Why Is Asheville North Carolina So Cool? (Plus Things To Do!)

Asheville North Carolina
Fun Things To Do In Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville has to be one of the coolest small cities on the East Coast, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and adventurous spirit. Here are some fun things to do there!

Located in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a unique mix of hipster coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the US.

After hearing about Asheville for years, whether from friends, or the Obama’s visiting on vacation — it was time to learn what all the fuss was about.

Why was Asheville rated the #1 US travel destination by Lonely Planet? Why does everyone think Asheville is so cool?

Pack Square Park Asheville
Pack Square Park
Jack of the Wood in Asheville
Travel Tips for Asheville, North Carolina

Things To Do In Asheville

Anna and I spent 4 days visiting Asheville in partnership with Explore Asheville Tourism, and had a wonderful time eating, drinking, shooting photos, and enjoying the area’s nature.

Asheville’s creative (and slightly eccentric) locals contribute to a lively downtown unlike any other. You can experience an intoxicating drum circle, shop at vintage boutiques, sit down to an amazing locally-grown meal, and admire cool street art all in the same day.

One of the best ways to experience the city fully is by exploring on foot. With about 87,000 residents, Asheville isn’t huge. But it’s not too small either.

It feels like a large town, and just the right size. Asheville’s downtown, in particular, is easily walkable, with a charm all its own.

Writer for hire
Asheville Street Performers
Asheville Street Art
“Chicken Alley” Mural

Tons Of Art & Music

Asheville is known for its art scene, and you’ll quickly understand why. There’s fun street art all over the place, like colorful murals painted on the side of buildings & under bridges, depicting the city’s history.

My favorite was probably “Chicken Alley” by Molly Must, which you can find on Carolina Lane & Woodfin Street. Two giant chickens watch over the alley, a place that used to feature actual chickens in the past.

In the 1980s artists began transforming a bunch of old industrial buildings along the French Broad River into studio space. Now the public can visit these studios as part of the Rivers Arts District and browse the work of over 200 local artists.

The town is home to many small lounges, clubs, and breweries featuring live rock, jazz, and bluegrass music. Many don’t charge a cover either.

You can check out some fun (possibly strange) street performances in the center of town too. Don’t forget to tip if you enjoy the show! Asheville wouldn’t be the same without these guys.

Beer in Asheville
Lexington Avenue Brewery
Pack's Tavern Asheville
Pack’s Tavern

Beer City USA!

Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”. Because with 26 different craft breweries in the city, and another 60 nearby, beer lovers won’t want to leave.

Some of the most popular in town are Green Man, Catawba, Wicked Weed, and Lexington Avenue Brewery.

About 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, and each brewery has its own unique character. From strong hoppy IPAs to dark stouts, to fruity raspberry ales, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.

On top of the incredible beer scene, the city is also “steeped” in tea culture.

Check out Dobra Tea, afternoon tea at Biltmore, and The Herbiary.

Asheville River SUP
Whitewater Stand-Up Paddleboarding
French Broad River Asheville
The French Broad River

French Broad River

The French Broad River winds its way past Asheville, providing a natural space for all kinds of outdoor activities & adventures.

You have your obvious river sports like whitewater kayaking and inner-tube floating, but there are some lesser-known activities here too, like “bellyaking” and whitewater SUP.

Bellyaking was actually invented in Asheville — it’s a face first kayak-type ride using special “paddle gloves” to maneuver through the rapids.

I decided to try some whitewater SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) for the first time with Wai Mauna SUP Tours.

Stand-up paddle-boarding through class I & II river rapids on the French Broad River requires a lot of balance, it was more difficult then the lake or ocean SUP I was used to. I fell a few times, but it was still fun!

The Marketplace Restaurant Asheville
Eating Our Foraged Food at The Marketplace
Restaurants in Asheville North Carolina
Salsa’s Restaurant in Asheville

Farm To Table Dining

Asheville is home to over 250 restaurants, many serving locally produced meats and veggies while supporting North Carolina’s farmers. They’ve been doing “farm to table” long before it became a cliche.

We obviously couldn’t try every restaurant in town with just four days, but my favorite places to eat in Asheville were The Marketplace and Salsas.

French Broad Chocolates is an ice-cream lover’s dream too. The line outside is long, but there’s a reason for that.

