After two trips to Northeast Tennessee, it’s starting to become one of my favorite destinations nearby. It’s the perfect spot for outdoor lovers and foodies! There were so many fun things to do in Bristol, TN/VA and I didn’t have nearly enough time to try them all.
Bristol is super convenient to get to since it’s right along I-81 on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Literally, the border runs through the middle of State Street downtown.
Many people know Bristol from the famous race track, but there is so much more to this town than racing (though that’s not a bad aspect either).
This list is full of things to do in Bristol, TN/VA that I enjoyed on my trip plus things I wish that I had time for!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Explore Bristol. As always, all opinions are my own.
Bristol Motor Speedway
If you visit around Christmas time then make sure you check out the Speedway in Lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. This is a cool event for children and adults alike.
You get to drive your own vehicle along the drag strip and the track – my husband was super jealous.
If you’re interested in going to a NASCAR race, they have a spring and fall race and one of them is a dirt race! Coming to the race is a perfect excuse to spend a weekend in Bristol.
There are a few other events during the year at the Speedway like concerts/music festivals and back in 2016 they held the Battle at Bristol where the TN Volunteers played the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Had to throw that in since I was a Hokie for a couple years. 🙂
Make sure the check the Bristol Motor Speedway website for events and information!
Fly Fishing – One of My Favorite Things to Do in Bristol, TN!
Getting to fly fish for the first time may have been the highlight of my trip to Bristol. I had never even waded in the river using waders before!
Many people feel that fly fishing can be intimidating but when you go with a guide it’s much more manageable.
They’ll teach you how to cast, what the fly actually is, and anything you want to know about the sport. My guide, Tim, was absolutely fantastic and I learned so much during my morning out in the water.
You’ll need a Tennessee fishing license but some guides cover that. Be sure to check with whoever you are fishing with before your trip.
If you are an avid fisherman and already know the ropes then you can head on down to the South Holston River and fish yourself. The Weir Dam along the South Holston is a popular spot.
There are picnic tables here and once you cross the bridge from the parking lot you’ll be on Osceola Island where there is a nice hiking trail as well.
If this is something you’re interested in then check out my complete guide to fly fishing in the South Holston River!
Pastries at Blackbird Bakery
I visited Blackbird Bakery every single day that I was in town if that tells you anything. This is such a cute spot to hang out and people watch but of course the real draw is the sweets.
If you can think of a pastry, they probably make it. Their pastry counter is enormous and packed full of delicious things. I had a very hard time choosing what to get.
Their coffee is really good too so this is a great mid-morning stop. Or afternoon pick-me-up – whichever you prefer.
You’ll see that this one is singled out from the “Eat Your Way Through Bristol” because honestly, it’s that good. This is a non-negotiable when you visit.
If you love walking around a cute downtown area and checking out some different shops then you’ll love downtown Bristol.
If home decor is your thing then be sure you stop by Cranberry Lane or AR Workshop Bristol. For local items, you cannot go wrong at Trading Shoppees Local Merchants.
Southern Churn is a candy store that makes homemade fudge and is not to be missed. They also have ice cream if that’s more your style.
Other than shopping, there are some cool murals downtown that highlight the things Bristol is known for – country music and racing.
For the military history lover, there is also a Veterans Memorial with a replica of a helicopter that would have been used in Vietnam.
Eat Your Way Through Bristol
There are SO many good restaurants in Bristol, TN/VA. I didn’t even scratch the surface while I was here.
Be sure to check out the local restaurants that are downtown. I won’t list any here because I’ve already put together a guide on some of my favorite restaurants in Bristol (linked above).
If you have a recommendation on a great restaurant in the area then I would love it if you would head over to that article and leave a comment!
Steele Creek Park
This is more than your average city park. Much more. At the Nature Center you can learn more about the plants and animals that inhabit this corner of Tennessee. There are also restrooms here.
Talk to the employees at the Nature Center to figure out the best trail for you that day. They were super helpful when I came by and you can pick up a trail map.
I took the Lakeside Trail that led to Rooster Front Falls which was peaceful and serene. I visited later in the afternoon on a chilly day though so it may be more popular in better weather!
You can also reach the falls on a shorter hike from the Rooster Front Park parking area.
Things to do other than hiking include disc golf, traditional golf, and in the summer you can rent paddleboats for the lake.
Admission to Steele Creek Park was $2.00 when I went and it was well worth it in my opinion.
I’ve visited two different caverns now and didn’t realize how much I would love exploring these underground worlds.
Since I had already been to Luray Caverns near Shenandoah National Park, I wasn’t sure if this tour would be boring and I would feel like I’d already seen it. I was very pleasantly surprised.
This was a guided tour so you get special insight into the caverns plus the different formations are just awe-inspiring. The fact that this was created naturally is just amazing.
What I loved about this tour though is the river that runs through the bottom of the cavern. You get to step out on the little “beach” along the water and it’s just super cool. It felt like I was in a sci-fi movie.
There is a small gift shop where you enter to buy your tickets and admission costs are subject to change (this is a small business) so if you want to know the cost ahead of time then I recommend calling.
