Southern American cities like New Orleans, Nashville and Austin may get a lot of love, but Asheville, North Carolina, is coming in hot these days thanks to a thriving culinary scene of rising chefs with pedigreed backgrounds, a booming craft brewery business, eclectic arts and music offerings and quirky-cool sensibility. Plus, its serene Blue Ridge Mountains landscape proves why getting back to basics in this Appalachian neck of the woods is always a good idea. Home to a plethora of national forests and wildlife preserves—in addition to some of America’s oldest estates and factories turned swanky hotels and bars—there’s a little bit of everything. Here are 50 of the best things to do in the Land of the Sky.
1. Book a Discount Flight
Pro tip: book your flight on Allegiant Air. This discount airline has the shortest flights for the lowest fares, from most major metropolises.
2. Make a Reservation at The Foundry Hotel
Located in the historic “Block” district, the boutique Foundry hotel (which was once a former steel factory) is officially one of the newest-oldest hot spots in town. And they don’t skimp on the extras here. Private neighborhood tours (by Hood Huggers International), luxury fly-fishing excursions and wildflower bouquet classes are a few of the offerings that will make you feel like you’re definitely in Asheville.
3. Try the Aloft or AC Hotel For More Affordable Downtown Stays
4. Book the Horse Shoe Farm For a Riverfront View
For alternate lodging, consider The Horse Shoe Farm: Located ten minutes from the Asheville Regional Airport, this 85-acre riverfront estate boasts an enclave of well-appointed cottages and manor homes fit for larger groups and a tranquil setting you can’t find downtown. Plus, there’s a mediation silo, yoga studio, stable spa, baby livestock petting shed and daily fresh juice bar. It’s also where you’ll witness the most epic sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
5. Stay in Montford For a Quaint Bed-and-Breakfast
Romantic rendezvous can be held at one of the nine quaint B&Bs in the idyllic Montford neighborhood, just north of downtown. A night or two at the Black Walnut Inn, Lion and the Rose, 1900 Inn or your choice of historic home will leave you with a happy heart and happier stomach.
6. Hop on a Kitschy Tour Bus
Camp is alive and well on the LaZoom’s City Comedy Bus Tour, which makes you laugh while teaching you all about Asheville’s history. And if you don’t wind up staying in Montford, you’ll ride through it, as well as downtown Asheville, the River Arts District and more. Did we mention it’s BYOB?
7. Become a Leaf Peeper
Nestled in between the highest peaks in the east, Asheville is prime turf for 360-degree views of stunning fall foliage. Be sure to download the PeakFinder app to determine which craggy summit you’re near at any given time.
8. Rappel Through a Ropes Course
9. Go Bird Watching
Grab the binoculars. Asheville and its surrounding topography are ripe with incredible birds to see—bald eagles, peregrine falcons, great blue herons and pileated woodpeckers are just a few of the 200 species flying over Asheville year-round. Check out Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society for tips and tricks or to even join a bird walk.
10. Hike to Waterfalls
As one can expect in a nature haven such as this, there are countless waterfalls to explore. Hike to any number of waterfalls in Dupont State Forest including Triple Falls, Hooker Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. You might recognize the latter from cameos in films like The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans.
11. Stroll Downtown Asheville
Wind your way through downtown Asheville until you explore every tucked-away street and worthy hideaway fit for foodies and shoppers alike.
12. Nosh on Button & Co. Bagels for an Easy Breakfast
Start every morning right with a fresh-baked bagel and seasonal schmear at Button & Co. Bagels. And if you really want to go big, top that off with a genius heaping of house-made gravlax, or smoked sable rubbed in wild sumac. And maybe grab something to go for that hike you’re going on.
13. Try a Toast Like No Other at Owl Bakery
OWL Bakery is another locals-loved haunt for European pastries, specialized toast (we kid you not) and coffee.
14. Traverse the Western N.C. Cheese Trail
For midday munchies, there’s fromage to be sampled at multiple creameries along the Western NC Cheese Trail. One of Asheville’s biggest claims to fame is that it’s home to dozens of cheesemongers honoring the traditions of Appalachian artisan cheese production. Many of these farms even let you get hands-on with their cows and goats while receiving a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life (and a taste of their offerings).
