in the Roanoke Valley
(so named for the Roanoke River
) of southwestern Virginia
. Approximately 3.75 hour
, or 2.75 hours WSW of Richmond
Roanoke wasn't much of a city, or even named Roanoke for that matter, until after the Civil War. Its original name was Big Lick, and it was just yet another small southwestern Virginia town until it was selected as a railroad junction in the 1870's by Norfolk and Western Railway. Apparently, "Big Lick" wasn't good enough a name for an important railroad junction, so the name became Roanoke. NW operated engineering shops there for a long time, and the shops still survive as part of Norfolk Southern.
Its sister city immediately to the west, Salem, was actually more significant in the early days, or so it would appear from the historic name of U.S. 460 between Lynchburg and Roanoke, the Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike. (Such names have been known to last quite a while in Virginia; Virginia 100, the Dublin-Pearisburg Turnpike, was a key battleground in SW Va.'s part of the US Civil War, and the name still survives today.)
Now, it's a city of about 150,000. As mentioned in deep thought's writeup, the key feature is the Mill Mountain Star, visible high above the city as you drive down Interstate 581 into downtown, and giving it its motto/nickname of Star City of the South. Some other high points are the Virginia Museum of Transportation, Center In The Square, and Victory Stadium. The annual Virginia Tech-VMI football rivalry used to be played at Victory Stadium (now a decrepit ~20,000 seat stadium used by three high schools) until VMI got so bad that it wasn't a rivalry any more, and VT turned its hatred fully upon University of Virginia.