Are you looking for a fun, historical, and adventurous place to visit this year? The charming towns of Northeast Tennessee might tickle your fancy. From whitewater rafting to NASCAR races, drinking excellent craft beer to seeing the Birthplace of Country Music, here are 27 awesome things to do in Northeast Tennessee.
The six cities represented in this region are Kingsport, Jonesborough, Johnson City, Rogersville, Greenville, and Bristol, sprawling over to Virginia. Dramatic landscapes, including the Appalachian Mountains, help make this a picturesque destination you won’t want to miss.
1. The Paramount Center
You’ll see the vibrant, art-deco Paramount Center in downtown Bristol. This is the region’s premier destination for live concerts, theater, and performances and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The event calendar offers impressive and often show-stopping artists. If you need a place to stay for a show, consider the nearby Bristol Hotel.
The Paramount was built in the 1930s and still contains a Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of its prized possessions.
2. Tweetsie Trail
A fantastic Rails to Trails project for walking, running, biking, and hiking is the Tweetsie Trail, running from metropolitan Johnson City to Elizabethton. Tweetsie comes from the locomotive whistle’s sound while running the tracks. The nearly ten-mile trail is pretty flat and has a natural setting to enjoy the scenery along the way.
3. Eat at Texas Burritos & More
Downtown Jonesborough, the oldest city in Tennessee, is a place everyone should visit at least once. And while you are there, pencil in lunch or dinner at Texas Burritos & More on your list. This cute little Tex-Mex eatery, with indoor and outdoor seating, has an interesting and unique take on all your favorite dishes, and boy are they good.
Start your meal with a trio of dips—your choice of three between queso, bean dip, guac, fire-roasted salsa, and tomatillo salsa—and comes with tortilla chips. The bean dip is superb! The rest of the menu is mostly salads, burritos, and tacos, which perfectly suits me. My favorite lunch item is the Chicken Fajita Tacos, which is very satisfying.
4. Sip Cider
One of the only cider companies I know of in Tennessee, and the first is Gypsy Circus Cider Company in Kingsport. The building is painted with colorful murals, and it just looks like a happy place to be. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the cider is really good and a refreshing change of pace from beer and wine bars.
Fun facts about this cidery are that they use locally sourced and pressed apples, plus the cider is gluten-free. Try the Tea Leaf Reader Organic Chai Cider if you get the chance. Yummy!
5. Birthplace of Country Music
One of the most beloved museums in Northeast Tennessee, or even the whole state, is the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol. This state-of-the-art facility showcases where country music began and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian. Learn the history behind the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which put country music on the radar. Tickets are $13, and the museum is closed on Mondays.
6. Explore Tannery Knobs
Situated high on the mountain is a mountain bike park that is darned impressive. Tannery Knobs was created to be a skills challenge park for all skill levels. There are paved and off-road trails that literally drop straight down the mountain. Sunset views are fantastic from this spot.
7. Blackbird Bakery
If you have a sweet tooth, you are about to experience one of the tastiest bakeries ever when you visit Bristol in the Tri-Cities of Northeast Tennessee. Blackbird Bakery has been pleasing guests for more than 20 years with a huge selection of cupcakes, donuts, cookies, pies, cheesecake, and specialty pastries. They also have coffee, ice cream, and a few other menu items, but go for the strawberry or blueberry iced donuts. They are life-changing, I promise.
While I am partial to the Piedmont Avenue location, there is now a drive-thru option at 970 Commonwealth Avenue.
8. Whitewater Rafting
Little did I know that Northeast Tennesee has some fantastic whitewater rafting. Regardless of your skill level, hit the rapids and enjoy a day of high thrills as you slosh through the picturesque waters with USA Raft on the Nolichucky River. This is an adventure you will be high on for days!
9. Dine at Label
Label is one of the trendy eateries in downtown Johnson City. The menu is filled with tasty dishes, and the vibe at the wood-fired American grill is casual and a tad upscale. Go big on appetizers—the hand-cut garlic fries, potstickers, crab Rangoons, and firecracker shrimp are all delicious. The Drunken Goat is my favorite burger (smoked bacon, goat cheese, Buffalo Trace bourbon blackberry jam), but the steaks and salads are close runners-up.
You can also dine on sushi as Label has a sushi bar in addition to the already colossal brunch, lunch, and dinner menu. Label is continually voted best restaurant in Johnson City by the locals.
