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- By James Wisler
If you’re visiting Virginia, you’re missing out if Roanoke isn’t on your itinerary. Roanoke, Virginia is a hidden treasure on the banks of the Roanoke River, and there’s no shortage of things to do.
Nestled between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains is the charming town of Roanoke. Its fascinating past and beautiful location right on the Appalachian Trail give it a distinctive blend of rural and urban vibes.
Once a railroad hub, Roanoke is now the perfect place to let off steam. The quaint mountain town has come a long way since it was nicknamed “Big Lick.” The bustling city has enough museums, parks, cultural attractions and restaurants to keep you busy for at least a weekend. – who you take with you on your trip.
Don’t know where to start? Our list of top Roanoke, VA attractions will help you create the perfect itinerary!
Mill Mountain Park
The heart of the city is surrounded by beautiful Virginia countryside thanks to Mill Mountain Park. The mountain that bears the park’s name is surrounded by hundreds of acres of green space, making it the perfect spot for a stroll and picnic.
Climb the Star Trail for a panoramic view of 60 miles of Roanoke Valley and a close-up of the Mill Mountain Star, Roanoke’s most prominent contemporary claim. Measuring over 100 feet of light-embellished steel, the world’s second largest man-made star has a big twinkle!
Take the kids to the Mill Mountain Zoo to learn about the habitats of lynx, porcupines, otters and reptiles. You have to learn something too! The restaurant offers a breakfast buffet with zoo animals every third Saturday of the month.
If you and your partner are alone, stop and smell the roses in the Discovery Center’s wildflower garden.
Virginia Museum of Transportation
The indoor/outdoor Virginia Museum of Transportation, housed in the city’s former railroad depot, lets visitors learn about Roanoke’s coal-fired past.
Roanoke has a rich transportation history, having once been a major railroad hub and train manufacturing center. The Shenandoah Valley Railroad is responsible for most of the city’s expansion based on its connections to the railroad industry.
Explore the nation’s largest collection of diesel, steam, and electric trains at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. One of their greatest successes, the trolleybus, as well as the locally built Norfolk & Western Class A 1218 and J-611 should not be missed.
See buggies and a Jupiter rocket at the various vehicle and aircraft exhibits for people who prefer alternative modes of transportation.
Taubman Museum of Art
You can see at a glance why the Taubman Museum of Art’s strikingly angular construction has sparked such controversy among residents. While some hate the contemporary unsuitability of Randall Stout’s design, others appreciate that it shakes things up.
The interior of the building is as stimulating as its exterior. The Taubman Museum of Art has 11 galleries of contemporary and traditional American art. Admire artworks from the Art Museum’s permanent collection by artists such as Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakins, John Singer Sargent and Purvis Young.
Even the ceiling is a work of art. Don’t forget to look up to see the glass atrium and corrugated ceiling, designed to resemble the Roanoke Star and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Looking for a little outdoor adventure on your travels? Thrill seekers, rejoice! On more than 1,100 acres, Explore Park offers miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, access to the Roanoke River and outdoor recreation. The Blue Ridge Parkway is just a short distance away where you can experience your thrills.
Experience the high life in the treetops at Explore Park’s Treetop Quest, an aerial obstacle course complete with zip lines, Tarzan swings and ropes. Canoe down the creek or try your hand at disc golf.
Have you heard nature’s call? Camp outdoors in a tent, cabin, yurt or whatever takes your fancy at Explore Park.
You can purchase a souvenir made by local artists at the Visitor Center’s gift shop. After your adventures, treat yourself to a craft beer at the on-site Twin Creeks Brewpub.
Read Mountain Reserve
The Read Mountain Preserve offers 243 acres of beautiful nature. This nature reserve is a tranquil place to spend time with Mother Nature as it offers extensive wooded areas and plenty of peace and quiet.
There are eight kilometers of trails to choose from, or you can combine them into a continuous loop using the trail map. While there are courses for all levels, they are best suited to those with a strong heart.
You are welcome to take your dog with you on many of the hiking trails in the Read Mountain Preserve. For a panoramic view of the valley, hurry the two miles across an ancient gorge to Read Mountain, also known as “Buzzards Rock”.
Roanoke City Market
Stay for the ambiance; come cook! The Roanoke City Indoor/Outdoor Market has been in operation since the 19th century and is located right in downtown Star City. It is open all year round.
Stroll through aisles of luscious seasonal fruits, cheeses and freshly baked foods, all from an average distance of just 40 km. You can eat part of your winnings in one of the nine restaurants in the old interior.
And groceries aren’t the only thing you can buy at Roanoke City Market. Take advantage of the free family activities every Saturday during the summer or discover the shops in the neighborhood. You can even put together a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Elmwood Park is more than just a green space. Catch a live music or festival just minutes from downtown Roanoke, home to more than 4,000 residents and visitors at the outdoor amphitheater (although there are many), the most famous concert venues in Southwest Virginia!
Grab a bite to eat at Elmwood Park while admiring the illuminated fountains on calmer days while stopping and sitting on the grassy patio.
Bring swimsuits if you have children with you so they can play in the sprinklers near the stage. At Peter Pan Playground, home to crocodiles, kids can play a tag game for a drier activity. Winter is the perfect time to train your axel or play a little hockey at the local rink.
Explore the boardwalk surrounded by blooming magnolias or admire the sculptures on the scenic Art Walk for a more romantic activity.
When you need a little break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Roanoke, visit nearby Wasena Park for a comfortable and peaceful retreat. From this easy base, explore the Roanoke Valley Greenway and the nearby Roanoke River.
You can catch a nearby sporting event at Wasena Park or host your own game at the skate park, outdoor basketball court, baseball field or tennis courts. For a small friendly competition you have everything you need: a scoreboard, field lighting and stands. The playground is a good place for kids to burn off energy.
Prepare a quick lunch at one of the park’s two picnic huts, equipped with grills, if the group gets hungry.
St. Andrew’s Catholic Church
You can’t help but be struck by the splendor of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Set on a hill, it’s straight out of a fairy tale. The historic Gothic-style building with its twin towers occupies the same site as its smaller 19th-century brick predecessor.
Take a slow walking tour of the exterior and sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, stopping to admire the buff-colored brick and sandstone architecture. Step inside to admire Italian white marble and 1940s frescoes.
Browse the 15 intricate stained glass windows imported from Munich. They depict the stories of the saints and include a rose window over the entrance and one of St Andrew which is 30 feet high.
O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia
Retreat to nearby Wasena Park for a convenient yet quiet respite whenever you need a quick break from downtown Roanoke. Explore the nearby Roanoke River and Roanoke Valley Greenway from this easy base.
Wasena Park has outdoor tennis courts, a baseball field, a basketball court and a skate park where you can catch a local sporting event or host your own game. They have everything you need for a small friendly competition including a scoreboard, field lights and stands. Children can let their energy out on the playground.
Pack a quick lunch if the group gets hungry at one of the park’s two picnic huts, equipped with grills.