Few cities in America can match Winston-Salem in the history department. From the city’s early Moravian roots to the rise of its tobacco empire, it’s the kind of place history buffs live for. The real challenge comes when deciding what to do and where to go — especially when traveling with the family pack.
The following offers a few suggestions for how to spend a fun-filled weekend exploring the city’s past. Sure, we’ve left some historic attractions out and likely neglected to mention favorites, but that’s kind of the point. Think of this story as a starting guide from which to branch off and do your own exploring.
Time travel in Old Salem
To know the history of Winston-Salem is to know the story of the Moravians, a group of humble, hardworking migrants who established the village of Salem in the mid-1700s. Today the village has been painstakingly restored into Old Salem Museum & Gardens, one of America’s most authentic historic sites. Visitors will find more than 100 historic buildings situated across the district’s 100 acres, akin to a mini-Colonial Williamsburg.
Since there’s no charge to wander through Old Salem, many visitors are content to simply stroll along its cobblestoned streets — perhaps stopping by Winkler Bakery and other onsite shops. But to really get a sense of the place, go for the All-in-One ticket ($27) or the Two-Stop Ticket ($18), which grants you access to more than two dozen interpreted buildings along with Old Salem’s award-winning gardens. Ticket holders also gain entry to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), home to a stunning maze of “period rooms” filled with furniture, art, kitchenware, and other souvenirs of the early South. oldsalem.org.
Fittingly, the city’s most famous house was once home to its most famous citizen. Built in 1917 for the family of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds, Reynolda House is now equal parts art gallery and history museum — and an absolute must-see. You’ll find one of the world’s finest collections of American art scattered throughout the home’s 64 rooms, along with a treasure trove of Reynolds’ family relics, period furnishings, fashion, vintage toys, and more. Before you arrive, make sure to download the museum’s new mobile app, Reynolda Revealed, before embarking on a self-guided tour of the grounds. Guided tours are also offered Tuesday-Friday, at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Plan to spend at least a few hours touring Reynolda House and the adjacent Reynolda Gardens — home to a spectacular formal garden, greenhouse, and walking trails. End your visit with a stroll through Reynolda Village, a former working farm that’s now filled with specialty shops and dining options. reynoldahouse.org
Indulge in downtown
What a difference a few years can make. In the early 2000s, hardly anyone lingered in downtown Winston-Salem after dark. Today, the streets are constantly abuzz thanks to an influx of new restaurants, breweries, lofts, and shops galore. And yet, even amid all the new, the past never feels that far away. One reason is downtown’s impressive repository of old buildings, creating a virtual walking museum of architectural history. This ranges from Colonial-style homes in West End to repurposed factories in the Innovation Quarter to skyscrapers rising above Main Street.
Be sure to stop by Krankies — a former meatpacking plant that’s now a coffee shop/restaurant/artistic hub — and Foothills Brewing, downtown’s first and most-famous brewery. You can also dine along Fourth Street’s “Restaurant Row” and peruse local creations in the Downtown Arts District. And families won’t want to miss Mast General Store, which stocks vintage toys, classic candy, souvenirs, and plenty of potent nostalgia.
The Winston Cup Museum celebrates the golden age of NASCAR with more than 20 authentic race cars, including ones driven by legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, along with an array of exhibits, memorabilia, simulators, and more. winstoncupmuseum.com
Racing at Bowman Gray Stadium is a tradition that dates back 71 years, making it NASCAR’s longest-running weekly race track. You can catch races at the famed “Madhouse” each Saturday night in the summer. bowmangrayracing.com
Historic Bethabara Park pays homage to the earliest Moravian settlement in the Piedmont, established in 1753. The park features a mix of exhibits, archaeological ruins, historic gardens, a reconstructed village and fort, and miles of nature trails. bethabarapark.org
WHERE TO STAY
History buffs will love the old-world charm of the Historic Brookstown Inn, a 70-room hotel stationed in a 19th-century mill. You’ll still feel intimately connected to the past thanks to the inn’s exposed brick walls, wooden beams, and pencil-post beds. Perks such as free wine and cheese in the evening only add to the appeal. brookstowninn.com
A few blocks away, the iconic 1929 Reynolds Building has been given a second life as the Kimpton Cardinal, a 174-room hotel that dazzles with art-deco stylings and Southern charms. It’s the perfect blend of old and new, with amenities running the gamut from an onsite restaurant and bar (The Katharine), to a fitness center, spa, roof deck, game room, and even a two-lane bowling alley. thecardinalhotel.com
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
Several of the city’s most popular eateries offer a bona fide taste of the past, starting with The Tavern in Old Salem. Featuring a period-dressed waitstaff, The Tavern puts a modern spin on traditional Moravian foods and also offers a full-service bar. Guests can dine inside the 200-year-old home or outside on its covered patio.
A few blocks away is Willow’s Bistro, a beloved, Southern-inspired restaurant that occupies an old train depot. Then there’s The Spring House, a progressive, regionally-inspired destination set inside a stunning historic mansion in West End. Also in West End is Bernardin’s, a fine-dining staple stationed in Winston’s oldest remaining home — the 1815 Zevely House — that now features a full bar along with an enchanting garden patio.
Winston-Salem’s past is also heavily infused in its craft beer scene, as nearly all of the breweries in town offer a nod to its industrial roots. Hoots Roller Bar, for instance, occupies restored flour mill in West End. Fiddlin’ Fish sets up inside a century-old tobacco warehouse, while neighboring Wise Man occupies the historic Angelo Brothers building. Then there’s Incendiary Brewing Co., which fills the ground floor of the recently restored Bailey Power Plant. Incendiary retains the plant’s industrial vibes both inside and out, sitting adjacent to a vast patio area known as the Coal Pit, where massive concrete trestle pilings offer an up-close view of the past.