Taking a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains? You’ll find numerous things to do in Asheville NC!
Forget picture-perfect postcards and predictable tourist traps. Asheville, nestled in the heart of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is a kaleidoscope of contradictions.
It’s a city where historic architecture quietly complements edgy street art, microbreweries clink glasses with folk music, and mountain peaks look down on a vibrant town with its own altitude and attitude.
Asheville brings an essence you want to bottle up. No two people will have the same experience here. The versatility is as palpable as the vibrant spots in each niche neighborhood and outdoor space. And, it’s giving Nashville Tennessee and Austin Texas a run for their musical dollar with an impressive live music scene.
Surrounding the city, the sensational Blue Ridge Parkway weaves through peaks and valleys designed for road trips. Just over the ridge, the Smokies await with a collection of small towns on the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Beauty, from natural to ornate, awaits in this Southern town nobody saw coming but everyone is now coming to visit. Let’s help plan YOUR itinerary of things to do in Asheville NC.
Getting to Know Asheville North Carolina
The story of the Cherokee people starts the earliest history we know of the Asheville region. They prospered off this land and into the Smoky Mountains. Settlers arrived in the late 1700s, naming the town Asheville after then-Governor Samuel Ashe.
The railroad arrived with the Gilded Age, and not even HBO could create a set that compares to the beauty of Montford and the Biltmore Estate of Asheville. Adventurers, artists, and aristocrats ran for the hills to escape the summer heat and enjoy the mountain air around Asheville.
That same spirit envelops the city to this day, with niche neighborhoods creating a new layer to experience.
It’s important to know the layout of the community because it can impact where you’ll eat, stay, and explore — all based on your interests. Asheville is a melting pot with new flavors added each day.
From early morning, pre-sunrise breakfasts to late-night dancing, Downtown Asheville is always ready for your next adventure. At first blush, you’re walking down what feels like the most elaborate Main Street in a small town — only it keeps going.
Every corner brings a new list of shops, restaurants, and street performers. And, music wafts from bar doors swinging open as crowds move about.
While many say this is the pulse of the city, it’s more of striking the perfect chord for every interest. Need to carb up before a big Blue Ridge Parkway adventure? Check. Want to find funky items at one-of-a-kind shops? Check. Tempted to show off your piano skills? Done. Prefer people-watching? It’s the best this side of Austin Texas.
Art Deco fans simply must walk around this historic section that has a little bit of country and a little bit of sophistication.
Montford Area Historic District
Just north of downtown, everything turns Victorian era. The bulk of the bed and breakfasts and inns are located here, each one more endearing than the next. Most homes were built no later than 1920. The entire district is recognized at national, state, and local levels for its historic importance.
This is where novelist Thomas Wolfe drew inspiration. William Sidney Porter (you might know him as O. Henry) is a local legend. Both are buried at the Monford Cemetery, which was designed as much for those who passed on as those who still walk the pathways.
If you’re a fan of HBO’s “Gilded Age,” then you should know that the Russells loosely portray the wealthy Vanderbilts of that era. That will help explain the magnificent summer home that George Vanderbilt built in Asheville. The focal point is America’s Largest Home — Biltmore — adding castle peaks among mountain peaks.
Biltmore Village is designed like an English village and was originally built for Biltmore staff. The village kept growing into its own through the 20th Century and now ranks as one of the top escapes from the city. Don’t let the fancy parts fool you, this community was rebuilt after a devastating fire and two hurricanes.
River Arts District
Local artists have picked up what the industrial era left behind in Asheville. Rows of warehouses — nearly two dozen — are now working studios and galleries comprising the River Arts District. You don’t just view art along the French Broad River; you’re immersed in it — inspired, even.
Take your time here because creative expression is found inside, outside, along the river, in between trees, and on the side of just about every building.
West Asheville might be a suburb, but it brings a particular brand of spunk that has grown in popularity even since you started this article. It’s as trendy as it is funky and prides itself on being unique while committed to farm-to-table foods.
While it’s a great neighborhood for a day date, live music plays well into the night. This is where funk, boho, and retro all meet for lunch.
