The Ultimate Travel Guide to Asheville, North Carolina
Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, lies a a hippie-haven turned internationally-revered travel destination, Asheville, NC, home to the historic Vanderbilt Estate – the ultra-gorgeous and ultra-famous Biltmore that initially put Asheville on the map. But, over the past 20 years or so, the thriving microbrewery and locavore food scene has made even the most well-traveled rank Asheville at the top of their USA bucket list. And if you haven’t been been to Asheville yet, this guide is all you need to plan the perfect trip to this cozy mountain-town oasis!
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT ASHEVILLE, NC
The best (and also most crowded) time to visit Asheville is the autumn, when the picture-perfect fall foliage is at its peak and the leaf peepers can be spotted lining the Blue Ridge Parkway with their selfie sticks. The summer season is almost as popular at the fall, and why wouldn’t it be with average temperatures in the low 70s all summer?! It’s the perfect time to hit the trails or the breweries (patio season, am I right?!). And if you do plan on visiting the Biltmore Estate on your trip, the Christmas season decorations are unparalleled, and easily one of the best travel destinations at Christmastime. Basically what I’m trying to say is, Asheville is great any time of the year!
GETTING TO ASHEVILLE
If you are not within an achievable “road trip” distance, the good news is Asheville does has it’s own airport! however- it is likely to be more expensive due to it being a smaller airport. The closest international airport is Charlotte Douglas, which is about a 1.5 hour drive, and where most people fly into when traveling to Asheville.
WHAT TO DO IN ASHEVILLE
Asheville is surrounded by protected national forests and there are hikes for all levels! Just east of town lies the Catawba Falls hike, which follows the river to the base of a beautiful moss cover waterfall (a 2.7 mile round trip). For a bit longest excursion, another favorite is Looking Glass Rock, you’ll get panoramic views with a 5.5 mile round trip investment. If you’re up for a challenge and want a great day trip, just 45 minutes out of town is Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. There are also hundreds of trials off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, hop on a piece of the Mountains to Sea trail or the infamous Appalachian trail.
Drive Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
The famous road that stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, with some of the best views of the Blue Ridge mountains. There are tons of scenic view points where you can pull off and picnic! In the summer months, make a pit stop at The Orchard at Alta Pass (mile post 328) to pick some apples and enjoy fresh cider (you might even get some lives music).
Explore The Local Wineries
Nearly 60 wineries dot the mountains of Western Carolina, many of which are family owned (including the Biltmore Winery, expanded upon below). If you want to stay close to town, check out the Pleb Urban Winery, where they produce more than 20 small-batch wines that are beginning to attract quite a lot of attention from fellow wine snobs. Just 17 miles outside of downtown Asheville, you’ll find Addison Farms Vineyard, where their winery and tasting room have 360-degree mountain views-bring a picnic and sip away! Another newer but not less adored winery is Marked Tree, they just opened a new tasting room downtown called “The Grape”, so you can taste their wines even if you can’t make the trip to the vineyard.
Visit the Biltmore Estate
Yes the Biltmore can get crowded, and yes it is a bit touristy but it is absolutely still worth visiting. The Biltmore, built by George Vanderbilt in 1889, is the largest privately owned home in the United States (approximately 179,000 square feet). It contains more than 250 rooms, 43 bathrooms, multiple kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, and even a bowling alley!
The house opens at 9am so get there early to beat the crowds/get the best parking and pay the extra $12 for the audio guided tour, it really does enhance the experience. After touring the house and gardens, head immediately to your FREE, yes FREE wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery (you’ll need your entrance ticket). The Wine Bar at the winery is lovely for lunch, or you can head 5 miles down the road the the European inspired village, Antler Hill, which the Vanderbilts built for their staff. The village has cafes, shops, craft exhibitions and even an outdoor adventure center where you can book horseback riding tours. For lunch in Antler Hill, make sure you check out Corner Kitchen, where they serve up seasonal farm-to-table fare.
Go Brewery Hopping
One of the best “beer cities” in the country, let alone North Carolina, Asheville has an impressive brewery lineup. You could spend a whole day brewery hopping if you so desired, and in fact I highly recommend you leave one day in your schedule for just that. Many of the breweries that began here have now opened multiple locations across NC, like Burial and High Wire. These two breweries take 1st and 2nd place in my book, but Wicked Weed is probably the most well known/recognized. Wicked Weed has a “Funkatorium” location that is dedicated to the company’s sours and “funkier” brews for beer lovers with a stronger palate. If you’re a saison loved check out Archetype, or Brhamari (which also has an intriguing cocktail menu for any non-beer drinkers).
Take a Spa Day
If you aren’t already staying at the Omni Grove Park Inn, think about at least booking a spa treatment so your can use their world class facilities, which include sauna, contrast pools, eucalyptus infused steam room and aroma therapy rooms.
