The holiday season is approaching and after months of being isolated in your own homes you are probably itching to get away for a sanity break.
How about a road trip to Virginia and experience all the fun things to do in Roanoke that is away from the crowds and puts you back in touch with nature, but also gives you access to metro delights – like local shopping, craft beers, and seasonal foods.
Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge is a vibrantly dynamic destination and one that can be easily explored on a weekend getaway.
A three-hour drive from Raleigh makes for an easy weekend getaway that will bring you to the largest metropolitan center nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains chain. The region includes the city of Roanoke and surrounding communities within an hour radius.
We just returned from a fantastic three-day trip in partnership with Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the destination marketing organization (DMO).
It was just the break we needed in the Virginia mountains with plenty of time to reconnect in nature as a family in a seasonally fun way!
Plus, it was easy to socially distance ourselves and all businesses strictly followed current mask wearing guidelines. We felt very safe and looked after!
save money with the VBR Savings Passport
Who likes saving money on your vacation?
No brainer right. An extra 10% in your pocket makes a difference.
We found Virginia’s Blue Ridge an affordable destination to begin with, but you can save more whilst experiencing cool things to do in Roanoke (and surrounds) with the VBR savings app.
It’s effortless to use from your phone. You visit the various locations listed in the app to grab your savings. Simply show them the app and they’ll mark it as used and give the discount or freebie. It’s a fantastic initiative!
Find the LoveWorks Signs
Virginia is for lovers and a fun way that Virginia tourism showcases that passion throughout the state is with LOVEworks signs that spell out L-O-V-E and showcases the vibe of its location.
When you visit Virginia, you can find these signs at over 200 destinations throughout the state with several in Virginia’s Blue Ridge region.
It’s a fun family activity to find them throughout the region and have your family photo. We’ll share a cool few signs we found throughout the content below. Share your ones with us when you visit.
StELLAr Fall Experiences in Virginia’s Blue Ridge
The Roanoke Star and Mill Mountain Park
No trip to Roanoke is complete without visiting its star attraction – the Roanoke Star on the top of Mill Mountain (also known as the Mill Mountain Star) and the Hollywood sign of the East.
The 88.5 ft tall Roanoke Star was constructed in 1949 as a holiday decoration and has now become the progressive symbol of the town giving it the nickname of Star City, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in Roanoke VA!
Enjoy the fantastic views of downtown in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding mountains while you are up here, especially the Fall colors.
The Mill Mountain Park has ample opportunity for outdoor adventures including are several hiking and mountain biking trails. The Mill Mountain Zoo, Wildflower Garden and Discovery Center is up here too.
Sunset is a pretty time to visit and we were told sunrise is equally as beautiful.
Make sure you look out for it illuminated at night – this sparkling star is your Roanoke beacon of light.
Appreciate the Fall Foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Winding through 469 miles of mountainous beauty from North Carolina to Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive” and one of the most scenic drives in America.
We spent the day enjoying the many vistas and Blue Ridge Parkway fall colors from Milepost 120 at Mill Mountain to Milepost 86 at the Peaks of Otter.
The Parkway is only a 10-minute drive from Downtown Roanoke and there are plenty of stops for hikers along the Blue Ridge Parkway (both short and long) and scenic overlooks to pull over for photographs!
As we were short on time and hiking fitness, we caught the shuttle up to the top of Sharp Top Mountain for extraordinary 360-degree views of the Peaks of Otter area, The Piedmont to the East, and the Shenandoah Valley with the Allegheny Valley Mountains to the west.
We then hiked back down and realized we could have easily managed the hike up. Next visit!
The nearby Abbott Lake is a beautiful spot for lunch at the Peaks of Otter Lodge and a short 0.9-mile flat walk around the lake. The colors here were spectacular.
We loved driving the Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia section so much we’re planning a more in-depth road trip along its entire length next spring.
We’ve done several of the famous road trips in the United States already and are looking forward to experiencing more of the Blue Ridge Pkwy!
