Tennessee has developed a reputation for its charming and fun small towns. Bristol, straddling both sides of the Tennessee-Virginia state line, is a great example. The city embraces its rich musical heritage, local art and scenic beauty. Here's how you’ll want to spend a weekend in Bristol, Tennessee.
The Fairfield Inn & Suites offers easy access to Bristol's many attractions at an affordable rate. The lobby greets you with bright, modern designs that are reflected in each room. Enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi, satellite TV and a walk-in shower in some rooms, a heated indoor pool, hot complimentary breakfast and warm beds to flop into after a full day of exploring Bristol.
If you’re rolling into downtown on State Street, especially at night, you can’t miss Bristol’s most iconic landmark and photo-op. It spans the width of State Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having been placed here in 1921.
Bristol Motor Speedway, known as the world's fastest half-mile, is a famous NASCAR short-track nicknamed The Last Great Colosseum for its adrenaline-pumping races and Roman-like architecture. Its steep banking, all-concrete surface and stadium-like seating makes it a popular track for fans and participants. The speedway is among the largest sporting venues in the world. It's home to the most popular Sprint Cup events in the U.S., the Food City 500 every April and Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race every August.
Just down the block from the bakery is Bristol’s newest iconic spot: the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. As a Smithsonian-affiliate, its specs are impressive. It’s a 24,000 square-foot, two-story shrine to some of the pioneers of American country music. In 1927, an enterprising recording engineer and talent scout, Ralph Peer, traveled south with some revolutionary field recording technology and set up shop in a Bristol, Tennessee warehouse. What he recorded became recognized as the “Big Bang” of country music. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Music is a time-honored tradition in Bristol, woven into the very fabric of the town’s identity; and so, too is fabric itself. L. C. King Manufacturing Company has been under the same roof since 1913. Fabrics are hand cut by a single craftsman with just a few others doing the garment assembly. And they’re using old fashioned equipment and know-how from another era where craftsmanship was king. L. C. King brings a bygone era to the modern scene in a way that seems timeless and yet trendy. They ought to know. They’ve been doing it this way for over 100 years.
This massive mural depicting many of the folks made famous by the Bristol Sessions is located on the Tennessee side of State Street. Walk west a few blocks. Like the iconic Bristol sign, you can’t miss it.
Owing to the natural splendor surrounding Bristol, drive out of the downtown district for a little R&R. Steele Creek Park, the third largest municipal park in the Volunteer State, has more than 25 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails cutting through approximately 2,300 acres, surrounding the picturesque Steele Creek Lake. On site is a nature center - go in and say hello to Big Snappy, the snapping turtle - a golf course, splash pad, paddleboats and more trails than you can hike in a single visit.
Catch a few of the well-known natural wonders like Bristol Caverns. An underground river formed this cave hundreds of millions of years ago. Luckily, some enterprising locals decided to make the splendor of the caverns accessible by installing paved and lit walkways and stairs, so a visit to Bristol Caverns is no hardcore spelunking experience. You’ll enjoy these vast caverns and the endless shapes found in the stalactites, stalagmites and other formations.
Have a peaceful moment to take in Bristol’s natural beauty. South Holston Dam, the largest of the two dams, was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1940s as a means to prevent flooding and electrify the area through the hydroelectric dam itself. The resulting lake, South Holston Lake, is surrounded almost entirely by the immense and scenic Cherokee National Forest. World-class fishing is found in these waters - including bluegill, walleye, catfish and more - but you don’t need a rod and reel to appreciate a lake this beautiful. Just pick a spot, take a breath, and live in the moment. That’s really what Bristol’s all about.
Worked up an appetite yet? Check out 620 State, a restaurant that serves classic, elevated American and Southern fare. Choose between Carolina reaper hot chicken sandwiches or avocado topped salmon on a bed of rice, sushi and stir-fry. Housed in a massive, yet somehow cozy and very warm space, 620 State presents unique interpretations of Southern cuisine.
A few blocks away is Bristol’s Chicago-style pizza mecca, Angry Italian. Just look through the window on a Friday night. This place is packed out with locals - a telltale sign to grab a seat. Everything at the Angry Italian, from the dough to the salads, is hand prepared in-house, which appears to be a theme throughout Bristol’s downtown eateries.
Machiavelli’s, located downtown and just one block from the Angry Italian, is way too good to pass over. Like just about every other restaurant in downtown Bristol, most of the menu’s offerings are handmade. They’ve got a stage tucked into one corner where crooners and songwriters are known to play just about every American classic except Wagon Wheel (see if you can spot the sign). While you listen, order the Italian Nachos. One glance at the description and you’ll understand why.
If you didn’t get lured into Elderbrew after eating at the Angry Italian (they’re next-door neighbors) then backtrack one block and pull up a barstool. Inside, the bartender is spinning real-deal vinyl records, which on its own gives the whole place a chic vibe. And the rotating tap list, which includes selections beyond what they brew themselves, makes Elderbrew a staple in the already voluminous lineup of breweries that have come up in the Tri-Cities area over the past several years.
Cafe by day, listening room by night. Bloom Cafe and Listening Room is a casual and cozy spot, decked out with low couches and coffee tables. There are board games and books and a stage for open-mic nights featuring local poets, singers and troubadours. This eccentric place feels a little bit like a retro dining room, decked out with old typewriters, local art (the space has a full art gallery). Breakfast, lunch and brunch is served. You can spend quite a while here just sipping coffee, eating and maybe even playing some Scrabble.
Holston River Brewing
Less than two miles down Volunteer Parkway from the speedway is a brewery and music venue with a motto that pays homage to the river that gave them their name: “Good Water. Great Beer!” They're talking about the Holston River, of course, because this is the Holston River Brewing Company. Local tip: they keep the dance floor open with real Southern rock and country sounds on a regular basis.
Locals swear by Blackbird Bakery and you will, too. They’re open 6 a.m. on Mondays and don’t close until midnight on Saturdays, closed Sundays. Housed in an old Masonic Temple just two blocks from the Tennessee line, this cozy spot has Bavarian crème donuts and jalapeño bacon Kolaches, pecan pie tarts and chocolate dream cake. They also brew local coffee and sell local churned ice creams - so hot or cold, this is your spot. Blackbird Bakery is a real-deal, two-state favorite.
These are just some of the adventures you can have in Bristol, TN/VA. Explore even more things to see and do in the city.