Best Things To Do in Asheville, NC
Most of Asheville's treasures are found in the great outdoors. Travelers can imagine what it's like to live in the lap of luxury at the Biltmore Estate before hitting the open road on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those looking to take in even more fresh air can hike sections of the Appalachian Trail or, during the summer, go for a dip in a swimming hole in Pisgah National Forest. For a bit more relaxation, tour one (or many) of the area's breweries or pop into the boutiques and galleries in the River Arts District.
Updated January 27, 2020
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This enormous French Renaissance-style estate of George Vanderbilt has a storied past dating back to 1889. Considered America's largest private home, the 250-room estate – with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and a whopping 65 fireplaces – took six years to construct. The 8,000 acres of gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same landscape architect responsible for Central Park) and feature 2 ½ miles of walking paths.
Amassing 125,000 acres at its peak, 87,000 acres were sold after Vanderbilt's death in 1914 to form what is now Pisgah National Forest. But its history doesn't stop there: During World War II the estate stored pieces from the National Gallery of Art, and in the 1970s a winery was added. In the 2000s, inns and hotels were opened on the property.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Asheville, NC0.1 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Weaving through downtown, the 1.7-mile-long Asheville Urban Trail walks visitors through the cultural and architectural history of the city. Created by the city of Asheville to showcase its unique past, each of the trail's 30 stops is marked with a public sculpture that captures an important person or moment in the area's history.
The self-guided tour is divided into five time periods – from the Gilded Age to the present Age of Diversity. The trail starts at Pack Square at the intersection of Biltmore Avenue and Patton Avenue and circles around the downtown area, arriving back at the square for the final bronze statue. Visitors who want to explore all 30 landmarks should set aside about two hours. Even if you choose not to explore the entire trail, you'll likely see one or two statues during your time downtown.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Asheville, NC21 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND21 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Offering more than 500,000 acres of land about 40 miles northeast of downtown Asheville, Pisgah National Park is jampacked with activities and breathtaking vistas. With hundreds of miles of trails and numerous waterfalls and swimming holes, the forest provides ample opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors.
One of the first national forests in the country, created partially with land that once belonged to the Biltmore Estate, the park is home to the first forestry school in the United States as well as the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Asheville, NC25.6 miles to city centerHiking, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND25.6 miles to city centerHiking, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Winding its way from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail spans 2,190 miles through 14 states. About 320 of those miles are found in North Carolina (including 224 miles along the Tennessee border).
The North Carolina section offers many of the Appalachian Trail's highest peaks, several above 6,000 feet. Hiking enthusiasts can set out on a multiday or weeklong journey (keep in mind that you'll need permits to camp and hike in some areas, especially inside the Great Smoky Mountains).
- #5View all Photos#5 in Asheville, NC5.9 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.9 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway begins in Virginia and meanders through about 250 miles of western North Carolina. With a maximum speed of 45 mph, the highway offers drivers numerous opportunities to stop at overlooks, quaint mountain towns and hiking and biking trails. The parkway is divided by milepost markers that increase as you drive farther south.
The headquarters and main visitor center is located in Asheville at milepost 384. There, travelers can learn about the natural and cultural history of the region, as well as the outdoor activities available along the parkway.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Asheville, NC7.4 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND7.4 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Those with green thumbs will want to put the North Carolina Arboretum on their to-do list. Located about 10 miles south of downtown Asheville off of Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 393, the arboretum is a 434-acre public garden within Pisgah National Park.
Visitors can wander through 65 acres of gardens, including the National Native Azalea Collection, the Bonsai Exhibition Garden and a Heritage Garden that celebrates Southern Appalachian horticulture, plus much more. Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, the gardens also offer more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails that vary in levels of difficulty. (Recent visitors said the walking trails were an unexpected highlight of their time at the arboretum.) Kids can take part in a variety of interactive youth activities, such as loaner discovery backpacks (available for free) and hands-on lessons from Shelly, the arboretum's resident box turtle.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Asheville, NC0.3 miles to city centerWineries/BreweriesTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerWineries/BreweriesTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
With more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States and about 100 local beers to try, Asheville has emerged as the beer capital of the southeast. Sampling pints from many of the area breweries has become a favorite activity for locals and visitors alike.
And there are plenty of ways to enjoy Asheville's distinct brews: You can take a self-guided walking tour from the Appalachian Ale Trail, pedal your way around with Amazing Pubcycle or let someone else do the driving all together with Asheville Brewery Tours.
- #8View all PhotosfreeFolk Art Center#8 in Asheville, NC4.1 miles to city centerMuseums, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND4.1 miles to city centerMuseums, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
At milepost 382 off the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll find the Folk Art Center, home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The guild dates back to the 1890s and still represents the artists and craftsmen of Southern Appalachia.
One of the most popular spots off the Blue Ridge Parkway, welcoming 250,000 visitors annually, the center displays traditional and contemporary crafts in three galleries, and is home to a bookstore, a parkway information desk, a library and the Allanstand Craft Shop – the oldest of its kind in the nation. From March to December, the center also features daily craft demonstrations, and hosts special events that highlight materials (such as glass, fiber and clay) used in Southern Appalachia crafts.
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When artists came to Asheville to soak up the natural beauty and free-spirited atmosphere, they had to find large spaces to work. Enter the River Arts District. Comprising 22 former industrial and historical buildings – including a former tannery and a cotton mill – near the French Broad River, the area keeps the art scene alive in Asheville. Guests can stroll around the district to meet artists and enjoy works from more than 200 artists in various mediums like textiles, ceramics and paintings, as well as photography and jewelry. It's also a great place to pick up a unique souvenir from your time in the city.
Visitors to the district say local artists are always willing to chat, but the hotbed of creativity could use better signage as some galleries in old warehouses are difficult to distinguish.
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