The chocolate ice-cream floats are sooooo good! It was worth the wait.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville
The Famous Biltmore Estate
Vanderbilt Library
George Vanderbilt’s Extensive Library
Biltmore Estate View
View Off the Back Deck

The Biltmore Estate

The historic Biltmore Estate is one of the most frequently suggested places to visit in Asheville. George Vanderbilt’s gigantic, hundred-year-old property is indeed quite busy all year long.

George, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, fell in love with North Carolina and began building his property by late 1889. He decided to create a dream home surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.

This 178,926 square foot mansion sits on 8000 acres, with over 250 rooms, and is America’s largest home. The Biltmore holds regular exhibitions — they were displaying movie costumes used in films set during the XVIIIth century when we were there.

George Vanderbilt was also one of the most-read men in America, and amassed a library of more than 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself. Gazing at the wall of books in his preserved library was fascinating.

Foraging Tour in Asheville North Carolina
Wild Foraging with No Taste Like Home
Mushroom Hunting in North Carolina
Picking Chanterelle Mushrooms

Wild Foraging Tours

I’ve never been wild mushroom picking before, so we signed up for a foraging tour with a company called No Taste Like Home.

The morning began with instruction from owner Alan Muskat about types of edibles we’d be searching for, and which poisonous plants to avoid.

After being equipped with baskets, harvesting knives, and paper bags, we headed into the enchanting North Carolina forest. I was completely surprised at how many things you could eat, and how good they tasted!

We collected Day Lily flowers, Chanterelle mushrooms, Stinging Nettle, Sassafras leaves, and strange mushrooms called Hairy Rubber Cups. While not popular in the US, they are apparently a delicacy in Malaysia.

After, you can bring your “catch” to local restaurants in Asheville like The Marketplace, where chefs prepare your dinner using the wild ingredients.

Asheville Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Hiking around Asheville
Many Fun Hikes in the Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers year-round access to hiking trails and exhilarating views along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

The complete route stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia and is home to a wide range of diverse plants and animals. It’s technically part of the National Park System.

Along with hundreds of hiking trails, the parkway includes sections of the Appalachian Trail — one of America’s classic long-distance hikes that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

Asheville was a perfect base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we spent a full day cruising its winding pavement. Stopping occasionally at mountain lookouts and for short hikes to admire the area’s nature.

Waterfalls near Asheville
Looking Glass Falls
Sliding Rock Falls Pisgah Forest
Sliding Rock Falls
Asheville Sliding Rock
Natural Waterslide!

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is located South West of Asheville, only 30-45 minutes away. It’s considered the birthplace of modern forestry in America, and home to the country’s first forestry school.

Driving through Pisgah on Route 276 is a fun little road trip complete with waterfalls, white water rapids, hiking trails, and camping opportunities.

We stopped by two different waterfalls. The first is called Looking Glass Falls. Located right off the side of the road, it’s super easy to reach, and a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.

The second is Sliding Rock — basically a huge natural waterslide made of smooth stone. A quick ride down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder will definitely wake you up due to the chilly 50 degree water!

The Davidson River is a popular area for fly-fishing too.

Where To Stay In Asheville

While we were in Asheville, we stayed at the beautiful Abbington Green B&B, as well as the historic Omni Grove Park Inn.

Here are some other suggestions for places to stay in Asheville:

Best Accommodation In Asheville

Have you ever considered short-term apartment rentals? It’s a great way to save money! Click here to learn how to get $35 off your first booking.
Downtown Asheville North Carolina
Downtown Asheville

Asheville Travel Tips & Advice

  • There’s a fun public drum circle every Friday night between 6pm – 10pm in Pritchard Park, where people of all ages join in to dance to the music.
  • Asheville has a beautiful array of wildflowers that bloom between April and June. Keep your eye out for trillium, lady slippers, wild ginger, evening primrose, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and many more.
  • The best time to visit Asheville is during the fall foliage season (October), as trees & mountains are incredibly colorful. Summers are usually pretty busy too and get the best weather.
  • Parts of the Appalachian Trail pass through this region. For a taste of this famous 2,180 mile trek, try hiking the Max Patch Mountain trail for great views.
  • The Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s most popular attraction, so it can get quite crowded. Go super early for awesome photos and less people.

Asheville has a little something for everyone. You can enjoy scenic mountain vistas, fun live music, locally produced food and beer, a vibrant arts scene, hiking and other outdoor adventure activities too.

