Nestled amidst the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountain ranges is the lovely, laidback and liberal community of Asheville. The largest city in the west of North Carolina, it is a popular place to visit, with lots of tourist attractions in town and in its scenic surroundings.
Nicknamed the ‘Paris of the South’ due all its attractive architecture, it boasts thriving artistic and alternative scenes, with studios and galleries dotted about. The abundance of craft beer breweries and street performers provides a vibrant feel, and there are several other things to do in Asheville with some fascinating monuments and museums on offer. To top it all off, Asheville has idyllic gardens and grounds for visitors to check out, while the magnificent mountains and verdant forests surrounding it are only a short drive away.
12. Botanical Gardens at Asheville
Located right next to the University of North Carolina at Asheville are some beautiful botanical gardens for you to explore. Popular with locals, students, and tourists, they are home to picturesque scenery, with peaceful paths weaving amidst the pretty plants.
Established back in 1961, the gorgeous gardens cover a large area, with flower-filled meadows found alongside a sparkling stream and wonderfully woody ridge. Dedicated to protecting and preserving the nature of the Southern Appalachians, it has over 650 species of plant on show from the marvellous mountain range.
Wandering around the Botanical Gardens at Asheville is a lovely way to spend a few hours. April to August is the best time of year to visit as an abundance of flowers and plants are in bloom.
11. Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Lying in the heart of downtown Asheville is the terrific Thomas Wolfe Memorial, which is well worth visiting if you have the chance. It was in this historic house that the famous 20th-century author spent much of his childhood, even using it as a setting in his novel Look Homeward, Angel.
Largely autobiographical, the book looks at his life growing up in the boarding house run by his mother. While it brought him fame and acclaim, locals were so enraged by his writings that he didn’t return to the city for eight years; the novel was even being banned from the local library.
Now a Historic National Monument, his boyhood home acts as a museum and memorial to the writer, with many original artifacts on display. In addition, there are informative plaques and exhibits on Thomas Wolfe’s life, writings, and the house itself.
10. Grovewood Village
Boasting numerous artists’ studios, galleries and museums, Grovewood Village can be found right next to the renowned Omni Grove Park Inn. Once home to Biltmore Industries, the complex now protects and promotes Asheville’s artistic history and heritage, with plenty for visitors to see, do and buy.
As well as taking tours of the former industrial complex to learn about Biltmore’s weaving and woodworking past, visitors can stop by its magnificent museum, which has fascinating exhibits on crafts, textiles and looms. Here too is the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum, showcasing some shining models of classic cars.
After taking in all the history, there are some enticing arts and crafts studios to visit where you can see jewellery, pottery and sculptures being made – as well as buy some souvenirs. Grovewood Village also has two galleries on-site, highlighting local artists’ work and craftsmanship.
9. River Arts District
Winding along the banks of the fast-flowing French Broad River is Asheville’s delightful River Arts District. Once dilapidated and decaying, its waterfront warehouses now house more than 200 artists in an astounding array of studios, galleries, and workshops.
A very creative and eclectic place, it has an incredible range of artworks on display, with pottery and photography found next to glassworks, illustrations, and furniture. In addition to perusing its colourful and chaotic studios, visitors can take classes from the artists in their workshops.
Since artists first started moving into the River Arts District’s abandoned buildings in the 1970s, the area has changed considerably; B&Bs and even large hotels have sprung up alongside cafes, restaurants and breweries.
8. Craggy Gardens
Nestled away to the northeast of the city are the charming Craggy Gardens, which lie among the Great Craggy Mountains. Named after the jagged rocky outcrops dotting its scenic confines, it is particularly known for its fabulous floral displays, with June being the most magical time to visit.
Made of up three equally stunning sections, the gorgeous gardens are very mountainous, lying over 1,600 meters above sea level. Meandering about its marvelous meadows, flower-filled slopes and exposed rock surfaces are tantalizing trails for you to wander along, with fantastic panoramas over the Appalachians on offer.
While many visit in June for the plethora of pink and purple rhododendrons, the Craggy Gardens are always coated in color, with plants and flowers bursting into bloom at all times of the year.
7. Pisgah National Forest
One of the first national forests established in the eastern United States in 1916, Pisgah covers a vast part of North Carolina, with large swathes found around Asheville. Set in the southern Appalachian Mountains, it boasts some truly breathtaking scenery, with lovely landscapes and nature wherever you look.
Hidden among its majestic mountains and endless forests are roaring rivers and sparkling waterfalls for visitors to discover, with divine views to be enjoyed from its higher realms. Weaving their way amid its wonderful woods and wilderness are exquisite mountain bike paths and hiking trails, with numerous picnic areas and campsites scattered here and there.
