Tucked in the beauty and mystery of the smoky Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville North Carolina is a hub for culture, arts and moutaineers seeking adventure.
I’m blessed to live only a few hours from this mountain jewel and try to visit Asheville several times a year. No matter how often I visit I never tire of the city’s nature beauty and cultural haunts.
In recent years, Asheville continues to get featured on best of list in national travel magazines – and the hype is justly deserved. Between The Blue Ridge Parkway access, amazing food scene, Biltmore and endless waterfalls and hiking trails there is magic here!
Here are a few of my favorite haunts in Asheville that make it a must-see spot in NC…
The Blue Ridge Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway
I’ve always had a mountain heart – nothing can stir a soul quite like a mountain view with the rugged ridges, mosaic of trees and undulating valleys that play together like a symphony. And nothing relaxes a troubled heart like spending a few minutes staring into the vast vistas of The Blue Ridge Mountains. These mountains do not impress with their rocky facade or sheer height like The Swiss Alps, but invite you into their depths of color and light. The vastly forested mountain range floats like a cloud in the sunset as blues and fiery reds create ‘almost heaven.’
In the early morning with the rain, you’ll find the mighty Blue Ridge hidden in ‘smoke’ disappearing and reappearing like ghosts in the fog.
As many times as I’ve visited The Blue Ridge and stood at the same overlooks – I’ve never had the exact same view – the weather and light is always creating a new painting on earth’s canvas.
I am being a bit poetic here, but one trip to The Blue Ridge and you’ll understand the poetry of these mountains.
The Blue Ridge Mountains of The Appalachian Range extend from Georgia north to Virginia/Pennsylvania, with over 469 miles of The Blue Ridge accessible via the mighty Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Parkway was engineered in The Great Depression (1930s) to create a scenic mountian byway from The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Southwestern NC/Eastern TN to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Asheville is right off The Blue Ridge Parkway and provides ready access to such Parkway sites as:
- The Craggy Gardens
- Mount Mitchell State Park
- Folk Art Center
- Mount Pisgah – stop for lunch at the Mt. Pisgah Inn and enjoy a meal with a view
- Graveyard Fields – great hiking trails and waterfalls
- +++ so much more
We enjoy taking a picnic to one of the many area picnic spots off The Parkway and enjoying 360 degree views of the mountains with a cool breeze.
America’s Largest Home is in Asheville – built by Vanderbilt heir George Vanderbilt in the late 1890s as a working estate modeled after the chateaus of Europe, this Beaux Arts style Gothic revivial masterpiece is a wonder to behold.
The house wasn’t simply built to show off, but as a work of lasting beauty and a way to revitalize and empower the Asheville community who helped built the Richard Morris Hunt designed home. It continues to serve as a partially working farm, but these days tourism with a bit of luxury greet you at Biltmore Estate.
I’ve visited at least a dozen times and never grow bored with touring Biltmore because there is always something new to see.
- Visit the massive estate home and learn about life on the estate in the era of George Vanderbilt and his family.
- The house includes works of art by Renoir, Monet and numerous Sargents. Famed portraitist John Singer Sargent was a friend and favorite portraitist of The Vanderbilt Family.
- Explore the gardens that were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
- Olmstead, who designed NYC’s Central Park, considered Biltmore (his last project), his crowning achievement…
- The Gardens are aflame with colors – reds, oranges, yellows in spring and summer and in the winter they are filled with Christmas Spirit and glow
- Amazing array of farm to table restaurants for every palette. Biltmore is known for its fresh and amazing food options – from the affordable quick eats to my fave The Stable Cafe there is something for everyone
- Visit the Winery – toast to a fun trip with a taste of delicious Biltmore wines
- Check out an exhibit like their current Renaissance Alive (think Van Gogh Digital Exhibit, but with Michelangelo and other Renaissance master artists)
I may be biased by to me Christmas at Biltmore is the best time to visit – They decorate the estate with over sixty Christmas trees – it is AMAZING.
Plan your trip to Biltmore here.
Over ten acres of immaculately maintained gardens come alive in each season. At Christmas the gardens light up at night making for a fun night out during the holidays.
Learn more here.
Downtown Asheville and River Arts District:
Downtown Asheville has an eclectic mix of culture, good food and ideal people watching. The downtown infrastructure is a mix of Art Deco and unique architectural buildings lef over from its golden era in the arts and crafts movement in the early 1900s to modern day graffiti murals and mohawk hair.
Dozens of funky shops and nationally renowned restaurants fill downtown streets.
Asheville continues to be an artsy town with a homegrown music scene as well as arts and crafts vendors.
If you are looking for a fun concert – check out the tunes or theatre at The Grey Eagle, Orange Peel or Diana Wortham Theater.
Get Hoppy – Asheville has more Breweries per capita than any other city in the US
Click here for a list of Asheville breweries
If you love chasing waterfalls, Asheville is ready for you – from nearby Translyvania County (read about our adventures here) to Blue Ridge Parkway falls and beyond there are over forty waterfalls within an hour of Asheville. One of my favorites is Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest (an hour from Asheville). It is an easy hike and offers a stunning view.
Enjoy a day at Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park
Movies like Dirty Dancing and The Last of The Mohicans were filled in The Lake Lure area…
Chimney Rock is one of my favorite spots in NC – it is a unique geographical formation you can step atop of for world class views.
Day trip to nearby Hendersonville, The Flat Rock Playhouse and Carl Sandburg National Historic Site
Speaking of poets, authors and such…back in Asheville you can look homeward and tour Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
The author of Look Homeward Angel, was a native son of Asheville and heavily influenced by the scenery and people of his hometown in his writing.
If you want the arts and culture of Asheville at a slightly slower pace, drive over to Black Mountain – an vibrant community with great food, artists and views. Also check out nearby Montreat – a Christian retreat area that welcomes people of all faiths. Montreat’s stone hotel is one of the great architectural gems in the greater area.
End your day with a drink on The Sunset Terrace at The Grove Park Inn…
Where to stay:
Asheville has tons of amazing hotels. Here are a few I have enjoyed staying at over the years.
- Hampton Inn (both locations), but one by Biltmore is very convenient if you want to tour The Estate
- Holiday Inn Express
- Courtyard by Marriott (near Biltmore Village)
- Brookstone Lodge – has a wonderful mountain vibe and helpful staff
- Grove Park Inn – it is a splurge but worth the value for a special occasion.
We’ll revisit Asheville and The Blue Ridge Mountains again and again on American Nomad, but hopefully this gives you a bit of inspiration for your Asheville and NC Mountain Adventures.
For more information I recommend these helpful guides