15. Go Wine Tasting
Nothing washes down cheese like a glass of wine, and the French Broad Vignerons collective (consisting of Addison Farms Vineyard, Burntshirt Vineyards and Pleb Urban Winery) would be happy to oblige—slash educate you on their grapes. The organization of regional grape-growers and winemakers also hosts meetings, lectures and special events for those interested in viticulture.
16. Make New Friends at the Nature Center
Guys, there are adorable, too-cute-to-handle red pandas at the Western North Carolina Nature Center that need your personal attention stat. There are also grey wolves (besties, Nova and Wayah), Nigerian dwarf goats, Sicilian donkeys and sleepy-looking barn owls to say hello to. Can’t handle goodbyes? Become a “wild parent” through the animal adoption program and lend support to the Nature Center at the same time.
17. Visit the Childhood Home of Literary Legend Thomas Wolfe
If you’ve ever read the writer’s classic, Look Homeward, Angel, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy wandering about the 29-room, Old Kentucky-style home he grew up in. And even if you haven’t, the Victorian estate that dates back to 1883 and retains most of the original furnishings (plus Wolfe's writings) is fascinating to behold.
18. Become a Bookworm
Take advantage of the city’s abundant independent bookseller’s scene to stock up on new (and old) best sellers. There’s Malaprop's for rising author readings, Captain's Bookshelf for rare copies and first editions, Downtown Books & News for fine art with a side of tomes, and the Battery Park Book Exchange for an-all-pups welcome spot that serves Champagne and wine alongside its well-stocked shelves.
19. Bond With Your Four-Legged Pal
And speaking of places your pooch will like, Asheville has a huge roster of parks, trails and eateries that cater to canines. It is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country after all.
20. Transport Yourself to SPAIN AT CÚRATE
Chef Katie Button (who trained under Spanish superstar José Andrés) offers a taste of Spain in the Carolinas at Cúrate. Look forward to spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips, all the jamón you can dream of and a vermouth bar you could only find in Spain (and Asheville, of course).
21. Schedule Zen Time at the Hot Springs
Eight minutes from downtown Asheville—and 2,500 feet above sea level—sits Shoji Spa & Lodge, a Japanese-inspired woodland sanctuary that features private salt hot tubs ideal for soaking stress away.
22. Breathe in the Air in a Therapeutic Salt Cave
Also popular in the wellness space is Asheville’s Salt Cave and Spa, which can release 84 trace elements and minerals in the body, once you’re inside its cave saturated with 20 tons of pure pink salt. Very much needed after a big night out. Chillax on a zero gravity chair or get nice and salty on a blanket on the ground.
23. Play Botanist For a Day
24. Indulge in Southern Soul Food at Benne on Eagle
With a nod to the African-American roots established in Asheville in the 1800s, Benne on Eagle serves refined farm-to-table soul food and artisan cocktails in a modern warehouse setting. Think: black-eyed pea hummus, fried catfish and waffles, and crispy quail.
25. Swap Your Spotify Playlist for Live Music
Take in an elevated musical experience by the Asheville Symphony Orchestra or Asheville Lyric Opera, and if that’s a little too highbrow for this trip, there’s The Orange Peel, Grey Eagle and ISIS Music Hall for rock concerts, jazz riffs, country crooners and mega headliners.
26. Get Buzzed Sampling Local Honey
The Bee Charmer is a honey-tasting parlor that curates over 50 varietals of fresh honeybee nectar from western North Carolina and beyond. And you’re going to want to bring some back, trust us.
27. Dance to the Beat
If you happen to be in town on a Friday night, make your way to Pritchard Park for the weekly “Drum Circle” ritual that takes over downtown.
28. Have a Memorable Meal at Rhubarb
Five-time James Beard nominee (and Blackberry Farm alum) chef John Fleer pretty much runs Asheville with three restaurants, but his crown jewel is Rhubarb. With a laid-back vibe and a menu centered around Asheville’s bountiful produce, local cheeses, and Appalachian heritage, you’ll want to allocate a few solid hours here—along with your entire appetite.
29. Tour the Biltmore, America’s Largest Privately-Owned Residence
With 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, George Vanderbilt’s French-inspired dream home, the Biltmore, is #chateaugoals to say the least. And now there’s The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, Antler Hill Village for dining and shopping, and a falconry school to boot.
30. Cool Off in the Pisgah National Forest
Not to negate the rest of the items on this list, but you’re going to want to set aside ample time for the naturally-made, 60-foot water slide that awaits here.
