With a population of just a few thousand people, the small, picturesque city of Abingdon has much to offer, including several historically significant sites, gorgeous architecture, food, wine, and coffee culture, and an artsy vibe. Moreover, its location in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia makes it a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, adding to the long list of things to do in Abingdon VA!
“Virginia is for lovers” is arguably the most recognized state motto, and no place demonstrates this more than the cozy and romantic town of Abingdon.
Abingdon At A Glance
- Population: 7,963
- Area: 8.30 sq miles
- Colleges: VA Highlands Community College, Washington County Adult Skill Center
Abingdon traces its roots to the mid-1700s when the area known as “Black’s Fort” became the first English speaking settlement in the watershed of the Mississippi.
At about the same time, Abingdon acquired another nickname; in 1760, well-known explorer Daniel Boone, on his first expedition to Kentucky, crossing the 2,000-foot-high Holston Valley, camped at the southern base of present-day Courthouse Hill. Legend has it that his dogs were attacked by wolves emerging from a nearby cave, and so Boone named the area “Wolf Hills.”
10 White’s Mill
Just outside of Abingdon, the historic White’s Mill, originally built in 1790, has recently undergone painstaking renovations to restore the outside structure to look like it did in its heyday.
The famous grist mill, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is ready to transition to an educational facility and community social center that strives to be self-sustaining. The building includes a Pavilion for mill events, a meeting space for the community, a gathering place for educational events.
9 Paint & Sip
I got to participate in a fun opportunity to create my own Abingdon memento. Hana Eichen of Spot of Color is a former Barter Theatre scene creator who leads painting workshops in Abingdon. Our group met at the vacant upstairs of the beautiful Victorian Peppermill Restaurant where we each created an original Abingdon scene under Hana’s guidance.
8 Abingdon Vineyards
From Napa to Appalachia… the Gardner Family moved from California to Virginia in the summer of 2018 to build their Abingdon Vineyards legacy. Spread across 13 acres of vines the wines that are produced are incorporated from nine different grape varieties.
A community-focused gathering spot on the South Holston River, the vineyard grounds have plenty of umbrella picnic tables where both locals and tourists congregate to drink a variety of wines, along with sandwiches, cheese and crackers, salami, and other snacks available for purchase.
Live music plays on Fridays from 5-8 pm and Saturdays from 3-6 pm
7 William King Museum
Originally built in 1803, William King Museum of Art, founded in 1980, is housed in a former 1913 school. The second-floor landing at the museum offers a stunning view over the town and nearby mountains.
The museum is an ever-changing gallery and educational space in the vibrant arts and cultural community of Abingdon. Their rotating exhibitions present Appalachian culture ranging from contemporary art to historic artifacts. The museum also features fine art from all around the world.
After touring the museum, we visited the WKMA Artlab where we participated in a fun hands-on demonstration of “kitchen sink etching.”
6 Barter Theatre
Barter Theatre is the state theatre of Virginia, the nation’s longest-running equity theater, and has received countless awards and accolades throughout its history.
Originally built as a church in 1829, Robert Porterfield opened it in 1933 as a theater during the Great Depression, allowing patrons to “barter” for tickets with produce and foodstuff proclaiming “With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh” and “trading ham for Hamlet.”
The earliest theatrical event known to occur here was a production of The Virginian on January 14, 1876, the proceeds of which were used for facilities and repairs.
Today, the rustic theater has a friendly atmosphere and boasts a resident company of professional actors performing for 160,000 patrons a year between their two stages. Notable actors performing here include Gregory Peck and Ernest Borgnine.
A dress-up, box seat date night at the Barter is one of the most romantic things to do in Abingdon and is an iconic proposal spot.
5 Southwest Virginia Cultural Center
Tucked into the ancient Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace is a vibrant collection of Appalachian traditions, homemade art, and crafts, food, music, and culture from the local area. It provides an excellent introduction to discovering the unique people, places, and stories of one of the most beautiful regions in America.
Boasting to be the birthplace of American Country music, the center is the headquarters of The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. The Crooked Road is 300-miles long, dedicated to musical heritage, snaking through 19 counties, four cities, and over 50 towns.
We were treated to a fabulous private guitar performance on the traditional porch stage by local musician, Claiborne Woodall.
4 Ghost Tour
Abingdon’s rich history predates the American Revolution, and our Haint Mistress, Callie, took us on a walking tour to uncover the whispered secrets, myths, and legends of Abingdon. Dating back to 1778, the 20-block downtown district holds some spooky sites and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
3 The Tavern
Appropriately, our ghost tour ended at the charming Tavern restaurant, the oldest building in Abingdon. Constructed in 1779, The Tavern was initially built as a pub and overnight inn for stagecoach travelers but later served as a field hospital during the Civil War. In the hospital section on the third floor, charcoaled numbers, used to designate soldiers’ beds, are still visible. The Tavern is also said to host its share of resident ghosts.
The Tavern has hosted notable guests such as President Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and King Louis Philippe of France.
Notwithstanding the possible unexplained and unseen guests at your table, The Tavern was my favorite restaurant in Abingdon, with the cozy historic setting matched only by the upscale and delectable food and hand-crafted cocktails.
2 Sinking Spring Cemetery
Sinking Spring Cemetery was established as a graveyard for members of the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1773. The 11-acre cemetery is now owned by the Town of Abingdon, which welcomes visitors to the grounds via their History Alive Tours. Burials over the past 200 years reflect the long history of Washington County.
Our tour was led by “Rev. Charles Cummings” (a.k.a. The Fightin’ Parson), who together with members of the congregation, built their log church house and laid out the cemetery on 11 acres. Rev Cummings, decked out in time-appropriate apparel, narrated an incredibly detailed and fascinating insight into the history of Abingdon while strolling through the beautiful cemetery.
I highly recommend this walking tour!
1 Creeper Trail
My favorite thing to do in Abingdon was exploring the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail! Named after a steam engine that crawled up the mountains, this local gem is a 34-mile rails-to-trails path, traversing through two Virginia counties (Abingdon through Damascus), and ending just past the Whitetop Station in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
In the 30 years since its opening, the Creeper Trail remains one of the country’s premier rail-trails, honored as the inductee into the 2014 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame.
The trail is open year-round for trail runs, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. We did a wonderfully scenic 8.5-mile bike ride on the well-maintained former railroad bed, starting at mile marker zero in Abingdon and ending at Alvarado Station. The scenery was gorgeous, taking in woods, lakes, colored foliage, wooden bridges, and occasional wildlife.
If you’re looking for additional outdoor activities, you can canoe, kayak, or hike at nearby Hidden Valley Lake. Even the drive to the lake is exciting, with switchbacks and hairpin turns over the mountain.
Where to Stay
There is only one place to consider staying in Abingdon – The Martha Washington Inn & Spa, the grande dame of Abingdon hotels, conveniently located smack in the middle of the downtown historic district. Built in 1862 as a private home, the historic and elegant “Martha” has served as a finishing school, a Civil War hospital, and a women’s college. This iconic 4-star Abingdon landmark is home to numerous antiques and history as well as numerous ghost stories. Don’t miss having a cup of coffee or cocktail on the wide front porch!
Food and Drink
Here are some of my favorite places to eat and drink in Abingdon:
- Sisters American Grill
- The Tavern
- The Peppermill Restaurant
- Bonfire Smokehouse
- The Girl and the Raven
- 128 Pecan
Abingdon was voted one of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel Magazine. I concur – there are so many things to do in Abingdon VA…it’s a fun place to spend the weekend!
Click below to PIN so you can find things to do in Abingdon again:
This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.
About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.