Outdoor Things to Do in Asheville NC
For purposes of balance, we’re going to include scenic drives in the outdoor things to do. Trust us, you’ll have a hard time staying in the car on these routes.
Meander The Botanical Gardens at Asheville
Located on the University of North Carolina Asheville campus, the free Botanical Gardens at Asheville is open from sunrise to sunset with more than 70 rare or endangered plants among Appalachian specialties. Several trails meander through the 10-acre footprint.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway technically runs south and east of Asheville, but it’s quite easy to pick up at several locations. The parkway was designed to create a scenic road between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
The parkway “begins” near Waynesboro Virginia and covers nearly 470 miles before ending in Cherokee North Carolina. That’s where the Newfound Gap Road of the Smokies picks up. Four spots near Asheville enter the Parkway at mileposts 394, 389, 385, and 383.
A few things to know about the Blue Ridge Parkway (the things I wish I had known):
- There are a lot of tunnels on the parkway. The longest one is about an hour southwest of Asheville. For fewer tunnels, head northwest.
- The road can close down in winter. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket if winter weather hits the higher elevations. Newfound Gap isn’t a great backup road because it can be closed at the same time.
- The entire Parkway is a two-lane road with some steep drops. Plenty of pull-outs, scenic viewpoints, and attractions dot the road. Keep your eyes focused while driving and stay aware of possible wildlife popping out of the woods.
The highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway sits about 50 miles from Asheville at Richland Balsam. The views here come with a 6,053-foot vantage point.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, it’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a waterfall. I’ve listed some of my favorites here — ranging from the easiest to access to the most spectacular.
- Looking Glass Falls: You’ll park on the roadside and walk down a short flight of steps to a 75-foot cascading waterfall.
- Whitewater Falls: For most people, this 811-foot waterfall is a look-but-don’t-touch feature with two viewing platforms (one down more than 150 steps). Adventurous spirits can take the challenging trail to the river below.
- Catawba Falls: Check this trail status through the Forest Service, but once improvements have been made, you’ll find an easy 4-mile, round-trip trail with new bridges to the 100-foot waterfall.
NOTE: Keep in mind that most waterfalls will require about a 1-hour drive from Asheville. There are also dozens more throughout this region.
Climb a Mountain
Or, as Jack Kerouac said, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that go***mn mountain.” Especially for those with the adventurous itch, you can’t come to Ashville without checking off some bucket list items.
Drive or hike Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. At an elevation of 6,684 feet, the altitude isn’t too bad if you’ve experienced hikes in the Rockies or Sierras.
Stop at Craggy Gardens and pick your trail du jour. I’d consider the Craggy Pinnacle Trail the “must-do” hike, but you might hunger for a longer journey. The National Park Service offers these great recommendations.
If you like local legends and haunting stories, read about the Cherokee Giant Judaculla. Then, when you stop at Devil’s Courthouse, you’ll be more intrigued to take the tough yet short trail to the summit. You’ll climb 250 feet in a half mile to overlook the 5,720-foot vantage point. The rocky ridge is dark and intimidating, lending a “devilish” feel to the hike. Cherokee legend has it that Judacella dances in the cave within the mountain where the devil also holds court.
Indoor Things to Do in Asheville NC
We’ll need some liberties with the indoor things to do as well since many attractions in Asheville are a beautiful blend of both.
The Biltmore Estate
America’s largest home at 175,000 square feet is open for tours year-round. The chateau estate holds 250 rooms, 8,000 acres, elaborate gardens, and a winery. The Biltmore Estate was designed to be a self-sustained community — everything needed to thrive was located on the grounds.
The home was introduced to society in 1895 on Christmas Eve. George Vanderbilt fell in love with the Ashville region and wanted a country home here. As fate would have it, he didn’t live to enjoy even 20 years in the home. He died in 1914 from an emergency appendectomy.
While the family still owns the Biltmore Estate, they preserved it so it could be open to public tours. Self-guided tours are available, but the guided option includes access to exclusive places, like the rooftop. All adult tickets come with a complimentary tasting at the winery too.
Full Transparency: You might get sticker shock when you see the admission cost (even in the off-season) for entrance to the home. Keep in mind all the access you get on the property and how unique the experience is when making your decision.