Due to its scenic nature, Pisgah National Forest is very popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Besides hiking and cycling, there is some excellent fishing, rock climbing, and wildlife watching to be had amid its forested reaches.
6. Lexington Glassworks
Lying along one of Asheville’s hippest and most happening streets is Lexington Glassworks, where you can watch innovative artworks take shape before your eyes. Since opening in the center of the city in 2015, the gallery has been wowing visitors with its unique creations and hand-blown glassworks.
Mixing traditional and timeless techniques with daring designs and imaginative shapes, the studio’s artists skillfully sculpt the molten glass, breathing life into their colorful creations. Watching them really is a treat: they carefully hand-blow glass ornaments and light fittings in front of you.
As Lexington Glassworks offers visitors a unique combination of ‘art, community, and beer’, guests can also enjoy a local Asheville ale while watching the glassblowers at work. With monthly music events and concerts also taking place, the studio is much more than just a place to pick up some unique souvenirs.
5. Basilica of Saint Lawrence
One of the city’s standout sights is the breathtaking Basilica of Saint Lawrence, which lies in the center of town. Built in 1905, the colossal Catholic church showcases some superb Spanish Renaissance architecture and is reputed to boast the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.
While its fetching facade and ravishing red bricks certainly make for a spectacular sight, entering its cavernous confines is the undoubted highlight. Here you’ll find lots of sublime statues and stained glass windows, as well as fabulous altars and artworks – all under its hulking great dome.
A significant and impressive landmark, the beautiful basilica also has a couple of charming chapels for you to check ou,t as well as a lovely little garden to wander around at the back.
4. Downtown Asheville
A lively yet laidback place with a lot going for it, Downtown Asheville is a delight to explore, with something for everyone to enjoy. Nicknamed the ‘Paris of the South’ due to its arresting array of Art Deco buildings, it also has vibrant arts, culture, and music scenes for visitors to delve into.
While following the Asheville Urban Trail is a wonderful way to take in its attractive artworks and architecture-filled streets, downtown also boasts some interesting historical monuments and museums. Excellent art galleries and craft beer breweries can also be found in the center, while its numerous street performers mean there is a buzzing atmosphere about the place.
In addition, there are plenty of unique boutiques and stylish studios for you to check out thanks to the city’s sizeable population of artists. With countless bars and music venues on offer; Downtown Asheville is certainly one of the most fun and festive places in North Carolina.
3. North Carolina Arboretum
Set just to the south of the city is the delightful North Carolina Arboretum, which is nestled away amongst the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Covering a large area, it is home to lovely landscapes and gorgeous gardens, with state-of-the-art greenhouses dotted here and there.
Ambling about its picturesque paths is a joy as the sprawling site is divided into scenic sections. While some pretty parterre plant beds mimic the patchwork patterns of the Blue Ridge Mountains, other areas lie beside babbling brooks or are peppered with beautiful bonsai trees.
While its tranquil trails, extensive azaleas and fantastic flowerbeds are always great to explore, winter is a particularly magical time to visit. This is when flickering fairy lights are strung up among the towering trees, and the arboretum and botanical gardens take on an enchanted look.
2. Biltmore Estate
Lying at the heart of an expansive estate is Biltmore House, the largest privately-owned home in the United States. Now a historic house museum, it is one of Asheville’s most popular attractions, with grand gardens, awe-inspiring architecture and beautiful rooms to explore.
Built between 1889 and 1895 for the incredibly wealthy George Washington Vanderbilt II, the massive mansion is modeled after charming chateaux he’d seen in France’s Loire Valley. As such, lots of elegant arches and turrets can be spied alongside attractive facades, gorgeous sculptures and steeply pitched roofs.
Inside is just as dazzling. Decadently adorned rooms, halls and galleries stretch endlessly away; there are more than 250 to explore in total. On top of all this, there are the glorious grounds to wander around, with stables, wineries and hiking trails found here and there. To see the best of the Biltmore Estate, it is well worth taking a tour or staying overnight in its hotel, inn, or cottage.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway
Renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, scenery, and nature, Blue Ridge Parkway stretches all the way from Virginia to North Carolina. Billed as ‘America’s Favorite Drive’, the route winds along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with phenomenal views and panoramas to be enjoyed along the way.
In total, the scenic drive runs for an impressive 755 kilometers and connects Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the way, it passes through lush forests, with sparkling streams and fabulous falls found amid its untouched and unspoiled wilderness.
Besides its many natural wonders, the picturesque parkway protects a number of important historical sites with charming towns and villages as well as the Cherokee Indian Reservation also set along its route. On the outskirts of Asheville, you can find the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, which has lots of useful information and interactive exhibits on what is remarkably the most popular part of America’s National Park System.