16 Top Attractions & Places to Visit in Asheville

Written by Lana Law and Michael Law
Updated Jun 7, 2024
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Author Lana Law has visited Asheville several times, most recently as part of an extensive tour of mountain towns in North Carolina.

Asheville, in the far west of North Carolina, has a different pace from the state's bigger urban centers of Charlotte and Raleigh.

The city has become well known for its vibrant culinary scene and continuously thriving artistic community, and you won't be at a loss for things to do. Downtown Asheville is packed with shopping, restaurants, and museums, including the family-favorite Pinball Museum, where you can play with the exhibits.

Asheville Art Museum
Asheville Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This city is full of interesting places to visit, including one of North Carolina's top tourist attractions, the Biltmore Estate, home of the Vanderbilts. This iconic estate is also home to one of the best resorts in the state.

Thanks to its proximity to the mountains, Asheville is an ideal base for excursions on the Blue Ridge Parkway and into the Great Smoky Mountains. It's also convenient to many of North Carolina's prettiest mountain towns.

Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in and around Asheville.

See also: Where to Stay in Asheville

1. Explore the Blue Ridge Parkway

Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

October, when the leaves are colorful and picturesque, is the peak season for the parkway and one of the best times of year to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. But, if you prefer smaller crowds, plan a trip in early to mid-summer to view the blooming rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and flaming azaleas.

You can enjoy the scenic vistas from the road and its many pull-offs, or consider taking a closer look by exploring the hiking trails that wander through the surrounding countryside and the Southern Appalachian mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

The mountains around Asheville are also home to some of North Carolina's most beautiful waterfalls. If you are visiting in the heat of the summer, be sure to bring your bathing suit and water shoes to take a refreshing dip in the cool waters.

Those who aren't driving or simply want to get a more enriching experience will enjoy this 5-hour guided hiking tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls. Led by an expert local guide, this tour includes transportation to and from Asheville, refreshments, and the opportunity to see several waterfalls while learning about the area's history, flora, and fauna.

Scenic Drive

Scenic Drive from Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Scenic Drive from Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

From Asheville, you can drive east or west on the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a short scenic loop, head west on the parkway until you reach Highway 215 and head south to Highway 64. Take Highway 64 east to Brevard, which makes a nice lunch stop. The town is also known for its white squirrels, which you may see while you're there. From Brevard continue east and cut up on Highway 276 which will take you back to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Stop along 276 to see Looking Glass Falls, which is right along the side of the road. Parking can be busy here, particularly on weekends, but since this isn't a hike and most people only spend a few minutes seeing the falls, spots come up frequently.

2. Tour the Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate in Asheville
Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The Biltmore Estate is Asheville's most famous tourist attraction, and a big draw for couples who are looking for a romantic getaway in North Carolina.

At the center of this 8,000-acre estate is Vanderbilt Mansion, the largest private home in the United States. The mansion alone encompasses four acres and features 250 rooms — 199 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. In addition to admiring the artwork, antiques, and impressive architecture in the home, leave time to stroll through the gardens and grounds.

Be sure to set aside plenty of time to fully explore the estate. The admission price might seem steep but most people spend almost a full day here. You can wander through the house at your own pace on a self-guided audio tour. Expect to spend 1.5 to 2 hours touring the house. Other guided tour options are available for an additional fee. Afterwards, you can enjoy lunch at one of the restaurants, or head directly to the gardens. Plan on spending at least 45 minutes in the gardens and conservatory.

Alternatively, you can buy a ticket for just the garden and grounds, which allows you to see the gardens and gives you access to walking, hiking, and biking trails.

Author's Tip: When you leave the grounds you'll pass a lagoon. Turn left and walk over the bridge to a parking area where you have a majestic view of the back of the mansion reflecting in the lagoon.

If you want to make this the focus of your trip, consider a stay at the luxury Inn on Biltmore Estate.

Address: 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, North Carolina

3. Wander through Downtown Asheville

Wall Street in Downtown Asheville
Wall Street in Downtown Asheville | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The funky, artsy, and eclectic downtown area of Asheville has a friendly, Bohemian vibe. Locally owned shops and boutiques line the streets, along with a tasty selection of restaurants and cafés. Street performers of all kinds, from mimes to musicians, frequently make appearances.

Be sure to explore the historic Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile walking-tour route, which is marked by a series of 30 stations that feature informational plaques and sculptures at various significant sites.

Tables on Wall Street in Asheville
Tables on Wall Street in Asheville | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Stroll down Wall Street, a bustling area of charming restaurants with inviting patios and a variety of shops lining its spacious sidewalks.

