Asheville, North Carolina has been called “The Paris of the South,” “The San Francisco of the East,” “Beer City USA,” “New Age Mecca,” and “The Land of the Sky.” While none of those labels is an exact fit, each one hints at the variety of memorable places to see and things to do in Asheville NC.
Established in 1797 in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville NC is a city of contrasts, defying any single phrase or comparison. It’s where high class meets hipster meets hippie, making this unique southern city always worth visiting.
The “best month” to visit Asheville NC is any month you can make it happen, but my favorite time to visit is late October through December. The temperature is refreshingly crisp, making it ideal for walking or hiking, the Fall foliage burns in every shade of red and gold, and the feeling is festive.
Table of Contents
- Top 5 Things to Do in Asheville NC
- Top 6 Restaurants to Try in Asheville NC
- Top 3 Hotels in Asheville NC
Top 5 Things to Do in Asheville NC
1. Explore Downtown
It’s simple advice, but the best way to experience all this eclectic city has to offer is to walk around and explore downtown Asheville’s diverse architecture and inviting avenues. You’ll find quirky antique stores containing the weird and wonderful, a stone and geode store, art galleries, unique clothing, locally made arts and crafts, bookshops, and chocolate patisseries around every corner.
On that sweet note, I recommend starting (and even ending) your walk with a visit to at least one of Asheville’s decadent chocolate shops.
Visit a Chocolate Shop: Try These Top 2
If you can only visit one, make it the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. It’s an Asheville classic, named after the nearby French Broad River (which incidentally is one of the top 5 oldest rivers in the world), and it’s been satisfying chocolate cravings since 2008.
Located in the heart of downtown Asheville on Pack Square, French Broad Chocolates has been “Bean to Bar” since 2012, sourcing its cacao beans directly from farmers. Look for the pale blue building trimmed in chocolate brown, and here you can order truffles, bonbons, sipping chocolate, custards, cake, and even ice cream. It’s the perfect place to rest your feet, re-energize, and savor the sweeter side of life.
If you have time and want to really delve into the art of making chocolate, book a tour and tasting at the French Broad Chocolate Factory & Cafe located nearby at 821 Riverside Drive.
The Chocolate Fetish located at 36 Haywood St may be smaller, but each confection is every bit as delicious and carefully crafted as French Broad Chocolates. It’s a great place to pop in, select a few truffles to enjoy while you walk, or buy an assortment to take home or gift.
Browse A Quirky Bookstore
If chocolate and sweets aren’t really your thing, downtown Asheville has other ways to relax and indulge. The Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar at the Grove Arcade is the go-to place to lose yourself in the aisles of books, and once you find your next read, relax on one of the antique leather sofas or chairs, and order yourself a coffee or champagne.
Every city should have one.
Shop Local at the Maker’s Market
This same street corner (aptly named 1 Page Ave) is also home to Asheville’s Maker’s Market featuring local artisan crafts. On any given day you can browse hand-crafted jewelry, art, soap, clothing, and local farm goods.
Sample Cider at Botanist and Barrel
With over 300 natural ciders, wines, and beers to choose from plus a large selection of curated flights, Botanist and Barrel is the perfect stop for those with the curiosity to taste something new and natural. The bright and cheerful space also serves up special events, so check their website for what’s going on during your Asheville stay.
2. Visit The Biltmore Estate & Village
If Asheville is “The Paris of the South,” then Biltmore is Versailles.
The Biltmore Estate is on most “Things to Do in Asheville NC” lists, and with good reason. It’s ridiculously impressive. Both the estate itself and the surrounding gardens and grounds are stunning and can take an entire day to explore.
The largest private home ever built in America was inspired by the French chateaux of the Loire Valley. George Vanderbilt commissioned New York architect Richard Morris Hunt to design and construct the Biltmore estate beginning in 1889 and it was essentially completed in 1895.
Biltmore officially opened with its first gathering for Christmas in 1895, but the following summer Hunt died, leaving his architectural mark not only on the Biltmore Estate but the nearby Biltmore Village and the All Souls Episcopal Cathedral in Asheville.
Biltmore is still a family-owned estate but in order to maintain and preserve the immense house and grounds, Cornelia (the daughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt) and her husband John Cecil, opened Vanderbilt to the public in the 1930s.
The fascination with the Biltmore Estate and its vast amenities has grown through the years, and the ticket prices reflect its popularity as a tourist site. It’s definitely best to reserve tickets and tours ahead online. Throughout the year, Biltmore offers additional guided tours in addition to the regular house and grounds access, so check out their website for seasonal events and limited access tickets.
When you’re finished touring the house and grounds, check out the stores in the old stable yard and courtyard. Here you can pick up a souvenir or sample something sweet.
