Several years ago, my parents made the excellent decision to move to Asheville, North Carolina. This artsy community in the Blue Ridge Mountains enticed them with creativity, natural beauty, easy access to hiking, delicious food scene, and abundant craft beer.
Coming from the Chicago area, once they learned Asheville’s idea of four seasons is distinctly moderate compared to the Windy City, they were sold.
It’s great when you know people who live in a tourist destination. It’s even better when you’re related.
Since then, Mr. TLT and I have visited every year, often more than once, and sometimes for weeks at a stretch. And every time, we see something new.
If you’re looking for a list of the best Asheville tourist attractions, plus fun things to do in the surrounding area, I’ve got you covered.
I may not be a local, but I know a couple, and they’ve given me an insider’s view of one of the country’s most beautiful places to visit.
Asheville Tourist Attractions
The Biltmore Estate
You can’t go far in Asheville without tripping over a reference to America’s largest private home. The Biltmore’s influence is extensive, with the estate itself, a neighboring village, and a whole other community.
No visit to Asheville is complete without seeing its most famous tourist attraction.
The Biltmore Estate is a grand home – so grand, at 8,000 square feet, it’s the largest private home in the United States.
Built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895 as an idyllic getaway, now its open to the public and a look into the Gilded Age.
More than a mere glimpse, a tour of Biltmore House & Gardens gives you an in-depth look into how the one percenters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived. It’s especially beautiful in the spring, when the gardens come to life with Biltmore Blooms.
A ticket to the sprawling estate includes a tour of the mansion, access to the gardens and trails, and also to Antler Hill Village and Winery.
Biltmore, 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC biltmore.com
Historic Biltmore Village
In addition to his grand estate, Vanderbilt also built a town. Biltmore Village served as the welcome mat for visitors, many of whom would arrive via train. It was also where many of the estate’s staff lived.
Today, several historic buildings remain, including the Biltmore Village Inn, originally built by Vanderbilt’s attorney, Samuel Reed.
There are unique shops, a variety of restaurants (including a McDonald’s with a fireplace and baby grand player piano), as well as a range of accommodations.
Historic Biltmore Village, historicbiltmorevillage.com
Biltmore Park Town Square
Biltmore Park Town Square is a completely separate village that’s about fifteen minutes south of Biltmore Village. This mixed-use community has a blend of national retailers and local boutiques, chain restaurants, and a movie theater.
If you fancy a luxurious stay, the Hilton offers Infinity Edge Whirlpool® Tubs with views of the French Broad River in its executive suites.
Biltmore Park Town Squre, biltmorepark.com
Things to do in Downtown Asheville
Downtown Asheville is a playground for the artsy fartsy, for foodies, for book nerds, and for anyone wanting to enjoy creativity in its many forms.
Asheville Urban Trail
A great way to get the lay of the land is to walk the Asheville Urban Trail. Thirty stops introduce you to the city’s past and some of its colorful characters, including George Vanderbilt, Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and O. Henry.
It’ll take you about two hours. The interactive audio tour tells you more about each spot.
Pack Square Park
Pack Square Park is often a starting point for exploring downtown Asheville. The first spot on the Asheville Urban Trail is located in the park, which was the site of the first log courthouse. In 1900, George Pack, who owned the land, donated it for use as a public park.
The 6.5 acre park has a large open green space and a stage for live performances. There’s also a splash pad, cleverly titled Splasheville. The bathrooms and drinking fountains come in handy when you’re walking around downtown.
Pack Square Park, 121 College St, Asheville, NC
Situated right next to the park in an historic building, Pack’s Tavern is a locally owned restaurant and bar.
There’s extensive outdoor seating where you can enjoy Pack’s Famous Breaded Wings, wood-fired pizza and subs, and a Carolina Bison burger. This is Asheville, so they’ve also got lots of local craft beers on tap.
Pack’s Tavern, 20 S Spruce St, Asheville, NC packstavern.com
Pritchard Park may be small, but it’s the place to be on Fridays from April through October. That’s when people gather for the weekly Asheville Drum Circle.
Bring your congas, djembes, or other percussive instrument and join in the fun.
