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Asheville, North Carolina is a vibrant city with a strong arts community and outdoor enthusiast culture. It’s easy to plan your Asheville NC itinerary around plenty of natural attractions like waterfalls and national parks. However, there are also some amazing things you can do that will not only make for an unforgettable experience but also give you the opportunity to explore every corner of the city.
We find ourselves in the luckiest of situations because we have family that lives right in the heart of Asheville. Whenever we plan a trip to Asheville NC, our itinerary is filled with activities and food recommended by my sister and her family. Everything on this list is either one of our favorite things to do in Asheville whenever we’re in town, or tops the list of the locals.
Why Everyone Loves Visiting Asheville
Many travelers are drawn to Asheville to visit the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. But this North Carolina mountain town is also known for the vibrant art culture, craft brews, and outdoorsy adventures. Whether you’re spending a week or a weekend, these are some of the best places to add to your Asheville NC itinerary.
How Many Days You Should Plan to Spend in Asheville
You can easily hit the highlights of Asheville and get a sampling of the best restaurants over a long weekend in Asheville. Spending time downtown, in the River Arts District, and at the Biltmore Estate will give you a flavor of the Asheville experience.
If you have more time, add on activities like tubing, zip-lining, and hiking.
Getting Around Asheville NC
The different areas of Asheville are very walkable, but you’ll need a car to get from one area to another. If you plan a trip to Asheville that goes beyond just the Biltmore or downtown, plan to Uber if you won’t have a car.
The Best Sights and Activities for Your Asheville NC Itinerary
1. Visit Some of the Best Craft Breweries
Asheville has a vibrant and thriving craft beer scene.
New Belgium Brewing is the largest producer of craft beer in Asheville and offers a variety of tours including one that includes their underground cellar to see where some great beers are aged! Or head over to Salvage Station for food, fun games, and live music in their back yard, which sits right on the French Broad River.
Colorado native Oskar Blues has a location just down the road in Brevard, NC, that offers tours of their brewery and a variety of specialty beers.
Other local favorites are The Wedge, Archetype Brewing, and Bold Rock Cidery.
If you’re lucky to be in Asheville during the third weekend of September every year, don’t miss Oktoberfest Beer Fest. With over 100 different breweries from all over America pouring samples of their finest craft beer, this is a must-visit for any beer enthusiast. Update for 2021: The annual Oktoberfest is on pause during the pandemic. Visit their website for updates.
2. UNC Asheville
We love college towns and often stop by the local campus for some outside time and fun little discoveries (like the big tree swings at Wake Forest or University Pond on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder). The UNC Asheville campus has fun little finds like the Botanical Gardens and a bee hotel!
3. Grove Park Inn
Grove Park Inn is an elegant hotel on 27 acres that overlooks downtown Asheville. The hotel was built in 1913 as one of America’s most luxurious resort destinations, the Inn has been restored to its original beauty and charm. It’s an iconic symbol of Asheville history and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This stunning mountain lodge features 89 guest rooms with views overlooking lush gardens or downtown Asheville. The Grove Park Inn Spa will give you just the pampering you need, in a space filled with water features and mineral pools.
Make sure to check out season events, like the annual National Gingerbread House Competition during the holiday season – the kids will be more than impressed at the magnificent creations.
4. River Arts District
Spend an afternoon exploring the River Arts District. You can head to a studio and watch artists work, or browse boutiques from local craftspeople and artisans. This is the perfect way to explore some of Asheville’s most vibrant creative communities.
5. Tubing on the French Broad River
The French Broad River is a beautiful river that runs through the heart of Asheville. If you’re looking for an outdoorsy yet relaxing afternoon, grab your bathing suit and tubes and head over to the river. The wide river flows calmly, making it a great family activity. The waters are so calm that we floated along with a group who had a tube set up with wine and a cheese board spread!
6. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-do for anyone visiting Asheville. The route offers panoramic views of North Carolina’s mountains and valleys, as well as the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful overlooks in America.
The drive is a little over 200 miles long and many of the sections are open year-round. It’s a perfect way to see more of Asheville from high altitude, something you don’t get when exploring on foot or by car.
Hop onto the scenic drive near the Biltmore Estate or the Western North Carolina Nature Center and take the scenic route to Pisgah National Forest (it’s only about 20 minutes longer).
7. Explore Downtown Asheville
Downtown Asheville is filled with activity, from visiting the iconic Basilica of Saint Lawrence to dining at one of many delicious eateries (like Tupelo Honey, an Asheville staple and one of the best places to go for Southern comfort food). This mountain town does not have any major attractions or museums but it’s a great place for locals and visitors alike to grab a bite to eat, take in some art on display in local galleries, or just people-watch.
