If Roanoke isn’t on your travel radar on your trip to Virginia, you’re missing out! As a hidden gem nestled on the shores of its namesake Roanoke River, there’s no shortage of things to do in Roanoke, VA.
This beautiful city of Roanoke sits pretty between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. Its rich history and picturesque location just off of the Appalachian Trail lend it a unique combination of both a rural and urban feel.
The quaint mountain town has come a long way since it was called “Big Lick.” Once a railway hub, Roanoke now teems with cool tourist attractions and outdoor activities and is the perfect place for travelers to let off some steam. The bustling town is home to enough museums, nature, parks, culture, shops, restaurants, wineries, and craft breweries to fill a weekend—or more!—no matter who you choose as your travel companions.
Not sure where to start exploring one of Virginia’s finest travel destinations? Plan the perfect itinerary with our top picks for the best places to visit in Roanoke, VA!
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Mill Mountain Park
Mill Mountain Park brings the lush nature of Virginia countryside to the heart of the city. The hundreds of acres of green space surrounding the park’s namesake mountain are the perfect place for a stroll and a picnic.
Soak up the natural beauty and stunning scenery with a hike up the Star Trail for a killer 60-mile view of the Roanoke Valley. At the trail’s summit, hikers will also get a good look at the Mill Mountain Star, Roanoke’s major modern claim to fame. A staggering 100 feet of steel decked out in lights, the second-biggest man-made star in the world has got some serious sparkle—and the views to match!
Take kiddos to the Mill Mountain Zoo to teach them about the habitats of porcupines, otters, lynx, and reptiles. You may even learn something yourself! Visit the Mill Mountain Zoo on the third Saturday of the month to dine on a breakfast buffet with zoo animals as your fellow guests. It’ll be an experience everyone in the family will love!
If it’s just the two of you, walk to the wildflower garden at the Discovery Center to (literally!) stop and smell the roses.
Virginia Museum of Transportation
Discover Roanoke’s coal-fueled past at the indoor/outdoor Virginia Museum of Transportation. Occupying the city’s old freight station, this popular kid-friendly destination is one of the coolest attractions in Roanoke if you’re roaming through with family—or a couple of train-loving adults!
As Roanoke was once a major railroad stop and train production center, transportation heritage runs through its veins. The city was built on its connection to the rail industry and owes most of its growth to the Shenandoah Valley Railroad.
Head to the Virginia Museum of Transportation to explore the country’s biggest collection of diesel and steam trains, along with some electric versions. Make sure to check out the trolley bus and the locally built Norfolk & Western Class A 1218 and J-611, some of their greatest hits.
For those who prefer other means of transport, meander over to the other exhibits on cars and planes to view buggies and a Jupiter Rocket. The museum also hosts special events and experiences, from parades to Halloween and Christmas train rides.
Admission to the Virginia Museum of Transportation is $12.66 for adults, with discounted prices for seniors, youth, and children from ages 3 to 12. Children under two can visit for free.
Taubman Museum of Art
One look at the striking angular architecture of the Taubman Museum of Art and you can understand why its design was the cause of a heated debate among locals. Some disdain the modern mismatch of the design by Randall Stout, while some prefer that it shakes things up.
What’s inside the building is as thought-provoking as the outside. Take in 11 galleries of modern and traditional American art at the Taubman Museum of Art. Marvel at masterpieces by the likes of Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakins, John Singer Sargent, and Purvis Young in the art museum’s permanent collection.
The ceiling is its own work of art. Don’t forget to look up to see the glass atrium and rippled roof meant to mimic the Roanoke Star and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Searching for a bit of outdoor adventure on your travels? Adrenaline junkies, rejoice! Explore Park offers miles of hiking trails, mountain biking trails, Roanoke River access, and nature activities spread over 1,100 acres. You can find your thrills just a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic routes in the United States.
At Explore Park, live the high life up in the trees and enjoy the natural beauty from above in the Treetop Quest, an aerial obstacle course complete with tightropes, Tarzan swings, and zip-lines. Board a canoe for a trip down the waterway, or try your hand at disc golf.
Feeling the call of the wild? Spend the night outside at Explore Park, camping in a tent, cabin, or yurt—whatever floats your boat!