If you are looking for that special souvenir that captures the spirit of Asheville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, be sure to stop in at the Grove Arcade. This wonderfully restored building dates from 1929 and is full of unique shops. In the evening, try and snag a spot on the patio of one of the many fine restaurants lining a full city block, and engage in some serious people-watching.

Feel free to join in the regular drum circles that take place at Pritchard Park every Friday night and spontaneously on other nights throughout the summer. If you don't want to participate, just stand around and enjoy the entertainment.

Downtown Asheville
Downtown Asheville | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you're looking for things to do at night in Asheville, see what's happening at the Asheville Community Theatre, Asheville Lyric Opera, or the Asheville Symphony.

Downtown Asheville is a good place to stay if you want to enjoy the city. You can park your car and walk everywhere if you base yourself in the city center. If you're just day tripping you can park your car at the Rankin Avenue Garage and be at the heart of the action and attractions.

Downtown Asheville
Downtown Asheville

4. Shop and Dine in the River Arts District

Buildings in the River Arts District in Asheville
Buildings in the River Arts District in Asheville | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

An up-and-coming district in Asheville is the River Arts District, known by its acronym "RAD." This eclectic and colorful area consists of former industrial buildings by the French Broad River, which have found new life. Many of the buildings are themselves now works of art, covered in graffiti. Just walking around this area is a feast for the eyes.

Inside the buildings are a treasure trove of artist studios, restaurants, and cafés. Wandering around, touring studios, and grabbing a bite to eat are three of the best things to do in the RAD.

Marquee in the River Arts District of Asheville
Marquee in the River Arts District of Asheville | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you need a signature piece of art, this is the place to come. Innovative artisans from around the country descended on this area and have made it a hotbed of craftsmanship. Over 200 artists work in various mediums including, but not limited to, metal, pottery, paint, glass, and paper.

The area hosts Second Saturday Art Strolls, featuring a free trolley, you can even bring your dog if you like. Something is usually going on, so check their website for the latest news.

Riverview Station in the River Arts District | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Riverview Station in the River Arts District | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

5. Visit the Western North Carolina (WNC) Nature Center

WNC Nature Center
WNC Nature Center | wes hill / photo modified

The Western North Carolina Nature Center is a 42-acre facility dedicated to educating the public about the area's varied animal life and natural habitats. Indoor exhibits include resident reptiles and amphibians; small mammals; and the World Underground exhibit, which explores what lies beneath.

The Nature Center is a fun family destination with a focus on natural play. Outdoor play areas offer all kinds of interesting and engaging natural things to do that will appeal to kids of all ages. Kids can also try their luck at finding that special rock at the gem and mining sluice for an additional fee. After exploring, take a rest and catch one of the many animal programs that let you get up close with snakes, turtles, and even otters.

Outdoor exhibits include a variety of habitats, which are home to native species like otters, turtles, endangered farm animals, raccoons, and foxes. The Appalachian Predators habitat is the park's largest, housing a bobcat, coyotes, grey wolves, and the critically endangered red wolf.

The nature center also has a hiking trail suitable for all ages and offers special programs and events throughout the year.

Address: 75 Gashes Creek Road, Asheville, North Carolina

6. North Carolina Arboretum

Bonsai Tree at the North Carolina Arboretum
Bonsai Tree at the North Carolina Arboretum

The North Carolina Arboretum features over 65 acres of cultivated gardens, which are home to a diverse range of plants. Highlights include the National Native Azalea Collection; the G-scale Rocky Cove Railroad model train; and the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, which houses up to 50 of these unique and fragile plants.

The Heritage Garden will be interesting to those who want to learn more about traditional uses for plants, including medicinal and functional applications, and the Quilt Garden is maintained in homage to Appalachian quilting traditions.

This 434-acre natural escape offers outdoor activities and 10 miles of hiking trails, and the center offers guided trail walks, self-guided mobile device tours, and geocaching. The arboretum also hosts traveling exhibits.

Address: 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, North Carolina

7. The Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Old covered bridge in the Botanical Gardens of Asheville
Old covered bridge in the Botanical Gardens of Asheville

For another escape in the natural world, The Botanical Gardens at Asheville are a series of immaculately tended gardens bursting with color and scent. The horticultural displays focus on local flowering plants and trees, many of which are unique to the state.

The gardens are open year-round, but peak bloom seasons are generally during mid-April and mid-August. Families will want to stop at the visitor center to pick up Investigation Passports for the kids, a fun way to engage younger ones in learning about the plants they will see.

