Embarking on the ultimate North Carolina road trip? Notch up the excitement with the best things to do in Asheville, NC. Although it doesn’t crack the state’s top 10 biggest cities, Asheville is North Carolina’s coolest place to visit. Hugging the French Broad River in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville attracts visitors of every kind. It’s the perfect NC destination for both outdoor adventurers and arts & culture lovers.
Among the top tourist attractions in Asheville, you’ll find baronial manors, Art Deco buildings, and cool art galleries. And let’s not forget the craft beer. (In fact, Asheville’s got more craft breweries per capita than any city in the United States!)
Ready to nail down what to do in Asheville? Plan the ultimate trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Asheville, NC.
Best places to visit in Asheville, NC
If you’re visiting Asheville in one day, start your morning with a visit to the Biltmore Estate. Located just outside the city, the estate dates back to the late-19th century. For its remarkable architecture and gardens, Biltmore Estate is one of the top places to see in Asheville.
Start your Biltmore Estate visit at the Biltmore House. Built in Chateauesque style, the mansion is the largest house in the United States. It features an astounding 178,926 square feet of living space, dividing into 250 rooms. The rooms teem with priceless historical artifacts and period artwork.
The Biltmore Estate is also famed for its forest trails and gardens. South of the home you’ll spot a walled rose garden featuring over 250 species from around the world. The estate’s azalea collection is also impressive. During spring, the azaleas bloom into pinks, oranges, whites, and yellows. With over 20,000 plants, it’s one of the USA’s most complete azalea collections.
Antler Hill Village
After exploring the Biltmore House and gardens, head northwest to Antler Hill Village. The small “village” is home to the Biltmore Winery. The famed winery is one of the most-visited wineries in the entire country. Your admission to the Biltmore Estate includes a complimentary wine tasting.
Aside from the winery, Antler Hill Village features several restaurants, bistros, shops, and inns. To fuel up for more Asheville sightseeing, grab lunch at Cedric’s Tavern or Village Social.
On your way back to town from the estate, check out Biltmore Village. Sitting near the estate’s main entrance, Biltmore Village is another cool 19th-century throwback. Among its quaint historic cottages, you’ll filter past antique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and brewpubs.
River Arts District
For art lovers & craft beer connoisseurs, visiting Asheville’s River Arts District is a must. The River Arts District (RAD) sits upon the banks of the French Broad River. Just five minutes from downtown by car, the eclectic neighborhood is one of the top points of interest in Asheville.
Two decades ago, the River Arts District was a mere collection of decaying industrial buildings and warehouses. Of course, Asheville’s artists had a different idea. Today, the RAD teems with cool street art, art galleries, cafés, and, in true Asheville spirit, craft breweries.
Arts & culture vultures will have a blast sorting through hundreds of artist studios & galleries. A good place to start is at 310 Art. Located in Riverview Station, 310 Art features artwork from over a dozen local artists.
In the district’s south, the colorful Pink Dog Creative is also worth a look. Pink Dog Creative is home to 30 local artists, a coffee shop, and two restaurants.
Built up a thirst on your art adventure? Grab a pint at the Wedge Brewing Company. At the main Wedge Studios location, several food trucks are also parked outside to help you demolish your hunger.
For a taste of Southern BBQ in North Carolina, pull up a chair at 12 Bones Smokehouse. The most famous smokehouse in Asheville, 12 Bones Smokehouse slow-smokes their meats on cherry and oak wood. Its drool-worthy BBQ is some of the city’s most mouth-watering. BBQ fans can’t miss it!
Asheville Urban Trail
Need a primer for your Asheville trip? Start by exploring its historic downtown along the Asheville Urban Trail. The 1.7-mile walking loop starts and ends at Pack Square Park in the center of downtown.
The 2-hour Urban Trail walk focuses on the city’s striking Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, and Art Deco architecture. The handsome downtown historic buildings hide trendy boutiques, restaurants, and brewpubs.
If you need an afternoon bite, slide into the Tupelo Honey Cafe. One of the city’s most popular places to eat, Tupelo Honey Cafe delights with its delicious Southern comfort food. The restaurant sits on College Street near Pritchard Park, famed for its Friday evening public drum circle.
Pisgah National Forest
Sprawling across much of Western North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest is one of the state’s finest outdoor retreats. The hardwood forest sprawls out over 500,000 acres. And with its closest access point just 10 minutes from town, Pisgah National Forest is near the top of the list of what to see in Asheville.
