The Best Things To Do In Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee

The excitement of "The Birthplace of Country Music" doesn't stop across state lines.

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Bristol, VA/TN

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Country music has been putting this corner of the American South on the map since the early 20th century when Ralph Peer, a talent scout and music producer, traveled from to Bristol from New York City to record the songs coming out of the area’s hills and hollers. The most famous of those 1920s recordings were those of A.P. Carter and his family—the Carter Family—, of which the legend, and reality, still loom large around Bristol today. Nearly one hundred years later, the town is still alive with the genre’s legacy, drawing in visitors for its Birthplace of Country Museum, its live music, heritage distilling and wine making, and its natural beauty. 

The Virginia-Tennessee state line cuts right horizontally across Bristol’s main street (State Street), allowing both states to claim it as their own. But there’s no denying Bristol knows exactly where it stands; this small mountain city is as essential—if not more so—to country music, than its more famous sister city, Nashville.

With the arrival of a new, buzzy country inn in 2022, and as the ever-growing presence of Virginia’s wine business creeps further down state, Bristol is more alive than ever. Visitors here can occupy themselves by staying right in town, but those who venture beyond State Street and down the surrounding country roads will be rewarded by the sounds and sights of what put Bristol on the map in the first place.

Bristol VA/TN mural

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

What To Do

Dive Into Bristol’s Musical Legacy

Bristol and county music are practically synonymous. The Birthplace of Country Museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., seeks to give the birthplace of the genre in a larger historical and cultural context. The museum’s focuses its collection and exhibitions on the so called “Bristol Sessions” of 1927 that have come to be considered the start of country music as we know it. The museum offers hand-on exhibits to understand how the genre evolved from the early pre-recording days, and explores the impact the music Peer reordered in the early 20th century continues to have on country music today.

Bristol, VA

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Shop Small

Bristol’s State Street retains a vibrant, colorful tableau of old storefronts, lunch counters, and new restaurants. Spend some time exploring the town and dive into its history at antique stores like Boxwood, Grand Antiques, and Willow Creek Antiques. Search for old (and new) country recordings at Cheap Thrills Records.

Hear Some Music

For a small town with one main street, Bristol sure puts on a show—many of them each night. State Street is anchored by the The Paramount, a 1930s art deco theater, where performances are heavily dominated by country music but also feature other genre musical acts, as well as occasional offer comedy, films, and ballet. Check the musical lineups at The Cameo Theater or Sidetracks, or the plays and musicals at Theater Bristol, as well as other smaller venues throughout town.

Bristol, VA/TN

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Sample The Local Wines And Whiskies 

As half of Bristol falls in Tennessee territory, a visit here could not be complete without diving into the local distilling culture. Lost State Distilling is a good place to start.

Right outside of the main drag of town is Nicewonder Vineyard. Cozy up around their fit pits to taste one (or maybe all) of the estate’s five varietals: Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cab Franc. Come for the wine and stay for the live music (of course) often on tap.

Drive Out To The Carter Family Fold

The thirty-five-minute drive from downtown Bristol to the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, will show you the Appalachian beauty that may have inspired some of our more legendary folk and country songs. The drive is a journey unto itself, and after spending the better part of an hour passing few other cars on the road, you may be surprised when you arrive at the very lively Carter Family Fold, part museum, part concert venue, part dancehall to learn (or perfect) your two-step. Arrive early, buy some popcorn ($1), and settle into a night of music that doesn’t get more country, local, or authentic. Members of the Carter family introduce the evening, rock their grandbabies to sleep on the stage, and lead the charge on getting the audience to join in the dancing. 

Historic Bristol

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Where To Eat

Burger Bar, a Bristol institution, is a mid-century classic spot to grad a burger, fries, and shakes. Bloom, offers bright, seasonal dishes in a modern space that is more California than meat and potatoes. Blackbird Bakery is famous in the region (one bit will show you why) for its pies and pastries, cakes, and tarts. 

Where To Stay

The Bristol Hotel is located just next door to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and will center you walking distance from all of Bristol’s live music, restaurants, and nightlife. The hotel, the tallest building in town, has a popular rooftop bar, the Lumac, with sweeping views of the town and the foothills beyond. Outside of town, the new and already much-accoladed Nicewonder beckons to guest looking for a luxurious stay in the countryside. Stay in the inn or in one of their luxe yurts. Hickory, the inn’s restaurant, vies for first fiddle, with a menu that celebrates and embraces the duck-fat rich cuisine of the Appalachians. 

Bristol, VA/TN

courtesy of Virginia Tourism

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