Tip: McAfee Knob is a bucket list item for many hikers and is one of the most photographed places on the Appalachian Trail.
Wine Tasting & Apple Picking at the Peaks of Otter Winery
As you’re exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway drive, take a short detour to Peaks of Otter Winery & Orchards for wine tasting. I’ve never seen such eclectic flavors of wine before from pumpkin to raspberry, pineapple and coconut (colada) and chocolate cherry bomb.
$8 gives you 8 samples.
For the holiday season, be sure to include the Pumpkin Pie (Thanksgiving) and Cranberry (Christmas) to your sample tray.
I am sure your guests will love a glass of each during your celebration feast and will love the stories of your Virginia’s Blue Ridge vacation you pair with it.
And the kids don’t have to miss out either. Grab a bag and head into the orchard for some apple picking. That’s your Thanksgiving apple pie dessert sorted out!
Peaks of Otter Winery also follows sustainable farming practices.
READ MORE: See some of the breweries we visit in our Spring getaway to Roanoke post.
Bike/Walk the Roanoke Valley Greenways + Roanoke River
The Roanoke Valley Greenways winds for over 30-miles through the various communities of this region of the Blue Ridge in Virginia.
You can bike, walk, or run the pathways to connect to interesting parts of the region, downtown districts, and the Roanoke River.
This is another of the popular things to do in Roanoke and it’s a great way to relax, get around, and enjoy the beautiful Fall foliage, especially along the river banks.
ZipLine through the Fall Foliage
Ready for a different perspective of the Fall Foliage?
Why not view it from inside its golden canopy as you climb, crawl, and fly between the treetops at Tree Top Quest in Explore Park.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 115, Explore Park features hundreds of acres of rolling hills, pristine woodlands, hiking trails, river frontage, and outdoor adventure flying through the trees.
We’ve been doing zipline and obstacle courses as a family since Kalyra was four, and this zipline course in Virginia’s Blue Ridge was one of the best we have done. There are four courses of various levels with an age limit of seven.
Our favorites were Course 2A with their interesting obstacles like giant punching bags and crawling through cycles of various heights and swinging crooked ladders, and course 3 which was mostly ziplines between the trees with the odd Tarzan swing thrown in.
This is one of the fun things to do in Roanoke and a memory your kids will cherish on your Virginia vacation. The Fall colors made it even more special.
Family Fun in Roanoke’s Museums
If you’re looking for other things to do with kids in Roanoke, and a fun break from the outdoors, there are plenty of museums in Roanoke and indoor attractions to keep your family entertained for hours.
The Center in the Square is a 7-story center for arts and culture featuring various museums, a theater and a rooftop garden.
Roanoke Pinball Museum
We’ve recently started a new family hobby – vintage record collecting! In keeping with this new found connection over the beloved old, we were delighted to take our girls to the Roanoke Pinball Museum and show them how we entertained ourselves long before the internet.
I never realized these was so many different types of pinball machines!
From the 1932 styles to the slightly more modern Munster’s machine which had a baby pinball inside the bigger one to play, you could get lost in here playing over 65 machines for hours.
Great news – the girls loved it and Savannah has added pinball machine to her design for our future house.
But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there in the Center in the Square.
Down the corridor is Roanoke STARCADE where you’ll find some of your old favorite arcade games like car racing, Pac-man, and our family favorite, basketball hoop shooting competitions!
Also, in the Center in the Square you’ll find the Kids Square Children’s Museum, The Harrison Museum of African American Culture, and The Science Museum of Western Virginia.
Taubman Museum of Art
Keeping in line with an affordable and cultured Metro-Mountain getaway is the Taubman Museum of Art in Downtown Roanoke.
It features 10 galleries showcasing art from around the world as well as American and regional art. Art Venture is an interactive exploratory space for youth with hands on art activities. Admission is FREE!
Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge has you covered for holiday shopping with boutique stores, farmers markets, and antique shops filled with local wares and exciting gift opportunities.
The Historic Roanoke City Market is a popular place for visitors and locals. It has been selling farm-fresh produce downtown since 1882, and is open seven days a week, from 8 am – 5 pm.