For an easy trip to Pisgah National Forest, ply along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 15-mile stretch of US Highway 276 slides past some of the forest’s main attractions.
The highlight of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is the famed Sliding Rock. The natural waterslide plunges you 60 feet below into a refreshing swimming hole. Sliding Rock is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day for sliding and all year round for sightseeing.
Other hotspots along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway include Looking Glass Falls and Moore Cove Falls. The first American forest school, Cradle of Forestry, also sits along the byway.
At the opposite end of the Pisgah National Forest, northeast of Asheville, carve out time to visit Linville Gorge. Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Linville Gorge plunges 2,000 feet into the Linville River below.
The almost 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness Area teems with miles of hiking trails unleashing spectacular views. A word of warning though: The trails here are not for the faint-hearted. Although short, many of the treks around Linville Gorge require climbing skills and more technical gear.
Omni Grove Park Inn
Built over a century ago, Omni Grove Park Inn is one of Asheville’s most impressive historic buildings. The luxurious mountain resort shows off a unique Arts and Crafts architectural style. The inn’s unique design was dreamt up by E.W. Grove, one of the city’s most important historical residents.
Even if staying at the Omni Grove Park Inn is out of your travel budget, set aside an evening to check it out. It’s one of the best places to go in Asheville to watch the sunset over the hills. Grab a meal and a cocktail on its Sunset Terrace for the perfect end to the day.
Not far from the inn you’ll stumble upon the quaint Grovewood Village. The small “campus” was built in 1917 as the home of Biltmore Industries. Today, it teems with museums, artist studios, galleries, and an 11-acre sculpture garden.
Art lovers visiting Grovewood Village can’t miss Grovewood Gallery. The two-floor shop is one of North Carolina’s finest arts & craft galleries. At Grovewood Gallery, you’ll sort through artwork and handmade furniture crafted by over 400 artists from around the US.
Not into art? Rev up your engine at the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum. The museum hosts a handful of early-19th century cars and horse-drawn carriages. Admission to the antique car museum is free.
Asheville Pinball Museum
Need a break from historical sightseeing in Asheville? Spend an hour or two spinnin’ balls at the Asheville Pinball Museum. Sitting on the edge of Battle Square, the “museum” is one of the coolest places to go in Asheville.
Retro gamers and next-gen kids alike will love the family-friendly fun at the Asheville Pinball Museum. The attraction is home to about 50 classic arcade and pinball machines. For just $15, you’ll enjoy unlimited plays on all its games.
No, you won’t find retro gaming goodness at the Grove Arcade. Nonetheless, this historic shopping arcade is one of the most interesting things to see in Asheville. Visiting Grove Arcade is a must for any trip to the North Carolina mountain city.
Rising from the mind of E.W. Grove in the roaring 1920s, Grove Arcade was one of the world’s first indoor malls. And at almost a century old, the mall still buzzes with cool boutiques, arts & craft shops, galleries, and restaurants.
After browsing the eclectic shops of Grove Arcade, book lovers should check out the Battery Park Book Exchange. The used bookstore takes book shopping to the next level with its cool wine & champagne bar. Grab a book and a glass of bubbly to unwind before exploring more of Asheville.
Sierra Nevada Brewery
Ready to test Asheville’s penchant for craft beer? Sip on pints at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River. Located on the French Broad River, the popular craft brewery is a fantastic place to celebrate Western North Carolina’s love of suds.
Aside from its 23 taps, Sierra Nevada’s Mills River taphouse serves delicious Southern-inspired pub fare. Carve out time to walk off your beer and a meal in the brewery’s leafy grounds.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Much of Asheville’s popularity with travelers comes from its location on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Scraping along the Blue Ridge Mountains ridgeline, the parkway 469-mile roadway is one of America’s most scenic drives. The route begins at Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From here, it drifts southward to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Whether you drive north or south of Asheville, there’s plenty to see & do along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heading north, opt for a hike up Craggy Pinnacle or a drive up Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
To the south, tackle Black Balsam Knob. The tree-free Appalachian peak is the perfect family-friendly nature escape in Asheville. Black Balsam Knob is an easy to moderate loop hike, clocking in at just two hours return. The views from the top of its 6,214-foot summit are spectacular.
Looking for the best hiking in Asheville? Strap on your boots and head to Craggy Gardens. Fondly nicknamed “Craggy” by locals, this hilly hiking area in the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of the best Asheville day trips. It’s a scenic 45-minute drive from town on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For a first-time visit, start with the Craggy Gardens Trail. The 0.3-mile trail is accessible from the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Finishing the short trek, you’ll reach a hut where you’ll marvel at beautiful views over the mountains.
