For years the North Carolina mountain city Asheville was known for its craft beer and fall foliage (thanks to its Blue Ridge Mountain highs), but of late, the city has outgrown the clichés to become a multicultural, year-round destination for travelers. The food scene is booming—and award winning—and Asheville’s neighborhoods overflow with festivals: Celtic, Black, Latinx, and a lively Pride; along with an annual event named for the city’s most beloved condiment and an all-things-bread fest.
As you explore these festivals, you’ll not only savor the flavors and sounds of the city but also experience the warmth and inclusivity of the mountain community. So mark your 2024 calendars and plan a trip to Asheville with these events in mind.
Asheville Celtic Festival
- Best for: some serious step dancing
- February 17 & 18, 2024
In the dead of winter, the Asheville Celtic Festival shakes things up with the essence of the Seven Celtic Nations (Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales) in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’ll feel like a step back in time with characters dressed in c. 1700s period costumes. At the Davis Center at the WNC Agricultural Center, warm the soul with two days of live Celtic folk music, Celtic crafts, armored sword fighting, traditional Irish step dancing, and many more traditions steeped in each Celtic heritage.
Asheville Bread Festival
- Best for: bread enthusiasts
- May 2024 (dates TBD)
If carbs are your thing, then this is the festival for you. Come to the Asheville Bread Festival hungry and indulge in bagels, the perfect sourdough loaf, Spanish-style laminated pastries, baguettes, croissants, and even a few gluten-free options. As the first of its kind in the Southeast (yes, there are bread festivals abundant throughout Europe), the festival leans into the making as much as the eating, with some of the country’s most respected bakers joining the show. In 2023 Lionel Vatinet, a French master baker at La Farm in Cary, N.C., and Peter Reinhart, a baker, author, and one of the world’s leading authorities on bread, were some of the top talents in attendance. The two-day event brings together local farmers, millers, and bakers who break bread and divulge skills, and hands-on workshops and lectures about grains and breadmaking.
LEAF Global Arts Festival
- Best for: arts and culture under the stars
- May 9-12 and October 17-20, 2024
“Leaf peeping” is a popular affair in the Blue Ridge Mountains but this is not what you’re thinking. LEAF Global Arts Festival, which uses an acronym for the Lake Eden Arts Festival, has taken place twice a year since 1995 and proves to hold its golden reputation for one of the best festivals in the Southeast. It’s best described as a party in the woods, with folks jamming, singing, performing, and dancing around the lake. The nonprofit organization was originally established to bring the community together through music and arts, both local and global, with educational programs, events, and mentoring. Participants can groove to the music, learn a new skill from one of the countless workshops, and camp under the stars with friends.
- Best for: celebrating local Black entrepreneurs
- May 2024 (dates TBD, usually around Memorial Day weekend)
“Let’s show the world that the celebration is louder than the pain and the future is brighter than the past,” the festival’s site reads. A newer event in the city, GRINDfest is a three-day gathering of Black entrepreneurs and business owners in a block party–style event at 8 Rivers Arts Place. Last year, OutKast’s Big Boi and rapper Waka Flocka Flame performed and festival goers were also invited to screen Black in Asheville, a documentary produced by Asheville community elder Todd Gragg documenting the Black experience here, from the Antebellum period to present day, through interviews with local historians and residents. There’s Poetry Slam, a Black Wall Street AVL marketplace, “extreme hip-hop aerobics,” Black Asheville storytime with the elder residents, cooking classes, a standout entrepreneurship lunch, and lots of delicious food.
Blue Ridge Pride Festival
- Best for: coming as you are
- Usually a Sunday in mid-June (dates TBD)
The largest LGBTQ pride festival in western North Carolina, attracting upwards of 15,000 people, the Blue Ridge Pride Festival is a testament to the city’s “come as you are” vibe: one big, inclusive, very fun party in downtown Asheville’s Pack Square Park. More than 100 vendors set up shop, and the entertainment starts early with a dedicated kids area, live music all day, pool parties, a Silent Disco, and—perhaps the highlight of the festival—an annual Drag Pageant where contestants compete for the title of Miss/Mr./Mx. Blue Ridge Pride. The festival’s mission is to advocate, celebrate, educate, and serve, and it hits all its marks. Your cheeks will be tired from smiling nonstop.
- Best for: learning about Asheville’s Latinx spirit
- June 2024 (dates TBD)
Hosted by Hola Carolina, an Asheville-based nonprofit, this multi-day festival pays tribute to the city’s Latinx community through food, art, dance, and community togetherness. Try dishes inspired by Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela; dance the salsa, bachata, zamba, tango, or merengue; and shop handmade goods from local artisans. Last year’s highlights include comedian Nélida López-Fernández, a community Zumba class, and Chilean reggae band Petah Iah and The Mind Renewing. This Asheville-based nonprofit is vital to the Latinx community, distributing Spanish news and sustaining the Hola Community Food Bank, VAMOS Carolina transportation services, and the Latino Economic Empowerment Program. Eat and dance your way through Pack Square Park while giving back to the community.
- Best for: yogis who love the magic of the mountains
- July 25-28, 2024
LoveShinePlay yoga festival, established in 2016, unites yogis, artists, friends, and crafters in the heart of Downtown Asheville. The expansive four-day schedule includes more than 70 styles of offerings: Bhakti and anatomy, Kundalini and Yin, and of course, lots of yoga. By day, world-class presenters offer everything from “yin yoga and story time” to practical astrology. During down time, participants can enjoy evening concerts, hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and stand-up paddleboarding on the French Broad River. Mountain Air Market—where more than 65 vendors hawk herbs, bodycare, amazing teas and health elixirs, and yoga apparel brands—is the hub of the festival. It’s often considered a reunion for yogis who will meet at the same time, same place, each year.
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
- Best for: those looking to dance till it hurts
- August 1-3, 2024
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a folklorist and lawyer from Western North Carolina, started Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in 1928 and it’s the oldest fest of its kind in the country. He wanted locals and visitors to appreciate the music and dance that’s a hallmark of Southern Appalachia, and to showcase the best Appalachian singers, string bands, and square dancers around. Each night, the songs and dances reflect the diverse cultural heritage of the Great Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains with influences from Scottish, English, Irish, Cherokee, and African tradition—and showcase the talent and dedication of hundreds of musicians, dancers, and storytellers at Lipinsky Hall on the campus of UNC Asheville. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.
- Best for: food enthusiasts who want to learn about Appalachia foodways
- Dates TBD
When Chow Chow made its debut in 2019, Nobel Peace Prize–nominated chef José Andrés showed up to cook an oversized paella in a park—a testament for his appreciation of the community and tight friendship with chef Katie Button. The festival was originally founded by James Beard Award–winning chefs Button, Meherwan Irani, and John Fleer, plus East Fork Pottery’s co-founder Connie Matisse, and has since evolved into a really fun, educational few days showcasing the culinary landscape of Southern Appalachia.
Named after the iconic pickled relish, chow chow, native to Southern Appalachia, the festival’s focuses on the abundance of produce, purveyors, makers, chefs, and bakers in the creative economy—and it goes above and beyond sampling food and spirits. Go foraging for ingredients with a local chef, learn about the spiritual significance of a community Fish Fry, and even visit local farms to see some of the city’s prized purveyors. The festival has “pay what you can” events to encourage locals and visitors of all ages and backgrounds to participate.