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Asheville has been called a lot of things: the happiest city in America, the best southern town, the ultimate mountain destination, and one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. This North Carolina town has gained tremendous popularity in recent years because of its live music, craft brewery, outdoor recreation, and local arts scenes. But this is a friendly town that has been attracting writers, artists, and intellectuals for many decades, and it’s no longer a well-kept secret.
There are lots of festivals around town depending on when you visit and plenty of delicious food at the city’s unique restaurants too. This is also an ideal place to get outside and active with hiking trails in the spring, summer, and fall and ski resorts in the winter. But no matter when you visit, these are some of the top things to do in Asheville.
Hike Chimney Rock State Park
What Is It? To get some exercise and explore the beautiful landscapes that surround Asheville, head to Chimney Rock State Park, which has easy, moderate, and difficult hiking trails for locals and visitors to enjoy.
Why Do It? You can hike to the bottom of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls waterfall, through the woods, by interesting rock formations, and passed colorful wildflowers.
Good to Know: The park is open year-round and offers some guided hikes as well so you can learn more about the local birds and wildflowers.
Take a Scenic Train Journey on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
What Is It? There are few things more nostalgic than the railroad, and Asheville is the kind of town that brings out the nostalgia in you.
Why Do It? Riding aboard a scenic train journey is one of the most romantic and fun ways to experience the Asheville area.
Good to Know: You’ll see the beautiful landscapes of the Smokey Mountains, the Nantahala Gorge, and family-friendly stops along the way.
Tour the Famous Biltmore Estate
What Is It? The Biltmore Estate has been compared to Versailles in France because it’s a beautiful 250-room chateau on 8,000 sprawling acres of land.
Why Do It? Local tour guides advise visitors to plan for about four or five hours to properly tour the estate and grounds. This house was built in 1895 and also has a farm. It is home to the Biltmore Winery, which produces its own home-grown wines and offers tastings.
Good to Know: Other activities offered here include horseback riding, fly fishing, and bike rentals.
Check Out Local Shops and Galleries Downtown
What Is It? Asheville is one of America’s best cities to explore locally-owned shops, galleries, restaurants, and pubs.
Why Do It? There are plenty of all these in downtown Asheville, which is also known for hosting festivals and providing a venue for creative street performers.
Good to Know: There are over 200 locally owned stores and boutiques here and a vibe that’s much more authentic than tacky or touristy.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the French Broad River
What Is It? Asheville is just a stone’s throw away from the French Broad River, the Nolichucky River, and the Nantahala River.
Why Do It? If you’re looking to add some outdoor adventure into your trip to Asheville, join a whitewater kayaking trip for an adrenaline rush and stunning scenery. Depending on how adventurous and experienced you are, sign up for a beginner, family-friendly, or experienced rafting trip.
Good to Know: There are some great local guide companies that will tell you all about the landscape and native species, such as blue herons and ospreys, along the way.
Browse the River Arts District
What Is It? Located in West Asheville, the River Arts District is a wonderful place to see creative works by local artists and add something unique to your collection.
Why Do It? There are a couple dozen buildings that make up the arts district, which features fine art of all kinds created by well over a hundred different artists.
Good to Know: There are lots of restaurants and cafes that you can stop at to take a shopping break as well, especially if you’re in the mood for BBQ or down-home southern cooking.
Take a Local Craft Brew Tour
What Is It? Did you know that some people refer to Asheville as the “Napa Valley of beer?” This is a great town to visit if you love locally brewed beer because per capita, it has one of the highest rates of craft breweries in the U.S.
Why Do It? Depending on when you visit, you can also check out Asheville Beer Week in May with 40+ breweries and live music in downtown Asheville.
Good to Know: To learn more about the city and the beer it produces, take a pubcycle tour or a history/brewery walking tour with stops at multiple breweries that provide samples and pints of your favorite picks.
Hike Some of the Appalachian Trail
What Is It? Okay, so maybe you’re not cut out for the full 2,180 miles that it takes to hike the full Appalachian Trail, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t hike some of it!
Why Do It? The Appalachian Trail runs near Asheville, and you can meet up with the trail at Max Patch Mountain, which is 4,600 feet tall with a nice clearing for panoramic views of the area.
Good to Know: Another great hiking route in this area starts at Newfound Gap and climbs to the top of Charlies Bunion peak for a moderate four miles.
Learn about Literature at Thomas Wolfe Memorial
What Is It? The city of Asheville also has deep literary roots, and one of the best places to learn about them is at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
Why Do It? Wolfe was an autobiographical author and novelist and one of Asheville’s most famous former residents. You can take a tour of the 29-room house, learn about its fascinating history, and watch a film about Wolfe’s life and work here.
Good to Know: There’s a small admission fee to tour the home, and it’s generally open to the public on Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Immerse Yourself in Beauty at the North Carolina Arboretum
What Is It? Located near the Appalachian and the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway scenic drive, Asheville’s climate is ideal for flowers of many kinds.
Why Do It? Visit the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville to see one of the best bonsai tree collections in the United States. Another favorite flower here is the azalea, and there are over a dozen species of native and hybrid azaleas in the Heritage Garden.
Good to Know: Plan to spend at least half a day here to explore the ten miles of trails that give you a broad sense of the landscape.
Explore Linville Caverns
What Is It? For an exciting day trip from Asheville, make a point to explore the Linville Caverns, which are about 75 minutes from the city.
Why Do It? These caverns have been open for public tours since the 1930s and have accessible pathways and lighting system upgrades today.
Good to Know: You can join a guided tour to learn more about the world below the surface of North Carolina and enjoy a comfortable 52-degree year-around temperature down here. Part of the caverns are even wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Asheville Food Tours
What Is It? Explore Asheville’s culinary treasures on a guided walking tour of the city’s local restaurants and gourmet food shops with Asheville Food Tours.
Why Do It? The tour gives you a glimpse of some of the best food in the South, with stops at six or seven local downtown restaurants and food shops. Taste artisan cheeses, crusty baked bread, hand-crafted local beer and locally made chocolate.
Good to Know: Plus you can meet some of the chefs and store owners who have helped make downtown Asheville a premier food destination.