Welcome to Bristol, the surprisingly divided city in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains! Situated between Virginia and Tennessee, Bristol offers a unique shared experience. As the birthplace of country music, you’ll find a darling downtown area filled with neon lights, charming eateries, and a delightful sense of nostalgia. Prepare for a fun-filled road trip to Bristol, Tennessee, as we share what to do in this cool dual state city.
Birthplace of Country Music
In Bristol, country music legends recorded their first songs, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, located in downtown Bristol is a must-visit attraction and Smithsonian Museum affiliate home to a vast collection of historic recordings, artifacts, and exhibits that celebrate the story of country music’s pioneers.
You will be delighted to learn about how country music emerged in Bristol. Visiting this museum is a unique opportunity to enrich your knowledge of country music history.
Adult tickets are $13, and a small discount is available for students, seniors, and the military.
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.
If you are a history buff or enjoy strolling down cobblestone streets, visiting downtown Bristol is a must. You will love the unique architecture, specialty shops, fun neon lights, and colorful murals. Enjoy an ice cream or slice of homemade fudge from Southern Churn Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe.
Need help choosing a flavor? You can’t go wrong with penuche or dark chocolate sea salt.
The historic art-deco 1931 Paramount Bristol, a performing arts center showing movies and hosting concerts, is a must-visit site. The restored theatre (circa the 1990s) has a vintage Mighty Wurlitzer organ. It is one of the few remaining in the country.
Henry Rollins, Joan Osborne, Kathy Mattea, and Oklahoma (the musical) are coming attractions.
Original Burger Bar
One of my favorite places in downtown Bristol is the Original Burger Bar, a retro stop you won’t want to miss. This nostalgic diner, circa 1942, is excellent for never-frozen burgers, hot dogs, shakes, and 1950s rock & roll.
It is also where singer Hank Williams, Sr., was last seen alive.
I loved the “Your Cheating’ Heart” burger! This award-winning diner is closed Sundays and Mondays.
You’ll also find some amazing meals in nearby Johnson City, TN.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Are you a car racing enthusiast? Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Bristol Motor Speedway, one of the most iconic race tracks in the world. It’s known as “The Last Great Colosseum” and “Thunder Valley,” and has a seating capacity of 162,000 people.
Bristol Motor Speedway was built in 1961 and is known for its unique pit stop and racing formats. You can tour the Speedway and visit the gift shop and museum to learn about racing history. Buy your tickets early, as these races are highly in demand.
Pal’s Sudden Service
Be sure to check out Pal’s Sudden Service, a local fast-food chain that offers a unique take on classic Americana food. Pal’s Sudden Service has been a popular chain in the region since 1956. It has won many awards for its unique menus, high-quality service, and delicious food.
Try their signature snack, “Frenchie Fries,” or the tasty hot dogs, shakes, and even breakfast items.
Shopping at The Falls and Pinnacle
Are you a shopping enthusiast? Consider visiting The Falls and The Pinnacle, Bristol’s two largest shopping centers. You can explore over 70+ combined stores (Hibbett Sports, Belk, Bass Pro, etc.) to find the latest fashion trends, home décor items, and more.
The Falls offer a beautiful outdoor area, while the Pinnacle offers open-air shopping. Whether you are looking for designer fashion or gifts for loved ones, you are sure to find everything you need here.
State Street Brewing
No trip to Bristol is complete without visiting State Street Brewing, known for its delicious, handcrafted beers. You can sample some of State Street’s unique beer blends, including the Bristol Blonde, Euphoria, and Hopnotch. Keep in mind this is on the Virginia side of town.
State Street Brewing also serves light lunch options, like sandwiches, soups, and salads, making it the perfect spot for a casual meal. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
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 have yet to experience – a drive-in movie. Twin City Drive-In Theatre features two screens to watch new releases back to back. They also have a great concession stand with reasonable prices.
The drive-in 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.
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 enjoyable coffee, bread, and ice cream.
Try an affogato, the best of both worlds: coffee and ice cream.
If you’re looking for a sweet treat to wrap up your visit to Bristol, stop by the Blackbird Bakery. This locally-owned bakery is known for its delicious variety of pastries, croissants, cakes, and macaroons. You can also try their artisanal coffee, brewed with premium local coffee beans.
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.
A Road Trip to Bristol: Experience the Appalachian Movement
Bristol, Tennessee, is a fantastic getaway destination to add to your must-visit list. This charming city has something for everyone. Whether you are road-tripping with friends or family, you’ll enjoy this city’s memorable experiences.
Come to Bristol, and you will discover a gem worth revisiting again and again.