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I’d been hearing whispers of the wonders of Asheville for a few years: a liberally minded and creative enclave in North Carolina, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the edge of the famous parkway. I was promised glorious nature, excellent food, an exciting craft beer scene and creativity galore – and it was city that over delivered on every count. Within a few days of visiting during our Southern USA road trip, Steve and I were smitten. It’s the kind of place I wish I could transplant all my family and friends, so we could all live there together.
Here are 25 reasons we loved it so, including some of the best things to do in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Best Things to do in Asheville, NC
Map of the best things to do in Asheville
How to use this map
Here’s a map of all the best Asheville highlights. The different Asheville attractions are colour coded, plus you can turn different sections on and off by clicking the top left-hand corner. Click on the icons to see the name of each place. To save the map to your own Google maps account, click the star next to the map’s name at the top – that way you’ll have all the best Asheville sights saved on your phone for easy exploring while there.
31 reasons to love Asheville, North Carolina
1. It’s filled with amazing bookshops
The town is a heaven for indy bookshop lovers. It even includes one that doubles as a champagne bar (Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar) and another (Firestorm Books) connected to a gorgeous plant shop and café. In two of the shops (Malaprops Bookstore and Downtown Books), they do a thing called Book Blind Date where you choose a book in a paper bag based on just a few words written on the front. And another one worth a mention is the used bookstore, Captain’s Bookshelf.
2. It has the best pies in the world
The Baked Pie Company may just be the world’s best pie shop. You can order a flight of three different pies, so you get to try different flavours. Despite this, it took me a good 15 minutes to decide which ones to get! The shop is also ridiculously cute and the staff super friendly – it basically lived up to all my small-town southern charm dreams. And to top that off, they have a suitcase of stuffed toys, which they let kids pick from to take one home. Otis chose a bear wearing a Harvard jumper, which has becomes one of his favourites (although it does make us look like ultimate tiger parents!).
3. It’s right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway was one of the highlights of our Southern USA road trip. It’s 469 miles of scenic roads, connecting the Shenandoah National Park in the East and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the West. Asheville is just off the parkway, so you can include it as part of a Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary or take day trips in either direction.
4. The people are super lovely
I’m a bit biased because as a liberal, arts-loving person, Asheville is filled with my kind of people, but I think you’d be hard pressed to say that the people here aren’t super darn lovely – expect lots of smiles, plaid shirts, craft beer fans, hippies and artists. We loved it.
5. You’re spoilt for choice for amazing food and drinks.
Asheville is filled with excellent restaurants and cafes. A few of our favourites were; Sunny Point for breakfast (don’t miss the oatmeal pancakes!); Chai Pani for A+ Indian food; BimBeriBon for top notch healthy food; Trade and Lore for coffee; Dobra Tea for tea; 12 Bones for BBQ; White Duck tacos for Mexican; and Curate for tapas.
6. There’s a pinball museum where you can play all your old favourites
At Asheville Pinball Museum, you can play a whole bunch of vintage (and new) games. The focus is pinball, but they also have a selection of classic arcade games in the back room. It costs $15 to play an unlimited amount of games for the day, and you can pop in and out as you please, maybe going for dinner in-between your gaming sessions. Behind the counter, they have an impressive collection of memorabilia and figurines, which Otis was mesmerised by. A visit here is one of those things you have to do in Asheville.
7. There’s heaps of amazing beautiful street art
As a creative city, Asheville has a ton of excellent street art. You can see many pieces in the River Arts District, including the lot near White Duck Taco. And another hotspot is the area around Lexington Avenue where you can see murals including one under the bridge, which depicts Asheville’s history. Other good spots to check out include Chicken Alley and South Slope.
8. It’s surrounded by stunning nature in every direction
It’s easy to understand why so many outdoor enthusiasts love the place. It’s a natural playground for adventure with the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest in each direction. It’s a treat to be in a city where you can see nature wherever you look.
9. There are hikes galore
There are bountiful hikes to choose from, including along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which includes sections of the famous Appalachian Trail. We loved the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, and Kim from So Many Places (who lives in Asheville) told us her favourite is the Black Balsam / Tennet Mountain hike.
We’d also have liked to climb to the summit of Mt Pisgah for the views, which is only 1.2 miles and takes about 45 mins each way, but on the day, we didn’t fancy it with a toddler in tow.
