Downtown Bristol, Tennessee
Photo Credit: Jared Kreiss

Appalachian Adventures Await in Bristol, Tennessee

Travel to Bristol for music history, outdoor recreation, great food and more

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, Bristol allows you to be in two places at once: Its bustling State Street straddles the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. But don’t let this fun geographic fact be your only takeaway, as the city is packed with memorable food, music and outdoor experiences. Get settled at the Fairfield Inn & Suites or in one of the popular downtown lofts, snap a pic of the famous Slogan Sign – and then let your adventure begin!

Photo Credit: Earl Neikirk

All Kinds of Eats in Bristol

With a wide variety of restaurants, there’s no shortage of delicious meals to be had in Bristol. Blue Circle is known for two classics – breakfast and burgers – but consider their enormous subs, too, if you’re with a hungry group.

As you stroll downtown, let your taste buds steer you toward the cafe-inspired Bloom for rotating brunch and dinner menus, The Angry Italian for authentic Italian cuisine and drinks or Delta Blues BBQ for barbecue, Cajun and live music. Burger Bar has been slinging patties since 1942 and is (supposedly) where Hank Williams ate his last meal – that’s why you can order burgers with names like Hey Good Lookin’ and Cold, Cold Heart. Plan for a nightcap atop The Bristol Hotel at Lumac, the city’s only rooftop bar, which serves up handcrafted cocktails and 360-degree views of the mountains.

Bristol has a solid selection of craft breweries downtown, too, including Cascade Draft House, Elderbrew, Michael Waltrip Brewing, and State Street Brewing. Lost State Distilling produces small-batch rum, gin, and whiskeys that you can sample in their tasting room — in addition to a selection of specialty spirits.

As for the sweet stuff: Satisfy your sugar cravings at The Southern Churn (handmade fudge, candy, ice cream) or Bristol’s legendary Blackbird Bakery (pies, pastries, cakes and more).

Top of the Shops in Bristol

Bristol is home to The Pinnacle, the region’s largest shopping center at 1.3 million square feet. Here you’ll find your favorite familiar stores, including the area’s largest Belk and only Bass Pro shop, plus plenty of places to eat. For other local fly shops, visit Explore Bristol’s Outdoors guide and select “Fly Shops” from the drop-down menu.

For boutique shopping, look no further than downtown’s cluster of specialty stores. L.C. King has been crafting stylish men’s workwear since 1912 (and the brand is Tom Hanks–approved), while Wm. King Clothiers curates “updated traditional” men’s clothing and sportswear. Serendipity carries women’s apparel designed with one goal in mind – to instill confidence.

If you’re looking for interesting treasures, browse the country decor at Cranberry Lane or try your luck at The Village Antiques and Home Decor Mall of Bristol and Willow Creek Antiques. And if you prefer to take home a new skill? Book a class at AR Workshop and learn how to make everything from wood signs to chunky knit blankets.

The Need for Speed

Make a pit stop at the Bristol Motor Speedway – you’ll get a “Thunder Valley” thrill whether an event is happening or not. One of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks, this world-renowned facility hosts festivity-filled race weekends every spring and fall with throngs of excited fans, tons of food and unbeatable energy. Drag-racing events are held at the adjacent (and equally impressive) Bristol Dragway.

Get a closer look at the facility by taking a tour or admire it from above by staying at the campsite overlooking its grounds. And before you leave town, take a picture at State Street’s NASCAR mural featuring Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty.

Country Music Roots and Branches in Bristol

The rich musical heritage of Bristol can be seen and heard all across the city. The historic 1927 Bristol Sessions – known as the “big bang” of country music – were influential recordings that helped shape the genre’s early sounds and practices. Their story is told at the award-winning Birthplace of Country Music Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute) through interactive exhibits, artifacts like vintage instruments, a performance theater, a live radio broadcast and a commemorative mural.

On most nights, you can take in live music at downtown venues like the Paramount Bristol and The Cameo Theater. And every September, the three-day Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion delights country, bluegrass and Americana fans while commemorating Bristol’s role in the evolution of Appalachian music.

Recreation Opportunities in Bristol

Bring on the fun with friends and family at one of Bristol’s many parks. At more than 2,200 acres, Steele Creek Park is the third-largest municipal park in Tennessee, with a 52-acre lake, about 25 miles of hiking and biking trails, golf and disc golf courses, a nature center and picnic areas. Travel south to Whitetop Creek Park for a smaller but just as enjoyable experience that includes a walking trail, soccer and softball fields, and a basketball court – all with a picturesque mountain backdrop.

For a different kind of park (and a different kind of fun), Just Jump Trampoline Park at The Pinnacle is a 25,000-square-foot facility where you can bounce, play dodgeball and attempt a ninja course.

On the Water in Bristol

Bristol’s South Holston Lake and Holston River is famed for its fly-fishing (especially trout) and tremendous views. Stock up on supplies and then spend the morning or afternoon by the water.

If you decide to stay overnight (or longer), hunker down at a nearby lodge. The owners of Tailwaters Lodge were inspired to open their tranquil retreat after hiking the Appalachian Trail, while South Holston River Lodge offers luxury riverside accommodations and the Orvis-endorsed South Holston River Rentals boasts charming properties and homegrown comfort. All three options are a great home base for fishing and hiking expeditions, couples’ getaways or simply unplugging from the busyness of life. Lakeside camping at Observation Knob Park, just shy of the state line, is another great way to experience the water.

Finally, go low. Bristol Caverns was formed hundreds of millions of years ago by an underground river; today, it features paved walkways and stairs that allow you to explore its three levels of stunning stalactites and stalagmites.

So, no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Bristol, Tennessee!

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