There are also classes and topic-focused walks put on throughout the year for varied ages. This non-profit organization is free and open to the public, so be sure to stop by the on-site gift shop for a memento.

Address: 151 W T Weaver Blvd, Asheville, North Carolina

8. Pisgah National Forest

Looking Glass Waterfall near Brevard
Looking Glass Waterfall near Brevard | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres and is one of the first designated national forests in the country. Within the park, multiple day-use areas offer a variety of amenities and activities, including swimming, trails, and boat ramps.

Multiple camping areas are also found throughout the park. Visitors will find numerous geological landmarks including Table Rock, the Chimneys, and Linville Gorge, as well as the Forest Discovery Center located near the town of Brevard.

Upper Catabwa Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Upper Catawba Falls in Pisgah National Forest

Other highlights include guided nature hikes and seasonal interpretive programs and activities like horseback riding, fishing, hiking, bicycling, and rock climbing.

9. Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

View of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Oconaluftee overlook
View of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Oconaluftee overlook

Expanding on the scenery of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area includes communities and scenic byways, which add to the area's cultural richness. In addition to scenic drives, hiking, bicycling, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities, the area has a myriad of things to do.

Within driving distance of Asheville, you'll find farmers markets, local festivals and events, theaters, and gemstone quarries. There are also several opportunities to learn more about the history and culture of the Cherokee and other natives who first occupied the land.

During the peak tourist season, there is a Cherokee Bonfire series and Cherokee Artisan shows, and in the town of Cherokee, you can find a museum dedicated to the culture, as well as the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

10. Pack Square Park

Fountains in Pack Square Park
Fountains in Pack Square Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This delightful open green space is the perfect place to rest and catch your breath after a day of exploring downtown Asheville. Wide lawns, ample seating, and some shade encourage lingering and relaxation. Surrounding the park are impressive buildings dating from the 20th century.

Families with children will enjoy the waterpark, where children can run through fountains that spray up from the ground.

Pack Place
Pack Square Park

Most importantly, Pack Square is the place to catch free outdoor concerts in the summer. Bring a blanket and set up on the grassy slope to catch local musicians and performers.

On the edge of the park is the Pack Square Pavilion with visitor information and restrooms.

11. Asheville Museum of History

Smith-McDowell House Museum
Asheville Museum of History | Danny Thompson / photo modified

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the beautiful Smith-McDowell House is home to the Asheville Museum of History. Asheville's oldest surviving dwelling, this pre-Civil War mansion is full of restored with period furniture from the 19th century and decorative arts. The elegant brick building was once also the home for local mayors and a Civil War major.

Another point of interest in Asheville is the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site on North Market Street. The childhood home of the famous American author, this Victorian house is the former Old Kentucky Boarding House, once operated by Wolfe's mother. The house is featured in several of Wolfe's works, most notably the largely autobiographical Look Homeward, Angel.

Address: 283 Victoria Road, Asheville, North Carolina

12. Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens
Craggy Gardens

A pleasant 35-minute drive east of Asheville takes you to Craggy Gardens, up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Home to some 20 endangered or threatened varieties of flowers, Craggy Gardens is the perfect stop for anyone interested in rare plants. The Visitor Center (open seasonally) has exhibits about the local flora,

Be sure to bring your camera, because you will want to photograph the whimsical, wind-bent trees that grow on the mountain. If you visit during June and July, you will find purple rhododendrons in full bloom, but there are plenty of other blossoms to enjoy throughout spring, summer, and fall.

There is a good hiking trail that leads to panoramic views from Craggy Peak, and amenities include free parking, a picnic area, restrooms, and dog-friendly grounds.

Address: 364 Blue Ridge Parkway Black Mountain, NC 28711 (Exit at Mile Marker 382.5)

13. Ziplines and Hot Air Balloon Rides

Hot Air Balloon over the picturesque countryside
Hot Air Balloon over the picturesque countryside

For a different perspective on the North Carolina landscape, why not get a bird's-eye view from the sky or the treetops? Quiet and serene, hot air balloon rides offer a unique way to see Asheville and the surrounding countryside from above.

There are multiple tour operators to choose from, and there are also several options for thrill-seekers who want to experience a zipline canopy tour. Autumn is a particularly popular time of year for both activities when the forest canopy is ablaze with vibrant foliage. Make sure to take (and hold tightly onto) your camera.

14. Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

Twenty-five miles southeast of Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park features its landmark namesake: a 315-foot solid granite spire that rises over 2,280 feet. Don't worry, you don't need to climb to the top, visitors of all physical abilities can reach the top thanks to a 26-story elevator built inside the mountain.

