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Winter in Bristol TN/VA: 10 Cozy & Magical Things to Do

Winter in Bristol TN/VA is truly enchanting, a time when crisp air carries the promise of seasonal adventures and holiday cheer.

During winter in Bristol, you’ll find a delightful range of festive cold weather activities that will make your stay unforgettable.

From exploring The Great Outdoors to sampling the local food scene and checking out Virginia’s first-ever casino, there’s something for everyone.

Ready to dive into the specifics and learn all about the top things to do in Bristol TN/VA this winter season?

Fun & Festive Things to do in Bristol TN/VA in the Wintertime

1. The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights

bristol motor speedway decorated with christmas lights for the speedway in lights even each christmas
Image: Speedway in Lights / Bristol Motor Speedway

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of winter in Bristol is The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights. At the world famous Bristol Motor Speedway, this drive-through holiday attraction is best described as dazzling.

The 4-mile light display features over three million lights. You’ll start in the parking lot, then eventually find your way onto the track itself. And this isn’t just any track — it’s “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” That’s right, you’ll get to drive a lap around the famed concrete oval!

Since you drive through the display, you can enjoy Speedway in Lights rain or shine (or snow!). Plus, it’s something the entire family will love!

Although it’s not required, you will absolutely want to buy tickets in advance. The line stretches for what seems like miles some nights, even for those who already got tickets. But the good news is that Bristol Motor Speedway offers “Fast Lane” tickets that allow you to skip the lines, for an additional fee.

Speedway in Lights runs from mid-November through early January. Finally, don’t miss the Christmas Village, set up in the infield.

2. Skate at the Tri-Cities Airport Ice Rink

The winter schedule for the BMS ice rink! Image credit

Even if you don’t make it to Speedway in Lights this year, there’s a reason to check out Bristol Motor Speedway. Of course, that’s the Tri-Cities Airport Ice Rink. This is the longest-running ice rink in the entire region!

The rink is located at the speedway, just on the other side of one of the track’s turns. Like Speedway in Lights, you can go ice skating starting in mid-November. However, the rink stays open about a week longer, closing for the season in mid-January.

Admission is $12-15, depending on the day and time you go, and includes ice skate rental.

3. Tour the Bristol Caverns Underground

the inside of the bristol caverns with lights
Credit: Bristol Caverns

Is the weather outside frightful? If so, this next winter activity in Bristol will spare you from the cold. Or will it?!

It’s no secret that the Great Smokies are full of ancient, mysterious caves. Bristol Caverns is one of the oldest, formed between 200-400 million years ago.

A guided tour takes you 180 feet underground, through stunning formations including frozen waterfalls and towering stalactites.

The highlight for many folks is the Underground River, which is the very same one that carved the cave.

Amazingly, the caverns remain the same temperature every day of the year.

This makes it a fantastic all-weather attraction, and certainly one of the best things to do in winter in Bristol TN/VA.

Plan on about 45 minutes to one hour for the tour. While it isn’t particularly difficult, Bristol Caverns does have a lot of stairs to navigate, and the surface is slippery in several places.

4. Take a Winter Hike in Steele Creek Park

Steele Creek Park trail map

Suggesting hiking during the winter in Bristol may make some people give us major side-eye, but hear us out.

This park, in particular, is just five minutes from the city center. That makes it super accessible, even when snow completely covers the mountains.

So, lace up your boots and head to Steele Creek Park, home to some of our personal favorite hikes in Bristol.

A 52-acre lake anchors the park, the third largest in all of Tennessee.

Most of the park’s 25 miles of trails show off views of it, but the best in winter are Lakeside (2.1 miles) and Lake Ridge (1.85 miles).

Both of these take you right alongside the lake. This is especially nice in winter, so you don’t have to worry about potentially icy higher elevations. It’s also a lovely area for birding this time of year.

Additionally, many of the trails interconnect, so you can hike as much or as little as you’d like.

5. Downtown Bristol’s Christmas Tree Village

Credit: Believe in Bristol

Whether you enter a tree of your own or simply marvel and vote for your favorite, the Christmas Tree Village is a wonderful way to get into the festive spirit.

2023 is the Village’s second annual rendition, and it’ll be more than twice as festive. This year, the Christmas Tree Village includes over 50 trees!

Local businesses, families, and non-profit organizations decorate each tree, and they’ll be displayed in Bristol’s historic downtown from late November through early January.

The general public will have the opportunity to vote, and the winner will be given the People’s Choice Award.

Tree sponsors can decorate during the week before Thanksgiving, and Believe in Bristol even has volunteers onsite to help on the weekend days.

Best of all, the city’s community tree lighting, one of the most beloved winter in Bristol traditions, takes place around the same time.

Thanksgiving weekend, the two iconic trees are officially lit with over 30,000 lights, officially kicking off the holiday season. Also, the two big trees perfectly round out the tree village!

6. Take in the Bristol Ballet’s Performance of “The Nutcracker”

No matter how old you get, there’s just something nostalgic and festive about The Nutcracker. For one weekend in the winter in Bristol, you can take a step back and embrace that nostalgia.

The Bristol Ballet puts on its most coveted live performance of the year, typically on the second weekend of December. You’ll have a choice of shows on Friday or Saturday evening, as well as a Saturday matinee.

A wonderful family holiday tradition, this timeless classic transports you to a world of sugarplum fairies and toy soldiers.

Tickets WILL sell out, so we recommend purchasing yours as early as possible. Members of the ballet, students, and military servicemen and women get a $5 discount per ticket.

7. ‘Candlelight Christmas’ at Rocky Mount State Historic Site

Sign up for the tour here! Source

Step waaayyyy back in time with a Candlelight Christmas tour at Rocky Mount State Historic Site.

