aerial view of downtown winston-salem skyline

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Downtown Winston-Salem

Downtown Winston-Salem offers an abundance of dining and entertainment options, a diverse outdoor recreation scene, exciting art exhibits and galleries and a history that dates back to the 1700s. As a venue in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem, we know some of the best attractions and hot spots, so we’ve put together some of our “Twin City” favorites.

Whether you’re a local, here on business, or visiting for a special occasion, be sure to enjoy some of the downtown Winston-Salem experiences.

The history of “Twin City” and Millennium Event Center

Winston-Salem began in 1766 with the founding of Salem. In 1849 Winston was founded and in 1913 the two cities merged. Just minutes from downtown, you can step back in time at Old Salem Museums and Gardens. This historic site tells the stories of Moravian, Black, and Indigenous peoples of the area. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts contains the finest collection of decorative arts made and used in the early American South.

Winston-Salem is synonymous with RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. In fact, Winston-Salem has been referred to as “Camel City” after the cigarette brand. Completed in 1917, Reynolda House Museum of American Art was originally the home of Katharine Smith and RJ Reynolds. The 34,000 sq. ft. historic home includes over 6000 artifacts and as well as a collection of artwork ranging from Georgia O’Keefe to Andy Warhol. You’ll find this paragon to a gilded age just 10 minutes from downtown.


From government building to event venue, MEC has been at the heart of downtown since 1906.

Winston-Salem also has close ties with NASCAR. Racing fans can pay homage to the sport at downtown’s Winston Cup Museum. Explore the history of stock car racing with exhibits, trophies, and memorabilia connected to the sport.

The Millennium Event Center has played an important role in the development of Winston-Salem. This historic landmark was built in 1906 and served as a Federal Building for the US Post Office, Federal Court, the FBI, IRS and other agencies. After being abandoned for decades, the building took on a new life in 1994 when it was purchased by restaurateur Greg Carlyle.

MEC is now the premier location for social, corporate and public events in the heart of Winston-Salem.

Where Art and Innovation meet

Fast forward to today’s Winston-Salem and you’ll find a city that nurtures both entrepreneurial innovation and creativity. And the two are tied together with green space. The city’s slogan is “where art and innovation meet.”

Urban trails take you to Innovation Quarter, a mixed use hub of creative and economic activity that’s also home to Bailey Park. The park plays host to a full calendar of events, from movie nights to yoga along with concerts and Sunday art festivals. And there’s a rotating lineup of food trucks at lunchtime. The Quarter is also home to several outdoor art installations like striking murals and the 20′ tall triple helix sculpture.

Over on Liberty Street between 6th and 7th ARTivity on the Green provides another connection between the city’s Art District and Innovation Quarter. The “Tower Cloud” pays homage to the RJ Reynolds building which is now home to the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel.

While not in downtown, we need to give a nod to the nearby Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Admission is free and here you’ll find the works of southern artists. Located on the scenic James G. Hanes estate, SECCA offers unique large-scale indoor and outdoor settings for exploring contemporary art.

Winston-Salem Symphony at the Stevens Center

Enjoy a performance of the Winston-Salem Symphony at this historic Stevens Center. (Image by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

Along with a unique outdoor art environment, Winston-Salem boasts one of the East Coast’s finest galleries and artisan fairs. The Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery features nearly 400 artisans. And the weekend before Thanksgiving marks the Piedmont Craftsmen Fair at the Benton Convention Center.

In addition to the visual arts, downtown Winston-Salem offers cultural experience at the Stevens Center. Built in 1929 as a silent movie house, this historic venue is home to the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera, and the National Black Theatre Festival to name just a few. And the RiverRun International Film Festival is one of the fastest growing regional film festivals in the country. USA Today calls it one of “10 amazing film festivals worth traveling for.”

Enjoy Winston-Salem’s outdoor offerings

Designated a “Runner Friendly Community” by the Road Runners Club of America, Winston-Salem’s downtown offers strolls, paths, and a greenway. Located along the Salem Creek Greenway next to Washington Park, the Gateway Nature Preserve provides a 19-acre urban wildlife habitat close to downtown Winston-Salem.

Runner enjoying trails in downtown Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem is runner friendly with downtown trails and greenways. (Image by Pixabay)

Another peaceful refuge is the Quarry at Grant Park, 200 acres in the heart of Winston-Salem. Donated to the city in 1997, the old quarry provides inspiring views from the overlook pier.

Winston-Salem is also a bike friendly place. And you don’t even need to bring your own two wheels. For a nominal fee, borrow a bike from Flowbikes Bikeshare and explore downtown with the aid of your phone. And each year Winston-Salem cycling enthusiasts enjoy the biggest party on two wheels with Gears & Guitars. Throughout the weekend, there are races, local rides and free live music from big name bands.