Families will enjoy a variety of kid-friendly activities, including the educational Great Woodland Adventure Trail, the Animal Discovery Den, a kids' climbing tower, and scavenger hunts.

Another popular sightseeing spot in the park is reached via the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. The moderate, mostly level trail leads to the base of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls. For boaters, Lake Lure is the destination of choice.

Address: 431 Main Street, Chimney Rock, North Carolina

15. Asheville Pinball Museum

Vintage pinball machine
Vintage pinball machine

Located in downtown Asheville, the Asheville Pinball Museum allows you to not only see their 40 vintage pinball machines but play most of them as well. This nostalgic museum allows free play on its machines, which also include 40 classic video games, with a flat admission fee, and is a great way to regain your inner teenager.

The Pinball Museum can become very busy, and the facility limits capacity. To make it easier, the museum has a waiting list service, which allows you to explore and shop in downtown Asheville until your turn comes up. You can also pass your time shopping and dining across the street at the Grove Arcade while waiting.

Be sure to check the website for opening hours, they are not open in the mornings.

Address: 1 Battle Square, Suite 1B, Asheville, North Carolina

16. Biltmore Village

Biltmore Village
Biltmore Village | Dennis Joslin / Shutterstock.com

Biltmore Village was one of the country's first "company towns" — an entire community planned for the purpose of housing Biltmore Estate workers and their families.

Designed to resemble an English village, it has become a top tourist destination for both its historic charm, European ambience, and shopping. You'll find everything from independent boutiques to major labels, as well as a wide variety of some of Asheville's best restaurants.

Another Biltmore-related spot is Grovewood Village, once the center of Biltmore's woodworking and weaving branches. Here, you will find the Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum, as well as an antique car museum, an art gallery, and a sculpture garden.

Where to Stay in Asheville for Sightseeing

We recommend these great hotels in Asheville, near downtown shops, restaurants, and attractions:

  • The Windsor Boutique Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel in a great central location. Rooms have exposed brick walls, the apartments have full kitchens and the bedding is luxe linens.
  • Hilton Garden Inn Asheville Downtown is a mid-range priced spot in an excellent location that is easily walkable to the sights of downtown. A highlight here is the sunny rooftop terrace that is ideal for catching the sunset. The hotel also has a complimentary downtown shuttle and a well-equipped fitness center.
  • A good mid-range option is the Country Inn & Suites Asheville River Arts District. This 3-star hotel has bright rooms, an indoor pool and gym, and a free downtown shuttle.
  • A couple of miles farther out from downtown is the Quality Inn Asheville Downtown Tunnel Road. This is a budget hotel with clean rooms, free breakfast and parking, in-room fridges, and microwaves. The hotel also has a free downtown shuttle.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Asheville

Ghostly Asheville:

  • Believers and skeptics alike will enjoy this evening tour of Asheville's most haunted spots, including the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the Omni Grove Park Inn. A local guide shares stories and interesting historical facts during the two-hour Night Time Walking Ghost Tour.

Blue Ridge by Horseback:

  • The Flame Azalea and Fern Forest Combo Horseback Trail Ride gives you the opportunity to see some of the area's most beautiful plant life and scenery from the unique perspective of horseback. Lessons are available for beginners at no extra charge, and ride time is not shortened, making this a great family outing for those who want to try out something new.

Paddle through Downtown:

Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Asheville

Asheville - Climate Chart

Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Asheville, NC in °C
8 -3 10 -2 14 2 19 7 23 11 27 16 29 18 28 17 25 13 20 7 14 3 10 -1
Average monthly precipitation totals for Asheville, NC in mm.
78 81 99 80 90 82 75 85 77 61 74 66
Average monthly snowfall totals for Asheville, NC in cm.
12 12 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 7
Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Asheville, NC in °F
46 27 50 29 58 36 67 44 74 52 81 60 84 64 83 62 77 56 68 45 58 37 50 30
Average monthly precipitation totals for Asheville, NC in inches.
3.1 3.2 3.9 3.2 3.5 3.2 3.0 3.3 3.0 2.4 2.9 2.6
Average monthly snowfall totals for Asheville, NC in inches.
4.7 4.7 2.4 0.8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.8 2.6

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Nearby Places to Visit: This area of North Carolina is a treasure trove of quaint mountains towns and scenic drives. Other highlights in this region are the beautiful waterfalls. These are easily visited on day trips from Asheville. You can also work in some hiking if you have enough time. If you're visiting in winter, some of North Carolina's best ski resorts are not that far away and can make a nice side trip.

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