Pick up a souvenir at the Visitor Center gift shop, filled with local artisan crafts. Sip on a craft beer at the onsite Twin Creeks Brewpub after your escapades.
Read Mountain Reserve
Enjoy 243 acres of the great outdoors in the Read Mountain Reserve. With swathes of forest plus plenty of peace and quiet, this conservation area is a tranquil place to spend some quality time with Mother Nature.
Choose a hike from the five miles of trails or check the trail map to combine them into one long loop. Though there are paths for different levels, be warned that they’re more for the fit of heart.
Many of the trails at Read Mountain Reserve are dog-friendly; feel free to have your pup in tow on your adventures. Hustle up the two miles along an old ravine to the top of Read Mountain, aka “Buzzards Rock,” for a sweeping Valley view.
Roanoke City Market
Come for the food, stay for the vibes! Located smack in the middle of downtown Star City, the indoor/outdoor Roanoke City Market has had its doors open since the 1800s and stays open year-round.
Stroll through the aisles bursting with ripe in-season fruit, cheeses, and fresh baked goods—all originating an average of just 25 miles away. Snack on some of your scores or in one of the nine restaurants in the historic interior.
And Roanoke City Market isn’t just for food! Go shopping at local boutique stores, pick up works from local artists at art galleries, or arrange a bouquet of fresh flowers with local vendors from around the community. Travelers with kids can also take advantage of the selection of special events and free family activities every summer Saturday.
There’s much more to Elmwood Park than just greenery. (Although there’s plenty of that, too.) Catch some live music or a festival minutes from downtown Roanoke with over 4,000 locals and tourists at the outdoor amphitheater. It’s one of the most well-renowned venues for concerts in Southwest Virginia!
On quieter days, one of the must-do activities in Roanoke is to stop and sit on the grass terrace at Elmwood Park for a bite to eat and watch the lit-up fountains.
If you have kids in tow, bring bathing suits so tots can frolic through the sprinklers by the stage. For a drier activity, they can play a game of tag on the Peter Pan Playground, complete with crocodiles. Hit the public skating rink in the winter to practice your Axel or play a game of hockey.
For a more romantic activity, wander down the walkway bordered by blooming Magnolia trees or take in the sculptures on the scenic Art Walk.
When you need a quick break from downtown Roanoke, retreat to the nearby Wasena Park for a central but serene refuge. Explore the Roanoke Valley Greenway and the nearby Roanoke River from this convenient jumping-off point.
At Wasena Park, you can catch a local sporting event or host your own game at the outdoor tennis courts, baseball diamond, basketball court, or skate park. Amenities like a scoreboard, court lights, and bleachers give you everything you need for a little friendly competition. Kids can burn off some energy on the playground.
When the team gets hungry, whip up an impromptu lunch in one of the park’s two picnic shelters with grills.
St. Andrew’s Catholic Church
You can’t help but be struck by the grandeur of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Perched high up on a hill, this church is straight out of a fairy tale. The Gothic-style historic building, with twin spires, sits on the same site as its small brick predecessor from the 1800s.
Take a slow walking tour of the exterior and the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, pausing to admire the architecture of buff brick and sandstone. Make your way inside to eye the white Italian marble and frescoes from the 1940s.
Peruse the 15 intricate stained-glass windows imported from Munich. They feature the stories of the saints and include a rose window over the entrance and one of St. Andrew that measures 30 feet tall.
O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia
If you’re always the one taking all the travel photos, then the O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia may be right up your alley. Browse the collection of railway photographer O. Winston Link, fittingly located in a former train station.
His images capture the end of an industrial era, with the local landscape as his muse. They offer a literal snapshot of Roanoke and its neighboring states during the 1950s. Notice the stark contrast of the industrious steam engines next to the surrounding rural communities – the photographer’s specialty.
Step inside the full reproduction of Link’s darkroom at the O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia to get a real feel for his art.
Big Lick Brewing Company
Swiping its moniker from the town’s original name, Big Lick Brewing Company is where it’s at when it comes to local beer. From small-batch brews to sours, this local craft brewery knows what it’s doing.
If it’s sunny out, escape the city streets with a pint in the Big Lick Brewing Company beer garden or swing by on a Friday night to experience some live tunes. You can even bring your pup for company.
