Exploring the Birthplace of Country Music & Beyond
Navigating travel during a pandemic can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. So if you’re itching to get out on the open road for an overnight or weekend, why not visit Bristol and learn why we are world-renowned as the birthplace of country music? While you’re here, there are some must-sees in the region that you may not want to miss – including good spots around Bristol’s Historic Downtown where photo opportunities are just too good to be missed!
First Things First: Travel Safely!
One thing I learned early on was that state-run Welcome Centers are the cleanest and safest places to make a pit stop on the way to your destination. Most of them have automatic doors, sinks, toilets, soap and paper towel dispensers so you don’t have to touch common surfaces, and cleaning crews work around the clock to keep them sanitary.
Always remember to wear your mask, carry hand sanitizer, and distance from others in public spaces, and all our favorite restaurants in Downtown Bristol offer carry-out!
Where to stay?
The Sessions Hotel
Themed with Bristol’s music history in mind, The Sessions Hotel transformed and connected several old buildings Downtown (including the former Bristol Grocery and Jobbers Candy Factory) to create a warm and restful place to lay your head while you explore. The rooms have a modern, industrial feel and come equipped with a Victrola Bluetooth radio. Once restrictions are lifted, you can bet there will be live music in each of the hotel’s spacious venues. There’s also an on-premises spa, a rooftop bar, and the award-winning Southern Craft BBQ restaurant. The hotel is also within walking distance to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and everything Downtown!
What to see?
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings, explores how evolving sound technology shaped their success, and highlights how this rich musical heritage lives on in today’s music. Through text and artifacts, multiple theater experiences, and interactive displays – along with a variety of educational programs, music performances, and community events – the exciting story of these recording sessions and their far-reaching influence comes alive. Rotating exhibitions from guest curators and other institutions, including the Smithsonian, are featured throughout the year in the Special Exhibits Gallery. The museum also houses a collection of related objects, photographs and paper ephemera, and digital items. The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) has achieved Healthy Business Certification from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, certifying that both its business office and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum has a disease prevention plan in place that meets guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for workplace health and pandemic response. Click here to view our health and safety guidelines.
Where to Eat?
The Burger Bar
There are a number of great restaurants in Historic Downtown Bristol, all within walking distance of the museum, but The Burger Bar is required eating – not just for the amazing food, but for its country music history. Legend has it, The Burger Bar was the place Hank Williams had his last meal. This Bristol staple has a retro diner feel and a few items on the menu named for Hank’s songs, including the Hey Good Looking with savory mushrooms and grilled onions, the Your Cheatin’ Heart with green chiles, and the Move it on Over with BBQ sauce. My personal favorite, however, is the Burger Bar Famous Reuben on marble rye with corned beef so fresh it melts in your mouth! And don’t forget a side of parmesan fries…delish!
There are a number of selfie spots around Bristol that make for the perfect IG post:
- The Bristol Sign – We recommend the magic hour around sunset when the lights first come on!
- State Street’s Tennessee/Virginia markers – Located in the middle of State Street between the 400 and 800 blocks of State Street, visitors like to take pics of their feet “walking the line” between two states! Safety first recommended, but locals are used to seeing visitors pose and will often stop traffic for you!
- Take the Stage Statue – Located on the edge of Cumberland Square Park across from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, make like an old-time crooner and sing into the microphone between a guitarist and fiddler immortalized in bronze.
- Country Music Mural – located in the Downtown Center on the 800 block of State Street, artist Tim White’s depiction of the major players behind the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions just got a facelift and is ready for your close-up!
We highly recommend checking out Discover Bristol’s website for a Downtown walking tour, in addition to instructions for the self-guided Caterpillar Crawl scavenger hunt for kids! Kids can also make a little music of their own at Jerry Goodpasture Plaza.
Believe in Bristol is the best source Downtown Bristol events, attractions, restaurants, shops, and galleries. Be sure and visit their website before you visit!
To make the most of your music-themed experience, we highly recommend taking time to visit a few other sites along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail near Bristol:
- The Carter Family Fold
Temporarily closed due to the pandemic, The Carter Family Fold is 45 minute drive from Bristol to Hiltons, Virginia and a must-see for music lovers. Janette Carter, one of three children of A. P. and Sara Carter, established the Carter Family Fold to honor the memory of her parents and Maybelle Carter who played a historic role in helping give birth to the age of country music beginning in 1927. The Fold is known for its Saturday night performances where children of all ages dance to old-time, bluegrass, and early country music. There is a small museum on the property that was once a store ran by A. P. Carter, and A. P.’s family cabin was moved there from its remote site for visitation as well. Considered hallowed ground by country music artists and enthusiasts, Johnny Cash performed his final show there in 2003.
- Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace (formerly Heartwood)
A 20-minute drive from Historic Downtown Bristol to Abingdon, Virginia, Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace provides a welcome mat for travelers to Southwest Virginia and serves as a visitor center, retail center for local crafts, music venue and community space. You’ll find exhibits that highlight local artisans and sample the sights and sounds of the region through film in the facility’s experiential theater. Musicians can also pluck tunes in the center’s porch stage, and taste locally sourced foods in the cafe. Regular Thursday night performances are also held, visit their website for schedules.
- Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center
Located in Clintwood, Virginia (a scenic one-hour and thirty-five minute drive from Bristol), travelers are encouraged to take an interactive musical journey through the career of Dr. Ralph Stanley at the museum named for the legendary performer. The Ralph Stanley Museum continuously preserves and promotes bluegrass music through workshops, seminars, and conventions. For workshop information and event schedules, check their events calendar often for updates. (Please note, this museum is closed until Spring 2021.)
Want to know more about exploring Bristol and Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee? Visit our travel partner websites:
Believe in Bristol
Visit Southwest Virginia
Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association