Asheville Museum of History
A very different story unfolds at the Asheville Museum of History housed in the former Smith-McDowell estate. This location pre-dates the Vanderbilt estate by half a century.
While the home’s owner used enslaved people to build and service the estate until after the Civil War, a complete historical story is told through exhibits, including the authors and entrepreneurs who built the city.
Historic Grovewood Village
When already have a place for arts in a city, you need a place for crafts. That’s what you’ll find at Historic Grovewood Village. This is another melting pot of activity with the Asheville Art Gallery displaying hand-crafted American items. You can explore two stories of work by more than 350 artists nationwide.
Two museums here include the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum and Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum. The property was once owned by the Vanderbilts but was sold after Geroge’s untimely death. Access to all museums and galleries is free, but donations are welcome.
Asheville Museum of Science
Better known as AMOS, the Asheville Museum of Science taps into your imagination and critical-thinking skills. Walk with prehistoric dinosaurs or soar the solar system with interactive and immersive exhibits.
If the name Bob Moog doesn’t sound familiar, you haven’t been listening closely enough to some of your favorite shows and songs over the past decades. Moog is the man behind the synthesizer, incorporating unique sounds into everything from Depeche Mode to the “Sesame Street” theme song. At the Moogseum, you can learn about his life and vibrations through pop culture, starting with the Monkees.
One of the greatest experiments in higher education happened at Black Mountain College between 1933 and 1957. This progressive college was founded on the principle that art is the center of everything and that education should have a holistic approach.
Imagine if your university was able to get Albert Einstein, John Cage, or Zora Neale Hurston to speak. That’s what students experienced at this college. The museum tells the stories of this adventurous undertaking.
Restaurants in Asheville North Carolina
You won’t go hungry in Asheville — that’s for sure. The dining scene keeps expanding into new neighborhoods and international flavors. Instead of breaking it down by meal, we’re gonna bite off this topic by cuisine.
NOTE: Many restaurants serve brunch and then dinner service — skipping lunch — while others serve three meals a day.
Asheville’s Southern Food
Of course, we’ll start with Southern comfort food and barbecue. Asheville tips its hat to Nashville TN at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack where spice reigns and soul food soothes. You’ll find this hot spot in West Asheville.
Sunny Point Cafe’s facade lives up to its bright name, but the fried green tomatoes topping the menu tell you that this is South through and through. Breakfast and lunch are served here with the biscuits and grits working their way through both menus.
Tupelo Honey restaurants started in Ashville and then branched out even beyond the South. With two Asheville locations, you can get three meals a day. Be sure to mix in the fried chicken at some point — it’s famous across the region.
12 Bones Brewing Smokehouse in the River Arts District was the top choice for President Barack Obama and his family during a visit to the mountains. Old family recipes and new creations round out a meaty menu with sides like collard greens and corn pudding.
Seafood in Asheville
While the ocean might be on the other side of the state and the Gulf of Mexico is a hearty drive, Asheville’s accolades for seafood stand out on many travel lists.
Jettie Rae’s Oyster House mixes French, Spanish, Indigenous, and Lowcountry seafood for an extensive menu. Caviar to crawfish round out the menu with paired spirits and wine available. If you’re there for the regular Lowcountry Oyster Roast, get tickets and come hungry.
For seafood set on the table in a bucket or a basket followed by a free-for-all, Crab Du Jour is the place for you on the east side of Asheville. And, more Louisana cooking comes from the eclectic kitchen downtown at Mayfel’s. We highly recommend the brunch here when you can beignet all day until your biscuit, Benedict, or po’ boy arrives.
Asheville’s Fine Dining
The paradox of Asheville continues with one of the finest dining spots in town called The Bull and Beggar. Add to that the somehow highly sophisticated warehouse space. The menu changes each week but evolves through seasonal specialties that will make you say, “I’ll need another minute,” when the menu is just one page.
The presentation is as pristine as the food flavors at The Admiral. Table, bar, and outdoor seating are available, making it as fancy or casual as you’d like. Don’t be fooled by the cinder block exterior — the simplicity is part of the appeal.
Jargon spells delicious in West Asheville with indoor or heated outdoor seating available. Menus are provided by the day based on locally harvested and farmed ingredients.