Asheville Art Museum
The Asheville Art Museum features American art from the 20th and 21st centuries with a focus on Western North Carolina’s artists, including artists who studied or taught at Black Mountain College.
Local artists established the museum in 1948, finding a home in a three-room building previously occupied by E.W. Grove, who developed the famous Grove Park Inn. After several moves, the museum found a home in its current facility, which opened in 2019.
The Asheville Art Museum continues its emphasis on regional art, with nearly half the collection made up of works created by local artists.
One of the museum’s not-so-hidden highlights is its rooftop restaurant. Perspective Café uses locally-sourced ingredients so you can have an authentic Asheville lunch while gazing at the beautiful city and the mountains beyond.
Asheville Art Museum, 2 South Pack Square, Asheville, NC ashevilleart.org
The Grove Arcade may be America’s first indoor shopping mall, but it looks nothing like the sprawling suburban complex one might expect from the name. Instead, it’s a collection of shops inside an historic building with an end-to-end skylight.
Inside this airy esplanade, you’ll find shops and boutiques featuring local artisans plus fine dining and casual restaurants.
E.W. Grove built the Arcade because he believed a successful city needed a vibrant downtown. He’d moved to Asheville in 1910 for its climate and opened his Grove Park Inn five years later. He passed away two years before Grove Arcade opened in 1929.
Although it opened as a shopping destination, during World War II the military took it over, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that renovation efforts began to return it to its original purpose.
Today, Grove Arcade is one of the most popular attractions in Asheville, both for tourists and for locals.
Grove Arcade, 1 Page Avenue, Asheville, NC grovearcade.com
Ya’ gotta love a bookstore that’s named for a word defining the inappropriate, and often hilarious, misuse of words.
Founded in 1982, before revitalization and when downtown Asheville was a place of bare storefronts and decrepit buildings, it’s been a destination ever since. As founder Emoke B’Racz says on their website:
“I wanted Malaprop’s to be a place where poetry mattered, where a woman’s words were as important as a man’s, where excellence was customary, where good writing had a home, where I could nurture my addiction to literature, and play, enjoy, and entertain people drawn to quality books.”
Today book lovers of all ages and persuasions visit to find sustenance for their minds as well as their bodies. Malaprop’s Café offers local baked goods and coffee that’s been sourced and roasted by Counter Culture Coffee.
Asheville Trolley Tour
One of the best ways to explore a city, whether you’re a local or a tourist, is to take a hop-on hop-off trolley tour.
These excursions give you a lay of the land while introducing you to the city’s past and present attractions.
The Asheville Trolley Tour highlights include downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village, Grove Park Village, and the River Arts District. Basically, it’s an easy way to see a ton of what Asheville has to offer.
Thomas Wolfe Memorial
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial celebrates the legacy of North Carolina’s most famous author. While the author died just eighteen days shy of his 38th birthday, his work influenced many other writers, including Ray Bradbury and Jack Kerouac.
Wolfe memorialized his hometown of Asheville, and his mother’s Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse, where he spent many years of his childhood, in Look Homeword, Angel.
The Victorian home, fictionalized in the book as Dixieland, is part of the Memorial and open for tours. There’s a visitor center next door with exhibits and an introductory film.
Docents lead tours at half past each hour. There’s also a free self-guided walking tour, so you can walk in Wolfe’s footsteps.
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial, 52 N Market St, Asheville, NC wolfememorial.com
French Broad River
You’ll frequently encounter the French Broad during your time in Asheville. Instrumental in shaping the Appalachian Mountains, it winds and wends its way through the city.
The French Broad is named for an early settlement, and “broad” was another name for river. (So French Broad River is really French River River.)
The French Broad is one of the many tourist attractions that draw people to the area in the summer. There are float trips in multiple spots. Depending on where you are along its course, you can also go fishing or whitewater rafting.
Craggy Gardens is named for its rocky landscape and the beautiful flowers that grow at its high elevation. Violets, Turkscap lily, and rhododendrons burst to life in late spring and early summer.
There’s a seasonal visitor center and a few trails, including a hike to Craggy Pinnacle, a moderate twenty-minute walk. Douglass Falls Trails is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and is three miles to Douglas Creek Falls.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 364.5 nps.gov