Here are a few stores in Virginia’s Blue Ridge region that we loved.
How can you walk past a store called Chocolatepaper?
You’ll find plenty of holiday gift ideas in this unique store in the historic Downtown Farmer’s Market in Roanoke. They have a vast selection of the finest chocolates, creative greeting cards, beautiful gift wrap, fun and contemporary gifts, and Roanoke goodies!
Historic Grandin Village is a walkable, eclectic, and family-friendly urban area filled with independently owned restaurants and unique stores (including Black Dog Salvage).
I loved New to Me, a consignment store that had a large collection of quality art, furniture, clothing, and collectible antiques. Boot lovers will enjoy the diverse collection in here. I was incredibly happy with my white winter boots I picked up for only $24.
Next door is Urban Gypsy, where you’ll find beautifully curated clothing, accessories, gifts, and home-ware. I could have bought so many clothes in here which were very affordable. I opted for a cool new pair of sunglasses.
If you’re looking for an affordable breakfast or lunch while in this area, head to Scratch Biscuit, a local’s favorite for homemade southern biscuits filled with innovative flavors.
Black Dog Salvage
For those who love DIY reality shows, you probably already know Black Dog Salvage, regularly seen on the popular Salvage Dawgs.
After seeing the eclectic mix of antiques, commercial salvage, reclaimed works, and unique home décor items in a 40,000 square-foot warehouse I was inspired to see what this show is all about.
Don’t miss the LOVEworks sign out the back of the building towards the river and beside the stage. It was our favorite one in Roanoke. We loved the greenery backdrop.
Charlotte’s Web Antiques, Salem
Salem, just a 20-minute drive from Roanoke, has a growing reputation as an antique mecca.
Inside Charlotte’s Web Antique Mall are independent booths filled with collectables, vintage jewelry, clothing, books and furniture.
If you love vintage record collecting, this is a place to visit. Sadly, I was dragged out of there before I could, but not before I found Princes’ Purple Rain for only $12 and the Carpenters for $6 (a childhood favorite of mine.)
Old’s Cool Antique Store, Rocky Mount
OK, record collectors, this was my favorite find in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Old’s Cool Antique Store in Rocky Mount has the most fun collection of vintage toys and “Old School” collectables.
Most importantly, it had the best collection of records I’ve seen at incredible prices. I walked out with 15 albums including Dylan’s Greatest Hits, three of my favorite Doors albums, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Midnight Oil all for just $75. I didn’t even get to browse half of their collection.
This will be a regular stop whenever we visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Farm to Table Dining Not to Miss
Local Roots, Grandin Village
It’s the holiday season, so you want to experience unique and special dining experiences. Roanoke has you covered with this extraordinary farm to table culinary experience at Local Roots in Grandin Village.
Local Roots epitomizes that and is driven by the philosophy of providing Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical dining experiences.
Their homemade pimento cheese paired with apple slices and green tomatoes was just delicious. As was Craig’s spicy rabbit stew and my NC Trout. Kalyra’s Brasstown Beef short ribs was equally delicious.
The ambiance was warm and friendly and the service impeccable.
Of course, you want delicious burgers on your vacation.
Even better, at Farmburgeusa they are locally sourced beef burgers with unique fillings and flavors.
Craig had a big and tasty Caprese style burger with fresh mozzarella and basil pesto (one of the best burgers he’s ever had) and I chose to visit South of the Border with their homemade guacamole, local salsa, and pepper hack cheese.
What I love the most was their innovative gluten free version buns: Tostones, which are double fried plantain patties. It was sensational and I want them all the time!
We also especially loved the friendly service and chatting with the two workers over our burgers. It was a great way to learn more about the local culture.
Don’t forget to check out their burger of the month for seasonal surprises.
While in Vinton, be sure to stop at the local LOVEworks at the Vinton War Memorial. I loved the beautiful historical building as the backdrop.
