Heading to the Blue Ridge Mountains for summer family fun is a no-brainer. Hike, camp, picnic, kayak, swim. Outdoors stuff. Choosing the Blue Ridge area around Roanoke, Virginia, in winter calls for some tips. Cultural Heritage TravelingMom took a look at the metro and mountain ways to jump start her 2016 Christmas season. Each idea will fit for 2017 travels too.
Christmas Tips To Love Roanoke in Virginia’s Blue Ridge
Knowing a little about some outdoorsy places in Virginia’s Blue Ridge cities named Roanoke and Salem, I wondered about indoors options for brisk winter days.
Could a December visit give me Christmas classics to share with the family in a walkable city or two?
Turned out to be true, and these five tips can help drill down to the Blue Ridge essence in Virginia.
Roanoke VA Holiday Performances
Mill Mountain is the theater where White Christmas was playing to full houses in 2016, and I was immersed in songs of my childhood and a story set in 1954.
Look for A Christmas Story as the 2017 holiday show.
TravelingMom Tip: Watch the movie with the kids before you go for that thrill of familiar scenes and story lines.
Mill Mountain lived up to the high standards I expect from an equity theater: skilled acting, choreography, sets and lighting. Thirteen shows make a big year-long calendar, plus the Christmas performance.
I found the 345-seat theater in a lively space dubbed Center in the Square – nine non-profits gathered under an administrative umbrella and under the same roof. That sounds efficient for the artists, and equally so for me to access many experiences in a single location.
The Nutcracker happens a little driving distance away, still in Roanoke, in a 2,151-seat theater named the Berglund Center.
The community’s children dance in this one under the tutelage of ballet professional and artistic director Pedro Szalay, and they too reach stunning excellence.
Southwest Virginia Ballet calls itself a pre-professional youth dance company. I think kindergarteners would be thrilled with the costuming and sets, and inspired to see their peers on stage.
Snazzy Shops, Boutique Size
Center in the Square anchors downtown Roanoke and intimate size shops fill the streets extending from the Center.
The Christmas window in La De Da features a candy dress each year. My 2016 gown viewing showed pure elegance – hard candies of multiple colors held together with frosting evoking a sense of the light fixtures from India hanging above it.
Shops declaring “fantastical frocks” deter rather than invite my practical style, but even I could have shopped here. Thank goodness for the budget controlling constraints of carry-on only luggage.
Cold weather vegetables and hand-crafted wreathes with other Christmas greenery drew me to the farmer’s market, a daily event with artisans and fresh, local producers wishing a spot might open.
Stars spoke of Christmas skies in the shop called She’s International. These are earrings and necklaces fashioned from pewter and silver in Istanbul, one of many international destinations where shop owner Diane Speaks travels.
TravelingMom Tip: Help homeless kids with a star jewelry purchase because 30 percent of the sales help boost local children into secure lifestyles. I felt good buying three sets of earrings for Christmas gifts.
Christmas shopping happened for me on site and later with web orders from chocolatepaper because the truffles and barks and orange peels covered in dark chocolate are exquisite enough to be gifts.
Small books and tall racks of distinctive gift wrap provide the paper part of the shop. Breathing deeply of the artful displays of chocolates fueled me to search through the abundance of cards, both fanciful and straightforward.
A student of Frank Gehry designed the Taubman Fine Art Museum, three-stories with an 80-foot atrium. Each year, an astonishing 22 new exhibits open.
The Taubman is one of many event sites during Roanoke’s Dickens of a Christmas, activities surrounding the annual downtown parade
The Harrison Museum of African American Culture balances local, regional and national stories with exhibits, art and oral history gathering. I was particularly touched by this mission: African American art “pleases the spirits and brings balance to the lives of the people.”
TravelingMom Tip: If you want to watch the Christmas parade but the night is cold, share the big windows in the Harrison because they overlook the street. Do pay attention to the exhibits too.
Fond memories of a model train running in a circle under your Christmas tree? I have those, so seeing displays in the Virginia Museum of Transportation took me back to little-girl holiday days.
So did wreathes on big train engines, and access to historic passenger cars in this massive 100,000 square foot museum, since, for me, riding the train from New Jersey into Manhattan was a familiar routine.
Outdoor Roanoke VA Christmas Chills
I love finding pocket parks in city centers and Roanoke’s is grassy enough to anticipate picnics and street performers but for Christmas I saw ice skaters. The rink is little, 60 by 65, and I suspect many were skating for the first time.
The rink’s an easy stroll from Center in the Square, any of the shops or the Taubman Fine Art Museum.
You’ll have to drive to the outdoor star on top of Mill Mountain, a pretty winding road up 1,045 feet above the city. Strong legs? Take a bike.
This gigantic star’s iconic year-round, but especially so with Christmas narratives in your heart.
Where To Stay in Roanoke VA
I lodged at a perfectly comfortable Sheraton, driving required for downtown activities.
Book the historic Hotel Roanoke and Christmas will be happening 24/7. Stroll to downtown in a covered breezeway, night lighted and easy to see.
1882 was the Hotel Roanoke’s beginning; today it’s a Curio by Hilton brand considered authentic, independent and unique.
Christmas trees are the big deal from Thanksgiving to New Year’s – believe I saw 40. Community groups and professionals decorate them and visitors vote with money for their favorite.
Proceeds support the United Way.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t expect oohing and aahing over-the-top designs. These trees reflect neighbors and civic-minded citizens. Start a list, mental or jotted as notes, because it’s fun to identify how many different things can actually become Christmas ornaments.
Festival Named for Dickens
The first three Fridays in December performances, carriage rides, vendors, art activities and more spill into the streets, shops and museums in downtown Roanoke.
I chose the middle weekend but believe the mood is extensive for all three, and the year-round city and regional staples just as solid. The difference going to Virginia’s Blue Ridge in December is, well of course, Christmas.
Curious about other places to also experience Christmas in the Southeast? Try holiday lights.