Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of ‘Country Roads’ fame, Roanoke might be the coolest city you’ve never heard of. It has a thriving live music scene, excellent breweries, great bars, friendly people, and exciting opportunities for outdoor recreation. Once you visit Roanoke, the numerous passion projects that local citizens have poured their hearts into are sure to leave an impression on you.

01Visit a creative tribute to the King of Rock ‘n Roll

In far-away Roanoke, Virginia, a miniature model of Elvis Presley Graceland estate in Memphis, Tenne Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge /Getty Images

When you visit this Roanoke classic, take a picture of yourself next to this bite-sized attraction and pretend to be a giant. Don and Kim Epperly spent much of their time together creating a miniature recreation of Graceland and other landmarks dedicated to Elvis Presley. The attention to detail and love that went into the little project is astounding. Once they finished Graceland, they added tiny, neighboring houses, and recreated the Elvis Presley Car Museum. While the Epperlys have passed away, a local group accepts donations to help them maintain the site.

02See Star City’s namesake

The Roanoke Star turned off during the day krblokhin / Getty Images

In 1949, Roanoke locals constructed a bright, neon star atop Mill Mountain to encourage Christmas shopping that year. Everyone loved the star so much that the residents decided to keep it lit all year long. Now, the Roanoke Star is an iconic symbol that’s earned the city nicknames such as “The Star City of the South.” Red, white, and blue are the colors the star sports every day; when tragedy strikes, it glows white in solidarity. After you've hiked up Mill Mountain to see it up close, you'll be near other attractions at the mountain.

03Send your kids on a train through the zoo

Children feeding a giraffe at a zoo kali9 / Getty Images

The Mill Mountain Zoo is home to all sorts of animals and informational exhibits that serve to educate visitors and promote an appreciation of the environment. Bring your family in for a day to enjoy all that the zoo has to offer, including an interactive aviary and a reptile house. If you have kids, they will surely love the zoo's special attraction. The Zoo Choo is a miniature train that runs along a track that’s almost a quarter of a mile long and offers unique perspectives on the zoo and its animals.

04All aboard Roanoke’s train museum

Railroad Museum of Virginia in Norfold, VA, USA.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation is dedicated to airplanes and an impressive collection of vintage cars, but it’s the train exhibits that take the cake. If you have a love of trains and cars, you’re sure to be delighted by the assortment of old steam engines and Studebakers. The model trains are popular with kids, too, and the museum often puts on activities and crafts for children to take part in.

05Discover the history of pinball

The Roanoke downtown city market Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images

The Center in the Square Complex is a wonderful place for shopping, learning, and recreation. One of the most interesting stops at the complex is the Roanoke Pinball Museum, which houses over fifty pinball machines and allows you to freely play all of them as long as you please once you’ve got a day pass. Did you know that pinball machines originally didn’t have flippers and were just a form of gambling? Buy a drink from the museum’s bar and learn more about the machines as you play them!

06Have a drink and listen to southern jazz

The local bar scene in Roanoke is always buzzing with live music and people having a great time. If you’re looking for a great jazz club to unwind at when evening rolls around, check out Blue 5. It's renowned among locals for its diverse beer selection, which includes over 40 taps. If cocktails are more your speed, the Shishka Mediterranean Grill and Hookah Bar will scratch that itch for you with dozens of signature cocktails.

07Attend a historic church


Whether you’re religious or simply appreciate art and architecture, you should give St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church a visit. The exterior of the century-old church is equal parts elegant and imposing. Once you’re in the interior, you’ll be struck by how awe-inspiringly beautiful the design is. The sweeping arches and masterfully crafted stained glass are a love letter to Gothic-style architecture.

08Explore Carvin’s Cove nature preserve

A hiking area outside Roanoke Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images

Carvin’s Cove is the second largest municipal nature preserve in the entire United States. Just a few miles outside the city, Carvin's Cove has over ten thousand acres of carefully preserved forest and crystal-clear reservoir lakes. Once you’ve hiked one of the winding forest trails, you can relax by the water and go fishing. There are kayak and boat rentals easily available, so you can also go out into the water.

09Visit one of Virginia’s best breweries

Top view of friends toasting with beer glasses in the pub

You’ve heard of microbreweries, but what about a nano-breweries? Big Lick Brewing carefully produces artisan beers in extremely small batches. If you’d like, you can take a tour of the facilities and learn about the process of nano-brewery from the experts themselves. Additionally, Big Lick puts on many public events involving games, outdoor recreation, and crafts. Between world-class beers and making new friends, what’s not to love?

10Enjoy the performing arts at the Jefferson Center

This is the old high school in downtown Roanoke Va. now called the Jefferson Center

The roaring twenties come alive at this retro-styled center for live concerts. From hosting shows with local artists getting off the ground to famous names in the jazz industry, the Jefferson Center is one of Western Virginia’s most enthusiastic patrons of the arts. The center also arranges plays, operas, and introduces new events regularly.