Another well known spa in Asheville is the Shoji Spa, a Japanese inspired retreat offering salt water soaks, world class massage therapy, and locally sourced spa products. Hop in a cotton robe and enjoy a private salt water tub overlooking the forrest.
Tour The Sierra Nevada Brewery
This isn’t just a brewery, it’s a whole adult amusement park…perfect for setting up camp and hanging all afternoon with friends. While you can still experience the brewery without the tour, it always makes the beer taste a little better when you appreciate the process a bit more. Choose from a quick 45 minute tour or the “beer geel” 3 hour tour that is a bit more in depth and includes a barrel tasting. Tours do book up so I would recommend booking in advance.
Catch Some Live Music
Rolling Stone named Asheville a “must visit music city”. Know for its underground music scene and pop-up concerts, there are many places to listen to live music in this city. The most well known venue being the Orange Peel, if you’ve ever heard of the band “Rainbow Kitten Surprise”, this venue is where they got their start. Legends like Bob Dylan and the Beastie boys have graced their stage.
Another top spot is the Grey Eagle, which is a bit smaller and edgier venue, you might not recognize the band up there but you’ll be searching them on Spotify before the night is over.
Experience Local Farm-To-Table Dining
A foodie hot spot, Asheville’s farm-inspired food scene rivals that of any major city. Deciding where to eat in Asheville will most likely be the toughest decision you’ve made in a while, so I will try to make this easier for you…
First things first, coffee.
Looking for the best coffeeshop in Asheville? Start your day with a handcrafted latte at High Five Coffee, or snag that instagram shot you know you want at Double Dee’s, a red double decker bus turned coffee shop.
Now that you’re properly caffeinated, you’ll be able to make a sound decision about where to brunch.
The best brunch spots in Asheville
If you’ve ever wondered what Biscuit French Toast might taste like, head directly to Early Girl Eatery, a local favorite where they specialize in farm-to-table southern comfort food. For the best savory biscuit you’ve every laid your hands on, accompanied by a “gravy flight”, get in the long line at Biscuit Head. For a more upscale dining experience, try Rhubarb, where you can get craft cocktails along with duck confit hash topped with a poached egg or Posana for the Lobster Omelette and other gluten free specialties. If you’ll be in town on a Sunday, try to make it to Burial Brewing for their weekly New Orleans Jazz Brunch beginning at noon.
The best dinner spots in Asheville
When it comes to where to eat dinner, you really can’t go wrong… unless of course you fail to make a reservation on a weekend, because at that point there’s nothing I can do to help you. So make those reservations well in advance, and make multiple while you’re at it. Here are a few of the best restaurants for dinner in Asheville:
Curate is one of the restaurants that put the Asheville food scene on the map, from Jame Beard nominated chef Katie Button, this Spanish tapas bar makes you feel like you‘ve transported Madrid or Barcelona – with a Vermouth Bar and Charcuterie station to boot
The perpetually crowded, Chai Pani, serves up cravable traditional Indian food with a twist. They specialize on Chat, an Indian street food but they also have menu items like spied lamb hash on masala fries.
Cucina 24 combines Italian traditions with ingredients sourced from the nearby farms and forests. The pasta is made fresh in house daily and the wine list is extensive (just the way I like it). If everything on the menu sounds too good and you just can’t choose, go with the “what we’re cooking” option, which is a 5 course tasting menu!
Sovereign Remedies is the perfect spot for interesting yet approachable cocktails, and farm fresh modern plates. If you’re looking for a late night spot, they start churning out ramen and bone marrow tater tots after 10pm!
If you’re looking for something more casual, All Souls Pizza provides the goods. They make their dough with locally grown/milled grains, and use local eggs for their Country Ham and Egg Pie-a fan favorite.
The best plant-based dinner spot in Asheville
For my plant based easters who want a formal and innovative dining experience, head to Plant. Where everything is vegan, 90% organic, and made from scratch. You’ll see dishes like Tofu Bibimbapa and the aged cashew cheese plate.
Where to go for the best dessert in Asheville
To top it all off, make your way to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert, where you’ll find delectable artisan truffles, silky smooth sipping chocolate and THE BEST 3 layer chocolate cake. Or Sunshine Sammies for a build your own ice cream sandwich (vegan and gluten-free options).
WHERE TO STAY IN ASHEVILLE
If you’re going the hotel route, the best of the best will be The Omni Grove Park Inn, which has hosted 5 U.S.Presidents in the past and their spa is also top of the line. Another great option is the Inn at The Biltmore, where the experience is designed to let you see how the Vanderbilts’s lived, plus you’ll be right next to the Biltmore Winery! And the rooftop bar, Capella on 9, has unbelievable views of the downtown skyline!
The best airbnbs in Asheville
Airbnb’s are a great way to get a more local experience, you could stay right downtown next to all the shops and restaurants or a bit out of town for a more secluded mountain cabin vibe. These are my top choices:
Modern Mountain Views: Check out this one.
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