Some Southern small towns just ooze with charm. I knew that before I ever set foot in Abingdon, Virginia. For almost 20 years this little hamlet in Southwest Virginia was on my bucket list. Even though I spent five days there, I still haven’t scratched everything off my list. That’s because there is so much to see and do there you need to go more than once. I put Abingdon on my 2022 calendar before I left. And here are five reasons why you should add Abingdon to your travel plans, too.
You will find this beautiful mural in downtown Abingdon.
The Barter Theater
The Barter Theater is at the top of this list because it is what first drew me to Abingdon. The Barter Theater got its name from its humble beginnings in 1933. It was the depression and Broadway actors were not finding much work in New York City. Robert Porterfield and some of his fellow actors moved to Virginia and offered performances in exchange for food from the local farmers.
The building on Abingdon’s Main Street is the former home of Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1829. My husband and I (Steve for those of you who don’t know us) were privileged to tour the theater and we will talk about that in a future article. Shows were discontinued at the theater because of COVID-19 and were still on hiatus when we visited. But the brilliant team at the Barter Theater started putting on shows at the Moonlite Drive-In, just a few miles from town. We saw “Always, Patsy Cline.” And yeah, it was great.
By the way, several famous actors and actresses appeared at the Barter Theater from Gregory Peck to Frances Fisher. We were thrilled to see Wayne Knight on the actor’s wall. He is from Bartow County, Georgia, where we currently live.
The Barter Theater is the State Theater of Virginia.
USA Today named Abingdon the Best Small Town Food Scene in 2020. After a few days there, I know why. The restaurant choices are one of the many reasons why we want to return to Abingdon. We just didn’t have enough time to try them all. You can find a complete list of all Abingdon has to offer here Check out our recent social media on Fridays for pictures and more details.
The Girl and the Raven is one of Abingdon’s newest restaurants. During our visit, the restaurant served tapas, or small plates Wednesday through Saturday. I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried some new things. The steak was one of the best I ever had.
The Girl and the Raven serves breakfast and lunch. We sampled an amazing cookie and Steve (the husband) said the coffee was some of the best he has ever tasted. Trust me, he drinks a lot of coffee. Check our Instagram post for more about the delicious dinner we had.
This charcuterie board at The Girl and the Raven started off a delicious meal.
The Tavern is not just good food but it’s an experience. Established in 1790, you truly get the Colonial American atmosphere while dining. For those who enjoy a glass of wine, The Tavern has an excellent selection. Steve had the jambalaya–it was spicy but good, he said. I chose the chicken and risotto. The dish is topped with homemade bacon jam that I want to learn how to make at home. Don’t leave there without dessert. I had the chocolate cake
We felt like we stepped back in time at The Tavern. Outdoor seating is also available.
I wish we could have spent more time at Luke’s Cafe but we lost track of time. I loved the album covers and music posters on the wall. Steve ordered chili-cheese fries that looked so good. I had a chicken salad plate as I was trying to eat healthy that. We were both very happy with our choices.
We loved the colorful inside and outside at Luke’s Cafe. And the food was great too!
I love a good gyro and Greeko’s Grill and Cafe did not disappoint. Steve stepped out of his comfort zone and ordered keftedes meatballs, which were delicious. And Steve was not going to leave without some baklava, which was perfectly plated.
The gyro at Greeko’s Grill and Cafe in downtown Abingdon was made just how I like it!
We parked in front of Anthony’s Desserts and I took that as a sign that I needed one. Or three. I love eclairs and it was good. We also tried a cookie and their Cream Brulee.
Yes, I had to eat lettuce leaves and drink water for a week after this trip. Well, I should have.
I have to admit I tasted all of these! They were all good!
Explore colonial history
This little town has so much history you will need several days to visit all the sites. And I am sure we missed a few. I am going to focus on the history from the 18th through the 19th century.
Daniel Boone named the area “Wolf Hills” after wolves attacked his dogs while he was camping in the area. Abingdon also known as Black’s Fort before it was officially named Abingdon in 1778.
A marker that tells the story of Abingdon’s beginning.
