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Experience History With a Shot of ‘Briskey’ in Jonesborough, TN

Enjoy good stories, great food, and lively locals? You need to plan a trip to Jonesborough, TN — here's your itinerary.

By Winona Dimeo-Ediger on November 7, 2017

Jeff Adkins

Jonesborough, Tennessee is hailed as a place “where history comes alive,” which makes sense, considering it’s the oldest town in the state and a haven for storytellers and historical reenactments. Take a stroll through the brick-lined streets surrounded by the Appalachian mountains and it’s easy to feel like a couple centuries have been taken off the calendar.

But there’s something else about Jonesborough that you might not expect: it’s also refreshingly, delightfully modern. From a year-round farmer’s market bursting with local produce to young business owners pushing the limits of culinary creativity (care for a cold glass of “briskey,” anyone?), Jonesborough’s unique balance of old and new, reverent and quirky, makes it the perfect destination for your next weekend trip.

First, let’s talk history, because the past is palpable here. The city of Jonesborough was founded in 1779, 17 years before Tennessee became a state (yep, it’s that old), and its vibrant historical legacy is apparent everywhere you look. The restored downtown historic district boasts tree-lined streets and charming brick storefronts. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, guided walking tours (led by tour guides decked out in period garb) give visitors an entertaining and educational glimpse into the area’s storied past.

Over the years, Jonesborough’s rich tradition of oral history has interwoven with present-day performance art and transformed the town into a beloved destination for storytellers from around the world. Jonesborough hosts the National Storytelling Festival each October, which draws huge crowds and a roster of international storytellers eager to share their craft. Thanks to Jonesborough’s International Storytelling Center and its Storyteller-In-Residence program, there are dynamic tales being told year-round, including daily performances at the Storytelling Center, and special events every Friday in the town square, May through September.

Jonesborough’s entertainment options aren’t limited to the storytelling stage. There are outdoor concerts, colorful parades, and hundreds of special events to enjoy year-round. This might be a small town, but the jam-packed events calendar would make many big cities envious.

Those who appreciate unique libations can take a tour of Tennessee Hills Distillery, where owner Stephen Callahan churns out artisan whiskey, aged bourbon, rum, and even “briskey,” which is — you guessed it! — beer that’s distilled like whiskey. The distillery is as gorgeous as it is functional, making this local treasure a must-visit.

Hungry yet? Jonesborough restaurants have something on the menu for everyone. Grab coffee and a pastry at The Corner Cup, a cozy coffee shop that boasts locally roasted coffee and the friendliest baristas you’ll ever meet. Indulge in a huge country breakfast at Olde Pancake House. Have a date night on the gorgeous patio of The Black Olive. Enjoy a cookie dough ice cream sandwich (yes, you read that right) at Downtown Sweet. Sip a local beer and play a game of bocce ball at the hip Depot Street Brewing.

Or pick up some fresh, locally grown produce at Boone Street Market, a specialty grocery store that stocks farm-fresh goods year-round. The only requirement for items sold here? Everything must be made or grown within 100 miles of Jonesborough. Eating local in Jonesborough is that easy.

If the great outdoors are calling, you’ll find 130-acre Persimmon Ridge Park just a mile from downtown. In addition to miles of trails, Persimmon Ridge has sports fields, a disc golf course and picnic areas. Whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely nature walk or an intense hike, Jonesborough’s lush mountain landscape is always within reach.

Ready to plan your trip to Jonesborough? This northeastern Tennessee gem is ready to welcome you.

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