There are plenty of awesome things to do in Roanoke, as it’s the largest city in southwestern Virginia. We have been fortunate enough to visit this former railroad town and have become quite fond of it. Roanoke has plenty of charm but is emerging as a must-see part of the Southern United States. But what exactly should a person do when visiting Star City? That’s why we created this jam-packed Roanoke travel guide that will cover it from the center of the city to its outskirts, with a few of our favorites scattered throughout.
Roanoke Travel Guide
Background and Fun Facts
Roanoke was founded as “Big Lick” and emerged as a big railroad town, largely developed around the Norfolk and Western Railroad. You can relive its transportation heyday at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Today, Roanoke’s population comes in at around 100,000 people. Include the surrounding areas and you get around 300,000 people calling the Roanoke Metro home. Many people from southern West Virginia come over to hang out in the area, too, and we can definitely see why. One thing to remember is that this is NOT where the site of the lost colony of Roanoke, which you can find in Eastern North Carolina.
When to Visit
I think the best times to visit Roanoke would be in the fall and spring, as the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway will open up and close up shop with some beautiful flowers and leaves. Being in close proximity to Blacksburg also means that the town can get pretty busy when Virginia Tech is at home gobbling up the opposition. However, mild temperatures and a pretty busy calendar mean you can enjoy Roanoke any time of year.
Where to Stay
There are some very nice hotels in Roanoke and we absolutely loved our stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites that offers beautiful views of Downtown. Hotel Roanoke and Cambria Hotel & Suites are two more options that’ll keep you around the action. You can get away from the city center and there are even more options. There are quite a few Blue Ridge Mountain Cottages that provide the perfect getaway, while not too far from everything. If you’re looking for camping in and around Roanoke, you have a lot of spots to choose from.
Things to Do in Roanoke
One of my first memories of Roanoke comes from its historic City Market building and Farmer’s Market. I’d walk around and buy something there to support the local farmers and shops every day if I could. However, there are even more places around Market Street competing for our attention. Deschutes Brewery (originally from Oregon) came to Roanoke to set up shop on the east coast and their tasting room is certainly worth a visit. It’s a great place to grab a flight (or two) of beer and plan your evening or day like we did.
Center in the Square
Center in the Square is a great place to play and learn for people of all ages. I loved beating the computer at NBA Jam inside the Roanoke Pinball Museum and hope my record stands forever. The Harrison Museum of African American Culture and the Science Museum of Western Virginia offer interactive and informative learning centers. However, Kids Square made me jealous that I never had such a place during my own childhood. It’s such a cool place and hopefully, the city’s businesses will continue supporting it with donations. Of course, you should, too, with your patronage.
More Downtown Roanoke
Away from Market Street, you’ve got 122 blocks to explore, as Downtown Roanoke is quite spread out. Cool old buildings will sometimes surround you and take you back to a previous time, with cool street art and signs. I loved walking past shops and restaurants that seemed to be in business for generations. There’s a really cool Dr. Pepper clock and H & C Coffee sign that are right next to each other. There’s also a great arts scene in Roanoke, and I’ll never forget just how cool the Taubman Museum of Art looked from outside and how fun it was to explore on the inside.
There are some pretty awesome restaurants in Roanoke and you have a lot of options throughout the day. I was dumbfounded when I saw a Tudor’s Biscuit World in Roanoke, as I thought it was only confined to West Virginia. Unfortunately, this location closed, though the awning is still there. However, the people at Scratch Biscuit are happy to take care of your needs. You need at least another breakfast or early lunch at Ernie’s On the Market. Martin’s Downtown Bar & Grill made some of the best cocktails we’ve had in a long time and their food is pretty good, too. The Quarter makes some great Cajun and Creole food, taking us back to New Orleans with their amazing dishes.
Being west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and east of the Allegheny Mountains means you’ve got some fun stuff to do outside. Roanoke is the northernmost major city that the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through, as it ventures south toward Asheville. One of the first outdoor things you should do is check out the Roanoke Star. After it was constructed, Roanoke became known as “the Star City of the South.” It’s cool to see when it’s lit up between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., but also nice to look at in the morning when nobody else is around. Roanoke is also surrounded by a great collection of wineries, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better view than outside Valhalla Vineyards.
Roanoke is surrounded by some pretty cool places, too. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a short haul from Blacksburg to Roanoke, if you’d like to investigate that awesome college town. There are also plenty of things to do in Salem, an antique shopping hub that’s growing as a must-see place. The Southwest Virginia Brew Trail will introduce you to the area’s best breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Virginia’s most popular lake, Smith Mountain Lake, is within an hour of Roanoke. You’re also about an hour away from some pretty awesome hikes, including the Virginia Triple Crown—McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliff, and Dragon’s Tooth. All I know is that McAfee Knob is perfect for Simba baby photos.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
So you can see there are plenty of ways to explore Roanoke and its surroundings in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Isn’t it just the perfect mix of beautiful scenery and city? What do you think of Roanoke? Have you ever been? What would top your Roanoke travel itinerary?
Special thanks to the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge for setting us up for an awesome stay. All opinions within this article are our own.