I have to say it has become one of my new favorite mountain towns in the United States, and an excellent weekend vacation destination. Who knows, you may never want to leave! ★

Bonus Travel Video! Things To Do In Asheville

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(Click to watch Things To Do In Asheville – North Carolina on YouTube)

Travel Planning Resources For Asheville North Carolina

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights on Skyscanner. This is my favorite search engine to find deals on airlines. Also make sure to read how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Car Hire is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent apartments from locals on Airbnb. Read more about how I book cheap hotels online.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Asheville & Great Smokey Mountains
Suggested Reading: Only In Asheville: An Eclectic History

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Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about traveling to Asheville, NC? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Explore Asheville


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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35 thoughts on “Why Is Asheville North Carolina So Cool? (Plus Things To Do!)”

  1. Could this be any better of a post! I cannot wait to travel to Asheville, it just looks so beautiful! I have always been a little obsessed with the Biltmore Estate, and I guess I still am! The sliding rock and the Looking glass falls have sealed the deal for me, it just looks so beautiful. I have to visit there soon! Thanks

  2. Awesome run down of my home town. Recently found out Allegiant does some direct flight into Asheville Regional. Not sure of all the cities but I know they ha e one from my current home in Denver.

  3. And don’t forget the awesome exhibits and folks at the Pearl River Pcenter for Chair Caning! What workmanship! What welcoming enthusiasm!j Hard to find such dedication to an artthat’s Ages old and often overlooked. It’s a great eye-candy experience, and it’s free, too.

  4. I’m a NC native, currently living in Charlotte… I head out to Asheville from time to time. Two quick recommendations – a little tapas restaurant called Cúrate located adjacent to the Mast General Store. Good food and wine but not very big, so try to avoid the weekend crush and drunken bachelorette parties (trust me on that).
    Also, if you’re so inclined, visit Mt. Mitchell. It’s the highest peak in NC and in the eastern USA. There’s a big observation deck at the top with some great views. There’s a big parking lot near the summit and a short paved walking trail (0.1 mile) the rest of the way up.

  5. Been to Asheville several times and always look forward to returning. Great art shops and places to eat, and the Biltmore home is fantastic. Have met some of the nicest tourist friendly locals and also some of the most crabby, just like people everywhere. Blue Ridge Parkway is awesome.

  6. May I leave a shameless plug for my family’s coffee shop? Check out Sweet Gypsy Coffee if you are near Hendersonville while exploring the area. The DuPont forest also has great hikes too, and Barley’s Taproom in Asheville has great pizza, wings, and beer flights.

  7. Much obliged to you for sharing your experience of Asheville. Having been there myself it is really a delightful piece of the nation and shockingly it has its offer of awesome culture, workmanship, and nourishment. There is such a great amount to see and to improve the situation beyond any doubt. Much appreciated again to share your “Relentless” encounters.

    Cheers from the Unstoppable Family

  8. I feel the vibe you’re sending through all our screens! Asheville sounds like a really great place to chill-visit. Would love to try foraging for mushrooms too!!

  9. Awesome photos and info on Ashville. I have been to North Carolina, yes, but haven’t really explored. Looking forward to it.

  10. Amazing stuff! Asheville looks like it has it all – I love places with plenty of space to go hiking and exploring, and foraging for your own food sounds like a lot of fun! I´ll have to put it on my USA bucket list!

    • It was pretty fascinating to learn about all the wild plants that you can eat, and how good they tasted. Day lily flowers for example. Great little snack!

  11. Asheville looks great! Probably wouldn’t be the first thing I would think of when planning to go to the US, but it still looks like there is so much to do! :)

    • That’s what I love about Asheville, it really surprised me. There are tons of fun things to do nearby, and it’s not a large city.

    • You’re welcome. There is no such thing as “hiding” a great place like Asheville from others. Word gets out eventually.

  12. Wow whitewater SUP looks interesting! Not sure I’d be able to stay up for too long but I’m sure it’s great fun! Awesome adventure.

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience of Asheville. Having been there myself it is truly a beautiful part of the country and surprisingly it has its share of great culture, art, and food. There is so much to see and to do for sure. Thanks again for sharing your “Unstoppable” experiences.
    Cheers from the Unstoppable Family

  14. Nice share! I live in Arizona and its really fun to travel. Nice camera, all the pics are so beautiful. I must appreciate your work. Stay blessed and have fun!

  15. Thanks for sharing. Asheville is one of my favorite small towns if not the favorite. I had no idea it was so Bohemian before I visited. I would always make a stop in Asheville when I was commuting between Ohio and North Carolina.