an in-house restaurant. 

State Street Brewing has cool games to play, a bit of outdoor seating, and great beer. Elderbrew is the first small-batch brewery in Bristol, offering off-the-wall flavors and weekly changes to the beer menu.

State Street’s Cascade Draft House doesn’t brew in-house, but celebrates all the good beers being made locally with over three dozen taps!

Right below the Bristol sign, Lost State Distilling puts out high-quality whiskies and other spirits (try the Rye Whiskey). Tastings are free, and they definitely sneak up on you!

Sampling booze and beer in Bristol was tops among the fun things to do in Bristol for adults like me. We loved the fact that it was so easy to walk from one to the other.

READ MORE: The 8 Best Breweries in Roanoke VA, the Heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge

The Resting Tree at Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol VA
The Resting Tree at Sugar Hollow Park

6. Sit under “The Resting Tree” at Sugar Hollow Park

Sugar Hollow Park is a really nice 400-acre park that seems geared for local use, with sports fields, running paths, and picnic areas. It even has a playground and a pool.

We loved the fact that it’s outside of the main tourist area, so it’s not exactly on everyone’s “where to go in Bristol” list.

The park has 75 campsites, and the campground can accommodate all sorts of recreational vehicles. There are also two comfort stations, hot showers, a sewage dump station, and Wi-Fi.

This park is crisscrossed with walking and biking paths, with a pretty stream surrounded by some cool gardens. It’s also home to Sugar Hollow Cave.

We were particularly moved to see The Resting Tree, a massive white oak that enslaved people once used for shade (and many were buried beneath it).

It was a sobering and soul-stirring reminder of America’s Civil War past.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in Virginia

Things to Do in Bristol TN - Stalactites in Bristol Caverns in Bristol TN
Stalactites in Bristol Caverns in Bristol TN

7. Spelunk the Bristol Caverns

Bristol Caverns is a privately-owned cave system located between Bristol and South Holston Lake.

It combines wonderfully with a trip out to the lake, making for two cool things to do in Bristol in one fun-filled day trip.

These caverns have several chambers, and the number of geological features within them is noteworthy. There are plenty of the typical stalactites and stalagmites, as well as tons of other cool formations.

My favorite thing about this unique cave tour (and I’ve been on a few) is that it has a stream that runs through it, entering from above ground and eventually exiting back out. 

Tours of the caverns run 7 days a week in summer and winter (except Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day), and they take about an hour.

READ MORE: Visiting Craighead Caverns & Lost Sea Adventure (Sweetwater TN)

Bristol activities- State Street in Bristol
State Street in Bristol

8. Toe the State Line to the Bristol Sign

One of the best places to go in Bristol is the middle of State Street, which is the border between Tennessee and Virginia.

There are little brass plaques all along the street denoting which state is where.

State Street is the heart of downtown and runs east to west, with Bristol VA to the north and Bristol TN to the south. The twin towns are one city, but each of the states has governance over its section.

Apparently the pandemic regulations really illustrated this: One side of State Street would shut down completely, while the other was still kicking.

One of the most popular State Street activities is getting a photo of the awesome Bristol sign. I particularly enjoyed its plainly stated tagline, “A good place to live.”

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide

Fun Things to Do in Bristol - Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway

9. Visit Bristol Motor Speedway

In addition to being the Birthplace of Country Music, Bristol is also home to the Bristol Motor Speedway, which is part of the NASCAR racing circuit.

The Bristol Motor Speedway hosts events weekly (if not more often) during the summer, including the Thunder Valley Nationals. There’s also a drag strip and Drag Tower for more racing fun.

This attraction has a massive collection of campgrounds where fans can set up for weekend events. 

For those who are more into Christmas, the BMS also has a famous Christmas light display, Pinnacle Speedway in Lights.

There are over 3 million Christmas lights in 250 displays along the 5-mile route, which is open from mid-November into early January.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Places To See Christmas Lights in Virginia

Things to Do in Bristol TN - Steele Creek Park in Bristol TN:VA
Steele Creek Park 

10. Walk in Steele Creek Park

One of the best outdoor activities Bristol has to offer is visiting Steele Creek Park in the southern (Tennessee) half of the city.

Steele Creek Park has a fantastic walking trail, the Lakeside Trail. It traverses the edge of Steele Creek Lake,  where geese swim laps, beavers build lodges, and anglers catch fish.

We had a fantastic mid-morning stroll there, which proved perfect for working ourselves up to a tasty lunch at the 620 State Restaurant.

Steele Creek Park also has a nature center, numerous picnic shelters, a playground, a disc golf course, paddle boats, and even a little train ride.

It’s an ideal place to get away from hustle and bustle of Downtown Bristol, and felt like a tranquil getaway from our weekend getaway. –by Jonathon Engels; all photos by Emma Gallagher unless otherwise noted


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.