54 miles SW of Lexington; 74 miles NE of Wytheville; 193 miles SW of Richmond; 251 miles SW of Washington, D.C.
Sprawling across the floor of the Roanoke Valley, Virginia's largest metropolitan area west of Richmond likes to call itself the "Capital of the Blue Ridge." It's also known as "Star City," for the huge lighted star overlooking the city from Mill Mountain, which stands between it and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There was no star on the mountain when Colonial explorers followed the Roanoke River gorge through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 17th century. They established several settlements in the Roanoke Valley, including one named Big Lick. When the Norfolk and Western Railroad arrived in the 1880s and laid out a town for future development, it decided that Roanoke -- a Native American word for "shell money" -- was a more prosperous-sounding name for the new city.
Roanoke is still a major railroad junction, as the many tracks running through downtown will attest, but it's also a lively regional center of business and the arts. Roanoke launched itself on a renaissance long before Norfolk and other Virginia cities undertook to rebuild their downtown areas. Most notable to us visitors is the restored Market Square area around the Historic City Market. With its museums, theater, and trendy restaurants, Market Square serves as the focal point for both daytime activities and lively after-dark entertainment.
With its zoo, museums, restaurants, and a fine theater, Roanoke makes a great place to overnight if you're traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you're just touring the state, you can easily spend a day and more exploring its sights.