Need a bigger challenge? Opt for the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. Launching from Craggy Dome, the 1.4-mile loop treks to the 5,892-foot summit. At the top, you’ll delight at breathtaking 360-degree views over the area.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Home to the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell State Park is one of Asheville’s best outdoor attractions. The beautiful nature area sprawls 1,946 acres, rising 6,684 feet to the summit of its namesake mountain.
Unlike other peaks in the area, the trek up to the top of Mt. Mitchell isn’t so strenuous. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway will get you most of the way there. From the parking area, you’ll only need to hike a quarter-mile to Mount Mitchell’s observation deck. Once atop, you’ll admire spellbinding panoramic views over the mountain range.
Mount Mitchell State Park is just 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. Be sure to bring along outerwear. The temperatures at the peak are 10 to 30 degrees cooler than in town.
Chimney Rock State Park
Located just 25 miles outside Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park unleashes all the nature Western NC is famous for. From the top of the park’s namesake rock, you’ll marvel at dramatic views over deep forests, Hickory Nut Gorge, and Lake Lure.
Chimney Rock State Park is also home to several excellent hiking trails. Beginners will want to start with the easy Hickory Nut Falls Trail. The 1.5-mile loop drifts through the woods with only a couple small uphill climbs. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled to spot lovely wildflowers and native birdlife
For a more advanced hike, follow the route to Exclamation Point. From its 2,480-foot perch, you’ll delight in spectacular views over Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. The trailhead is located near the staircase up to the rock.
DuPont State Forest
A 40-mile drive from the city, DuPont State Forest is another top Asheville destination for outdoor adventurers. The 10,000-acre nature reserve teems with waterfalls, accessible via 86 miles of hiking trails.
To squeeze the most out of your DuPont State Recreational Forest visit, tackle the Waterfall Hike. The moderate 3-mile trail meanders past three waterfalls, each more spectacular than the last. Your effort will be rewarded with a view of the 150-foot High Falls at the trail’s end.
North Carolina Arboretum
One of the finest natural gardens in the USA, North Carolina Arboretum makes for a wonderful escape from the city. Within its 434-acre campus lies about half a dozen manicured gardens. Featuring azaleas, hollies, and stonework, the gardens meld perfectly with the natural landscape.
Besides admiring its gardens, North Carolina Arboretum teems with hiking & biking trails. For a relaxing pedal, hit up the 1.3-mile Bent Creek Road or the 1.2-mile Carolina Mountain Trail.
Botanical Gardens at Asheville
Located in North Asheville, Botanical Gardens at Asheville is the perfect place to ditch the urban buzz. The 10-acre garden bursts with thousands of native South Appalachian plant species.
Wander the garden’s nature trails, including the main 0.5-mile Crayton Trail loop, to admire its wildflowers and evergreens.
When you’re done with the botanical gardens, slip down to the Montford Area Historic District. Located just south of the gardens, the neighborhood teems with beautiful historic homes. Its Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival buildings are among the city’s most distinctive.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Looking to stretch your Western North Carolina trip to its max? Save time to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 800-square-mile national park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. And while most travelers visit from Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, visiting from Asheville is possible, too.
If you’re tight for time, set your sights on Clingmans Dome. The famed Great Smoky Mountains viewpoint is the highest point in the national park and in Tennessee. About 75 miles from Asheville, the scenic drive to the 6,643-foot panorama point accessible between April and November.
Keep in mind that weather conditions at Clingmans Dome are unpredictable. Temperatures are often 10 to 25 degrees colder than in the “lowlands.” As precipitation is possible year-round, bring waterproof outerwear and extra layers to deal with the chill.
Best places to stay in Asheville for sightseeing
For most travelers, the best place to stay in Asheville is downtown. The city center is home to most of the city’s best hotels and top points of interest. Here are a couple ideas to get your accommodation search started.
As chilled out as the city itself, the Hotel Indigo is the perfect choice for a colorful stay in the city. Rooms are funky and offer blissful views over the area.
Located minutes from Pack Square, the stylish AC Hotel sits in the very heart of the downtown. The highlight is enjoying sweeping city views from its hip rooftop bar & tapas joint, Capella on 9.
Set in a 1920s-era building, the historic Haywood Park Hotel is one of Asheville’s best luxury hotels. The suites at this 4-star hotel are spacious and modern.