10+ Great Things to Do in Asheville, North Carolina

Explore this Paris of the South and find out the best places to eat, stay and enjoy the natural beauty of Asheville, North Carolina.

Ashevile

Beautiful Downtown Asheville

Beautiful downtown Asheville, a North Carolina town that blends big city shopping and art with back-to-nature and garden attractions. Image courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

Photo by: Image courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com.

Image courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com.

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Top Things to Do in Asheville

Spring time in Downtown Asheville overlooking city skyline with wild rhododendron flowers in foreground.

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Spring time in Downtown Asheville overlooking city skyline with wild rhododendron flowers in foreground.

Photo by: jaredkay

jaredkay

Asheville, North Carolina is known for a lot of things. A thriving food and art scene. A multiple winner in the suds-off online Beer City USA competition. Top it all off with a gorgeous location nestled in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains and Asheville is one of the Southeast’s go-to vacation spots.

Visit Biltmore Estate (Of Course)

Holiday Luminaries at Biltmore House

Holiday Luminaries at Biltmore House

The fountains and esplanade in front of the Biltmore house are gently lit with 300 soft, glowing luminaries during the holiday season.

Photo by: Steven McBride

Steven McBride

What may not come to mind for visitors are gardens, but Asheville also has those in spades, most prominently, the sumptuous grounds at the city’s essential tourist destination Biltmore, former home to George Vanderbilt and the largest privately-owned home in the nation with 250 rooms, a bowling alley, a vineyard and a massive park. In addition to spectacular architecture and the home's ability to transport you to another era, The Biltmore Estate features acres of vegetable plots and flower gardens, French and British-style gardens and the kind of groomed and manicured forests that make nature look like an expensively designed Barney’s window. Though the Biltmore Estate may be known for its spring Biltmore Blooms spring flower show, the fall and winter months offer their own nature-centric pleasures.

Forage for Wild Mushrooms

Woman holding a basket of chanterelle mushrooms in a forest

Woman holding a basket of chanterelle mushrooms in a forest

Photo by: Shutterstock

Shutterstock

One of the nation’s premiere authorities on foraging, Alan Muskat — featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods — runs his own foraging field trips which have been proclaimed the best foraging experience in the country. Visitors go into the field to spot and select wild mushrooms in what Muskat calls “find dining.” Muskat also teams up with local restaurants that will prepare his guests’ foraged finds. Muskat’s tours are the kind of esoteric fun that define this increasingly food and growing-centric town. And there’s even more foodie touring available with the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail featuring self-guided stops at local creameries and farms and regular events.

Visit an Exceptional Garden Store

From the indie to the elegant, there are plenty of opportunities to buy some plant-able souvenir of your visit. The Biltmore grounds feature an on-site garden store A Gardener’s Place in the Walled Garden where you can take home a little slice of America’s grandest private home for your own garden, from home decor to plants featured within the Frederick Law Olstead designed Walled Garden. A kind of Whole Foods for the gardening crowd, B.B. Barns is an exceptionally well-appointed full-scale nursery with an array of high-end items including a nook devoted just to glass and metal terrariums to display your world-under-glass. The plants are equally seductive — beautifully arranged and with enough unusual varieties to keep even experienced gardeners engaged. It is virtually impossible to leave this shop without something in hand.

Stay at a Working Farm at the Inn on Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate

Two Baby Goats

Adorable baby goats steal the show in Antler Hill Farmyard, at the Biltmore Estate.

Photo by: The Biltmore Company

The Biltmore Company

Adorable baby goats steal the show in Antler Hill Farmyard, at the Biltmore Estate.

Most people know the Biltmore Estate as the luxurious private home — the largest in America — of the George W. Vanderbilt family. But the 8,000-acre grounds are also home to a productive, working farm that supplies Biltmore’s kitchens. The four star, sumptuous but never intimidating Inn on Biltmore Estate overlooks the on-site vineyards and the majestic stride of the Great Smoky Mountains. Staying at the inn affords up close and personal access to Biltmore’s immaculate grounds and facilities and includes the opportunity to bike and horseback ride your way around this gorgeous estate. Within walking distance of the inn at Antler Hill Village is lingering evidence of Vanderbilt’s self-sustaining vision including a kitchen garden to inspire your own garden back home, a barn filled with chickens and goats (available for petting). Also calling the Biltmore grounds home — besides descendents of the Vanderbilt clan — are beehives, chickens, Angus and Wagyu cattle and South African White Dorper sheep.

