From local and national history and entrepreneurship to higher education, scenery and plenty of things to do, spending time in the Northeast Tennessee towns of Johnson City and Kingsport is anything but boring. And, you’ll find that same variety and spontaneity in the third of our Tri-Cities tour in Bristol. This unique city actually straddles the Tennessee-Virginia state line, making for some interesting dilemmas. But Bristol residents take them all in stride and wear their dual identity with pride.
Two Separate Cities
Due to the vagaries of their unique locations, Bristol is actually two – considered to be twin cities: Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA. It was even set up to be that way at its founding in 1852. The two cities share a name, a library, several area festivals and a 911 emergency dispatch system. They even alternate paying the electric bill for the famous “Bristol – A Good Place to Live” sign that spans State Street.
However, Bristol, TN is part of Sullivan County, TN, while Bristol, VA is an independent Virginia city. These governmental differences are multiplied further with separate town administrators, governments, school systems, police and jail facilities and many other factors. And, different taxes apply from the different states as well; Tennessee has a higher state sales tax but no income tax, while Virginia sales tax is lower but has a progressive income tax.
This often makes it attractive to live in Tennessee but shop in Virginia – so many Bristol residents get the best of both states! But all these differences don’t affect the unique attraction that is singularly Bristol, with its many offerings for history, nostalgia, fine dining and spirits, entertainment and nature.
Many Engaging Attractions
If you’re looking for fun in either side of Bristol, you will have no problems locating anything that piques your interest. From great food that is renowned far and wide to beautiful scenery and relaxation spots to loud, noisy fun, Bristol, TN-VA has it all. Be sure to visit some of the attractions below while you explore our area.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway is a legendary and hugely popular NASCAR short-track nicknamed “The Last Great Colosseum” for its epic battles and Roman-like architecture. It is also known as the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” due to its steep banking, all-concrete surface and stadium-like seating that allow fans to view the entire track. The speedway is among the largest sporting venues in the world. Bristol Speedway also features quarter-mile dragstrip that hosts an annual NHRA event, the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Nicknamed “Thunder Valley” due to its location and scenery, the dragstrip hosts all three additional national touring NHRA series, plus other weekly and monthly events. The speedway also hosts ice skating and an immensely popular Christmas Lights gala through the winter months.
Locals swear by this spot and you will, too. And what’s crazy is they’re open 24 hours a day, every day but Sunday. Housed in an old Masonic Temple just two blocks from the Tennessee line, this old-fashioned bakery has everything from Bavarian crème donuts and jalapeño bacon Kolaches to pecan pie tarts and chocolate dream cake. They also brew local coffee and sell local churned ice cream. Blackbird Bakery is a genuine two-state favorite for folks in the Tri-Cities area and far beyond. Make this one of your must-stops when you visit Bristol.
Birthplace of Country Music Museum
In 1927, an enterprising recording engineer named Ralph Peer traveled south with some revolutionary field recording technology and set up shop far from Nashville in a Bristol, Tennessee warehouse. What he recorded became recognized as the “Big Bang” of country music. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, tells the story of these 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.
Don’t miss the multiple theater experiences, interactive displays, texts and artifacts, educational programs, music performances and community events that bring this exiting story to life. The museum also features rotating exhibitions from guest curators and other institutions, including the Smithsonian.
L.C. King Manufacturing Co.
This iconic manufacturing company and store is a bonus for the shopping elite searching for authentic, Made-in-the-USA products of time-honored quality. Landon King needed tough, rugged clothing that could withstand the rigors of backcountry life in the Appalachian Mountains, so he decided to design and make his own. His first line, named for a famous breed of dogs he loved to train, was called Pointer Brand. In the same building since 1913, L.C. King Manufacturing Company still uses fabrics cut by a single skilled craftsman and sewed on old-fashioned equipment from a bygone era.
Steele Creek Park
Steele Creek Park is the third largest municipal park in the state of Tennessee, with a total area of over 2,000 acres. There are over 25 miles of hiking trails, a picturesque lake, paddle boats, a nature center and shelters available. There is a golf course attached to park.
Bristol Caverns features paved, well lighted walkways wind through all three levels of the vaulted chambers and along the banks of the ancient Underground River that carved these remarkable caverns from the hard core of the earth 200 to 400 million years ago. In the frontier days, Indians used the Underground River as an attack and escape route in their raids on settlers. Stealing into the area by way of the Underground River and the caverns, they swooped down on unsuspecting families, then disappeared as if swallowed up by the earth. Visitors descend over 180 feet into the earth to explore beautifully preserved natural wonders.
South Holston Dam and Lake
South Holston Dam, the largest of the two dams, was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1940s as a means to prevent flooding and electrify the area through the hydroelectric dam itself. The resulting lake, South Holston Lake, is surrounded almost entirely by the immense and scenic Cherokee National Forest. World-class fishing is found in these waters – including bluegill, walleye, catfish and more Just pick a spot, take a breath, and live in the moment. That’s really what Bristol’s all about.
Looking for more fun in Bristol, TN-VA? Search the 1-Find Directory for fine dining, great shopping, and more!