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Road Trip to Bristol, Tennessee

A road trip to Bristol brings you to the Birthplace of Country Music, NASCAR racing, and more in this city spanning the states of TN and VA.

Bristol is a shared city, divided in the heart of downtown, between Virginia and Tennessee. The Tennessee side is almost double the size. As tempting as it is to have your picture made with the brass marker on the road straddling the state line, please use extreme caution. Bristol is the birthplace of country music and has a darling downtown with plenty of neon, cute eateries, and doses of nostalgia. Here is what to do on your road trip to Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. 

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What to Do in Bristol

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, would be a great place to kick off your visit to Bristol. You’ll probably see the guitar in front of it before even noticing that it is a museum. The exhibits are stellar, and there is quite a bit to learn and enjoy. Adult tickets are $13, and a small discount is available for students, seniors, and the military.

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Make sure to see the murals honoring the “Bristol Sessions” a few blocks away with beautiful images of the legends that made this area famous—Jimmie Rodgers, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the Carter Family. The 76 songs recorded in 1927 during these ten days, with 19 artists, are where and when country music was born.

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Downtown Bristol

Downtown State Street is lined with specialty shops and boutiques filled with antiques, treasures, and souvenirs. Be sure to enjoy an ice cream or slice of homemade fudge from Southern Churn Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe. Need help deciding on a flavor? You can’t go wrong with penuche or dark chocolate sea salt. For more retail shopping, check out The Falls and The Pinnacle, with 160+ combined shops, including Bass Pro, Belk, and Hibbett Sports.

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The historic art-deco 1931 Paramount Bristol, a performing arts center showing movies and hosting concerts, is a superb offering in town. The restored theatre (circa the 1990s) has a vintage Mighty Wurlitzer organ and is one of the few remaining in the country. Marty Stuart, Bill Engvall, Rodney Atkins, and Randy Houser are coming attractions. 

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Thunder Valley

The Bristol Motor Speedway, aka “Thunder Valley,” is one of the most beloved NASCAR and racing tracks in the area. Be sure to wear your earplugs and buy your tickets early as these races are highly in demand. Starting in July, you can enjoy America’s favorite pastime at DeVault Memorial Stadium as you watch the Bristol Pirates, a minor league Pittsburg Pirates team, play ball. 

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If you are a golfer, Clear Creek Golf Course is an 18-hole public course that is fun to play. History lovers should consider a short drive to Rocky Mount State Historic Site in Piney Flats. The property houses a living history museum where guests can step back into 1791 to look at frontier families. There is also a barn and adorable sheep. 

End your evening with a nostalgic experience, or one the kids may never have experienced…a drive-in movie. Twin City Drive-In Theatre shows two movies nightly and has an awesome concession stand. Prices are reasonable, and it also converts to a campground during Bristol race weekends. 

FYI: If your travels bring you to Bristol the second weekend of September, the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival will be going on, a three-day extravaganza with 150+ artists.

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Where to Eat

My very favorite thing in Bristol is Blackbird Bakery. I would put their tempting desserts and pastries up against any bakery around the country—that’s how delicious they are. Blackbird Bakery also has great coffee, bread, and ice cream. Try an affogato, the best of both worlds: coffee and ice cream.

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Pal’s Sudden Service is a local favorite with hot dogs, fries, burgers, shakes, and even breakfast items. For lunch, how about amazing local, never frozen burgers from an award-winning diner, Original Burger Bar, a Bristol institution since 1942? It is also the last place Hank Williams, Sr., was seen alive. The “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is scrumptious! Quaker Steak and Lube is another tasty choice, with chicken wings and strips, bunches of sauces, and tasty salads. 

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For dinner, how about a classic eatery? Shoney’s is popular in this part of the state, as is Cootie Brown’s, an eclectic restaurant that is sure to please. Cootie Brown’s features tamales, pizza, and even a Sunday brunch. My top pick is the Jamaican Jerk chicken with black beans & rice and roasted sweet potatoes. 

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The retro Burger Bar is an iconic stop you won’t want to miss. This nostalgic diner, circa 1942, is excellent for burgers, hot dogs, shakes, and 1950’s rock & roll. It is also where singer Hank Williams, Sr., was last seen alive. Burger Bar is closed Sundays and Mondays.

Check off a couple of places on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail by visiting State Street Brewing and Lost State Distilling, producing small-batch gin, Tennessee whiskey, and rum. 

For more TN and VA things to do, check out these posts:

Top Things to Do in Lynchburg, VA

Road Trip to Jonesboro

Best Restaurants in Sevierville

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