Christmas Holiday Experiences in Virginia’s Blue Ridge
On our visit to Roanoke they were preparing for the upcoming Winter Holiday events. Here are a few of the events to soak up some festive spirit.
Be sure to check the tourism website for up-to-date information before you visit as things are always changing due to COVID.
Illuminights at Explore Park
They were setting up Illuminights at Explore Park when we visited so we were able to get a glimpse of the lighted displays in the forest.
Explore your holiday spirit on a half-mile wooded path taking in the sights and sounds of the season on a unique experience featuring over 500,000 lights, dazzling features, and memorable moments.
While you’re here, shop for artisan crafts, roast marshmallows around the campfire, and enjoy additional family activities on select nights. Santa may even stop in for a visit.
Twin Creeks Brewpub is also open for food and beverage options on various nights.
This Christmas holiday experience in Roanoke is opened Nov. 20 – Jan. 2, every night except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas
Fashions for Evergreen at the Historic Hotel Roanoke
Fashions for Evergreens is one of the annual downtown Roanoke events in the holiday season with a unique tree competition, featuring more than 34 professionally designed trees.
A self-guided tour will take you throughout the historic and elegant Hotel Roanoke where you can vote for your favorites with as little as a penny.
- Dates: Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day
- Cost: Free and Open to the Public
You may even want to spend the night at the Hotel Roanoke and see the trees that way.
Bank of Fincastle Tinsel Trail, Fincastle
This popular Tinsel Trail features Christmas trees decorated by community businesses and organizations. Opening night usually offers small group tours of the Botetourt County Historical Museum and homemade mulled cider, hot chocolate, and appetizers.
All these memories to make in the beautiful setting of historic Fincastle. This event is free and open to the public.
Winter Wonderlot Parade, Salem
This annual Christmas Parade will be in a drive by format at Salem Civic Center parking lot this unique 2020 year!
Floats and performers will be positioned in designated locations throughout the Taliaferro Complex, allowing citizens and visitors the ability to drive through and enjoy each entry without leaving their cars.
Dickens of a Christmas
This free, family-friendly event happens annually in Downtown Roanoke and includes favorites like roasted chestnuts, carriage rides, street performers, and more.
The complete format has not yet been decided due to COVID, but planning is being done to incorporate best practices to keep everyone safe. Check for updates here.
Follow Fall quirkiness on the Scarecrow Trail, Rocky Mount
On your way in or out of Roanoke from Raleigh, stop in at the town of Rocky Mount, Virginia to see the Scarecrow Trail.
Up and down Franklin St and Main St you’ll find a variety of scarecrows dressed and tied to the street posts.
Each scarecrow reflects the business it stands in front of like the Money Scarecrow outside the bank, the librarian outside the library and the very cool Quarantine Hair Tragic Scarecrow outside the hair salon. It’s a little quirky Fall fun and one of the cool things to do near Roanoke.
While here, you’ll also find a cool LOVEworks sign out the front of where the Farmer’s Market is.
Doubly worth stopping in this town if you love vintage shopping and record collecting and music.
It has quite the small-town music vibe with the Harvester Performance Center that has over 180 annual concerts each year.
Rocky Mount is the gateway to the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music trail connecting visitors with southwestern Virginia’s incredibly rich musical history (333 miles from Rocky Mount to Breaks Interstate Park).
Stay: SpringHill Suites, Roanoke
We loved the modern comfort and location of the SpringHill Suites located just minutes from Downtown Roanoke.
It was the perfect location for all the places we visited and is near popular places like Black Dog Salvage, Star Hill Brewery, and the greenway trail. In fact, you could walk along the Greenway Trail from there to Wasena Park and Black Dog Salvage.
The hotel has a free daily breakfast and a casual lobby bar for evening cocktails. There is also a complimentary shuttle to popular destinations including the airport.
The suite rooms are spacious and comfortable, especially for families. We love the extra living area where our girls could watch TV.
Book your Roanoke Accommodation
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We hope this post helped you plan your trip to visit Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge? Let us know if you have any questions, or suggestions, in the comments below!