11 Artsy and Adventurous Things to do in Abingdon VA

WHY GO: With so many romantic, artsy, and adventurous things to do in Abingdon VA, the Gateway to Southwestern Virginia, it’s best to stay awhile.

You might be surprised by the caliber of theater, music, art, food, biking trails, and lodging in the corner of Virginia wedged between Tennessee and Kentucky. It’s a renaissance led by small town Abingdon VA and the nearby border town of Bristol TN – VA. So, for a great Southwest Virginia foray, add Bristol and nearby Marion VA for more “roots” music and motorcycling adventures.

Southwest Virginia wood puzzle map at Southwest VA Cultural Center Abingdon

Abingdon VA is on our list of 20 Surprisingly Romantic Getaways in VA. Check it out if you wish to explore the state further.

Looking for someplace dreamy outside of Virginia? Check out our 150 Best Romantic Getaways in the Northeast US (Virginia to Maine).

Best Things to Do in Abingdon VA

Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace Abingdon VA

VISIT: Southwest Virginia Cultural Center And Marketplace (SVCCM)

SVCCM is a performance space, art and craft gallery, wine bar and café. As such it should be your first stop in Southwestern VA to get your bearings. Over 450 juried artisans, many who introduce themselves through short videos, display and perform their considerable skills and talents in this modern building.

Constructed from local materials, you can practically eat off of the burnished Virginia Hickory floor. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Enjoy local farm cuisine on tables arranged around a stage used for live musical performances.

Southwest Virginia Cultural Center Abingdon VA

One whole room is devoted to The Crooked Road – 330 miles of meandering Southwestern Virginia back roads that propels road-trippers from one obscure music venue to another.

Spearheaded by Bluegrass musician Jack Hinshelwood and folklorist, Joe Wilson, The Crooked Road preserves this “everyday fabric of life, this precious heirloom,” while helping musical communities in ways they never had before.

Nancy Garretson tapestries at Arts Depot Abingdon VA

VISIT: Abingdon: Arts Depot

Speaking of “fabrics of life,” if you two are fans of exceptional local art and crafts, you can’t get more local than the Abingdon Arts Depot. Seven artists moved their studios into this renovated former railroad station, and you can engage with each while you watch them create.

For instance: Helen Morgan fashions hedgehogs and other animals from yarn and cloth, and Nancy Garretson forms 3-D Tapestries that must be seen to be believed. Wander and ogle at the talent in these small, but worthwhile artist studios.

William King Museum of Art, Artist Studio
William King Museum of Art, Artist Studio

VISIT: William King Museum of Art

In a former All Boys Academy school building, the William King MOA (named after a wealthy local who made his fortune in salt) is the only accredited art museum within 100 miles.

Rotating exhibits (none permanent) in beautiful galleries are well thought out, scholarly and compelling. Best of all, its free to enter. Be sure to check out art in progress in the messy-intriguing Artist Studio.

VISIT: Holston Mountain Artisans

In its 45rd year, the Holston Mountain Artisans gallery is one of the longest running crafts cooperative in the United States, with over 100 local artists represented. Worth it to see what creative minds and talents are up to in Southwestern VA.

Abingdon VA entrance to the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Bike and Recreation Trail

BIKE: Virginia Creeper Trail

In the late 1800’s through early 1900’s, trains would “creep up” nearby mountains hauling 30,000 acres of cut timber for regional furniture factories. But when the economy flailed, the railroad vacated the area. Seeing opportunity in the stunning landscape along the former tracks, locals pushed to have a bike path created.

Now, over 200,000 people a year (and growing) ride the 34-mile Whitetop Mountain-to-Abingdon Virginia Creeper Trail – Southwestern VA’s hottest recreational sensation – from mountaintop, along and over rivers, through valleys and into towns.

Shuttle Shack, Damascus VA
Shuttle Shack, Damascus VA on Virginia Creeper Bike Trail

RENT BIKE: The Virginia Creeper Trail

An old, abandoned railroad right-of-way has put the tiny town of Damascus VA (pop 960) on the map. That’s because Damascus is midpoint of the Virginia Creeper Trail with several bicycle shops. Rent a bike at the Shuttle Shack and you’ll get a ride to the summit of Whitetop Station where the trail begins. Damascus is also on the Appalachian Trail and hosts the 30,000 strong “Appalachian Trails Days” every May. It’s the largest gathering of hikers on the whole trail.

Barter Theatre Abingdon VA

SEE: Barter Theatre

In 1929, Abingdon born actor, Robert Porterfield, attempted to find fame and fortune in New York City. But the Great Depression hit the entertainment industry hard, causing performing artists to starve. Literally. So, Porterfield returned to Virginia, troupe in tow, to barter his talents for food. Or, as he quipped, trading “Ham for Hamlet.”

Thus the “Barter Theatre” was formed. Many well-known actors– including Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, and Kevin Spacey – earned their chops on these boards. So, watch a revival of a favorite show here and you might catch the next big name.

Abingdon VA Farmers Market

SHOP: Abingdon Farmers Market

If you happen to be in Abingdon on Tues afternoon or Sat morning in the warmer seasons (1st and 3rd Saturdays in Winter), make it a point to shop the Abingdon Farmers Market. This year-round regional market has been called the best of its kind in the country. You’ll find fruits, veggies, meats, wine, baked goods, clothing, soaps and more: all unloaded from vans fresh from farms and studios.

