Asheville, North Carolina is bursting at the seams with things to do, places to explore and, of course, beers to drink. There are simply not enough hours, no matter how long you plan to stay, because there’s always something more to do: a brewery you need to visit, a band you need to hear or a craftsman you need to meet.
I visited for three days as a guest of Explore Asheville, and before I got to the airport to catch my flight home, I was already planning my next trip.
Asheville as City of Architecture
Begin your visit downtown with a walking tour for an overview of Asheville and a little of its history. There are several tours to choose from, but I recommend the Insider Tour with Asheville by Foot. The hour-long tour is an easy walk. You’ll be given headphones so you don’t miss anything the guide says.
The tour is a great introduction to Asheville’s incredible architecture. The buildings were preserved, interestingly because the City of Asheville refused to file bankruptcy during the Great Depression. (Many of the loans were from city leaders who wanted to be repaid.) As a result, Asheville couldn’t afford any new downtown construction for the next 50 years. By the time they could build, city leaders took a look at the historical aspects of the buildings and realized they had something worth preserving.
On the tour, guides point out the best restaurants, bars, art galleries, and boutiques to visit. After taking my tour, I spent time browsing for souvenirs at Ten Thousand Villages and the gift shop of the aSHEville Museum and strolling through Woolworth Walk, where the works of roughly 160 artists are on display.
Beyond Downtown Asheville
If there is one thing you don’t want to miss on your visit, it’s Biltmore Estate. Built in 1895, it is the largest private home in the United States (it’s still owned by the Vanderbilt family) and features gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
Plan to spend at least two hours in the main house and another hour in the gardens. Tack on additional time if you want to visit the farm, shop at the Antler Village, or sample wines at the winery. I budgeted two and a half hours and felt rushed through the main house and gardens.
You’ll also want to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains while in Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes just outside the city, allowing you to drive part of this 469-mile scenic byway. Better yet, hike into the mountains and immerse yourself in their beauty. The 1.2-mile, moderate Craggy Pinnacle Trail is one of the most popular.
Other trails in the vicinity of Asheville lead to overlooks, waterfalls, and incredible scenery. You can also zipline, mountain bike, cycle, and horseback ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you enjoy water sports, rent a kayak or brave the rapids on a whitewater river trip.
What to Eat in Asheville
In a city that calls itself “Foodtopia,” finding a good restaurant isn’t a problem; narrowing down your options is. Try Nightbell, a small plate restaurant and creative cocktail bar by James Beard award winner Katie Button. (I recommend the crispy lamb belly.) Or, head to Jargon in the River Arts District. It’s a similar concept with small plates and live jazz on the weekends.
Tupelo Honey is a great downtown café. Everything is made from scratch using only the freshest, regionally sourced ingredients. You can’t go wrong with whatever you order (I had the fried chicken Cobb salad) especially if it comes with a buttermilk biscuit and honey.
Barbecue is big in Asheville, so dedicate at least one meal to sampling delicious smoked meat. I tried both Buxton Hall Barbecue and 12 Bones Smokehouse. Buxton Hall was good, but I would hop back on a plane right now for the salt and pepper ribs at 12 Bones. Add the corn pudding on the side, and I’m in food heaven.
What to Drink in Asheville
With more than 60 breweries, Asheville is often dubbed the “Napa Valley of Beer.” You can spend an entire trip going from one craft brewery to the next or spend less time and only hit a few highlights. New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada are safe places to start. Or, you can get local at Burial Beer Co., Wicked Weed Funkatorium, or Wedge Brewing.
Cider is big in Asheville, too. Try Bold Rock Hard Cider or Noble Hard Cider. Or, for something a little different, head to Ginger’s Revenge. The craft brewery serves alcoholic ginger beer, some with creative flavor profiles like Pear Rosemary and Lime Agave. I’m not a beer drinker, but the next time I’m in Asheville, my first stop will be Ginger’s Revenge. It was that good.
Music goes with beer, and Asheville has its fair share. In fact, the growth of the music scene in Asheville has outpaced that of Nashville for several years now. You can hear live music at most of the breweries, but Asheville has several impressive music venues, including The Orange Peel, The Grey Eagle, Isis Music Hall, and Ambrose West.
Where to Stay in Asheville
There are some great choices for where to stay in Asheville. The Omni Grove Park Inn is one of those grand hotels that leaves you breathless. Built in 1913, it features native granite stone and, from its perch on Sunset Mountain, offers incredible views of the city below. Inside, it houses one of the largest collections of Arts and Crafts era pieces and boasts two massive fireplaces in the lobby (often referred to as the Great Hall).
Ten presidents and countless celebrities, from Thomas Edison to Will Rogers, Harry Houdini, and Henry Kissinger, have overnighted at the Grove Park Inn. My stay was nothing short of spectacular.
I also stayed at The Aloft. The Aloft Asheville Downtown was a great alternative. For starters, it’s located in the heart of downtown, so I could walk to many of the places I wanted to visit. (Everything was at least a five-minute rideshare trip from the Grove Park Inn.)
Plus, not only is it pet-friendly, but the hotel partners with a local animal shelter to foster rescue dogs. Who knows? You might not only make a new friend on your visit but bring home a new family member.
When You Visit Asheville
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.