A perfect destination for a weekend getaway, Virginia’s Roanoke is a beautiful city surrounded by the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether you wish to explore the great outdoors east of the Mississippi and enjoy activities like hiking, boating, and mountain biking, discover quirky museums and family-friendly attractions such as the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Mill Mountain Zoo, or indulge in local cuisine at farm-to-table restaurants, there is plenty to look forward to when visiting this charming city. To make the most out of your visit, here is a list of the best things to do in Roanoke, VA.
1. Mill Mountain Park & the Roanoke Star
With more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, the Mill Mountain Park is an excellent destination to reconnect with nature while visiting Roanoke. This 570-acre park is home to the famous Roanoke Star, a historic landmark that was originally built in 1949 as a Christmas Decoration. 89-feet high, Roanoke Star is illuminated each evening and the best place to enjoy spectacular views of this quirky landmark is from the short Watchtower Trail.
2. Mill Mountain Zoo
Your next shop is located right at the top of Mill Mountain. Welcome to the Mill Mountain Zoo and animal sanctuary and museum that is home to numerous species of animals such as red wolves, black hornbills, tufted deer, red pandas, and others. Apart from engaging with animals in a safe environment, visitors can enjoy interactive education programs and learn more about a varied collection of species.
3. Taubman Museum of Art
If you are looking for indoor things to do in Roanoke, VA, make your way to the charming Taubman Museum of Art. Located in downtown Roanoke, the museum features works by renowned American artists and has a nice collection of local artifacts from West Virginia and the Appalachian area. Expect to find works by artists such as Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. Next to both changing and permanent collections which are spread across three floors, you will find a nice educational space and a café where you can unwind with a refreshing drink.
4. Explore Park
A picturesque recreation facility located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Explore Park is a perfect destination for nature lovers and families visiting Roanoke with the little ones. Whether you wish to enjoy scenic hikes, admire the park’s wildlife, or ride a mountain bike, there are plenty of activities at Explore Park to keep you entertained throughout the day. Some of the other activities include fishing, canoeing, and kayaking on the Roanoke River. If you wish to spend the night, two local vendors offer tent sites, cabins, and treehouse camping.
5. Virginia Museum of Transportation
A visit to the Virginia Museum of Transportation is a great addition to your Roanoke travel itinerary. The museum boasts an impressive collection of models and full-size trains, antique cars, diesel engines, and much more. With dozens of permanent galleries that demonstrate everything from modern aircraft to historic steam trains, Virginia Museum of Transportation is without a doubt one of the best museums in the region.
6. Carvins Cove Natural Reserve
Visitors looking for outdoor things to do in Roanoke, VA will want to spend the day at the beautiful Carvins Cove Natural Reserve. With nearly 13,000 acres of land, this is one of the largest municipal parks in the US. It’s an ideal place for off-road mountain biking and you can rent all the necessary cycling equipment at the Right Gear shop which is located just a short walk from the Bennett Springs parking lot. Make sure to pick up the trail map from the visitors center where you can also get all the necessary information about the bike trails. This natural reserve also offers canoe and fishing activities.
7. Smith Mountain Lake
Smith Mountain Lake is one of the most popular lakes in Virginia and for a reason. With more than 500 miles of shoreline, this scenic lake is perfect for a bunch of fun water activities ranging from boating and jet-skiing to wakeboarding. You can also look forward to a nice beach which is suitable for swimming, as well as a few golf courses that are located in the area. Organized fishing trips are also available at the Smith Mountain Lake.
8. Roanoke Valley Greenways
As you can already see, there is no shortage of fabulous open green spaces in Roanoke. To experience the natural beauty of the region, pay a visit to the Roanoke Valley Greenways. This network of trails allows travelers to enjoy activities such as cycling, walking, and jogging. Some of the most popular greenways for these activities include the Lick Run Greenway and Roanoke River Greenway. Some paths are even wheelchair accessible and pets on a leash are allowed to join the hiking adventures.
9. McAfee Knob
McAfee Knob is one of the best hikes in the US, so it comes as no surprise that this is a must-have activity while exploring Roanoke. The trail is 8 miles long which means it takes about 4 hours for a round trip on the trail. There are also many nice spots along the way from which you can snap some cool photographs. To avoid large crowds of visitors, we recommend starting your hike early in the morning when you will have the place all to yourself.
10. Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve
Located just a short drive from the city, the Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve is an ideal destination for nature lovers and bird watchers. Expect to find dozens of trails where you can admire the beauty of the unspoiled landscape and see one of the highest waterfalls in the state of Virginia. Travelers can also look forward to seeing a variety of wildlife at the Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve including turkeys and owls. If you are a photography enthusiast, the popular Red Trail offers dozens of vintage points and magnificent views of the waterfall.
11. Roanoke City Market
Located in the Market District, the Roanoke City Market is one of the oldest food markets in Virginia. It’s a great place to mingle with the locals and score fresh fruits, veggies, baked goods, meats, and cheeses from farmers and local vendors. The market is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, and on weekends it hosts live music acts and other family-friendly activities. In case you get hungry while exploring this fabulous city market, make sure to try the gourmet hot dogs and burgers.
12. Center in the Square
Center in the Square is not to be missed when exploring the city of Roanoke. Located in the heart of downtown Roanoke, this expansive campus and community-based regional arts and cultural center is home to many attractions including the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Rooftop Gardens, Harrison Museum of African American Culture, indoor multi-story Butterfly Garden, and the Virginia Museum of Transportation. It’s a great place for the ultimate crowd-watching experience. If you are traveling with kids, take them to the aquarium to see seahorse and jellyfish exhibits.
13. Jeter Farm
Jeter Farm is an annual festival in Roanoke that lasts for several weeks in September and October. During this time of year, visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities like exploring the corn maze, picking pumpkins, interacting with farm animals, and touring the barns. Once you get hungry, visit the Country Store where you will find some of the finest locally made food products. It is also worth mentioning that the farm also hosts concerts. Exploring Jeter Farm is one of our favorite things to do in Roanoke VA with kids.
14. Black Dog Salvage
Fans of the popular Salvage Dawgs TV show will want to pay a visit to the Black Dog Salvage. This 40-square warehouse is fitted with artifacts like antiques, fully restored furniture, window frames, and art and home décor. You can also check out the newly renovated Stone House which is a unique event space and can be rented out for social gatherings. A visit to Black Dog is definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Roanoke VA.
15. Jefferson Center
A grand facility that hosts live music performances, Jefferson Center is famed for its historic architecture and grand décor. It is one of the most popular venues in the city that accommodates both private and public events ranging from business meetings and theatre performances to music concerts and cocktail parties. Whether you wish to listen to world-renowned musicians perform or attend other cultural events, the Jefferson Center should definitely be on your list of things to do in Roanoke VA.
16. Berglund Center
Built in 1971, Berglund Center is a multi-purpose arena where major trade shows, sporting events, meetings, and banquets take place. It is home to the Exhibit Hall, Performing Arts Center, and a Coliseum with 10,500 seats. From watching concert performances by some of the biggest names in the world to attending a variety of consumer and convention shows, the center hosts a variety of events throughout the year. Since the Berglund Center is just a short walk from downtown Roanoke, you will be close to other attractions like the Roanoke City Market and the new Taubman Art Museum.