This particular farmer’s market is unique in that it is “producer-only.” If you don’t “make bake it or grow it,” you can’t participate. Organized in 2001, it was one of the first markets in the state to accept food stamps, and is a business incubator for the town. Connecting restaurants to local farmers, the Abingdon Farmer’s Market helps keep local farms in business.

Olive Oil Co
Abingdon Olive Oil Co.

SHOP: Abingdon Olive Oil Co.

What sets the Abingdon Olive Oil emporium apart from others? That would be its owner K.C., who dishes delightfully on the health benefits of both the oil and vinegars that she sells. Take the tour and you’ll be sure to walk away with a couple of bottles and accessories.


Carter Family Fold
Carter Family Fold, Hiltons VA

VISIT: Carter Family Fold

You’ll find the Carter Family Fold homestead and 820-seat theater in Hiltons VA: about 30 miles outside of Bristol and Abingdon (40 minute drive) on curvy country roads that enfold and enchant. The theater was a gift from June Carter’s husband, Johnny Cash in the 1970’s. (Cash’s last appearance was on this stage for the July 4th weekend 2003. He died that September).

Original Carter Family House
Original Carter Family House

The Carter Family patriarch, A.P. Carter, lived in this fold of the Appalachian Mountains, with his brood, in a simple log cabin. All eight of ’em slept together in an upstairs loft.

Be Immersed in Carter Family History

Visitors who find their way here can see the cabin and a small museum housed in what was A.P.’s grocery store, before settling in to experience the weekly show featuring the best of Bluegrass and Fiddle music. With an unshakable faith in her family tradition, A.P.’s granddaughter, Rita Forester, keeps the music alive in this incredibly down home place.

Opie and Owner Waltzing
Opie and Owner Waltzing at Carter Family Fold, Hiltons VA

You can tell the regulars from visitors – they’re the ones flatfoot clogging like unrestrained Riverdancers on the dance floor. One woman even waltzes with her dog, Opie.

Carter Fold
Carter Family Fold Sat Night, Hiltons VA

Little kids learn from the grown-ups, and grandpas clog with towhead toddlers. It’s a scene that will surely melt your heart in this fast-paced, plugged in world. As will Rita’s call for prayer for those ill in the community, and her acknowledgement of guests who come from near and far, many from foreign lands.

Rita cooks all the food available in the concession stand – Pork BBQ, Chicken Biscuit, and more. Tickets for the show are still only $11 each. FYI – you won’t find alcohol on the premises. “This is a family place.” Shows every Saturday night at 7:30 pm, but come at 6 to tour the compound.

GO: Abingdon Muster Grounds and Sinking Springs Cemetery

For students of Revolutionary War history – you won’t be surprised that over 400 men from Washington County VA (7 from Abingdon alone) mustered here before heading off to fight the British down south. Some are buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery, which dates back to that era.

Restaurants in Abingdon VA

The Tavern Abingdon VA

EAT: The Tavern

The Tavern was built in 1779 “on the wilderness road” as a stagecoach stop and served as a Civil War hospital in the 1860’s. Ask to see the charcoal numbers on the walls of the third floor (purported to be haunted), indicating where injured soldiers’ beds were placed.

Dinner is a two hour affair, with excellent signature “Black and Blue Medallions of Beef” and Veal Schnitzel potentially on the menu. Pricey, but worth it for the atmosphere, quality of food and experience.

EAT: 128 Pecan

Pictures of owner Jack Barrow and his family adorn of the wall of the cute, colorful, “quirky” 128 Pecan. eatery. It’s been a go-to place for comfort food, Taco’s, Quesadillas, and burgers for years, and has stood the test of time.

Best Hotels In Abingdon VA

Library at The Martha Hotel Abingdon VA

STAY: The Martha

Sitting right across the street from the world famous Barter Theater, The Martha Washington Inn & Spa, a gem of a Historic Hotel of America in Southwest Virginia, was rebranded “The Martha” to reflect more modern tastes.

A recent rehab has brought this old lady into the 21st century- with room wi-fi, flat screen TV’s and plush bedding – without sacrificing charm.

First Impressions of The Martha

Carpeted halls and stairs might lean and creak a bit, but what would a historic hotel be without a bit of off-kilter character? Formerly a mansion – then with the addition of two wings, a girl’s finishing school – The Martha has been adjusting and settling into boutique hotel status since it was opened in 1932 (and renovated several times).

You’ll likely find guests enjoying conversations on the wide veranda as you walk in to a beautiful mansion foyer. Employees are genuinely friendly and eager to show you around.

Guest Rooms

Rooms are country elegant – in golds and greens – each one different and crammed with antiques: Pictures in gilded frames, plushy pillowtop beds, flat screen TV, and of an era bathrooms with beautiful Italian tile glass showers.

What Makes The Martha Special

You’ll find things here you wouldn’t find in most five star hotels: a beautiful indoor saltwater pool with retractable roof, gorgeous landscaped grounds with water features, tennis courts.

And, one of the most stunning libraries outside of a private home – bookshelves lined with rare first-edition books, a Remington bronze from the Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY and an oil painting from New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

The hotel also houses a top-notch spa, with seven treatment rooms, including one uber-romanic fireplace room for couples only.

CAMPING: Grayson Highlands State Park

With access to the Appalachian Trail, and located near Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, the campgrounds at Grayson Highlands State Park gets packed in season – so reservations are imperative. Reserve a campsite, yurt, or bunkhouse way in advance.

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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