Pioneers settled the land of salt marshes (or licks) in the 1740s and it was called “Big Lick” when it was established as a town in 1852. Roanoke’s claim to fame came later that decade when it was designated as a stop on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, linking the towns of Lynchburg, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. The railroad stop brought people in from all over the east coast, creating an economic boom of jobs and expansion that grew and transformed the prospering town so quickly, it earned the nickname “Magic City.”
Additionally, the Norfolk and Western Railway’s Roanoke shops were famous for designing, building and maintaining steam locomotives for the railroad until 1953; it’s a legacy of locomotion and other forms of transportation that’s preserved today in Roanoke’s popular Virginia Museum of Transportation.
Since the city’s official chartering in 1882, Roanoke has become home to around 100,000 people, as well as a popular vacation spot for those from in and out of the state given its proximity to the mountains and its thriving downtown scene.
Last year, Amtrak’s high speed Northeast Regional rail service opened a stop in downtown Roanoke, extending the line from Lynchburg and connecting Charlottesville, Alexandria, Washington D.C. and other cities to Roanoke, continuing an important tradition of transportation and providing easier access to the blooming town that’s full of stimulating adventure.
An abundance of city parks and greenway trails, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the nearby Appalachian Trail, make Roanoke an ideal getaway for outdoor lovers and thrill seekers, with plenty of opportunities for hiking and sightseeing. Downtown Roanoke offers additional entertainment, with exciting and diverse shops, museums, restaurants, hotels, nightlife and cultural and historical activities.
Originally opened in a wheat field with fewer than three dozen rooms, the Hotel Roanoke has housed visitors since the N&W days when it was a retreat for tired railroad travelers. Today, the modernized Tudor-style hotel retains an antique ambience, located close to downtown shopping and dining as well as outdoor activities in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
King George Inn Bed & Breakfast
This 1900s Colonial Revival home, restored as a bed and breakfast, exudes luxury and elegance for a stay that’s sure to be more than satisfactory. The lavish inn provides a daily gourmet breakfast “fit for a king or queen,” curated with ingredients from the local farmers market and served with an impressive view of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Colony House Motor Lodge
A “valley tradition” since 1957, the Lodge offers a quaint, affordable hotel experience with modern amenities. It’s just a short distance from popular attractions including the Mill Mountain Zoo, Center in the Square and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar
Pop’s offers a blast from the past with authentic soda fountain pops and ice cream sodas, mixed to order on a traditional soda fountain from 1936. The timeless restaurant is home to a selection of famous speciality grilled cheese sandwiches that incorporate everything from cinnamon cream cheese, to peanut butter, to figs, served with a side of seasoned popcorn.
This beloved farm-to-table restaurant curates its menu from seasonal produce and animal proteins sourced from trusted farmlands in southwest Virginia. The menu changes based on what’s fresh and available, featuring “petite,” “modern”and “substantial” dishes. Enjoy your meal with one of their beers, wines or ciders from local wineries and breweries.
The Roanoker Restaurant
This quaint and homey spot has served locals and visitors to the area since 1941, with delightful Southern hospitality and even better food. The restaurant offers a selection of comforting meals, including Rib Eye Steak, Chicken Marinara and Old Fashioned Beef Stew, that will make you feel like you’re right at home.
Big Lick Brewing Company
Known as downtown Roanoke’s “premier craft beer experience,” all beers on a rotating selection are hand-crafted on-site, using the finest malted barley, hops and yeast. This brewery is sure to be a hit with all brew lovers.
Deschutes is the newest addition to Roanoke’s thriving beer scene, offering craft beers from its brewery based in Bend, Oregon. The tasting room in Roanoke’s historic downtown is a great place to stop in after a long day of shopping, sightseeing or hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Virginia is home to lots of extraordinary vineyards, and Valhalla is no exception. The 21-acre mountainside vineyard produces class wines, made exceptional by decomposing granite soils and the Blue Ridge mountains’ unique climate. Book a tour of the wine cave followed by a tasting of five wines, which you can buy to enjoy long after you’re gone.
Take a leisurely hike up to McAfee Knob, the jutting end of a tilted rock suspended over a valley with a 270-degree view of the surrounding landscape. A 6-mile loop leads to the Knob, which is supposedly the the most photographed site along the Appalachian Trail.
Virginia Museum ofTransportation
Housed in the N&W Railway Freight Station in downtown Roanoke, the museum highlights the history of transportation in the U.S., with a special focus on the rich rail history of the region. Exhibits feature real locomotives, authentic Virginia license plates, models of historic sailing ships, the Jupiter rocket and more.
Center in the Square
Discover, play and learn at the Center in the Square, a mecca of regional arts and cultural organizations with activities and events for a fun-filled day of entertainment, education and culture. The building houses six non-profits, including Mill Mountain Theatre, the Roanoke Pinball Museum and the Science Museum of Western Virginia, as well as a butterfly garden and aquarium.