Things to do in Asheville
There’s something about laid-back Asheville, North Carolina that keeps drawing me back. I A large part of it for me is the food and drinks, but you needn’t spend all your time eating and drinking. There’s plenty to do in and around the city for all budgets! Here’s 10 of my favorite things to do in Asheville, from fun splurges to free or cheap activities.
Splurges in Asheville, NC
I admit, I was on the fence about Biltmore. Was it really worth the ticket price to peek at some of the excesses of the gilded age? The house is indeed neat to tour, but as it turns out, Biltmore’s ground are gorgeous and extensive, with a large conservatory that rivals many city conservatories I’ve been to. You can easily spend at day at Biltmore, exploring the house and grounds, eating at one of restaurants, and partaking of the complimentary tastings at their winery. No wonder it’s one of the most popular things to do in Asheville.
You’ll get a small discount when purchasing Biltmore tickets online, and during busy times of the year, you may be required to purchase tickets ahead of time. I’d recommend visiting the site and taking a look at their calendar, which indicates days on which is a reservation is necessary–as well as off-peak times when tickets are less costly.
A Japanese style spa nestled on the side of a mountain close to downtown Asheville, Shoji is the perfect spot to relax and take in your surroundings.
Their large private hot tubs can be rented by the hour, or rolled into a package with massage and tea service. You can even schedule a guided hike of the area beforehand. We visited in the late fall, when the chilly walk down to our tub made the hot water that much better. The tubs are enclosed, but have open roofs and backs for great views of nature, and I bet they’d be amazing in the winter with the snow coming down.
If you want to stretch your money, Shoji allows you to bring your own drinks and snacks, including wine and beer.
Spanish tapas restaurant Cúrate has gained national recognition, with features in the New York Times, Bon Appetit and more. Indeed, among the hyped restaurants we visited, it’s one of the few that truly stood out, and didn’t leave me feeling like I’d overpaid, despite the $100+ bill for two (not including dessert, we were too stuffed!). I’d actually visited years ago, and was wondering if Cúrate would live up to my memories of that first perfect meal. They didn’t disappoint! This is the one restaurant reservation you shouldn’t think twice about in Asheville, and I do recommend making a reservation as soon as you book your travel, especially if traveling in peak tourist seasons of summer and fall.
The sophisticated brother of Asheville’s Thirsty Monk Brewery, Top of the Monk is located up a narrow staircase (predictably) above the Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville. It’s low key and quiet, hip without trying too hard–a classic cocktail bar that immediately won our hearts. In order to skirt state regulations requiring that food be served with alcohol, you must become a member to drink here, which costs just $1. Only one individual in your party needs to sign up, unless you’d all like to be card-carrying members of Top of the Monk.
Though they don’t serve food, there are snacks to be had: following Spanish tapas bar custom, with each drink you purchase, you’ll receive a snack. At Top of the Monk, they give you a key. Take that key over to the wall of vintage postal boxes and use it to retrieve a small snack stowed inside, everything from charcuterie to cheesy popcorn.
This one can easily fit in the cheap section– that is if you can discipline yourself to look, but not purchase that gorgeous $100 mug (or $15,000 painting). Asheville has no shortage of galleries featuring art of all types. Pictured above is Akira Satake’s pottery in the River Arts District a short drive from downtown, though you’ll find great art galleries in the Downtown Asheville Arts District as well. Asheville’s known as an artsy city for good reason, check out the art scene and it will quickly become a favorite thing to do in Asheville.
Cheap Things to do in Asheville, NC
Right off the Blue Ridge parkway, and a short drive from downtown Asheville is the spacious Folk Art Center, housing a gallery and shop with both traditional and contemporary local crafts. Admission and parking are free, and unlike so many tourist focused “craft” shops you’ve probably come across in your travels, this one is worth it! The art in the gallery and shop is truly gorgeous and expertly crafted. You can enjoy your visit without spending a dime, but if you’re shopping for souvenirs, the Folk Art Center is my number one recommendation.
One of the most popular Asheville activities when leaves are turning in the fall, a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway provides stunning views year round– though come winter the Parkway around Asheville is likely to be closed for safety reasons. Any other time of the year, it’s worth going for even just an hour’s drive to take in the scenery. You’ll also find numerous hiking trails along the Parkway, suitable for all skill levels.
Urban Orchard’s cider bar offers locally-made hard apple cider in a dizzying number of styles and flavors that beg for a tasting. Luckily, you can snag a tasting flight with generously sized pours that won’t break the bank (4 for $9 or 6 for $13.50). Tastings of 6 or more must be shared between 2 people, which we didn’t mind at all–it’s a good amount of alcohol– and we both found ciders that we loved.
Do donuts count as a tourist activity? Because these are some of the best donuts we’ve had! Vortex Donuts offers most of their flavors as yeast or cake donuts (try both, they’re equally fantastic)–and oh, those flavors! Their glazes aren’t the standard bland sugary dyes; they taste like their namesakes, from Banana to Raspberry and beyond. At around $3 a donut, they’re not the cheapest out there, but make for a delicious, and reasonably priced breakfast. Foodies should make sure to include Vortex on their Asheville to-do list.
You didn’t come to this gorgeous mountainous area without plans to spend time outdoors, right? There’s so many wonderful (and free!) hikes in the area, indeed hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Asheville, North Carolina. You can even fit in a day hike on the Appalachian Trail! On of my favorites is Max Patch, for it’s stunning 360 views and relatively easy hike. You’ll actually drive most of the way up the mountain, park your car in the Max Patch parking lot, and take a short hike up to amazing views.
Where to Stay
There’s a wide range of accommodation options in Asheville, from cabins, to downtown hotels, even some pretty swank Airbnbs. I don’t have a particular favorite, but Booking.com (they have listings for apartment and cabin rentals as well as hotels) or TripAdvisor (also offering hotels and vacation rentals, plus their extensive property reviews) are good places to start your search and compare prices. Pictured above is The Inn on Biltmore Estate.