Asheville has to be one of the coolest small cities on the East Coast, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and adventurous spirit. Here are some fun things to do there!
Located in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a unique mix of hipster coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
After hearing about Asheville for years, whether from friends, or the Obama’s visiting on vacation — it was time to learn what all the fuss was about.
Why was Asheville rated the #1 US travel destination for 2017? Why does everyone think Asheville is so cool?
Asheville’s creative (and slightly eccentric) locals contribute to a lively downtown unlike any other. You can experience an intoxicating drum circle, shop at vintage boutiques, sit down to an amazing locally-grown meal, and admire cool street art all in one day.
One of the best ways to experience the city fully is by exploring on foot. With about 87,000 residents, Asheville isn’t huge. But it’s not too small either.
It feels like a large town, and just the right size. Asheville’s downtown in particular is easily walkable, with a charm all its own.
Asheville is known for its art scene, and you’ll quickly understand why. There’s fun street art all over the place, like colorful murals painted on the side of buildings & under bridges depicting the city’s history.
My favorite was probably “Chicken Alley” by Molly Must, which you can find on Carolina Lane & Woodfin Street. Two giant chickens watch over the alley, a place that used to be full of real chickens in the past.
In the 1980s artists began transforming a bunch of old industrial buildings along the French Broad River into studio space. Now the public can visit these studios as part of the Rivers Arts District and browse the work of over 200 local artists.
The town is full of small lounges, clubs, and breweries featuring live rock, jazz, and bluegrass. Many don’t charge a cover either.
Or you can check out some fun (possibly strange) street performances in the center of town. Don’t forget to tip if you enjoy the show! Asheville wouldn’t be the same without them.
Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”. Because with 26 different craft breweries in the city, and another 60 nearby, beer lovers won’t want to leave.
About 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, and each brewery has its own unique character. From strong hoppy IPAs to dark stouts, to fruity raspberry ales, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.
On top of the incredible beer scene, the city is also “steeped” in tea culture.
The French Broad River winds its way past Asheville, providing a natural space for all kinds of outdoor activities & adventures.
You have your obvious river sports like whitewater kayaking and inner-tube floating, but there are some lesser-known activities here too, like “bellyaking” and whitewater SUP.
Bellyaking was actually invented in Asheville — it’s a face first kayak-type ride using special “paddle gloves” to maneuver through the rapids.
I decided to try some whitewater SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) for the first time with Wai Mauna SUP Tours.
Stand-up paddle-boarding through class I & II river rapids on the French Broad River requires a lot of balance, it was more difficult then the lake or ocean SUP I was used to. I fell a few times, but it was still fun!
Asheville is home to over 250 restaurants, many serving locally produced meats and veggies while supporting North Carolina’s farmers. They’ve been doing “farm to table” long before it became a cliche.
French Broad Chocolates is an ice-cream lover’s dream too. The line outside is long, but there’s a reason for that.
The chocolate ice-cream floats are sooooo good! It was worth the wait.
The historic Biltmore Estate is one of the most frequently suggested places to visit in Asheville. George Vanderbilt’s gigantic, hundred-year-old property is indeed quite busy all year long.
George, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, fell in love with North Carolina and began building his property by late 1889. He decided to create a dream home surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.
This 178,926 square foot mansion sits on 8000 acres, with over 250 rooms, and is America’s largest home. The Biltmore holds regular exhibitions — they were displaying movie costumes used in films set during the XVIIIth century when we were there.
George Vanderbilt was one of the most-read men in America, and amassed a library of more than 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself. Gazing at the walls of books in his preserved library was fascinating.
I’ve never been wild mushroom picking before, so we signed up for morning foraging tour with a company called No Taste Like Home.
Our day began with an overview from owner Alan Muskat about types of edibles we’d be looking for, and which poisonous plants to avoid.
After being equipped with baskets, harvesting knives, and paper bags, we headed into the enchanting North Carolina forest. I was completely surprised at how many things you could eat, and how good they tasted!
We collected Day Lily flowers, Chanterelle mushrooms, Stinging Nettle, Sassafras leaves, and strange mushrooms called Hairy Rubber Cups. While not popular in the US, they are apparently a delicacy in Malaysia.
After, you can bring your “catch” to local restaurants in Asheville like The Marketplace, where chefs prepare your dinner using the wild ingredients.
Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers year-round access to hiking trails and exhilarating views along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.
The complete route stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, and is home to a wide range of diverse plants and animals. It’s technically part of the National Park System.
Along with hundreds of hiking trails, the parkway includes sections of the Appalachian Trail — one of America’s classic long distance hikes that stretches from Georgia to Maine.
Asheville was a perfect base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we spent a full day cruising its winding pavement. Stopping occasionally at mountain lookouts and for short hikes to admire the area’s nature.
Pisgah National Forest is located South West of Asheville, only 30-45 minutes away. It’s considered the birthplace of modern forestry in America, and home to the country’s first forestry school.
Driving through Pisgah on Route 276 is a fun little road trip complete with waterfalls, white water rapids, hiking trails, and camping opportunities.
We stopped by two different waterfalls. The first is called Looking Glass Falls. Located right off the side of the road, it’s super easy to reach, and a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.
The second is Sliding Rock — basically a huge natural waterslide made of smooth stone. A quick ride down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder will definitely wake you up due to the chilly 50 degree water!
The Davidson River is a popular area for fly-fishing too.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Asheville, here are my recommendations:
Grove Park Inn – Asheville’s most famous hotel is one of a kind. Built out of stone on the top of a hill, it features various restaurants, a beautiful spa, and scenic views of the city.
Abbington Green B&B – This has to be one of the best bed & breakfasts I’ve ever stayed at. Beautifully designed with a peaceful garden, tasty breakfast, and friendly southern hospitality.
Asheville has a little something for everyone. You can enjoy scenic mountain vistas, fun live music, locally produced food and beer, a vibrant arts scene, hiking and other outdoor adventure activities too.
I have to say it has become one of my new favorite mountain towns in the United States, and an excellent weekend vacation destination. Who knows, you may never want to leave! ★
Any questions about traveling to Asheville, NC? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!