9 Best Sights in Roanoke, Central and Western Virginia

National D-Day Memorial

Fodor's choice

This site stirs the soul, bringing the sacrifice of D-Day home. When Allied forces landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944, in what would be the decisive military move of World War II, the small town of Bedford lost 19 of its young men, and four more in days to come. The memorial's focal point is a huge granite arch and flag plaza on a hill overlooking the town. There are also granite statues of soldiers in combat and a reflecting pool that periodically shoots up spurts of water, as if struck by bullets. Don't be surprised if you see some D-Day veterans sitting near the memorial.

3 Overlord Circle, Bedford, VA, 24523, USA
540-587–3619
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10; $8 military, Tues.–Sun. 10–5, Closed Mon. Dec.–Feb.

O. Winston Link Museum

Fodor's choice

You can relive the final days of steam trains at the O. Winston Link Museum, inside a renovated passenger train station. Link spent several years in the late 1950s and early 1960s photographing Norfolk and Western's last steam engines in the railroads of southwest Virginia. The hundreds of stunning black-and-white photographs on display do much more than evoke nostalgia—they also capture day-to-day life: a horse-drawn carriage awaiting an oncoming train, a locomotive rocketing past lovers watching a drive-in movie.

Roanoke Star

Fodor's choice

Even in daylight, the Roanoke skyline is dominated by a star. The 100-foot-tall Mill Mountain Star, constructed in 1949 as a holiday decoration, stands in a city park 1,000 feet above the Roanoke Valley. Normally illuminated in white, on special occasions the star might sport festive colors, like red, white, and blue for July 4. From either of the park's two overlooks, Roanoke, the "Star City of the South," looks like a scale model of a city, framed by wave after wave of Appalachian ridgelines. You can hike or bike the mountain's greenway trail or share your visit on social media via the live "star cam."

Recommended Fodor's Video

Booker T. Washington National Monument

It would have been hard for Booker T. Washington to imagine the farm on which he was born into slavery hosting a national monument. But this restored tobacco farm 25 miles southeast of Roanoke and 21 miles south of Bedford is a fitting tribute to the humble origins of Washington (1856–1915), who broke through the yoke of oppression to become a remarkable educator and author, advising presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft and taking tea with Queen Victoria. He also started Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and inspired generations of African-Americans. Covering 224 acres, the farm's restored buildings, tools, crops, animals, and, in summer, interpreters in period costume, all help show what life during slavery was like.

7254 Booker T. Washington Hwy., Wirtz, VA, 24101, USA
540-721–2094
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9–5

Center in the Square

In a restored warehouse, the Center complex contains the Mill Mountain Theatre and several regional museums covering science, history, and art, and even a pinball museum! An open atrium and a butterfly garden are also included and a combo ticket is offered for all attractions.

Market Square

Market Square is the heart of Roanoke, with Virginia's oldest continuous farmers' market, a multiethnic food court inside the restored City Market Building, and several restaurants, shops, and bars. Open year-round, visitors will find local produce, meats, cheeses, plants, flowers and baked goods at market stalls and a variety of gifts and local products at specialty stores.

Mill Mountain Zoo

Sharing the mountaintop with the star is the Mill Mountain Zoo. Asian animals are center stage here, including a rare Siberian tiger, snow leopards, and red pandas. Ride the Zoo Choo train on the weekends, weather permitting.

JP Fishburgn Pkwy., Roanoke, VA, 24014, USA
540-343–3241
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $9, Daily 10–5, Zoo Choo only runs on weekends

Taubman Museum of Art

Opened in the fall of 2008, this Randall Stout-designed faceted-glass structure soars amid the surrounding mountains, the contemporary architecture striking a balance with its natural location. Formerly known as the Art Museum of Western Virginia, the Taubman, with its new 81,000-square-foot home, quadruples its previous exhibit space, housing 19th- and 20th-century American art, modern art, and small special collections of European and ancient Mediterranean art. Norah's Café serves light fare throughout the day.

The general gallery is free to the public.
110 Salem Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA, 24011, USA
540-342–5760
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Tues., Wed., Fri.–Sat. 10–5; Thurs. 10–8., Closed Mon. and Tues.

Virginia Museum of Transportation

Near Market Square, just a short stroll along the Railwalk, the Virginia Museum of Transportation has the largest collection of diesel and steam locomotives in the country—not surprising, considering that Roanoke got its start as a railroad town and was once the headquarters of the Norfolk and Western railroad. The dozens of original train cars and engines, some of which can be boarded and many built here in town, include a massive nickel-plate locomotive—just one of the many holdings that constitute an unabashed display of civic pride. The sprawling model-train and miniature-circus displays please young and old alike.

303 Norfolk Ave. SW, Roanoke, VA, 24016, USA
540-342–5670
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10, Mon.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 1–5, Free parking