The house garners most of the attention, but the gardens and conservatory filled with rare tropical plant varieties are a must-see as well, weather permitting. With over 20 miles of walking / biking / hiking paths, the gardens and grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (who is famous for designing New York’s Central Park in 1858) are worth exploring if you have the time.
Wine Tasting at Antler Hill Village
Antler Hill Village is the ideal spot for lunch or dinner during your visit to Biltmore, and it’s also where the Biltmore winery is located. The tastings here are complimentary, however, reservations are required. While the hours are subject to change, the winery is typically open daily from 11 am to 6 pm.
There are multiple entrances to the winery, but the most atmospheric is the subterranean rock tunnel illuminated with soft lights where you can view the wine caves before ascending the stairs to the tasting rooms. Once you check in with the host at your reserved time, you’ll be taken to your tasting station where you can choose which wines you would like to taste from a selection of their varietals.
*Note: Most of their wines trend on the sweeter side, so if you’re expecting California-style wines, you may be disappointed. But given that the tasting is complimentary and in a lovely setting, you are likely to enjoy the experience even if you don’t find a favorite.
If you’re hungry from all the walking, and you most likely will be, then check out one of Biltmore’s several restaurants. I enjoyed a casual, tasty lunch at Village Social in Antler Hill Village and there are several additional options to choose from. Click the link below to access all of the dining options available at Biltmore.
3. Indulge In Serenity and Self-Care
The Omni Grove Park Inn Spa
I have never spent a day quite like the one at the Omni Grove Park Inn Spa, and I only hope that one day I will again, and you will too.
I’m sure someone reading this article will know of or have experienced a better spa, but the Omni Grove Park Inn spa is the best spa I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, from start to finish. I spent an entire day here and still wasn’t ready to leave.
With 20 water features, many of them mineral-based, the entire spa is a subterranean paradise opening out to mountain views from the outdoor pools. The spa is a sprawling paradise of relaxation, with 43,000 square feet filled with saunas, scent-infused steam rooms, fireside lounges, and my personal favorite, the mineral lap pool dimly lit with a dazzling sky of 6,500 fiber optic stars, a skylight, and immersive underwater music.
In between your treatment and time spent exploring the spa facilities, enjoy lunch on the outdoor pool terrace where you can order fresh items from the cafe to complement your day of health and relaxation.
Spa passes are offered, but due to the high demand to visit this spa, they are not always available. Often, spa appointments are only made available to overnight guests staying at the Grove Park Inn, and even then, it’s a good idea to make your reservation and treatment appointments well in advance. For more information on visiting the spa and the various massage and facial treatments they offer, click the button below.
4. Play a round of Golf
If the spa isn’t your thing and your happy place is on the golf course, then a visit to the Omni Grove Park Inn’s 18-hole championship course may be your favorite experience while visiting Asheville. With clear views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, this par 70 golf course has been played by golf greats Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Bobby Jones.
5. Explore the River Arts District
If you’re a fan of discovering local art and meeting many of Asheville’s artisans, then definitely carve out some time to visit the quirky River Arts District. Here you’ll find painters, glass makers, and sculptors creating and selling their one-of-a-kind pieces, and there are even a few restaurants to choose from if you need to stop for a bite. Click the link below for up-to-date information on visiting the arts district, current happenings and classes, and a list of the artists.
Top 6 Restaurants to Try in Asheville NC
It’s hard to have a bad dining experience in Asheville. Not that you can’t or won’t have a bad dining experience in this town, but the odds are in your favor with this many consistently tasty restaurants to choose from. Asheville has over 100 restaurants sporting a Google review rating of 4.5 stars or more, so there’s never a shortage of flavorful, diverse choices to satisfy whatever cuisine your craving.
Whether you reserve the hottest restaurant well in advance or keep it random and pick an enticing spot while you’re out and about––either way––you’re probably in for a treat.
The list below is in no way meant to be definitive, but these restaurants have consistently offered delicious cuisine combined with either a relaxed ambiance or an amazing view which factored into my criteria when making the list.
Most Consistently Delicious Bite: Rhubarb
With so many great restaurants to choose from in Asheville, I’m always torn between trying something new or revisiting a consistently delicious favorite. That being said, I never regret a visit to Rhubarb Asheville. The menu is crafted from locally sourced farm partners that are clearly listed on their menu, and they offer something for everyone whether your preference is vegetarian or you crave all the meat options.
The vibe at Rhubarb is relaxed, and you can’t beat the location in the center of downtown Asheville within walking distance of the major hotels.
Best Ambiance: Zambra
The food at Zambra Tapas is delicious, but it’s the secluded lantern-lit atmosphere that first captures the imagination. Zambra translates to “gypsy dance of celebration,” and the food and ambiance reflect that celebratory energy, engaging all your senses for both a memorable meal and experience.