10. Walk Through Founders Park
Built as a stormwater retention project, Founder’s Park is a desirable space to get outdoors and see something lovely. Scattered through the five-acre greenway with a paved loop are several noteworthy metals, steel, and wooden sculptures, which make up the Johnson City Sculpture Walk. Another surprise in this pretty setting is a rushing waterway flowing right through the park.
11. Discover Distilleries
Treat yourself to a flight of local hand-crafted spirits distilled right here in the heart of the Appalachian Highlands. Downtown Jonesborough is home to the Tennessee Hills Distillery, a previous historic salt house building. Spirits include S. E. Callahan’s bourbon whiskey, rye, corn liquor, oatmeal spice whiskey, and several flavored rums.
I suggest trying the pineapple-upside down cake rum—so good and smooth. Also on the availability list are Spitfire vodka, Hellcat gin, and two specialty flavors, lavender lemon and lemon drop.
Tasting bar hours are daily through 6 PM, while the cocktail bar is closed Monday through Wednesday.
12. See Murals in Downtown Johnson City
You know that Johnson City is mentioned in the lyrics if you know the “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show song (also remade by Darius Rucker). A vibrant mural pays tribute to that iconic song in downtown Johnson City. You’ll find a handful of other impressive ones around the city, including Go All Out, We’ll Always Be Together, and Wildabout, a few of my favorites.
13. Relax at Warriors’ Path State Park
This remarkable green space features an award-winning nature program, playground, picnic shelters, and a unique mountain bike trail system. The mountain bike trail is also part of the National Recreational Trail, and there is always something going on at this property.
We went to Warriors’ Path State Park to enjoy the sunshine, watch the Canadian geese and ducks, and people watch, but taking a picnic lunch along is a perfect idea. Seasonally, you can enjoy the Olympic-sized swimming pool. There is always something going on at this property.
14. Eat at Cootie Brown’s
Take a fantastic menu with a funky, vibrant, and artsy restaurant, and you have the perfect combination that works so well for Cootie Brown’s, a local chain restaurant with three locations. Dig into tamales, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, bbq, and more, making sure you save room for the large selection of pies and cakes on the dessert menu.
I love the grilled chicken plate, with seven flavors (such as jerk, key lime, and Greek), paired with black beans & rice and the sautéed vegetable dish with blue cheese crumbles. Mmm…so delicious. Of course, this all comes after sharing the famous spiral potato chips and before the orange cake. Pick up a tie-dyed t-shirt as a souvenir.
15. Take a Walking Tour of Historic Jonesborough
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains is Jonesborough, the oldest city in Tennessee. It was established 17 years before Tennessee was granted statehood and is a special place to visit for shopping, dining, sightseeing, and its unique history.
My suggestion is to take a walking tour through the town with a costumed interpreter who will bring the small town to life. You can do this through the Heritage Alliance during the season or with a self-guided map in this link. In-person tours run $5 per person and start from the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum on 116 West Main Street. Children under 8 are free.
From the picturesque churches to having the first publication in the country solely supporting the abolition of slavery, Jonesborough is a hospitable place you’re going to love. Be sure to ask about the “lost state of Franklin” on your tour.
16. Sip Craft Cocktails
Visit Johnson City’s speakeasy establishment, The Windsor Speakeasy, for creative craft cocktails in a fun and cool setting. The cocktail l had was called Arabian Nights. It had an edible shimmery glitter added to it, making it picture-perfect, plus it tasted great. Stop by and enjoy the vibe.
17. Drink Great Beer
One of my favorite breweries anywhere is in downtown Johnson City. Yee-Haw Brewing Co is one of Tennessee’s most popular and well-known breweries, plus has an excellent outdoor area for watching big-screen events, playing games, and sitting by the fire pit. I prefer to sample a flight of beer. The award-winning Dunkel and Winter Porter are my favorites.
Fun Fact: Grab a bite next door at White Duck Taco to munch on while enjoying the brewery.
18. Shop Locally
I found the shopping around Northeast Tennessee to be unique and fun. Two of my favorite shops were Reclaimed Inspired Goods, with exceptional quality goods for your home, nice ladies’ apparel and baby gifts, and The Lollipop Shop, a retro candy store in Jonesborough.
19. Learn About Rocky Mount State Historic Site
What a fabulous surprise to find the Rocky Mount State Historic Site, in Piney Flats, on my way back to Johnson City from the Blackbird Bakery. Formerly the Cobb-Massengill House, this was the first Southwest Territory capital from 1790-1792. Explore the log cabin, a living history museum, with a guided two-hour tour (ages five and up) to learn about “how Tennessee starts here.”