Pack Square Park
Head over to Pack Square Park, where you can often find locals playing pickup games, kids playing in the fountains at Splashville, and all sorts of musicians and dancers performing. It’s also a great spot for live music performances by local musicians in the summertime.
Friday Night Drum Circles
Nearby Prichard Park is home to the Friday night Drum Circle, a free event that generally runs from late spring to early fall. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Asheville – and anyone is welcome to join in!
Asheville Pinball Museum
Is one of the most unique attractions in town and is a great spot for kids (of all ages) to spend some time playing. Adults love to revisit some of their childhood favorites!
The Asheville Art Museum features rotating contemporary exhibits as well as permanent collections on display, while Grove Arcade is home to more than 30 local shops that cater to both locals and visitors alike.
Malaprops Bookstore and Café
Book lovers won’t want to miss a stop at Malaprops on their Asheville NC itinerary. The unique bookshop focuses on uncommon books and carries titles from both major publishing houses as well as independent presses. The store also has an extensive selection of rare, out-of-print, and used books.
Mast General Store
There are a few locations around North Carolina, but it’s fun to stop in any one of them. Mast General Store is filled with souvenirs, home decor, clothing, toys, and barrels of bulk candy. When you plan a trip to Asheville NC with kids, this is one stop we highly recommend.
8. State Parks and National Forests
Asheville is well-known for its outdoorsy culture, and there is plenty of opportunities to get outside at nearby state parks and national forests. Favorites are Pisgah National Forest (about 40 minutes from downtown Asheville) and DuPont State Recreational Forest (about 50 minutes from downtown).
Pisgah National Forest
Catch the Pisgah National Forest for some of the best hiking in Asheville. The forest is perfect for those who want to spend hours on a trail, but there are also opportunities for a quick day hike with shorter trails and views at all levels.
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Find your way deep into DuPont State Recreational Forest, where you’ll find 20 miles of hiking trails that range from easier terrain up to more difficult hikes for those who want an extra challenge.
9. Zip Line
This recommendation is from my niece, who has lived her entire 12 years in Asheville. Her new favorite spot is the Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, where she spent her last birthday zip lining with her friends. They have lots of outdoor adventures just 5 minutes from downtown.
10. Biltmore Estate
And last, but not least, the Biltmore Estate certainly deserves a spot on your Asheville NC itinerary. You could easily spend a full day at America’s largest home – in fact, we know many people who only visit the Biltmore Estate on their Asheville weekend itinerary!
The Biltmore Estate is a collaboration between George W. Vanderbilt and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., America’s foremost landscape architect of the 19th century. The National Historic Landmark spans 175 acres with over 250 rooms.
During your visit, take a tour of the house and learn more about George Vanderbilt’s fascinating life. Pavilion Gardens are open year-round for visitors to enjoy seasonal gardens and evergreens or spend the day hiking in the woods or biking for miles on scenic roads. Biltmore Village is a quaint downtown shopping area with eateries and boutique shops to explore. Or check out the guided tours led by costumed actors that take visitors back in time to experience Vanderbilt’s world at Biltmore Estate.
Bonus. Smoky Mountains National Park
If your Asheville NC itinerary allows for a day trip, take a drive over the Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking and other outdoor adventures in the country’s most popular national park. The drive from Asheville is just 2 hours, making it an easy day trip with plenty of scenery along the way.
The Best Places for Food in Asheville
Where the Locals Eat
We know the West Asheville eateries the best and can’t wait to try my sister’s favorite new spots each time we visit. Visit Zia Taqueria for some of the best tacos and margaritas (they also have a food truck). Haywood Common has a seasonal selection of American dishes from locally sourced food (and local beer selections, of course). And you can’t leave Asheville without a stop at Biscuit Head for a delicious southern breakfast, where you can pick up a few bottles of their sauces to bring home with you.
In the River Arts District, White Duck Taco Shop is the must-try on your Asheville NC itinerary. Or grab a bite from one of the food trucks at The Wedge while sampling some of the beers. Love BBQ? Then Smokey Park Supper Club is the place to go (or head to 12 Bones Smokehouse, which is also a favorite of the Obama’s, who have stopped here a few times over the years).
On your way to the Biltmore Estate, stop at Juicy Lucy’s Burger Bar and Grill for one of the greatest burgers in town.
Two of the best spots in downtown Asheville are upscale Cúrate for delicious tapas and the southern staple (and Asheville original) Tupelo Honey.
Have you visited Asheville? We’d love to hear the top spots on your Asheville NC itinerary!
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