Sit and stay a while with a bite to eat: You can order food from a restaurant nearby, and they’ll have it delivered straight to your seat. Get a growler on your way out for dessert.
Make sure to request a tour in advance to see the interior behind-the-scenes action of this 15 BBL brewery.
When the weather heats up, cool off at this outdoor swimming spot. No matter if you’re looking for a casual dip or a full day of family fun, Splash Valley is the place to be in Roanoke County when the hot Virginia summer sun is cookin’ up.
At Splash Valley, adults can Zen out with a float down the lazy river while the young ones splash in the fountains and pour buckets at the sprayground under the watchful eyes of some misting dragons. Teens will love zipping down the funnels and twists of—not one, but two—34-foot water slides.
Grab a snack on site when hunger strikes. No worries if it starts to drizzle – just ask for a “rain check” card to come back another time.
Peaks of Otter Winery
Located just 40 minutes from Roanoke, the family-owned Peaks of Otter Winery is as charming as it is tasty.
For a creative date night, take a seat in one of the two tasting rooms at Peaks of Otter Winery, including one in the owners’ home. Build your own test flight and choose eight options from about 30 varieties of fruit wines. Flavors range from dragonfruit to chocolate cherry.
Explore the free-to-visit farm for a deliciously wholesome afternoon at Peaks of Otter Winery. Younger guests will get a kick out of feeding the animals. U-pick fruit fields with apples, peaches, grapes, or blackberries (depending on the season) offer a good time for kids and adults alike.
Make sure to pick up a bottle and some local jams to bring home!
Roanoke Pinball Museum
Whether you’re an avid pinball player or a total newbie, the Roanoke Pinball Museum is worth a visit on your Roanoke, VA, trip. Covering all things pinball, it’s dedicated to honoring the classic game’s role in American culture – a real lesson in nostalgia.
Explore interactive displays that delve into the history, science, and design of pinball. Try out retro games dating all the way back to the 1930s. The 65+ collection of pinball machines at the Roanoke Pinball Museum is fully playable, ranging from Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Be it the physics behind the ball or the artwork adorning the backdrops, discover new marvels about the game you know and love!
Center In the Square
An old warehouse turned cultural center, the Center in the Square is a hub for the local arts scene. Poke your head into one of the onsite museums by day or attend a theater show, dance performance, Roanoke Symphony concert, or opera by night.
Get your game on at the Roanoke STARCADE, an immersive gaming museum with over 3,000 titles to choose from. All games are in free-play mode, so your ticket gives you unlimited access and lives in every game. Whether you’re a high-speed virtual racing fan or more into a Guitar Hero jam session, you’re sure to get into the competitive spirit here!
For a free sight that’s sure to please the little ones, check out the colorful fish in the atrium in the biggest saltwater tank in the region. Head up six floors to the rooftop Koi Pond and a panoramic view overlooking the nearby mountains.
Science Museum of Western Virginia
For an educational yet entertaining activity for your family vacation, look no further than the Science Museum of Western Virginia. Here, you and the kids will get hands-on with science and have fun while learning plenty of new things.
The variety of traveling and permanent exhibits at the Science Museum of Western Virginia guarantees that there’s something compelling for every interest—whether that’s the environment, the human body, coding, or engineering.
Use your brain to control your competitor in the MindBall exhibit or guide robots through mazes in the Wonder Lab. Build new skylines in the sandbox with topography or cozy up to some prehistoric species in the Touch Tank.
Don’t be surprised if a Parakeet lands on your shoulder in the Parakeet Garden. Visitors can feed and spend some quality time with hundreds of these chatty birds. For something a little less noisy, switch to the Butterfly Garden.
The exterior wall of this local haunt reads “Steaks, Seafood, and other great stuff,” and they’re definitely not wrong—there’s a lot of great stuff on the menu at Billy’s!
Billy’s serves up American cuisine with a modern twist in a building steeped in almost as much history as the town itself. Its upscale pub feel is a cool mix of classy and casual, making it an equally great location for a family outing or for a date.
Take a load off at the classic wooden bar among the elegant touches of its former Ritz Hotel interior. Stop by on a Sunday for a dish of candied bacon at brunch or in the evening for one of the best whiskey collections on this side of Southwest Virginia.