Asheville is the perfect combination of an eclectic mountain city, outdoor haven, and thriving downtown with a burgeoning art, culture, and culinary scene. While many people come to Asheville to soak up the crisp mountain air and partake in a myriad of outdoor adventures, its bustling, vibrant downtown is packed with a history all its own that has made this North Carolina city one of the most popular destinations for travelers everywhere with a taste for a diverse, hip atmosphere full of fun.
Exploring Asheville’s Historic Side At Biltmore Estate
One only needs to stroll Asheville’s downtown area to get a sense of the area’s rich history. Filled with architecture inspired by its early popularity as a beacon for philanthropists, artists, and visionaries. Much of the city’s amazing architecture remains as a testament to the city’s boom years—and its mix of Art Deco flair and Neoclassical styles serve as the perfect backdrop to emphasize its current up-and-coming, energetic vibes.
Perhaps the most iconic example of Asheville’s dynamic past is the Biltmore Estate. When American philanthropist George W Vanderbilt came to Asheville in the 1880s, he quickly saw the area’s potential—and immediately purchased the 120,000 acres on which he would build his grand estate. Biltmore still exists today, and visitors can explore its beautifully designed and curated grounds, created by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Explore the sprawling estate of America’s Largest Home and soak up the history with a self-guided tour of the perfectly preserved 250-room manse. Filled with objects d’art from the collection of George and Edith Vanderbilt, there is also original art by the likes of Renoir and Sargent. There are also several guided tours available for those who want to learn more about the home’s storied history.
But the house is not the only attraction at Biltmore. The gardens are picturesque and lovely, complete with an Italian garden and a rose garden with over 250 varieties. The famed Azalea Garden is also worth a look—housing one of the largest collections in the entire country. There are also plenty of forested trails to explore on the 8,000 acres, including the Bass pond Trail, known for its lovely views and famed red brick bridge that was featured in Last of the Mohicans
Embrace The Eclectic And Go Downtown
The heart of Asheville is its vibrant downtown—a hub of entertainment, art, culture, and history that captures the city’s diverse, welcoming spirit. Surrounded by stunning scenery and picturesque mountains, Asheville’s downtown area is the epitome of cool, mountain energy and electric atmosphere.
The Asheville Urban Trail is a great way to explore some of the city’s best attractions. This 2-mile walk takes visitors into Asheville’s past while surrounding them with its contemporary, energetic spirit. Meet the larger-than-life characters like Thomas Wolfe, George Vanderbilt, and F. Scott Fitzgerald that shaped Asheville throughout its history; learn about the area’s illustrious architecture, and check out some of Asheville’s most cherished monuments on this amazing trail that is the perfect introduction to the city. Marked by a series of 30 sculptural trail stations, the trail is easy to follow, and there are a plethora of incredible stops along the way—so feel free to take your time and customize the journey to fit your travel itinerary.
Those with an affinity for architecture will also want to check out the shorter (yet equally as lovely) Architectural Trail, which takes visitors deep into the heart of Asheville’s iconic Depression-era buildings that have stood the test of time—and are a testament to the city’s resiliency and determination to preserve its history. Some of the highlights of this tour include the First Baptist Church, the Asheville City Building; The Kress Building; and the Grove Arcade. Not on the Architectural Trail, but worth a look is the historic Citizen-Times Building, built in the late 1930s; it is perhaps the city’s best example of Art Moderne design. Once the hub of the city’s two newspapers and radio station WWNC, the massive three-story building now houses Citizen Vinyl—a vinyl record processing plant, bar/cafe, and fantastic record store located on the first floor. Part of the community since 2020, Citizen Vinyl celebrates the civic space of the proud historic building through its contributions to local music, art, and culture.
Another architectural marvel in the heart of downtown, The Basilica of St. Lawrence, has a history all its own. Built by the famed architect Rafael Gustavino—known for such works as the Boston Public Library, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, and Carnegie Hall, to name a few—Gustavino was one of many European artisans and architects that were drawn to the beauty of Asheville in the late 19th century. Completed in 1905, the Basilica is a beautiful example of Spanish Baroque Revival architecture that perfectly showcases Gustavino’s visionary imagination. A centerpiece of the downtown area, the Basilica of St. Lawrence will transport visitors to Asheville’s cultural past rich with European influence and a creative artistry that permeates the city to this day.