31. Satisfy Sweet Tooth Cravings
The French Broad Chocolate Factory is pure heaven if you’re a chocolate lover, or brownie fan, or caramel loyalist. And not to worry, it has vegan and dairy-free treats as well. You can event take an insider tour of the chocolatey magic process.
32. Hit Up Grove Arcade
And peruse several homegrown shops, galleries and eateries before making your way to the Battery Park end of the building, which is home to the Makers Market. This outdoor bazaar has a dozen stalls filled by artisans selling directly to the public and treasures of all types can be found, if you wander long enough.
33. Be a Kid Again on a Pinball Machine
Appease your inner child at the Asheville Pinball Museum. This retro game room has wall-to-wall vintage pinball machines on the premises, so gather your gang and get to playing. They entertain private parties as well, and occasionally put some of the crazier machines up for sale. Just sayin’.
34. Make Room For Dinner at The Admiral
Don’t overlook The Admiral’s modest cinderblock exterior. Inside it’s churning out an ever-changing menu of globally-inspired delights and small plates, each more delicious than the next.
35. Do a Craft Beer Crawl
Craft breweries are a BIG deal in Asheville (rivaling Portland’s massive circuit), so allocate plenty of time to roam their 30-plus OG and newbie taprooms. Now trending: Burial Beer Co., Nantahala, Green Man, Catawba, The Funkatorium, Wicked Weed, Hi-Wire and Eurisko.
36. Catch a Lift (While Drinking More Beer)
37. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Down the most-talked-about scenic route in the United States—The Blue Ridge Parkway—and bonus points if you rent an old-school convertible for the outing.
38. Check Out the River Arts District
This artsy area winds around the riverbank of the French Broad and is home to dozens of working artist studios. See their process up close and personal, then purchase a new piece for your collection.
39. Get a Bird’s-Eye View of The Land of the Sky
40. Channel Shakespeare in the Park—in Asheville
Have a poetic moment in the park during a free outdoor Shakespearian play performed by the Montford Park Players.
41. Take a Bite Out of the World-Famous Biscuits at Tupelo Honey
Be prepared for a food coma at Tupelo Honey Café, the Southern flagship downtown that’s famous for honey-dusted fried chicken served eight ways and highly addictive biscuits.
42. Perfect Your Swing at The Omni Grove Park Inn
Play a round on the 18-hole, Donald Ross-designed golf course—and official hotel of the PGA Tour—The Omni Grove Park Inn. Then quench your thirst at Sunset Terrace and The Great Hall Bar or spend the night, as ten U.S. presidents have in the past.
43. Happy Hour It Up at The Bull and Beggar
The Bull and Beggar is a wise choice for a mouthwateringly good meal, and its raw bar happy hour and Monday burger special can’t be beat.
44. Watch Glass Artists at Work
At Lexington Glassworks, the premier glassblowing studio and gallery in town, you’ll be mesmerized watching artisans at work. You’ll also be tempted to take home a sparkling souvenir, but don’t worry, they ship (in case your carry-on can’t handle that).
45. Brush Up on Your Architectural Knowledge
Admire the Spanish Baroque Revival masterpiece, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, which is revered for having the largest freestanding dome in North America.
46. Do Dinner at Plant-Centric Sovereign Remedies
Make a reservation at the vintage-chic Sovereign Remedies. Bespoke cocktails and plant-based specialties dominate the forager-focused menu, but comfort classics like bone marrow tater tots are not to be missed.
47. Get Spooked
Nighttime-centric shenanigans include the Haunted Asheville tour, where you’ll be subjected to stories that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in a creepy alleyway behind the Asheville Masonic Temple. Before walking around to other well-known spots spirits frequent.
48. Go Off the Wagon at a Dueling Piano Bar
Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar draws a lively crowd and boisterous entertainers, who are always up for requests (with a flash of cash).
49. Saddle Up to the Bar at The Crow & Quill
Pop into quirky speakeasy The Crow & Quill for live music and a digestif, but be prepared to face a lofty list of spirit options—it has over 700 in house.
50. Have a Nightcap at Antidote on Your Last Night in Town
Also noteworthy for must-try tipples is Antidote. This whimsical mixology lounge offers what it call “the cure for the common cocktail.”