Cool Things to Do in Asheville, NC

Cool Things to Do in Asheville, NC

Getaway Staff

Nestled among mountains and forests lies a charming and romantic city waiting to be discovered. There are plenty of things to do in Asheville, North Carolina, whether you're looking for a weekend retreat, an outdoor adventure or an immersive cultural experience.

Take a train and take in the scenery. Discover traditional craftwork. Explore America's largest residence. Listen to the music of a banjo or a drum circle. Find your next favorite beer. Hike some of the East's highest mountains. Slide down a unique water slide. All this and more are available in delightful Asheville, North Carolina.


01Forget all your cares when you're downtown

Aerial view of downtown Asheville, North Carolina Kruck20 / Getty Images

Stroll through the vibrant city of Asheville to get a real sense of place and history. Hop on LaZoom, the bright purple buses to learn some interesting and unique facts about the city's founding. Other options include trolleys and an urban walking tour. Do some shopping at the open-air Grove Market. Check out the Friday night drum circle downtown, a long-time Asheville staple. Brave ghosts and ghouls on the Haunted Ashville tour, which deposits you in the basement of a Masonic temple. Stop into fabled independent bookstores Malaprops and the Captain's Bookshelf.


02Definitely visit the French Broad River

Autumn on the French Broad

The French Broad River runs through Asheville west of downtown providing a scenic, calm-water escape from the city. One of the more idyllic stretches cuts through Biltmore Estate with views of the grand house on the hillside and pristine, forested riverbanks. Closer to the heart of town, you can float up to River Arts District to relax at a local brewery and cruise the art galleries. Multiple outfitters in town can assist with river excursions.


03Take time to visit museums

Aerial view of downtown Asheville at sunrise SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

From the traditional to the obscure, Asheville hosts an array of museums, so everyone is sure to find something up their alley.

The newly renovated Asheville Art Museum showcases the work of artists from western North Carolina and southern Appalachia, including Cherokee Nation artists. The Asheville Museum of Science allows visitors to explore and become geologists, topographers, paleontologists and more.

More unique options include the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Asheville Pinball Museum (yes, you can play pinball there), the Asheville Radio Museum, the Antique Car Museum at Grovewood Village, the Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum, and Wheels Through Time, a collection of rare vintage American motorcycles.


04Enjoy the Omni Grove Park Inn

The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina Daniell_Photography / Getty Images

Even if you don't stay at the Grove Park Inn, this historic hotel is still worth visiting. The original lodge building, which opened in 1913, resembles a giant gingerbread house made of stone and capped with a droopy red roof. The boulder fireplaces in the lobby serve as a gathering space for guests and the Asheville community. Enjoy panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, where you'll see wondrous sunsets from the aptly-named Sunset Terrace restaurant.


05Journey to the Great Smokies

Smoky mountains national park KenCanning / Getty Images

Just outside of Asheville is America's most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which spans both North Carolina and Tennessee. Discover what life was like in rural Appalachia by exploring rehabilitated log cabins, churches, schools, and mills. Grab your camera and photograph everything from wildflowers to elk and black bears. The best sites for wildlife viewing include Cataloochee and Cades Cove. Fishing, biking, and hiking are popular outdoor activities as well.


06Visit the beautiful Biltmore Estate

The Biltmont Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

No visit to Asheville would be complete without a stop at "America's largest home," the famed Biltmore Estate. This iconic French Renaissance chateau was built in 1889 for George Vanderbilt II. Famed architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250 room mansion, and preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead oversaw the grounds. Soak up the scenery today, and stroll past the famous Italian garden, the glass-roofed conservatory, and the boathouse. Or tour the home and try and find all 65 fireplaces while taking in the artwork of Renoir and John Singer Sargent. Marvel at the library's more than 10,000 volumes and be awestruck by the seven-story-high ceilings of the banquet hall.


07The Moog factory

The Moog synthesizer changed the face of popular music with its distinctive electronic sound first introduced in the 1960s. Learn about the history of that sound and see where the synths are made by scheduling a Moog Factory tour. Tours are free and spotlight the full range of Moogs through the ensuing decades. The factory is located at the edge of downtown, close to many of Asheville's favorite pubs, restaurants, and shops.


