Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
If you’re looking for a getaway, there’s really nothing like spending a weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. Nestled at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this city is what happens when you combine incredible landscapes with a hip, bohemian community unafraid of progress and change.
For those that are looking for an outdoor escape, you’ll be pleased to know this city is close to not one, not two, but eight national and state parks, over 200 waterfalls, and four rivers. Suffice to say, you won’t have any trouble finding a hiking trail to meander, incredible views to take in, and fresh air to breathe.
And when you’re ready to come back into town, you’ll find an artistic culture that dates back to the early 1900s when Asheville was known as the “Paris of the South.” Take in the very French-inspired architecture, which is a mix of Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Neoclassical while also seeing why it’s the perfect destination for craft lovers.
Pick any number of the carefully crafted restaurants while also seeing why one of the city’s nicknames is “Beer Town USA.” Learn more about the city’s interesting history and all its interesting inhabitants over the decades.
There are so many unique things to do in Asheville, that you might just find yourself wanting to stay longer than a weekend! Check out my tips below to spend the perfect two days in one of the country’s coolest destinations.
Where to Stay in Asheville
First things first – figuring out where to stay. My advice? Pretend to be a member of the illustrious Vanderbilt family and stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate!
The estate itself is an iconic landmark in Asheville (more on that below), but what many visitors don’t realize is – you can stay on the property too.
Opened in 2001, The Inn was actually over a century in the making as the Biltmore’s founder, George Vanderbilt, initially began planning for an inn in 1900. Today this gorgeous 4-star property channels Vanderbilt’s love for entertaining in everything from the airy, elegant design of its rooms to its onsite fine dining experiences and, of course, its luxurious spa amenities. Trust me when I say, a night or two here will have you feeling like a member of high society during the Gilded Age.
What to Do & See During Your Weekend in Asheville
My list of Asheville recommendations could truly be endless, but if you only have a few days, here are some of my must-dos.
Explore the Biltmore Estate in a Unique Way
As I mentioned above, The Biltmore Estate probably tops every single Asheville travel guide and list! When George Vanderbilt decided he wanted to build it, his goal was for it to rival all the idyllic, architecturally intriguing estates and châteaus he’d seen on his European travels. Taking inspiration from these country manors, he enlisted the help of architect Richard Morris Hunt to create a 250-room French Renaissance chateau.
Now, like these European country manors he took inspiration from, Vanderbilt also needed the nature around his new home to match its grandeur. To mold these acres and acres of wilderness into magnificent estate grounds, he called up the father of American landscape architecture himself – Frederick Law Olmstead. In fact, he called upon Olmstead back when he first bought the land and even before he broke ground on construction!
What makes these lands unique is that while Vanderbilt wanted them to evoke a sort of mountainous oasis, he also wanted The Biltmore to be a working estate. This meant in addition to gardens and a conservatory, there were also farms, woodlands, and pastures. In fact, Olmsted brought in Gifford Pinochet to write out the country’s first-ever forestry management plan.
Once you’ve enjoyed the luxuriously elegant interiors of The Biltmore, come outside and wander around, admiring the landscaping feat Olmstead managed and the estate still maintains for historical accuracy today. Be careful when planning, it’s very easy to wind up spending as much as 4-5 hours here.
Take a Scenic Drive on Blue Ridge Parkway
Hop in your car and drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy one of the most scenic drives in the country. This parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park, at 469 miles, it’s the longest and highest continuous route in Appalachia.
From Asheville, I’d drive out at least 10 or more miles to enjoy the scenery. Some particularly beautiful overlooks north of the city include Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell. And if you don’t want to just drive, you can easily hike one of the trails, pack a picnic, or even go for a bike ride.
The Craggy Gardens Pinnacle trail is only 1.2 miles round trip and offers you 360-degree views and the Hard Times Loop is a 6-mile round trip that’ll take you to Bent Creek Experimental Forest as well the North Carolina Arboretum. You might just get a glimpse of Biltmore on this trail. And don’t let the name scare you, it’s very gentle.