Asheville’s incredible art scene is another can’t-miss highlight of the downtown area. The South Slope Mural Trail is just one way to experience the city’s eclectic, artsy vibes. The self-guided tour makes the most of Asheville’s Southside by taking visitors on a route through the South Slope District, showcasing the city’s best public art in the form of modern, colorful murals that adorn and highlight the downtown area. Encompassing the diverse South Slope bursting with African American history, an automobile-focused “motor mile,”; and an industrial area defined by Asheville’s artistic culture and a thriving craft beer scene, the Slope Mural Trail is the perfect way for visitors to get a taste of what Asheville so unique.
Foodtopia USA: Brews, Food, and Everything In-Between
Asheville brands itself as a ‘Foodtopia’ largely in part to its local restaurants and businesses that are committed to sourcing their purchases directly from local farmers in an effort to support the community and contribute to its economy, well-being, and close-knit relationships. Additionally, the Foodtopians share a sense of common purpose: creating cuisine that is more than just a meal but is a celebration of local freshness and memorable moments. Consisting of over 40 local restaurants, breweries, cafes, and more, the Foodtopian community is at the heart of Asheville’s dynamic culinary scene—which runs the gamut from Southern cooking and traditional Appalachian cuisine to unique culinary creations inspired by the area’s reputation for farm-fresh ingredients inventive twists on the classics.
Asheville is known for dishing out some of the best BBQ in the South and has earned its reputation with a variety of delicious spots that offer up every incarnation of the southern staple. Stop in at Buxton Hall Barbecue in South Slope after hitting the Mural Trail for some of the best wood-smoked BBQ around served with traditional sides like their Farm & Sparrow Grits and Collared Greens. The fun, quirky vibes of 12 Bones Smokehouse are sure to charm any Asheville visitor. A homey, welcoming place known for its epic ribs and colossal sides like classic cornbread, 12 Bones is a fave of locals and tourists alike (even President Obama has eaten there). Little Pigs BBQ has been an Asheville institution since its opening in 1963 and is still a family-owned business to this day. With a simple, home-cooked menu that is dominated by BBQ and chicken platters (and some amazing sides and bread, of course), this classic Asheville BBQ joint is a staple of the city’s food scene.
Asheville isn’t just for BBQ—it’s also about classic Southern home cooking that embraces comfort food at its finest. Farm fresh ingredients make all the difference in Asheville, and its down-home, welcoming soul restaurants are filled with specialties that range from classic dishes to contemporary twists on old favorites. Homegrown is a perfect example of local flavor mixed with southern charm to create eclectic dishes that shine, like their Pimpin’ Fried Chicken Sandwich. Tupelo Honey Cafe is also known for serving up southern favorites with their own distinctive twist. This creative, eclectic spot is a local favorite and is a great place to score made-from-scratch morsels that wow, like their Biscuits for a Cause and Chef Specialty Shrimp & Grits. Fried chicken lovers will feel right at home at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. Southern fried chicken at its finest meets quality ingredients at this South Asheville spot serving Nashville Style hot fried chicken with a variety of spice levels to choose from.
It’s not all BBQ and Southern fare in Asheville; there are plenty of other excellent restaurants that serve up the culinary goods with their own distinctive flair. Bouchon is not only a restaurant; it’s an experience that brings French bistro fare to the tables of Asheville. With local, farm-fresh ingredients and inventive French comfort food like Salmon Dijonnaise and Chicken Cordon Bleu, Bouchon is a trendy, popular spot in downtown Asheville. Cucina 24 also embraces the area’s fresh local flavors—but with an Italian twist. With menu items and seasonal drinks inspired by the seasons, Cucina 24 serves elevated fare in a welcoming, homey environment. The menu is constantly changing, as it’s based on the freshest available ingredients. A seafood shack in the heart of Asheville, The Lobster Trap centers around offering its clientele only the highest quality, sustainable seafood options. Known as Asheville’s premier seafood spot, The Lobster Trap has been serving up faves like Oysters Rockefeller and their Wicked Good Maine Lobster since 2005.
Asheville has become a top tourist destination because of its vibrant downtown nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With an abundance of art, history, culture, and good eats, this charming North Carolina city is a haven for those looking for a fun and funky getaway with Southern charm to spare.
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