08Into the woods

Forest waterfalls hiking arboretum Kruck20 / Getty Images

Land once belonging to the influential Vanderbilt family created Pisgah National Forest. Ten minutes from downtown Asheville, this historic wilderness was established in 1916, making it one of the first National Forests in the Eastern United States. It comprises approximately half a million acres of hardwood forest, along with some of the highest mountain peaks in the region. There are also several notable waterfalls, including Moore Cove Falls and Looking Glass Falls, both of which are easily accessible. Not to be missed is Sliding Rock Natural Waterslide, a 60-foot slide down smoothed rock. In addition to hiking trails, there are also several trails that accommodate mountain biking.

Pisgah was once home to the first forestry school in the US. The story of the school is interpreted at the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site. The North Carolina Arboretum is also located within Pisgah National Forest.


09You've gotta see the Blue Ridge Parkway

Aerial of a winding highway Through a forest in autumn Ryan Herron / Getty Images

Known as "America's Favorite Ride," touring the North Carolina countryside via the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must for anyone visiting Asheville. The 469 miles of roadway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with North Carolina's own Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parkway is itself part of the National Park System, and offers plenty of stopping points for hiking, picnicking, or photographing the spectacular vistas.

Make sure to stop at the visitor center at mile marker 382, just south of Asheville, to pick up maps and view the exhibits. You'll also want to stop at the Folk Art Center, which is home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. You'll find artwork in three different galleries, as well as craft demonstrations.


10Enjoy romantic Lake Lure

Lake Lure, North Carolina during fall leaf season. The light and colors are beautiful during autumn in the western NC mountains. vixterd / Getty Images

If you're a fan of the hit 1987 film Dirty Dancing, check out Lake Lure southeast of town, where many scenes were filmed, including the iconic "lake lift" moment. There's a reason Hollywood chose the lake as a filming location. It's a beautiful body of water surrounded by mountains that can pass for the Catskills. Get the best view by climbing to the top of Chimney Rock, a chimney-like granite outcropping that overlooks the lake from on-high.


11Take a train through the mountains

scenic steam engine train ride David Osberg / Getty Images

As an alternative to driving, you can also take in the region's scenery via train. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers train rides along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers. These charming rides take you through the mountains and valleys, ducking in and out of tunnels along the way. There are open-air cars, climate-controlled cars, and even first-class accommodations which include dining. For children, there are special Christmas, Easter, and Halloween options.

The Craggy Mountain Line also offers train tours, as well as old-fashioned trolley tours and a train museum. During Christmas, your family can have hot chocolate and cookies with Santa and Mrs. Claus on the Jingle Bell Trolley Train Ride.


12South Slope

Just south of downtown Asheville is a portion of town undergoing a rapid transformation. It's also gaining a reputation as Asheville's brewing district because there are close to a dozen breweries either already open or currently in the works. Funkatorium boasts an old-world Belgian-style tasting room, while Green Man Brewery focuses on traditional English style. Don't forget to check out The Chemist, a craft distillery that's a throwback to the Prohibition era.

You can also check out the breweries by signing up for a Brews Cruise or via a pub cycle, a pedal-driven trolley that takes you around the city.

No worries though, there's more to do in South Slope than just grab some beers. It's also home to art galleries like ZaPow and the Tracey Morgan Gallery. The former industrial and warehouse district now hosts shops and restaurants as well, like Buxton Hall, known for its barbecue and excellent pies.


13Enjoy some foodie expeditions

Support local Asheville stores

If traditional restaurants aren't going to satisfy your cravings, Asheville offers some interesting alternatives.

Take a tour and learn about the small-scale farming of Appalachia. You'll visit community-supported agricultural sites like farmer's markets and homesteads. Check out East Fork Farm, where you'll find grass-fed lamb and beef, fresh eggs and even rainbow trout.

Feeling adventurous? Sign up for a guided foraging excursion. Rated a "best travel experience" by Southern Living, this unique adventure will teach you how to identify and prepare food you can find in the great outdoors.