Bristol Caverns really should be on your list of things to do in Bristol, TN!
LOL Comedy Club
I was so disappointed that I wasn’t able to do this on my trip! The reviews are fantastic and I love a good comedy club.
The building is also beautiful and I love how they’ve repurposed it. Typically they’ll have a couple of events during the week and then comedy shows on the weekends.
This is all about dinner and a show – another part I love about it – and their food looks delicious. Definitely top of my list when I return!
If you’ve been following along with this site for any amount of time you know that I love visiting local breweries. I loved the Johnson City breweries so I knew that I would probably like the ones in Bristol too.
There are three different breweries in Bristol, one draft house, and one distillery. Yes, I know distilleries are not breweries but it’s another great place you can go grab a drink.
If you want a local brew, the breweries in town are State Street, Elderbrew, and Michael Waltrip. Cascade Draft House has 40 rotating taps of local beers and beers from across the US.
Lost State Distilling is located at the end of State Street with the iconic Bristol sign and you can tour the distillery and taste some of their product. Oh – and it was voted America’s Best New Craft Distillery in 2020 by USA Today!
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
If you are at all interested in country music, music history, or the history of Bristol then this is a must. It’s probably one of the most iconic things to do in Bristol, TN.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum so it’s top of the line. I loved how interactive everything was.
Don’t miss the introductory video which will give you the background info for everything you’ll see throughout the museum.
You’ll learn about the Bristol Sessions of 1927 and how that was the beginning of country music as we know it today.
You also get a history lesson in how gospel music influenced these musicians and what this area was like back during that time. Highlights of the museum are the sing-a-long booth, remixing your own songs, and the May the Circle Be Unbroken theater.
Tickets are only $13.00 for adults and that gets you in all day even if you leave the museum. Well worth it if you ask me.
They also put on the Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival which is a three-day music festival in September that showcases a variety of genres like country, blues, rock, Americana, and more.
Take a Hike – Outdoor Things to Do in Bristol, TN
Northeast Tennessee is one of the best hiking destinations in the southeast! The mountains are right out your doorstep and if you’ve never hiked in the Blue Ridge Mountains you are missing out.
Bristol is at the corner of Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina and right beside Cherokee National Forest so there is no shortage of good trails.
I’ve already mentioned Steele Creek Park and the Osceola Island loop – both great options. The Spillway Trail along South Holston Lake is a relatively easy one with a good view at the end. The Emmett Trail is also an easy one along the South Holston River.
The Paramount or Cameo Theater
Both of these historic theaters host music and comedy shows by well-known artists as well as up-and-coming acts.
These two buildings are beacons at night – all lit up and showing off on State Street in downtown Bristol.
While you are sure to enjoy the show, these historic buildings are attractions in themselves. The Cameo Theater is one of the 15 oldest theaters in Virginia – it’s on the Virginia side of State Street.
The Paramount Bristol has a stunning Art Deco-style interior and hosts a variety of different community events. It’s even on the National Register of Historic Places!
AR Workshop DIY Class
I had never heard of this franchise before, but they are pretty big and you can find these stores all over the country! I thought it was too cool to leave out though.
They are closed Sundays and Mondays but host DIY Workshops every other day of the week. How cool would it be to come home with a souvenir for your house that you handmade?
If you don’t want to take the time to DIY then they have a cute retail shop that you should at least check out. It was hard for me to walk out of there without buying something.
Ernie Ford House – Historic Things to Do in Bristol, TN
Ernie Ford – known during his career as “Tennessee Ernie Ford” – was a TV star, radio host, and famous singer during the 1950s-60s. His top song was “Sixteen Tons” and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as the Congress National Recording Registry.
He hosted two different television shows during that time. First, the Ford Show and second the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. He has three different stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ford was born in Bristol, TN in 1919 and his career began at WOPI Radio there in town in 1937. In 1991 the Bristol Historical Association purchased the house the Ford was born and raised in and began renovations.
The renovations were extensive and were not completed until 2007. Now you can tour the home for a small fee and see how this star lived during his early years of life.
Please note: Tours may not be available due to COVID. Call ahead to find out if they are available.
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Twin City Drive-In
A mile north of Bristol Motor Speedway, you’ll find the Twin City Drive-In Theatre. The Drive-In is open seasonally so it closes during the winter.
While going to a normal movie theater may not be top of your list when you travel a Drive-In is a unique experience! You definitely don’t see many of those anymore.
They are open on the weekends and typically do an early showing of a family-friendly movie and then a later showing of a more adult-focused movie. They play new releases!
Admission is super reasonable too. It’s one of the fun things to do in Bristol, TN without breaking the bank!
Where to Stay in Bristol, TN
I stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Bristol and it was the perfect location. It was just a few minutes from downtown and only 15 minutes from Bristol Motor Speedway. Would be perfect for Race Weekend!
It was also right across the road from The Pinnacle so when I forgot my hiking boots (oops!) I just hopped across the road to Bass Pro and picked up a pair.
I love Fairfield Inns because you know you are getting a nice, clean room at a decent price. Can’t go wrong there!
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