Hotels & Lodging in Asheville NC
One thing to know about looking for a place to stay in Ashville is the ongoing and evolving rules about short-term rentals. Most rentals will be a minimum stay of 30 days or part of a home belonging to an owner. A handful of traditional rentals were grandfathered in before the first law was passed in 2018.
Despite that, you’ll still have an array of places to choose from in the different Asheville neighborhoods. For instance, bed and breakfasts surround the Montford Area Historic District, all blending in with the equally charming neighborhoods and tree-lined streets.
Historic Downtown Art Deco Condo
When Downtown Asheville is where you want to be, we’ve found the perfect place that encompasses all the eccentricities of the city. This Historic Downtown Art Deco Condo offers 1,000 square feet, one bedroom, exposed brick walls, and mahogany hues. The condo is on the third floor, with the S&W Market on the first, introducing you to the food and drink scene.
Elevation Lofts Hotel
Just around the corner, a whole hotel of lofts can be found at Elevation Lofts Hotel. All rooms are renovated as of 2021, and each has its own layout — no cookie cutters here.
Windsor Boutique Hotel
Just a few steps away, the bougie Windsor Boutique Hotel awaits in a building from 1907 that feels like royal quarters for the everyday traveler.
Wright Inn & Carriage House
Go back to the turn of the 20th century at the Wright Inn & Carriage House. Built in 1899, this Queen Anne exterior vibe follows you through the common space and living quarters. A carriage house is also available to rent.
Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast
Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast offers Southern charm and a welcoming spirit. Each suite feels like home, while the screened-in porch beckons. Choose a room with a claw foot tub or a fireplace for extra sparkle to a Southern vacation.
The Lion and The Rose Bed & Breakfast
The ultimate romantic getaway is found at The Lion and The Rose Bed & Breakfast, standing out with its pastel pink exterior that welcomes guests with a wrap-around porch. The five rooms are adorned with antiques, and each has its own bathtub. Enjoy the fire pit and gardens outside too.
If the upscale extravagance of the Biltmore piqued your interest, consider the Inn on Biltmore Estate where every guest is treated like a VIP. You can also cozy up at the Biltmore Village Inn, a more intimate bed & breakfast experience.
Bon Paul & Sharky’s Hostel
For those backpacking the region and on a tight budget, you can check out the offerings at Bon Paul & Sharky’s Hostel in West Asheville.
FAQs About Asheville North Carolina
When is the best time to visit Asheville NC?
The beauty of Asheville is how it shines in every season. Spring blooms are worth the wait with places like the Biltmore Garden blooming in mid to late April. Summers are beautiful, and the humidity isn’t as bad as in some lower regions of the state.
Of course, the fall foliage is about the best you’ll find in the country — the colors peak in Ashville in late October. Winter brings the holiday spirit to an epic level, with mild winters that allow you to explore all the attractions.
Are there bears in Asheville NC?
Yes, and bears making their way downtown isn’t uncommon. Wayward bears are usually drawn to the scents of food, and Asheville stirs up a lot of wafting smells into the woods.
You should never approach a bear. If one is nearby, say in a confident voice, “Hey Bear! Go Away Bear!” The goal is to let the bear know you are human and not a threat. It’s a good reminder to throw away all trash in the proper place too.
Is Asheville NC walkable?
The downtown area is very walkable. You’ll cross plenty of foot traffic on the way and don’t have to worry about too many dark alleys.
Five Points, Montford, and the River Arts District are about 1 mile from downtown. You’ll want to drive or get a ride to the Biltmore area because that’s about 5 miles south. And, West Asheville is 3 miles across the river.
Asheville North Carolina Is Always an Adventure
Once upon a time, Asheville was a secret city filled with things to do but not on the radar of the average traveler. That has changed. The city continues to grow in all directions, while outdoor adventures bring more people to the surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway and mountain towns.
Asheville shows no sign of slowing down or losing its spark. You’ll also have the North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just an hour east.
On that note, if you’re planning a Smokies trip, you won’t find a more sophisticated yet creative city in the collection of surrounding cities. The plethora of things to do in Asheville NC truly includes a bit of everything.