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Asheville has been called a lot of things: the happiest city in America, the best southern town, an 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.
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Hike Chimney Rock State Park
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. You can hike to the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls waterfall, through the woods, by interesting rock formations, and past colorful wildflowers. The park is open year-around 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
There are few things more nostalgic than the railroad, and Asheville is the kind of town that brings out the nostalgia in you. Riding aboard a scenic train journey is one of the most romantic and fun ways to experience the Asheville area because 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
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. 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. Other activities offered here include horseback riding, fly fishing, and bike rentals.
Check Out Local Shops and Galleries Downtown
Asheville is one of America’s best cities to explore locally owned shops, galleries, restaurants, and pubs. There are plenty of all these in downtown Asheville, which is also known for hosting festivals and providing a venue for creative street performers. There are over 200 locally owned stores and boutiques here and a vibe that’s much more authentic than tacky or touristy. Stop by Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville on Friday night to listen to live drumming and dance the night away with a diverse crowd of music lovers.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the French Broad River
Asheville is just a stone’s throw away from the French Broad River, the Nolichucky River, and the Nantahala River. 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. 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
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. 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. 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
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. Depending on when you visit, you can also check out the Beer City Festival in May with 30+ breweries and live music in downtown Asheville and the Brewgrass Festival in September with lots more breweries at Memorial Stadium. To 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
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! 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. 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
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. 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. 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
Located near the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway scenic drive, Asheville’s climate is ideal for flowers of many kinds. 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. 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
For an exciting day trip from Asheville, make a point to explore the Linville Caverns, which are about 75 minutes from the city. These caverns have been open for public tours since the 1930s and have accessible pathways and lighting system upgrades today. Part of the caverns are even wheelchair and stroller accessible. 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.
Asheville Food Tours
Explore Asheville’s culinary treasures on a guided walking tour of the city’s local restaurants and gourmet food shops. The 3.5-hour tours 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 breads, hand-crafted local beer and locally made chocolate. Plus you can meet some of the chefs and store owners who have helped make downtown Asheville a premiere food destination.