Asheville: Where Fresh Air, Weirdness, Art, and Beer Come Together
Looking for things to do in Asheville? How about hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, watching a barefoot accordion concert, learning to make pottery from horse hair, and visiting more craft breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. Of course, you don’t have to do them all in the same day, but all that and more is possible in the funky city of Asheville, NC.
Known as the “Land of the Sky,” this hipster and hippie haven is the largest city in Western N.C. and is in an enviable spot: right in the central Blue Ridge Mountains. Best of all, it’s near-perfect location make it a great place to visit if you want to explore the mountains without sacrificing the conveniences of an urban setting. Known for its laid-back and artsy vibe, the city prides itself on being an open and welcoming community. In fact, researchers have named it the Happiest City on the East Coast, confirming what many locals and visitors alike already know.
Asheville is home to an eclectic mix of new age wisdom, hillbilly traditions, a vibrant arts community, and a delicious local food scene; all wrapped up in a socially- and culturally-conscious package and tied with a blue bow that leans far left.
Things to See and Do in Asheville
Looking for things to do in Asheville is simple: You can literally just look around! Sightseeing in Asheville is very easy, as you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the some of the most beautiful mountains in the U.S. Plus, if people watching is on your to do list, get ready for a memorable show. That said, here are some of the most popular activities for your Asheville, N.C. To Do list.
Asheville Outdoor Activities
- Pisgah National Forest– Drive 40 miles northeast of downtown and you’ll arrive at the enchanting Pisgah National Park. Honestly, we love all national parks, but Pisgah is truly breathtaking–mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, whitewater rivers, and a host of fun activities for families and solo travelers alike. Whether you’re into mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, or simply riding shotgun and enjoying the views, there’s plenty to appreciate here.
- Appalachian Trail– If you’re up for hiking the Appalachian Trail, you needn’t venture far from Asheville. Head about 35 miles northwest to Hot Springs (population ~600) and you can jump on the trail right off Bridge Street. After doing the Lovers Leap Loop, visit the town’s famous hot mineral springs.
- Asheville Urban Trail– You art lovers and history buffs will enjoy the self-guided 1.7-mile stroll through downtown Asheville, where you’ll visit many cool public sculptures used as Asheville landmarks. Local lore, history, and architecture come to life along the way.
- Blue Ridge Parkway– This 469-mile stretch of highway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” and the scenic views here are simply incredible. There’s about a 250-mile section of the drive in western N.C., and many attractions within 20 miles of Asheville: Mt. Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi; Craggy Gardens, a lovely yet craggy (obviously) area to view bursts of colorful flowers, especially in June; and the Folk Art Center, featuring the finest traditional and contemporary crafts in the Southern Appalachians. Don’t leave without a lovely souvenir.
Asheville Arts & Culture
- Biltmore Estate– Once the 8,000-acre home of George Vanderbilt, the Biltmore is America’s largest home. You’ll marvel at the impressive gardens and grounds on a walking tour, head to the winery for complimentary tastings, or visit any of the six on-site restaurants. And because the Vanderbilts were known for their exceptional hospitality, you’ll surely want to stay for a few nights at this glorious location.
- River Arts District– What was once industrial buildings and warehouses is now home to literally hundreds of working artist’s studios. Located along the banks of the French Broad River, this area is one of the top Asheville attractions and is the heartbeat of the city’s arts scene. Watch the artists work, make some art yourself in an immersive program, and take home a souvenir or three. This neighborhood is also home to a number of restaurants, so have a bite before you go.
- North Carolina Arboretum– Whether your thumb is green or brown you’ll surely be wowed at the N.C. Arboretum. “Beautiful” is an understatement for this 434-acre public garden featuring a quilt garden (which is even more amazing than it sounds), one of the best bonsai collections in the U.S., hiking and biking trails, an art walk and exhibit, and more azaleas than you can imagine.
