A vibrant city and a cultural mecca, set on the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s not hard to see why Asheville has gained its reputation as the Paris of the South. Known for its thriving culinary scene, abundance of breweries, growing art scene and rich history, Asheville captures a unique southern spirit you can’t find anywhere else in the world, “keep Asheville weird” is one of the local mottos, after all. As a college student in North Carolina, Asheville was a popular weekend getaway for my friends and I. While it’s still somewhat under the tourist radar, Asheville has been gaining popularity over the last few years as a must see destination city. Here are some of my recommendations to make the best of your trip to the “Land of the Sky”.
Art and History
Walk the River Arts District
For any art lover, the one mile stretch of the River Arts District cannot be missed. Featuring the studios, galleries, and retail shops of over 250 local artists, it’s easy to lose track of time in the warehouses of this renovated industrial area. If you’re searching for a hands on experience, stop by Odyssey Ceramic Arts Center for a walk-in class or visit Roberts Street’s North Carolina Glass Center for glass blowing demos and short sessions to make your own special creation.
The largest privately owned estate in the United States, built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in 1895, this 250 room French renaissance-style mansion may have visitors wondering if they’re in North Carolina or the French countryside. Visitors can (and should) book a tour to explore the inside of the breathtaking home, and learn about its rich history.
The Biltmore Estate is open to the public and offers several restaurants, a winery, and outdoor activities like biking, hiking, fly-fishing and boating. Tickets sell out fast, so it’s best to book your day at Biltmore in advance.
Food and Drink
Take a Food Tour
Southern comfort meets creativity in Asheville’s culinary scene, celebrating local produce and a modern twist on Appalachian flavors. If you’re not sure where to start, try taking a food tour downtown and sample some of the city’s best. Eating Asheville Tours offer great food tours throughout the week.
If you don’t have time to take a tour, indulge your taste buds at famous Asheville eateries like White Duck Taco Shop, tapas restaurant, Cúrate, barbecue joint, 12 Bones Smokehouse (famously one of Obama’s regular stops when he’s in the area) or local favorite, Sunny Point Cafe.
Get Your Caffeine Fix
You can find a locally owned (and aesthetically pleasing) coffee shop on almost every corner in Asheville. If you’re in need of a morning pick me up (or just a coffee addict like me) there are so many spots to choose from. Double D’s is practically a landmark in downtown Asheville, serving delicious coffee and treats from a bright red double decker bus. If you’re seeking good vibes (and a photo op) check out Forage, The Waterbird or Summit Coffee in the River Arts District for a delicious (and Instagrammable) experience.
Explore Craft Breweries
Coming in second for the most breweries per capita in the United States (narrowly beat by Portland) Asheville is like Disney World for beer lovers. Over 100 local beers can be found in what has been dubbed “Beer City USA” since 2009.
Wicked Weed is one of Asheville’s more famous breweries, featuring a “Funkatorium” (almost as odd as it sounds) where people can taste their sours and well… “funkier” brews. Another must-try is New Belgium, a brewery originally from Colorado, offers a large green space with food trucks, live music and lawn games to enjoy with your beer flight. Highland Brewing is another great spot to stop, holding its claim to fame as Asheville’s original craft brewery, dating back to 1994. Many of the breweries in the area offer tastings, tours, and live music on the weekends and can offer a great way to unwind.
Explore the Outdoors
Hike Pisgah National Forest
Just 10 minutes from downtown Asheville, Pisgah offers hundreds of miles of trails, waterfalls and swimming holes. Pisgah has it all, whether you want to hike, picnic, bike, or swim. Find your hikes using this guide and plan your trip ahead of time so you don’t miss fun features like Sliding Rock Natural Waterslide (literally a natural waterslide in the middle of the forest) or Catawba Falls.
Drive on Blue Ridge Parkway
Queue up a dreamy playlist, get in your car and take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. While the views from the drive alone are enough to make this a must-see on your visit to Asheville, the Parkway is lined with spots to park, and take in the beauty of the mountains. If you’re seeking more of a challenge, hiking at Black Balsam Knob (about 30 miles out of Asheville) offers a panoramic view guaranteed to take your breath away.
This hidden mountain oasis is a perfect getaway for foodies, history buffs and nature lovers alike. Don’t miss an opportunity to explore Asheville and see for yourself why this small city has been coined the “Land of the Sky”.