Springtime is an excellent time to visit the Rocky Mount State Historic Site, with plenty of barnyard animal babies. The photo-ops are spectacular. There are also a couple of Christmas holiday opportunities, like Candlelight Christmas, which you can find online.
20. Hear the Thunder at Bristol Motor Speedway
Buy a ticket and experience the thrills of “Thunder Valley,” the Bristol Motor Speedway. This NASCAR short-track stadium has been showcasing races since 1961 and is still going strong. Enjoy a wide array of racing, concerts, and special events throughout the year. One of the biggest is Country Thunder, from September 30th-October 1st, featuring superstar headliners Jason Aldean and Morgan Wallen.
You can also camp at the Bristol Motor Speedway property or rent RVs onsite.
21. Try Pal’s Sudden Service
Pal’s Sudden Service, known mainly as Pal’s, is a regional fast-food chain eatery in northeast Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. There are several drive-through-only locations in the Tri-Cities. The unique restaurant has a killer breakfast menu (don’t miss the cheddar rounds), but the lunch menu with burgers, “Frenchie” fries, and hot dogs, plus ham, chicken, and toasted cheese sandwiches.
Peach and raspberry tea are two other exciting offerings at Pal’s and Dr. Enuf, a lemon-lime bottled soda (the original energy booster drink) from Tri-City Beverage in Johnson City.
22. Camp at Rocky Top RV Campground
Park your RV over in Blountville, TN, for the perfect place to enjoy primo camping on terraced campsites and a convenient location for exploring the entire region. Rocky Top RV Campground has a small store and game room that the guests can use, plus spotless restrooms and showers.
I liked the welcoming front porch with a swing, kitschy outdoor decor, hundreds of license plates, and pretty fern planters. There are seasonal and outdoor decorations throughout the campground, which made taking my dog for a walk much more pleasurable. Bird and squirrel feeders, too.
You can also rent cabins or camp in your tent at Rocky Top RV Campground or refill your propane tanks.
23. Attend a Storytelling Experience
Fun fact, Jonesborough, Tennessee, is home to the first and only International Storytelling Center in the World. Here, the tradition of telling a good story and entertaining the masses has become an art form. There are programs and workshops offered year-round, plus a teller-in-residency program from May through October. Northeast Tennessee is just full of big surprises.
24. Dine on Southern Craft Bbq
One place you will remember the meal you had is Southern Craft BBQ. Great for craft beer, enjoying country music, and with a casual, urban ambiance, Southern Craft BBQ has a stellar menu to choose from.
The most impressive thing on the menu is the Butcher’s Block, shown below. It includes pork belly, pulled pork, half chicken, smoked sausage, wings, ribs, burnt ends, turkey, and chopped brisket. Then, if that wasn’t enough, you chose four side dishes to accompany the meats. I couldn’t get enough of the coleslaw, sweet potato soufflé, and collard greens side dishes.
Great Oak Brewing is inside this restaurant. Two birds, one stone. Try Twin Eddie’s Coffee Porter, a delicious choice.
25. Treat your Tastebuds at Cakebuds
Pop into downtown’s Cakebuds Bakery for a sweet treat, like cake pops, cupcakes, and cookies. You can also place your order from this Food Network featured bakery for a custom birthday, special occasion, or wedding creation.
Check out the website for monthly cupcake flavors, or try their newest addition, handmade cakeshakes and waffle cone sundaes from the ice cream addition to the shop.
26. Visit a Retro Diner
The last place Hank Williams, Sr., was seen alive was in the dive bar in downtown Bristol. The Original Burger Bar is a classic diner with some delicious eats, which is how I ended up there.
Since 1942, Burger Bar has delighted Northeast Tennessee patrons with juicy burgers, hot dogs, old-school onion rings, and shakes. The burgers are made from never frozen, fresh local beef. Four dollars will get you a drink and fries added to your lunch or dinner plate. My favorite is the Hey, Good Looking with grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, and Swiss.
Burger Bar is closed Sunday and Monday.
27. Play at the Hands On Discovery Center
There are two attractions at one location that are a must in the Northeast Tennessee region. Hands On! Discovery is the first, offering a family-friendly space for learning and fun for all ages. There are several hands-on exhibits, an art studio, and a Tesla coil, to name a few, at this 35-year-old museum. Watch the Tesla coil exhibit; it’s an unforgettable musical experience.
The second is the Gray Fossil Site, a research facility and live dig site with a project unearthed a few years ago that dates back five million years. East Tennessee State University students and paleontologists work full-time on seeing what else the dig site has to offer. Other points of interest are a mastodon, tapir, and short-faced bear.
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