Nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Asheville is a small Southern city with a cool, big-city vibe. With a hip downtown area full of coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, museums, and over 30 craft breweries—surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains and rivers in the Southeast—it’s no surprise it was named one of the Best Small Cities in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler.
Though you’ll need a car to see some of the sights, the best way to explore Asheville’s intown neighborhoods is on foot. Walk the side streets and main thoroughfares here and you’ll find wide, tree-lined sidewalks, rows of storefronts and outdoor cafes, and small pocket parks perfect for people-watching and picnicking.
The Downtown District is particularly pedestrian-friendly and even boasts a unique outdoor museum spread along the 1.7-mile Asheville Urban Trail. With map in hand, you can stroll the neighborhood and visit 30 stations—each showcasing a work of art or a plaque commemorating some of the city’s most significant cultural and historical events. Jump onto the trail at any point, exploring it in small sections, or do the full loop, starting at Pack Square Park and ending at the bronze eagle sculpture overlooking the Hotel District of old Asheville.
Take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city along the way—stopping for lively performances from local street musicians, grabbing a cold beer at one of Asheville’s brewpubs, or browsing the shops and galleries at the Grove Arcade.
If you’d rather ride than walk, buy a trolley ticket from the Visitor Center and hop on one of Asheville’s vintage red trolleys. They cover major points of interest around the city and you can get on and off at any of the stops to shop, dine, or sightsee before re-boarding and continuing the ride.
Be sure to duck into Malaprop’s for book browsing and coffee. Visit the champagne bar at the unique Battery Park Book Exchange. Take a walking tour of the historic Block Neighborhood, celebrating the art and history of Asheville’s African American culture. And spend an afternoon in the River Arts District, located next to the French Broad River just outside of downtown.
With converted warehouses and mills, colorful street murals, and over 250 working artists showcasing everything from textiles to furniture, pottery to metalworking, jewelry, paintings, and more, RAD is the vibrant, creative hub of the city and totally worth a visit.
In addition to a thriving arts community, Asheville is also home to a wonderfully eclectic mix of architecture styles, including Neoclassical, Beaux Arts, Gothic, and Romanesque, with buildings and monuments designed by famed architects such as Richard Sharp Smith, Rafael Guastavino, and Douglas D. Ellington.
The most famous of these buildings is the iconic Biltmore Estate—the Vanderbilt family’s 130-year-old Châteauesque Revivalist mansion and the largest private home in the US. Set on 8,000 acres—just four miles from downtown—with its own gardens, winery, farm, hotels, and village, Biltmore is open for tours and events and is one of Asheville’s main attractions.
Of course, as much as there is to do within the city limits, there’s just as much to explore outside of town. The mountains around Asheville are stunning in every season, whether you want to enjoy them from the comfort of your car as you drive the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, view them through forests of trees as you raft down the Nantahala or French Broad Rivers, or experience them up close with hikes along the trails within the lush, 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest.
Outdoor activities in this part of North Carolina are near endless, with tour companies available to arrange customized guided hikes, waterfall visits, kayaking, camping, ziplining, and more.
As if a bustling downtown, cool arts and architecture vibe, and gorgeous mountain vistas weren’t enough, Asheville is also home to an incredibly creative food scene and strong culinary community, making it one of the top foodie destinations in the US. And, in typical Asheville fashion, it even has a name and a mission statement: Foodtopia, where every meal is a celebration, a revelation, and a transcendent experience.
In other words, it’s entirely possible to have an amazing dining experience for every meal while you’re here.
Try the new American fare at the casual and cozy Jargon restaurant. Grab an authentic North Carolina BBQ plate at the real-deal Buxton Hall BBQ. Make time for brunch or lunch at the buzz-worthy Benne on Eagle—serving African and Appalachian-inspired dishes from Cleophus Hethington, a James Beard Emerging Chef Finalist. And be sure to make dinner reservations at two of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants: Cúrate, a hip Spanish eatery housed in a former 1920s bus depot, and Rhubarb, a contemporary farm-to-table spot in the heart of downtown (both with James Beard nominated chefs) before heading home.
Our Manifest team has put together a fabulous Arts and Culture Asheville Vacation, which can be found on our Experiences page. But if this hip Southern city isn’t on your vacation wish list, we’re always happy to curate a custom trip for you wherever you’d like to go.