One glimpse of the surrounding Appalachian mountains, which appear straight out of a Bob Ross painting, and it’s easy to see why Asheville is a top destination to visit in the Southeast. But this western North Carolina city is more than scenic. There’s a diverse local art community, an award-winning food scene that celebrates modern Appalachian cuisine, and a memorable hike for every ability. Visitors come all year long to experience the combination of chill mountain-town vibes and a culturally vibrant city. In Asheville, you can really have it all.
When’s the best time to go to Asheville?
One of the most visually striking times to visit Asheville is when the leaves start to change, usually in early September. It’s also one of the busiest seasons, along with the December holidays, and lodging prices are at an all-time high. Waiting until late fall, even into early November, affords visitors the opportunity to see the last of the foliage on the Parkway without the tourist crush. Spring break and the summer months can also be busy in Asheville, so if you’re seeking a more relaxed version of the city, go in late April or May.
How to get around Asheville
Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) is the most convenient airport to downtown, but it has limited direct flights. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) in Charlotte and McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Tennessee are the closest international airports; both are about a two-hour drive from Asheville.
There is Uber in Asheville, but a car is a necessity because the city is spread out. Plus, you’ll want to take advantage of the surrounding mountains while visiting. You can rent a car at the airport or at several national car rental sites around town.
Can’t miss things to do in Asheville
- The Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, is on everyone’s list, so it can get crowded. For a more enjoyable visit, book the rooftop tour, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the estate’s design and construction—and gets you away from the hustle and bustle inside the house.
- Every Friday night during the warmer months (typically April through October), locals gather in the outdoor amphitheater in downtown’s Pritchard Park for a drum circle of epic proportions. Between the music, dancing, and occasional hula-hooping, it’s a great way to experience Asheville. Bring your own drum to get in on the action.
- For a window into North Carolina’s art history, visit the community-based Asheville Art Museum and plan to spend a couple of hours browsing regional crafts and paintings by Black Mountain College artists.
- More contemporary work appears in the River Arts District (or RAD, as locals call it), where an eclectic mix of 185 artist studios and galleries occupy former warehouses and mills along the French Broad River.
- If you want to pair happy hour with sunset views, head straight to Capella on 9 on the rooftop of the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown. It’s the perfect place for a spritz, charcuterie board, and a view of the sun going down over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
- One way to experience Asheville’s long roster of talented chefs and local purveyors all at once is to visit during Chow Chow, an intimate food festival next scheduled for June–September 2021. Expect lots of delicious southern Appalachian food, plus classes, demos, and workshops that foster dialogue about food justice and more.
- You can’t visit Asheville without going on at least one hike. Every local has their opinion about which trail is best, but just pick one that fits your skill level and don’t forget to pack water.
- Shoji Spa, a Japanese-inspired spa with outdoor salt tubs, is a local favorite hidden in the mountains. It feels worlds away from the city but is actually only 10 minutes from downtown and perfect for relaxing after a long day of hiking.
- Asheville is one of the country’s best places to witness thermal inversion, a natural phenomenon in which low-lying clouds rest in mountain valleys and undulate like waves. For the ultimate view, get yourself to Looking Glass Rock, the Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Overlook, or the summit of Mount Mitchell early in the morning, just after sunrise. While thermal inversion happens all year long, you’re most likely to see it in the fall, when the nights are cool and the days are warm.
Food and drink to try in Asheville
- There are so many breweries in Asheville, you’ll barely scratch the service in one visit, but start with popular places like Bhramari Brewing Company, Zillicoah Beer Company (on the river), and Burial Beer Co. If you’re a suds enthusiast, you’ll also want to hit Zebulon Artisan Ales in neighboring Weaverville, which brews historical and forgotten beers.
- For cocktails, head to Eda Rhyne Distilling Company, which uses regional medicinals and ingredients from the mountains around Asheville to create a range of fernet and amaro that reflects the local terroir. The bar inside the distillery serves creative drinks crafted with house spirits.
- Cúrate is a top draw for visitors eager to try the restaurant’s authentic Spanish tapas. It can be tough to get a reservation; alternatively, post up at the vermouth bar or pick up a selection of picnic eats from La Bodega, the restaurant’s sister spot around the corner.
- The doughnuts at Hole Doughnuts are fried to order, taste more like brioche, and are arguably the best version to be found in these parts. Note: The shop closes at 1 p.m. so plan accordingly.
Culture in Asheville
Asheville isn’t just a beer town. Coined the “Paris of the South,” it’s also worth visiting for its rich history and wide variety of architecture, from the château-inspired Biltmore Estate to the Catalan-style Basilica of Saint Lawrence with its elliptical dome. Asheville also served as home to novelist Thomas Wolfe and a vacation destination for F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent the summers of 1935 and 1936 at the Grove Park Inn.
Local travel tips for Asheville
- To avoid crowds, plan to visit Asheville during the week. And do your best to hit hiking trails and other busy outdoor spots earlier in the day.
- Make dinner reservations in advance as many of the city’s more popular restaurants get booked up quickly.
- Asheville is super dog-friendly, with many hotels welcoming pets. If you plan to travel with your four-legged friend, check out the Dog Welcome Center and book one of its tours, which go to local shops, breweries, and even restaurants that cater to dogs.
- Explore West Asheville for a less touristy approach to shopping and dining. Garden Party (a lifestyle shop with hemp-infused finds), Flora (a dreamy flower, botanical, coffee, and wine shop), Playdate Goods (sustainable children’s clothing and toys), Leo’s House of Thirst (a wine bar with exceptional bites), and Ghan Shan West (Asian-inspired food made with Appalachian ingredients) are a good start. You’ll find more as you wander around.
- New hotels are popping up all over Asheville, but for something a bit more approachable, book a room at one of the city’s bed-and-breakfasts. The Chestnut Street Inn is a favorite for its owners Emilie and Arturo, who will help curate your visit and also offer a rotating local beer on tap.
Essentials by North Carolina–based culinary arts and travel writer Jenn Rice (@jennricewrites). Required Eating by travel writer Julie Case (@foragerinchief). Best Things to Do by travel and lifestyle journalist Lindsay Tigar (@lindsaytigar). Attractions You Can Only Find in Asheville by Asheville-based arts and travel writer Joanne O’Sullivan (@jkosullivan1). Hotels coverage by travel and food writer Devorah Lev-Tov (@devoltv). Hiking coverage by travel and science journalist Melanie Haiken. Black Asheville coverage by North Carolina–based historian and writer Cynthia Greenlee (@cynthiagreenlee).