Stop by the Folk Art Center/Southern Highland Guild
One place you don’t want to miss while driving and enjoying the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Folk Art Center. This is probably one of the most famous stops along the parkway and for good reason. Originally built in 1980, the center is a joint project for both the Southern Highland Craft Guild and the National Park Service. It’s the oldest continually running craft shop in the United States and is made up of two floors of crafts designed by the guild.
If you truly want to see the craftsmanship, this is the place to do it. Everything from furniture to ceramics to glassware and more, there are hundreds of products handcrafted in ways that focus on preserving Southern Appalachian culture. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, you can check out the center’s three different exhibit galleries to learn more about its history and what makes each of these products so special.
Walk and Shop around the River Arts District
For more crafts and shopping, head to the River Arts District. What was once abandoned factories is now a fun neighborhood full of colorful studios and galleries.
If you’re here on the second Saturday of the month, check out the district’s Second Saturday event where you can partake in gallery walks, workshops and demonstrations, live music, and much more. The district is around two square miles with about 23 buildings, so if you don’t want to walk, there’s also a free trolley ride to take you all around.
If you only have time for one place, make it the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts where you might just be able to recreate a certain famous pottery scene a la Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
Learn More about Robert Moog at the Moogseum
For those of you craving a little museum time, check out the cool, interactive museum dedicated to American inventor Robert Moog. Moog became famous when he launched the first commercial synthesizer in the 1960s, introducing the industry to electronic sound and changing music as we know it.
Think of some of the most decade-defining sounds – disco of the 1970s, new-wave of the 1980s, techno of the 1990s – all of these genres can trace their origins to Robert Moog. Some of the most iconic musical artists have used Moog’s instruments. Think everyone from Lady Gaga to ABBA to The Beatles!
Visit the Moogseum, which is run by Moog’s daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, to learn more about his legacy as well as his creations. Don’t skip the Learning Synthesis exhibit where you can learn hands-on the basics of sound synthesis for yourself.
Explore “The Block”
Book yourself a tour with Hood Huggers tour to explore The Block, a historic Black business district that once housed over sixty Black-owned businesses. Starting with the timeline mural in Triangle Park, a Hood Huggers tour will take you all around the historic businesses while teaching you all about Black history in Asheville.
While here be sure to stop into Noir Collective AVL, which was founded by Alexandria Monque Ravenel to help Black entrepreneurs during the pandemic.
At the collective is a boutique shop and an art gallery where you can find everything from fine art to skincare, jewelry, and more.
Where to Eat and Drink in Asheville
Now for the food and drinks! Here are some spots you’ve got to try during your weekend in Asheville.
Indian down south? Yes! Meherwan Irani is a four-time James Beard-nominated chef who opened this restaurant in 2009. Chai Pani, which literally means tea and water, serves up delicious Indian street food that mixes both Indian ingredients with southern classics, like okra.
New Belgium Brewery
Why exactly is Asheville nicknamed Beer Town USA? That’s because it often tops craft beer lists not just for enjoying them but for creating them. One brewery to visit in particular is New Belgium Brewery. After a bike trip in Belgium in 1988 introduced founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch to Belgian brewing traditions, they were inspired to bring this newfound love back to their home in Fort Collins, CO.
Fast forward over two decades later, they opened by their Asheville location in 2016! Don’t skip doing a brewery tour to learn more about their process!
Once you’ve tried the beer in Asheville, try out the spirits at Eda Rhyne Distilling Company. Founders Chris Bower and Rett Murphy base all their creations with North Carolina terroir in mind. Their drinks are distilled with history, both the hillbilly kind you imagine when thinking of illicit mountain liquor and the “ancient art of the hills,” the type of knowledge passed down through generations.
And there you have it! Plenty of tips and advice on how to spend an exciting weekend in Asheville.