Consistently Top Rated: Curate Asheville
For more than a decade, Chef Katie Button and her family-owned business, Curate, have been bringing their love of Spanish tapas and food culture to the residents and visitors of Asheville. Throughout those years, the public has responded with an overwhelming number of positive reviews, and in 2021, Wine Enthusiast magazine included them in their list of “America’s 50 Wine Restaurants We Love.”
Curate means “cure yourself” in Spanish, which is reflective of the belief that there are curative effects to sharing food and drink with family and friends. Click the link below for Curate’s sample menus as well as reservations.
Best Views: The Sunset Terrace or Vue 1913 at The Omni Grove Park Inn
If a restaurant has an amazing view, that sometimes means they don’t necessarily have amazing food to match. Thankfully, that is not the case at the Omni Grove Park Inn’s open-air Sunset Terrace or their indoor restaurant, Vue 1913.
The Sunset Terrace is only open for lunch and dinner, weather permitting, and is usually closed during the coldest winter months; however, if you’re visiting between Spring and Fall, definitely reserve a table during the sunset hours for some spectacular views of the tree-lined valley and hazy blue mountains in the distance.
The menu is best described as a classic steakhouse, but there are plenty of salads and fish options as well.
Best Comfort Food: Tupelo Honey
Tupelo Honey first opened its doors in downtown Asheville, NC in 2000, but due to the popularity of its scratch-made Southern dishes, they now have several locations spanning 15 states.
A popular brunch spot, they serve biscuits and waffles all day alongside fried favorites and shrimp & grits. It’s comfort food at its finest with a dash of honey here and there to sweeten the pot.
Most Talked About Local Breakfast Bite: Biscuit Head
Biscuit Head has captured the imaginations of biscuit lovers everywhere by taking this soft simple Southern breakfast bread and turning them into the foundations for some pretty astonishing entrees. There was a line out the door the morning I visited, with everyone wanting to sample something new or satisfy a craving.
The menu is written on the wall behind the cash register (where you order), so I recommend looking at the menu ahead of time if you’re like me and suffer from decision overload. The vibe is relaxed and casual with all the fancy going towards the fixin’s.
Best Cocktail Bar with a Victorian Speakeasy Vibe: The Crow & Quill
While The Crow & Quill is not a speakeasy in the technical sense (no secret doors or code words required), it can be easy to miss. The only identifications for the entrance are lanterns and a “106” over the door. What the exterior lacks in detail, the interior more than makes up for it. The dark space is warmed by soft lighting and the seating and decor is an inviting hodge-podge of antiques.
The cocktails are unique and change with the seasons, and their menu also features over 600 whiskeys and over 1000 spirits, many of which are quite rare and some even out of production. It’s a great spot to unwind after a long day of walking and shopping.
Top 3 Hotels in Asheville NC
There’s a lot to love about this hotel––easy walking distance to all downtown Asheville attractions and restaurants, great views from the open-air rooftop bar and lounge, Capella on 9. If it’s raining or too cold out, the enclosed rooftop area is spacious and comfortable as well.
Given the opportunity, I would gladly stay here again.
Located a few blocks down from the AC Hotel, ALoft Asheville is a vibrant, artsy hotel with rooms offering either a blue ridge mountain or a city view. All downtown restaurants and attractions are within easy walking distance from this hotel as well, and there’s even a pool with cabanas if you’re visiting Asheville in the warmer months starting in mid-May through October.
While there’s nothing particularly special about the guest rooms at this inn, there are so many reasons to enjoy a stay at Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn. In fact, with so much to see and explore at this resort, you won’t want to stay in your room anyway.
The history of the hotel is fascinating, beginning with its opening in 1913. The structure of the historic main inn is unique, with the boulders fitted together by Italian stonemasons with each visible stone arranged to show the most character. The Great Hall features a pair of 14-foot stone fireplaces with andirons each weighing 500 pounds.
Throughout its many years, the inn has been host to a variety of celebrities and presidents, and that history is documented through photographs and memorabilia lining the wide hall leading to the Sammons Wing.
With over 100 years of history to its name, the Grove Park Inn is also said to be haunted by at least one ghost, that of The Pink Lady. The unfortunate guest fell from a balcony to her death in 1920 and has since allegedly been seen in the form of a pink mist or a young woman in a pink ball gown. A friendly ghost, she’s been said to occasionally wake up guests by tickling their feet.
If a ghost sighting doesn’t tickle your fancy, you’ll love the incredible views from Sunset Terrace, and don’t miss out on the 43,000 sq. ft. subterranean spa that is a must-see.
For more information on the Grove Park Inn and its wide variety of amenities and experiences, click the link below.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy your trip to Asheville NC and for additional trips to the southeastern United States, check out these guides: