Visitors to the northern end of Virginia’s Blue Ridge will find a rich collection of museums, delicious local food and drink, and many fun things to do in Roanoke, Virginia. It’s an excellent jumping off point for a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway or a drive north through Shenandoah Valley.
1. Get Oriented at the Roanoke Visitor Center
Roanoke Valley Visitor Center is located in an historic train station, so it offers helpful information on things to do in Roanoke and more. Once you pick up advice, maps, and brochures, take time to visit the Loewy Gallery.
Raymond Loewy is known as the Father of Industrial Design, and the gallery collection highlights his beautiful and functional designs. Sharing the Visitor Center building, the O. Winston Link Museum displays “the audio and video works of photographer Winston Link and his project to document the last days of steam along the Norfolk and Western Railway.” The Visitor Center also has a wonderful view of the art museum, and the trains passing by out back.
2. Stand with Giants at the Virginia Museum of Transportation
The Virginia Museum of Transportation preserves and presents a truly impressive collection, showcasing full size and model trains, bus memorabilia, antique cars, and aviation. The scale of the indoor exhibits is modest, but step out back to the Rail Yard, and you’ll find an awesome collection of historic steam and diesel engines, cabooses, and other rail equipment. The size of the locomotives looming above as you stand beside them is dizzying. If you are short on time, the Museum of Transportation should be high on your list of things to do in Roanoke.
3. Gain a New Perspective at the Taubman Museum of Art
Another impressive museum in Roanoke’s collection (the small city boasts several in the downtown area) is the Taubman Museum of Art. Dedicated to experiences that “inspire, enrich, and promote creativity,” the building’s dramatic exterior evokes the unique attributes of Roanoke’s valley and mountain setting. Inside, a bright three-story atrium displays Not Fade Away, a colorful sculpture floating above the ticket desk. Changing and permanent exhibits fill the museum’s three floors, along with a cafe and educational space.
4. Discover What Pinball, Aquariums, Science, and History Have in Common
Families looking for things to do in Roanoke will find plenty of fun at the Center in the Square, in the downtown market area. The Center houses an eclectic collection of small museums including the Roanoke Pinball Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the History and Western Museums of Western Virginia. Step inside the Pinball Museum to admire a collection of more than 50 pinball games ranging from the 1948’s Screwball, to modern games. You can check out the collection for free, or enjoy a day of play for $12.98 (less for kids).
5. Hunt for Treasure at Black Dog Salvage
Fans of the popular TV show Salvage Dawgs will find a lot to love at Black Dog Salvage. The architectural salvage business mixes building components like window frames, full-size fire surrounds, and a large collection of shutters with fully restored furniture, art and home decor, and smaller gift items in a sprawling Roanoke space near Memorial Bridge.
6. Eat and Drink Local at Grandin Village and Around Town
The Grandin neighborhood features a few compact blocks of delicious eateries on Grandin Road and Memorial Ave. Dinner at Local Roots Restaurant offers a tight menu of locally sourced and lovingly prepared dishes. In the morning, visit Scratch Biscuit for made-from-scratch breakfast biscuits, and Pop’s Ice Cream is the place to go for a classic soda bar experience. Closer to downtown, we loved the selection of standard and seasonal craft brews at Soaring Ridge Brewing. Check Virginia’s Blue Ridge Beerway for more area breweries. The downtown Market Street area is another location that packs many dining spots in a small walkable space.
7. Visit the Roanoke Star
The Roanoke Star has been shining over the city since it was constructed in 1949, the largest, free-standing, man-made, illuminated star in the world. It is a fun destination both for a closer look at the 88.5 foot metal star towering over you, and for the beautiful views of Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond. You can reach the star overlook via a paved road, or by hiking and biking trails. There is also a zoo and Discovery Center on Mill Mountain.
8. Explore the Blue Ridge Region on a Roanoke Getaway
Roanoke is a wonderful base for exploring the Blue Ridge region. It sits at the southern end of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and is less than an hour from Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg area. The Roanoke Hyatt Place makes a good home base, with spacious, nicely decorated rooms that include a comfortable living room area.
There are so many fun things to do in Roanoke that we suggest spending a night or two when you visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge region. Roanoke is about a 4 hour drive from Washington DC if you stick to the highway. Even better, add it to a Northern Shenandoah Valley and Southern Shenandoah Valley road trip and explore Virginia’s scenic byways.
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Portions of our trip to Roanoke were hosted by Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge tourism.