Taste the best of Downtown Winston-Salem

No matter what you’re craving, downtown Winston-Salem restaurants have you covered morning, noon, and night. And did you know this is the home of both Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Texas Pete Hot Sauce? Grab a quick bite or enjoy a leisurely meal before taking in the sights and sounds of Twin City.

  • Jeffrey Adams on Fourth: this contemporary restaurant offers locally sourced beef, poultry, and seasonal produce with a fine dining menu
  • Krankies Coffee: more than just a coffee bar, this local favorite delivers the goods with a diverse menu for both breakfast and lunch.
  • Sweet Potatoes Restaurant: celebrate southern cuisine at this award winning restaurant in the Arts District. Enjoy what owners Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tysons call uptown, down-home cooking.
  • Quanto Basta: family owned and operated, this Italian eatery and wine bar is known for its fresh pasta and sauces created by Owner Chef Timothy Grandinetti.
  • Cin Cin Burger Bar: enjoy a delicious burger and a boozy milkshake. Create your own burger or sample one of the house specials. You’ll also find a full menu of speakeasy inspired cocktails.
  • Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro: be smart and make a reservation for this popular downtown restaurant. The menu is full of locally sourced ingredients, from produce and proteins to artisan foods.
  • Carmel City BBQ Factory: North Carolina is known for its bar-b-que. Try a twist on a sandwich or settle in for a full plate. And they can even bring the bar-b-que to you with their food truck.

What to do when the sun goes down

The Twin City boasts a lively music scene, including free concerts. The Downtown Summer Series offers jazz on Friday evenings at Corpening Plaza along with Summer on Fourth on Saturday nights at, where else, 4th Street.

Looking for some jazz to go with your cocktails? Then take a listen at Tate’s Craft Cocktails on 4th Street.

Country more your thing? Head over to Earls’ on 9th Street. Sip some whiskey, enjoy the music, and grab some Southern bar food.

Host a pint and enjoy at craft brewery tour in Winston-Salem

Put together a downtown DIY brewpub crawl for some Winston-Salem nightlife. (Image by Pavel Danilyuk)

After a set of live music, absorb some dive bar atmosphere at the Silver Moon Saloon in the Downtown Arts District. Although the bar has pretty limited  indoor seating, outdoors is the place to people watch during warm weather. Also on Trade Street, you’ll find the Fiddlin’ Fish. This pet-friendly craft brewery has a running club, offers weekly bike rides, and hosts a full calendar of live music.

The Millennium Event Center is also a part of downtown’s nightlife with a regular concert lineup. And we’re legendary for our Halloween Bash and New Year’s Eve Dance Party.

What else can you do after the sun goes down? Downtown is home to a robust selection of brewpubs and they’re all within walking distance. Sample the Twin City brew scene with a DIY craft brewery crawl. And you can always channel your 80s and 90s gamer at Reboot Arcade Bar, home to over 60 pinball and video arcade machines.

Loved by the locals – a mixed bag of goodies

Every place has its “hidden gems” and Winston-Salem is no exception. In addition to the great events mentioned earlier, downtown plays host to a variety of annual celebrations. Book lovers will want to explore Bookmarks Festival  of Books and Authors. This is the largest book festival in the Carolinas, drawing thousands. The day-long event features author talks, book signings, and panel discussions.

Winston-Salem is also host to the biennial National Black Theatre. This major cultural event celebrates African American theater with performances, workshops, and seminars, attracting theater enthusiasts from across the country. Produced by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, NC Black Rep performs a diverse playbill throughout the year.

If you’re looking for more outdoor recreation, locals enjoy the hidden gem and picturesque reservoir Salem Lake, located just outside downtown. You’ll find boating, fishing, and hiking. The 365 acre lake has a 7-mile paved trail around the perimeter for walking, running, and cycling.

Minor league baseball is family-friendly and one of the best entertainment values for the dollar. Come out and see the future of the Chicago White Sox with the Winston-Salem Dash at Truist Ballpark. As an added bonus, there’s live music Thursday – Saturday when the team is in town.

Enjoying a bite from a Winston-Salem food truck

Food trucks are a regular part of the downtown Winston-Salem scene. (Image by Kampus Production)

And we can’t round out our mixed bag until we talk about food. Downtown is the home of the Winston-Salem Food Truck Festival. Trucks come from all over North Carolina, bringing the best the state has to offer. Local music is also part of the scene, along with craft beers and regional wines.

This is just a sampling of what downtown Winston-Salem has to offer. If you’re visiting and need accommodations, check out our handy directory of downtown and nearby hotels.

And if you’re looking to host a corporate gala, wedding, or other event, reach out and request a tour of the historic, iconic Millennium Event Center on your itinerary.

Welcome to Twin City!

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