- Craft Breweries- Asheville calls itself “Beer City USA” and this is a “brewtiful” thing, indeed. With more than 100 local beers from 26 (at last count) craft breweries, Asheville is the perfect place for a beercation. And yes, a beercation really is a thing, for you teetotalers out there. Plus, there are also plenty of beer festivals, beer ice cream, beer shampoo, beer cake, beer soap, beer dog biscuits, beer…. beer… um… **hiccup!**
Looking for places to stay in Asheville is sort of like looking for a good brewski here: there’s something for every taste. Of course, there’s the magnificent Biltmore Estate, which has several accommodation options for different types of travelers and budgets. However, if you’re looking for a more intimate type of lodging, we recommend one of the lovely Asheville boutique hotels. Or, get closer to nature by renting a cabin or by glamping in a tent, yurt, airstream, or even a funky bubble dome. And we know some of you want the comforts of home, so check out the adorable tiny homes and see why all the cool kids are going tiny.
Asheville Guided Tours
An Asheville vacation would be awesome if you just sat downtown sipping a drink and watching the world go by–not even joking. But you’d be missing out on some of the best sights, sounds, and tastes the city has to offer. There really are so many things to do in Asheville, and a guided tour is a great way to see the sights. Read on for our picks for the best Asheville tours.
Asheville Food & Drink Tours
- Asheville Food Tours – Asheville consistently makes headlines as one of the top cities for foodies in the U.S., and any kind of cuisine you’re interested in can likely be found on this oh-so-yummy adventure. Himalayan, Ethiopian, local favorites… you name it. Walk from restaurant to restaurant and learn about local history, architecture, and see what makes Asheville so wonderful. Knowledgeable guides, small groups, and food so good you you’ll never want to leave make this a must do.
- Brew-ed. An Education in Beer- The art of producing a superb beer comes to life on this great brewery tour. Led by internationally-recognized beer experts who’ll introduce you to each brewery’s unique flavors and aromas, this walking tour is the best way to truly appreciate the “craft” of craft beers. Plus, there’s plenty of fascinating local history along the way. This ain’t your average pub crawl, folks.
Asheville Outdoor Tours
- The Flying Bike- What better way to tour downtown Asheville than on a comfy and super-fun electric bicycle. This tour is perfect for hard-core cyclists and couch potatoes alike, as the “electric” part makes conquering the city’s hills a breeze. Enjoy the art deco architecture, see the inside of the majestic Basilica of St. Lawrence, and much more. Fun hosts, great stops, and perfect for the whole family.
- Tumblestone Tours– Few sights in nature are as awe-inspiring as watching a waterfall–the sparkling water cascading down the ledge to the rocky pool beneath. So if you’re a ‘falls fan, an Asheville waterfall tour is an easy and hassle-free way to take them in. We love this tour for the convenient hotel pickup, comfy van with capitain’s chair seating, light hiking, small groups, experienced guide, and phenomenal waterfalls, flora, and fauna. Perfect.
- Asheville Hiking Tours– This is our pick for best Asheville Hiking Tour. First, they offer several different hikes: Waterfall tours, firefly tours (so cool!), and our favorite: elk tours. Second, the guides are all professional naturalists and are passionate about sharing their knowledge of the southern Appalachian’s plants and animals with you. Plus, the owner has a Ph.D. in biology so she knows her stuff. They even offer private customized hiking tours. Oh, and some of their adventures are pet friendly – just ask. Yay!
Asheville Bus Tours
- LaZoom Tours- The facts: This is a bus tour offering a comedic take on absolutely everything. They offer a Haunted Asheville tour, City Comedy Tour, Band and Beer Tour, and a Kids’ Tour. The bus is VERY purple and has a red-lipped mouth. Bees, beer-bellied men, nuns with 5:00 o’clock shadow, and 1940s pinup girls entertain you. It is a tourist attraction that even the locals love. Guests have been known to laugh so hard they pee a little. Here’s a review from a happy customer: “Omigosh! Take this tour. You might get a little sensory overload but it’s so worth it. You will see cool Asheville stuff, laugh, maybe drink a little too much, and just might see a ghost. And then you’ll laugh some more.” LaZoom’s website claims they are “amazeballs.” We agree.
No matter where you stay, what you do, or where you eat, there are so many cool things to do in Asheville: culture, history, architecture, stunning mountains and wildlife. Embrace it all; even the guy in the cat costume juggling a pipe wrench, knife, and a bowling ball. You won’t regret it.