When I choose a travel destination, one thing I value is diversity of sites and activities. In my experience, nowhere blends artistic flair, history, and mountainous splendor quite like Asheville, North Carolina. This tiny city is nestled amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains, and attracts liberal-thinking artists of a world-class caliber. What’s more, those seeking refinement of the yesteryears will find this itch satisfactorily scratched with the breathtaking Biltmore, the largest privately owned home in the United States. Providing a spectacular backdrop are the Appalachian Mountains that are easily explored via the celebrated Blue Ridge Parkway. To find ideas for activities visitors can enjoy in or near Asheville, keep reading!
Day 1 of the Itinerary
Our first day, my boyfriend and I landed bright and early in the Charlotte airport, rented a car, and drove to our Air BNB in Black Mountain. Following a short nap, Joe and I brunched in Downtown Asheville at Over Easy Café, a highly recommended eatery that closes at 2:00.
Downtown Art Galleries: While we had intended on following the self-guided walking tour of the area’s urban art, we soon found ourselves wandering aimlessly from one store to the next without any clear direction. And let me say that it was wonderful. The galleries we stumbled upon provided engaging, diverse eye candy that had us continuously reaching for our wallets with excitement. Hands down, our favorite downtown gallery was Horse and Hero. After multiple trips through its doors, we bought three pieces and were left hankering for even more.
Many places like the Kress Emporium and Woolworth Walk will house dozens of different artists’ stalls to truly serve visitors with eclectic styles. While you may find the stereotypical clay pots, refrigerator magnets, and hand-woven baskets, there’s plenty of unique art pieces that reflect unbelievable talent. Asheville proved itself to be truly deserving of its nickname “The Paris of the South.” Plus, unlike other artistic hotspots like Miami, many of the pieces were affordably priced.
Moog Factory: The Moog Factory offers free tours of its facilities, and it’s a generous offer that no one should turn down. Available Monday through Friday at 10:30 and 3:30, this 45 minute tour will prove entertaining no matter your level of familiarity with their musical products. Check out the blog post about the Moog tour for a full review.
Drum Circles and Busking: No doubt, any traveler to Asheville has heard about the downtown drum circle. Held in Pritchard Park, it is a gathering in which drummers, dancers, and spectators come together for a high-energy celebration. The energy was infectious.
Scattered throughout the small downtown, busking musicians add a pleasant soundtrack to ambling about the sidewalks. Especially fun (and iconic) of Ashevilleis “Abby the Spoon Lady.” We saw her perform at Battery Park Avenue in front of the large flat iron statue, and with her she had Fly By Night Rounders play right alongside her.
Day 2 of the Itinerary
Dr. King’s Farm: Our second day in Asheville began at Dr. King’s Farm. A large stretch of land that houses exotic livestock like buffalo and watusi, visitors can experience the animals up-close-and-personal. It was fun, beautiful, and a unique experience I’m unlikely to have a second time. To learn more about Dr. King’s Farm, check out the full review here.
Next, we went on a short but strenuous hike. While we had attempted to trek the Rattlesnake Lodge Hike, we had entered through a different trailhead that made the trip much more vigorous than it would have been otherwise. Therefore, it’s probably best to breeze over this part of the day (as well as the fact that I requested we turn around prematurely).
River Arts District: Following our hike, we then drove to the River Arts District to check out Asheville’s many art galleries. It was a lot more rustic than we imagined, as it can truly be described as handfuls of warehouse-like buildings nestled amongst trees and train tracks. Exploring the area was a true treat.
We started off at Jonas Gerard’s studio, which provided enough colorful eye-candy to invigorate anyone. We desperately wanted to buy something, but all of the pieces were slightly outside of our price range. Still, I wildly encourage visitors to stop by this fun gallery.
One artist’s work who we loved and was within our price range was Olga Dorenko. Located in the Warehouse Studio building, her works colorfully conveyed movement in nature in a way that we were excited to hang on our walls. What’s more, the quality of her prints far surpassed many of the other prints we saw.
One of the most popular establishments in the River Arts District is the lively Wedge Brewery. However, as an alternative, we stopped by Flourish & Nourish for organic juice blends. Pleasantly enough, the drinks came to $5.00 per piece, which is quite reasonable when compared against the $12.00+ price tag I sometimes see in more pretentious establishments.
Feed & Seed: For a different perspective of Southern culture, Joe and I went to the Feed & Seed in Fletcher, NC. This free, non-drinking establishment was originally a supply store that was turned into a church that now has live Bluegrass music every Friday and Saturday night.
When you arrive, you sit in pews surrounded by folks mostly north of 50-years-old and watch traveling bluegrass groups perform upbeat songs. If you’re so inclined, you can even go up front to dance with fellow cloggers or swing dancers. We stayed for about thirty or forty minutes before heading to West Asheville for a late-night dinner. Our thoughts? It was a glimpse into a side of the region that we would not have otherwise seen. At the Feed & Seed, you can interact with a deep-seeded community tradition that help paint a fuller picture of the region.
And Then Off to the Mountains!
The next morning, we immediately drove towards Cherokee to go hike in the Great Smokey Mountains. This kicked off three days of hiking around the diverse region, which you can read about here. Please note that, as beautiful as Asheville is, no trip to this tiny city is complete without exploring the surrounding nature.
Why No Biltmore
Anyone that is familiar with Asheville may be wondering why there is no reference to Biltmore within the above blog post. Well, after much deliberation, Joe and I decided to buck conventional wisdom and skip this attraction. Yes, we heard that it’s spectacular, and that people journey from all over the world to visit the largest privately owned estate in the United States. I had even set aside a full day to explore the grounds. But, in the end, we decided it wasn’t for us.
The first reason is that the Biltmore is expensive. Entering is $75.00 on the weekends, a tour is a minimum $20.00, and a head set is $10.00 after that. Keep in mind, Versailles is only $27.00, the Quelez Palace outside of Lisbon is $9.24, and Williamsburg Virginia is $40.99. Biltmore may indeed be fantastic, but there’s no denying that it’s also a rip-off.
However, I would have readily forked over the money if I was guaranteed that Joe and I would have a full day of fun. However, I have a short attention span and I could imagine myself growing bored after 2 hours. A factor that would no doubt dampen the experience was the inevitable crowds we would encounter. Roughly one million visitors make the trip each year to see Biltmore, and the leaf-changing time of year is one of the most popular times for tourists to visit the region. Considering that we had planned on visiting on a Saturday, it was safe to assume that Biltmore would be brimming with loud children, shoving tour groups, and way too many people.
Did we make the right call in not visiting Biltmore? Maybe, maybe not. However, considering that we loved almost every single thing we did in Asheville, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have changed a thing.