10. It’s an outdoor sports heaven
With all the gorgeous nature, there are endless ways to enjoy it. The Smoky Mountain Adventure Centre is a good place to start, which includes a climbing wall, yoga, guided adventure tours and hiring equipment. Plus there are also all the hikes mentioned above.
For water-based ativities, head to the French Broad River where you can try kayaking, whitewater SUP, and bellyaking, which is a sport that was invented in Asheville. Bellyaking looks a little like paddling on a surfboard, but the surfboard is more like a kayak and you wear special paddle gloves!
11. There’s a giant natural waterslide
In summertime in the Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock Falls is the place to go to slide down a 60-ft natural waterslide. We were there in November, so didn’t brave the freezing water, but we’d definitely go back in summer!
12. It’s near to the Dirty Dancing lake
Any lovers of the 80s cult film will know well the scene in the lake, and that lake, Lake Lure, is under an hour’s drive from Asheville. The actual ‘lift’ was filmed in Virginia, but all the scenes around it were filmed here and you can even see the steps where Baby practiced her dance steps and carried a watermelon. There are boat tours you can do on the lake of all the famous filming spots.
13. There’s a public drum circle on Friday nights
If only we’d been in town on a Friday, I would have loved to see this! In the warmer months, every Friday at around 5pm in Pritchard Park, there’s a public drum circle in the outdoor amphitheatre. It began in 2001 with just 10 drummers, but now attracts hundreds. It runs from around 5/6pm-10pm. If you want to practice beforehand, Skinny Beat Drum Shop does classes. If there in the warm months, put it at the top of you list for what to do in Asheville.
14. There are lots of delicious sweet treats
The Baked Pie Company deserved a slot of its own, but Asheville also has plenty of other sweet treats including French Broad Chocolates for ice cream and chocolate. Hole Doughnuts for freshly baked-to-order doughnuts; and .
15. It’s filled with artists (check out the River Arts District)
Creative and colourful are two of the best ways to describe Asheville, especially around the River Arts District where you can explore the work of around 200 artists in 22 buildings dotted along the French Broad River. It’s been growing since the 1980s when artists started to transform the area’s industrial buildings. Many of the studios are open on weekdays, but you’ll find the most open on Fridays and Saturdays. Plus on the second Saturday of every month, they host art workshops, music and other special events at an event called Second Saturdays – on this day, there’s a free trolley that stops at different venues.
16. There’s a great music scene
Those mountains inspire music and Asheville has the music scene to prove it. There are plenty of clubs, bars, breweries and larger venues that host live bluegrass, rock and jazz. Favourites include the Asheville Music Hall, Salvage Station and Jack of the Woods. You won’t be lost for things to do in Asheville at night.
17. The local paper is called The Daily Planet
Asheville is channeling those superhero vibes with its local newspaper namesake <3.
18. It has a cute downtown
The downtown has lots of cute streets and independent businesses. It’s a pleasure to walk around, browsing the shops like Mast General Store, East Fork Pottery, and Asheville Emporium (as well as all the book shops mentioned above).
19. There are little libraries on the streets
In the States, there’s an initiative called Little Free Library and we spotted a few in Asheville. They’re essentially tiny libraries in the street (they look a bit like a house-shaped bird box. I love this concept so much and would love to put one in our own neighbourhood in Bristol.
20. It’s known as Beer City
Asheville is home to 26 breweries, more than 100 local beers and even more breweries in the surrounding region, which has earned it the nickname Beer City. Some of the favourites are Burial, Wedge Brewing, Green Man, Catawaba, Wicked Weed, Thirsty Monk, Hi-Wire and Westville Pub. Plus we recommend combining pizza and beer at White Labs Kitchen and Tap. You can also do a tour of the breweries with BREW-ed, which is good way to find out more about the craft beer scene.
21. Hip West Asheville is filled with creativity
Asheville has a lot of great neighbourhoods, but we particularly loved trendy West Asheville, which has a plethora of creative shops, restaurants and cafes, and a laid-back, creative, hipster vibe. Some of the places we’ve listed elsewhere in this article are located there, including Firestorm Books, BimBeriBon and Hole Doughnuts. Whist is also a gorgeous gift shop, and Fleetwoods epitomises the character of the area, being a wedding chapel, bar, music venue and vintage shop all in one!
22. Get your gifts at the Folk Art Center
Just six miles outside of downtown Asheville is the Folk Art Center, a celebration of Southern craftmanship. It’s part-gallery and part-store and includes all sorts of arts, from pottery to quilts to baskets and woodcarvings. It’s a good place to buy gifts and learn more about the local arts.