At the 9-acres Abingdon Muster Grounds, you can learn more about life in the late 1700s as America was coming together as a country. The site is where 400 men gathered before leaving on a journey that would take them to King’s Mountain, South Carolina, where they participated in what many called the “turning point” of the Revolutionary War.
Fourth graders are treated to a living history experience at the Muster Grounds each year.
The Washington County Courthouse was constructed at its current site in 1868 after another building was burned by a Union soldier in 1864. As you travel through downtown Abingdon you will find other sites dating back to the 18th century. The spectacular Martha Washington Inn was originally a private residence but also served as a Civil War hospital and a finishing school. The inn also has a restaurant.
I highly recommend a walking tour through the downtown area. You will find The Tavern, a restaurant established in 1790 and several old churches and homes.
Any time of day is a great time to stroll through downtown Abingdon.
As I mentioned, you will find so many things to do in Abingdon. We ran out of time and didn’t get to Sinking Spring Cemetery. This was the burial place for Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church, which dates back to 1773. A log house is also found on the site. On the other side of Russel Road is the burial ground for slaves of the early Presbyterians and people of color who were free.
I love arts and crafts but I have only found one that I am semi-decent at doing. (It’s cross-stitch in case anyone is wondering). Abingdon has so many places that celebrate homemade crafts and the arts.
Our first stop was the William King Museum. We first dropped by a demonstration by two yo-yo masters. It was fun to watch children try to do the tricks of the masters while enjoying frozen yogurt. The museum has a lot to offer for kids throughout the year so check out their website before your trip.
This beautiful sculpture is located outside of the William King Museum.
The William King Museum rotates exhibits throughout the year. I loved the permanent exhibit of furniture, arts and crafts from the region. I do needlework (cross-stitch) and I was thrilled to see two samplers displayed. You can also take a selfie in their cute selfie room.
The Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace displays homemade items from a variety of crafters. This center is beautiful on the outside and a great place for a selfie!
The LOVE sign outside the Southwest Virgina Cultural Center and Marketplace
It was hard not to purchase everything we saw. There was everything from jewelry to quilts to woodcrafts. We settled on a pillow that had a saying that reminded me of my mom.
The Southwest Virginia Cultural Center is also a stop on “The Crooked Road,” a 300-mile trail that tells the story of Virginia’s mountain music. You will learn about the area’s contribution to music and see some instruments on display.
One of the instruments at The Crooked Road exhibit at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Arts Center.
You can’t leave Abingdon without visiting The Arts Depot just a block away from downtown. You will find a variety of artists there who will craft while you watch. Unfortunately, no one was there during our visit. We hope to meet some of them on our next visit.
The Arts Depot has some beautiful unique items.
The great outdoors
Abingdon is the trailhead for the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile trail that weaves through the beautiful Southwest Virginia countryside, taking over bridges and trestles with amazing views. Unfortunately, we were only able to walk a portion of the trail. Bicyclists also love the trail and you can rent a bicycle near the beginning of the trail.
We didn’t have time to visit South Holston Lake but met a family that spent their days there. The lake is about 15 minutes away from downtown near Bristol.
Also nearby is the Channels Natural Area Preserve. I was so disappointed we didn’t make it there. You can see why it’s on my list here.
We plan on walking more of the Virginia Creeper Trail on our next visit.
A few notes
We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites and it was wonderful. The hotel was always full but the front desk staff made you feel like you were the only guests. We were right off I-81 and there are several other hotels nearby.
The Martha Washington Inn and Spa is a wonderful place if you want to pamper yourself for a weekend or even longer. It’s conveniently located downtown and near the Barter Theater.
The Martha Washington Inn and Spa also has a full service restaurant.
Abingdon is right off I-81. (Editor’s note: Thank you to a reader who pointed out our mistake and gave us some additional information. We stayed off Exit 19 but there is also Exiti 17, which takes you straight to the Barter and Exit 17 which takes you to Highlands Regional Airport).
The town is pretty easy to navigate and we found ourselves knowing how to get around after a couple of days. If you lose your way, the residents are so friendly and helpful.
As I mentioned, we did not get to do everything we wanted to do. The Abingdon Visitors and Convention Bureau has a great website with suggested itineraries and more information.