This popular, long-running tradition offers visitors a glimpse of life during winter in Bristol in 1791. It’s part live performance and part home tour, and it’s all a very authentic, immersive experience.

History buffs especially will love Candlelight Christmas. Rocky Mount is the site of the first territorial capital of the Southwest Territory, back in the late 1700s.

On Candlelight Christmas, the scene is meant to be Christmas Eve. Early settler William Cobb hosts then-governor Blount and his wife for the evening. You’ll witness centuries-old Christmas traditions, plus get to tour the property by candlelight.

It only takes place on two December weekends, so be sure to reserve your tickets well in advance.

8. Visit The Birthplace of Country Music Museum

the birthplace of country music museum in bristol
Credit: Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Hailed as the “Best Pop Culture Museum” by USA Today, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a must. It’s one of the best things to do during winter in Bristol, especially during cold or rainy days.

The museum offers a renowned, immersive look at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a pivotal event often dubbed the “big bang” of country music.

Enjoy engaging theater experiences, interactive displays, educational programs, live music performances, and much more.

Quick local tip: although it isn’t in the winter, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion should be on your radar. On the second weekend of September, this 3-day festival takes over downtown, bringing 100+ bands to 17 individual stages.

9. Catch a Holiday Double-Feature at the Drive-in

How many places can you still watch a movie at an authentic drive-in theater? We don’t know the exact answer, but we know it isn’t many.

The Twin City Drive-in shows double features every weekend, year-round, rain or shine. And, impressively, it’s been doing so since 1949!

This is one of the most underrated things to do in Bristol in the winter, not only because it’s perfect in any weather, but also because it’s cheap! For $8.00, you can catch TWO movies on the big screen. On December weekends, the movies are holiday themed.

There’s also an onsite concessions stand, but note that it’s cash only (admission to the drive-in itself can be paid with a card).

10. Try Your Luck at the Bristol Casino

Bristol Casino, winter activity

For an indoor option, check out the Bristol Casino. (And if casinos aren’t your vibe, maybe a cozy Bristol brewery could be your next stop!)

In a historic move, the casino marked its grand opening in July 2022, becoming the first-ever casino in the state of Virginia.

This newly minted establishment offers round-the-clock entertainment, making it especially appealing when the weather isn’t the best.

The Bristol Casino has over 800 slot machines, 21 various game tables, and three popular restaurants.

Notably, the casino is set to become the highly anticipated Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in the summer of 2024. Because of that, there’s ongoing construction.

The casino does a great job keeping disturbances to a minimum, but come with an open mind and some patience, just in case

Where to Stay for a Winter Vacation in Bristol

People attending the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Festival at night with the Bristol sign in the background

Bristol TN/VA has its fair share of both amazingly cozy cabins and unique, historic hotels.

However, we have a few specific personal recommendations. These three options will help you make the most of your winter in Bristol visit.

1. The Bristol Hotel

Consider staying at the historic Bristol Hotel for a touch of luxury and an unbeatable central location. Travel & Leisure previously ranked the hotel #10 in the US, hailing its amenities, impeccable service, location, and overall value.

Because you can walk to several hot spots, including the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, it’s one of our top picks for a stay during winter in Bristol.

In addition to stylish rooms, The Bristol has a rooftop bar, Lumac’s, and a full-service restaurant, Vivian’s Table. Up at Lumac’s, enjoy stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains and frequent live music.

Finally, if you’re traveling with pets, The Bristol has you covered. It’s extremely pet-friendly, offering essentials including water bowls, pet beds, leashes, and even a puppy snack at check-in.

2. The Sessions Hotel

Another convenient, walk-to-everything downtown option, we highly recommend The Sessions Hotel.

This particular hotel is steeped in history. For starters, the entire property pays homage to the 1927 Bristol Sessions, AKA country’s “big bang.”

Its ‘entertainment complex’ houses the Bristol Grocery Building from 1915, the Jobbers Candy Factory (circa) 1920, and the 1922 Simply Grand Granary Mill.

Exposed brick walls and industrial touches such as lighting fixtures add more historic character.

Unwind in a standard room (which is honestly pretty luxurious!), or, opt for a unique Mill Suite. These suites are in the Mill Building, which is a grain silo – a truly one-of-a-kind stay!

Other notable features at The Sessions Hotel include multiple live music venues, a rooftop bar, the Southern Craft BBQ restaurant, and a day spa with a salon.

3. Whistling Timbers Cabin on 38 Acres

Did you know that the South Holston River offers year-round fishing?

In fact, your best chances of reeling in “the big one” are between November and February! In particular, you’ll want to go after brown trout during winter in Bristol.

And at the Whistling Timbers cabin, you’ll be right across the street from the river!

The cabin is just minutes from downtown Bristol but super secluded-feeling, nestled on 38 idyllic acres bordered by the Cherokee National Forest.

With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the log cabin has a huge wrap-around porch, fire pit, and a spacious loft layout.

One of our favorite features is that Whistling Timbers is ultra dog-friendly. No matter how big Fido is or what type of pup, he’s welcome here!

What to Wear & Pack for Bristol in Winter

Like the rest of East Tennessee, Bristol TN-VA has a mild but somewhat unpredictable winter climate.

Expect average temps to be in the 40s and 50s, with lows near (but not typically below) freezing. It snows occasionally in Bristol, but in the higher elevations, snowfall is higher and more frequent.

With that said, you should also expect the random day of sunny and 60s, or freezing weather. Gotta love East Tennessee!

When packing for your Bristol TN-VA winter trip, prioritize the essentials. Think a warm coat and lighter jacket, waterproof shoes, pants, a hat, and gloves.

It’s also a good idea to bring a couple of lighter options, like short-sleeve shirts, just in case the weather turns. Don’t forget an umbrella and, if you prefer, a rain jacket!