23. There’s a Moogseum
Any electric music fans will want to visit the Moogseum, which celebrate the life and work of Asheville resident, Dr Bob Moog who invented the Moog synthesizer. The museum is a playful exploration of sound with interactive exhibitions, including a dome where you can explore how electricity turns into sound. It’s an ideal thing to do in Asheville when it rains.
24. It’s home to the Biltmore Estate
This huge 100-year-old home, the Biltmore Estate, is the USA’s largest private residence, with over 250 rooms and an estate of 8,000 acres. We didn’t go as we were with our 20-month-old son and didn’t fancy paying the $70 entrance fee when there was a high chance that he’d lose patience quickly. But it’s one of the most popular attractions in Asheville, so if historic houses are your jam, it’s definitely one to see. Personally, I would have really liked to see the library, which has over 22,000 books, collected by the owner George Vanderbilt, and the gardens are meant to be gorgeous in autumn, making it one of the best things to do in Ashville in fall.
25. You can relax in style at Shoji Spa
A city with so many hiking opportunites needs an excellent spa and Asheville delivers with the Shoji Spa & Lodge, nestled on a hillside just eight minutes outside the city. Alongside a full menu of massages, the Japanese-style spa also has bamboo salt-water tubs amid the forest with views of the city skyline. You can also stay there in one its four cosy and stylish houses. Book your stay here.
26. You can do a tour with a funny twist
If you’re looking for an offbeat way to explore the city, we saw some crazy looking guided tour buses riding around Asheville. The LaZoom comedy tours mix history with laughs while taking you on a 90-minute tour of the city. While in Asheville, you’ll see the big purple bus driving around, sometimes with a man dressed as a nun riding a giant bicycle alongside it! They have a few different tours to choose from.
27. There are some great farmers markets
We enjoyed a visit to the West Asheville Tailgate Market where we were treated to live music while browsing and buying local produce, from cheese to homemade artisanal chocolate to wine cakes. There are also plenty more markets to choose from, which you can find listed on this page.
28. The North Carolina Arboretum
As if the already abundant nature wasn’t enough, Asheville is also home to the North Carolina Arboretum, a 434-acre space, including 65 acres of cultivated gardens, including 10 miles of hiking/biking trails, a Bonsai garden and nature activities for families. It’s on of the best things to do in Asheville with kids.
29. It’s filled with charming houses and places to stay
I’m obsessed by wooden houses with porches and Asheville is full of them. And best of all, plenty are available on Airbnb, so you can live your porch dreams like I did. We chose this beautiful house, in West Asheville, just off Haywood Road. The house is owned by artists/collectors, so it has lots of quirky touches such as planet-filled terrarium-TV. The house has three bedrooms, a full kitchen, spacious living/dining room, and a large backyard. Plus the all-important front porch! It’s one of those Airbnbs where you really felt like you’re getting a taste of what it’d be like to live there. The house costs from $145 per night. Book your stay here.
30. It has an amazing glamping spot
Asheville Glamping is everything I love about glamping: stunning views, creative places to stay and a community vibe. It was fully booked while we were in town, but we’ll definitely try and plan further in advance next time. Would love to stay in the dome with a slide with Otis – just know how much he’d love it! It’s definitely one of the best places to stay in Asheville.
31. It has a Tiny House community
Remember when we stayed in a tiny house in Portland? Well Asheville is a fan of the movement too, so much so that there’s a little community of tiny houses called The Acony Bell Tiny Home Community. There are full-time residents there, but tiny homes are also available for vacation rentals.
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Useful travel resources for a trip to Asheville
For car rentals, we recommend booking with Rentalcars.com. We’ve always found them to have the cheapest deals for mainstream retailers.
If you decide to book any AirBnB apartments, use this link, as it’ll give you £25 off your first trip.
We often find great deals on Booking.com, getting a discount of up to 60%.
Don’t forget your travel insurance! We recommend World Nomads or True Traveller who both offer reliable, comprehensive cover, including medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. You can buy both True Traveller and World Nomads insurance even when you’ve left home, which is unusual for travel insurance companies.
If you’re planning a trip to Asheville or anywhere in the world, be sure to check out our travel planning pages for all our best travel tips, including how to save money with the best cards, what to bring, and all our favourite tools and tricks.