Explore the Western North Carolina cheese trail. Some of the award-winning cheeses from the Williams Sonoma catalog are produced at nearby Looking Glass Creamery. Rocky Mountain Creamery is known for its goat cheese, while Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery produces a variety of European-style cheeses. Find even more cheese at the Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest, held each April.


14Asheville is a music city

Abstract light flares highlight downtown Asheville

Heralded as one of America's best cities for music, Asheville offers tons of spots to hear great music. While much of it has its roots in mountain music, you'll still find plenty of other sounds too.

A multitude of music festivals pepper the calendar, with Mayfest, the LEAF Festival, and Downtown After 5 being the most popular. Music is also an essential part of other events, like the Fins and Gills Classic fishing tournament and the Asheville Food Truck Showdown.

Check out some of Asheville's historic music venues, like The Orange Peel. Formerly an RnB club, it now hosts acts as varied as Bob Dylan and The Black Keys. The Grey Eagle's influence on Ashville's music scene helped launch the area's indie-rock culture and can be counted on to feature up-and-coming musicians.

You can catch more classical offerings at the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and the Asheville Lyric Opera.


15Asheville drum circle

Asheville has always been a music town, and the Asheville Drum Circle is the perfect place to experience that tradition firsthand. The circle forms every Friday evening between April and October in Pritchard Park downtown. It's a free, family-friendly event showcasing Asheville's diversity and harmonious nature. And there's usually lots of dancing. Bring your own drum, borrow one from a fellow drummer, or sit on the steps of the amphitheater to enjoy the spectacle and booming sounds.


16See what inspired the late Carl Sandburg

Fans of American literature can find Connemara, the former residence of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Carl Sandburg, just 40 minutes away from Asheville. It was here that his wife could rear dairy goats while Sandburg bashed away at his typewriter during the last two decades or so of his long life. The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site offers writer residencies and performances at the park amphitheater. You can tour the home, enjoy the Blue Ridge mountain views and walking trails, and pet the goats.


17Seek peace and beauty at the Basilica of St. Lawrence

The beautiful facade of the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. RiverNorthPhotography/ Getty Images

The Basilica of Saint Lawrence, Deacon, and Martyr was designed and built in the Downtown Asheville Historic District in 1905. The Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino and his colleague R. S. Smith were inspired by the Catalan style, and Guastavino's tomb is housed within the basilica. This ceremonial church has a wondrous interior full of saintly statues from Italy, detailed stained glass windows from Germany, and a huge dome. Come for Sunday mass and stay for the free tour afterward.


18Unleash your inner Tarzan at Asheville Treetops Adventure Park

Looking for family-friendly activities? Asheville Treetops Adventure Park should check all your boxes. Kids and adults enjoy the range of difficulty in the ropes course and zip lines; the climb is just high enough to get hearts beating faster, and it's great to watch friends and family members overcome their fears and safely whizz from post to post. Summer temperatures climb, too, so look out for limited Twilight in the Treetops dates for a literally cooler experience.


19Wave your worries goodbye while Sky Tubing

When the tree tops just won't cut it, and you need to take more direct measures to cool down, you'd best head for the rivers that the locals are used to. Ashevillians love going with the flow, so if you're in the mood for reclining, Sky Tubing can hook you up with bright pink tubes to float down the French Broad River. Take in the scenery as you leisurely pass by, grab your drink from the cup holder, and savor the sips solo or with company. When you're done with the approximately two-hour journey, a shuttle will take you to the starting point. Kids over four years old are welcome, and an online reservation is necessary. You don't even have to get wet if you don't want to.


20Get an eco-warrior power boost at Energy Park

The Jackson County Green Energy Park (JCGEP) in Dillsboro uses methane from the old town landfill and other renewable energy sources to power artisan studios. These spaces produce blown glass and ceramics, for example. You can visit to learn how the energy park functions, attend beginner to advanced creative classes, buy art, or rent some of the facilities. It's a great sustainability initiative to model because it prioritizes both people and the planet. The park was temporarily closed in January 2023, so check its status before trekking there.


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