Visit a Botanical Garden to See Native Plants

Biltmore Estate Gardens

Flowering Quince

Flowering quince

Photo by: The Biltmore Company

The Biltmore Company

Flowering quince

The North Carolina Arboretum is a public garden defined by Asheville’s astounding botanical diversity. In addition to the splendor of nature on perpetual display on the 434-acre grounds, visitors can enjoy traveling exhibits and a nationally-renowned collection of bonsai trees so immaculate you’ll think you’ve wandered into a Tolkien forest. In addition to traditional bonsai Japanese maples and Chinese elms, the garden has made an effort to highlight indigenous plants in the bonsai collection, like eastern white pine and American hornbeam.

Biltmore Estate Gardens

Azalea Garden

When the 15-acre Azalea Garden at Biltmore bursts into bloom, the color shimmers and sizzles. The azaleas usually pop toward late April and fill May with vivid flower hues. When adding azaleas to your garden, try to buy plants with a few open flowers, so you can be sure you’re getting the color you want. Pair azaleas with an evergreen groundcover like vinca vine, which blooms in tandem with azaleas in spring and adds green color to the planting all winter long.

Photo by: The Biltmore Company

The Biltmore Company

Enjoy an Al Fresco Farm Feast at Biltmore Estate

Several times each season Biltmore hosts a drama-infused al fresco dinner A Movable Feast within view of the Biltmore Estate. In colder months portable heaters and spirited conversation keep guests warm. Your fellow diners could include a supermarket magnate, lawyers, bankers, nurses, chefs and golf pros. Seasonal fare is prepared as well as plenty of Biltmore-sourced wine — loosens the tongue. By the end of the night you will have made some new best friends and experienced the meal of a lifetime in an absurdly beautiful setting.

Sample Remarkable Spanish Cuisine at Cúrate

Fried eggplant with local honey. Photo by Evan Sung

eggplant with local honey from Curate restaurant, photo by Evan Sung

Eggplant with local honey from Curate restaurant.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Evan Sung

Image courtesy of Evan Sung

Eggplant with local honey from Curate restaurant.

Why restrict yourself to the ho-hum dinnertime narrative of appetizer, main and dessert? At the exceptional tapas spot Cúrate in downtown Asheville (whose chef Katie Button trained with Spanish superchef Ferran Adria at his El Bulli restaurant), belly up to the bar and watch the chefs at work as a succession of dishes fly from the grill to dinner tables. With your front row seat you’ll know just what to try. In keeping with the Spanish theme, cocktails are given an Iberian spin and the small plates of patatas bravas, piquillo peppers stuffed with cana de cabra cheese and sauteed shrimp with sliced garlic are just the beginning of an incredibly diverse menu.

Dig Into Some Highly-Rated Barbecue at 12 Bones Smokehouse

12 Bones Smokehouse

12 Bones Smokehouse

When foodie president Obama was in town he made a beeline for some of the best BBQ in the South. 12 Bones is barbeque with a twist. This down home restaurant in Asheville’s thriving creative hub — the River Arts District isn’t fancy: You may sit elbow to elbow with a man sporting a beard threaded with potato salad. But you won’t care once your fork hits the jalapeno cheese grits, corn pudding, mashed sweet potatoes and other esoteric sides. Baby back ribs come with seasonal flavors like pumpkin or blueberry on a menu that celebrates all things locavore.

Have A Hearty Comfort-Food Breakfast at Early Girl Eatery

Early Girl Eatery

Photo by: Carrie Turner ©Early Girl Eatery

Carrie Turner, Early Girl Eatery

You’ll have to wait for a table at the popular retro-hippie Asheville breakfast spot Early Girl Eatery specializing in farm-fresh fare. But you won’t mind since the fluffy biscuits, quick breads, multigrain pancakes, shrimp and grits and locally-made jams are the living end in cozy, creative comfort food.

Enjoy Inventive Farm-to-Table Cuisine at Posana

The Asheville farm to table restaurant Posana makes a Manchego kale salad that inspires great swooning devotion from its regulars.

Manchego Kale Salad

The Asheville farm to table restaurant Posana makes a Manchego kale salad that inspires great swooning devotion from its regulars.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Posana

Image courtesy of Posana

As the talented chef at the Asheville farm to table standard Posana, Peter Pollay has devised a menu of gluten-free recipes (a romantic concession to his wife's celiac disease) that doesn't skimp on high-concept execution and flavor. Like a growing number of chefs in food-forward Asheville, Pollay takes an active interest in sourcing the best quality produce. How active? He maintains a collection of raised beds in space he leases from an intown Asheville homeowner where he grows greens, herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. It's a clever, entrepreneurial-meets-altruism gesture that defines the spirit of this crunchy-cool mountain town that someone's backyard could become the staging ground for a well-known local chef's nightly menu.


Chef Peter Pollay harvests greens for that night's dinner at the popular downtown Asheville restaurant Posana.

Harvesting Dinner

Chef Peter Pollay harvests greens for that night's dinner at the popular downtown Asheville restaurant Posana.

Chef Peter Pollay harvests greens for that night's dinner at the popular downtown Asheville restaurant Posana.

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