A weekend in Asheville is the perfect way to sample this hipster mountain town sitting squarely in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. Asheville has embraced its reputation as “Paris of the South” since the early 1900s and is always a favorite stop on any North Carolina road trip.
But it’s only in the last decade or two that Asheville began drawing serious numbers of tourists for its creative take on Southern fare as a foodie town, a craft beer epicenter, and its ever expanding art scene.
- Weekend in Asheville
- Asheville Itinerary
Weekend in Asheville
With just a weekend, you’re going to wish you had more time here! The itinerary below suggests the best of Asheville and includes a bonus third day if you’ve got a three day weekend planned.
With three days, I recommend one day touring and eating Asheville, one day at the iconic Biltmore Estate, and one day getting outdoors for a hike.
Between the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pisgah National Park, and DuPont State Park at your doorstep, nature is wondrous here. Don’t miss the opportunity to get out in it!
With two days, mix and match according to your priorities.
Day 1: E-bike Tour + Drinks with a View
Head out on an e-bike tour.
Our favorite activity during our time exploring Asheville was our three hour electric bike tour of Asheville with Flying Bikes. This was such a wonderful introduction to the city!
Do it on day 1 of your visit so you can make a note of what you don’t want to miss or where you want to spend more time.
Not only did we get local insider recs on the best restaurants and breweries in town, but our guide sketched in Asheville’s fascinating history as we rode.
We learned how people visited sanitoriums here to take the fresh mountain air in the 1800’s and about how the railroad moved in at the end of the century and built beautiful Hotel Battery Park.
Plus, we got the backstory on about the influence of the famous Vanderbilt family…and why Asheville still hosts the largest collection of art deco buildings in the U.S. today.
(Spoiler alert: Asheville hit hard during the 1929 Crash, shouldering the biggest debt burden in the country. In its effort to repay its debts for the next 50 years, it couldn’t afford to raze and rebuild.)
Our e-bike tour of the city took us past the incredible Basilica of St. Lawrence (the largest unsupported dome in North America, by the way) and along a gorgeous dedicated bike trail by the river on the peaceful Reed Creek Greenway.
We climbed past the the tony Victorian homes in the historic Montford neighborhood to take in some gorgeous grand old homes and a sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the sunset terrace at Omni Grove Park Inn.
The guides were very safety focused and did plenty of practice instruction before heading out on city streets. I’d feel confident recommending this tour to anyone who hasn’t been on an electric bike before.
In short, I’d highly recommend this tour. You can check price and availability on the Flying Bike tour here.
Explore the Restaurant Scene
The foodie scene in Asheville is on point. And it’s going to be tough to choose! We found everything we sampled to have a definite Southern flare with plenty of upscale interpretation.
If you want to go classic, I can personally vouch for the truly amazing fried chicken sandwich at Buxton Hall Barbecue. In North Carolina, there are two styles of BBQ: Eastern and Western (or Lexington).
Buxton serves Eastern, which means the whole hog is smoked for 18 hours and then spiked with a peppery vinegar sauce. You’ll find great Southern sides here too like collard greens and coleslaw.
Or head to famous Wall Street—with its very own Flatiron building just like NYC—and try Cucina 24, The Market Place or Early Girl Eatery for brunch. This is a wonderful pedestrian street to walk!
If you’re eating dinner on Wall Street, head to the nearby rooftop bar for drinks with a view at Capella on 9 at the AC Hotel.
We also really enjoyed our dinner at Corner Kitchen, a really excellent farm to table restaurant and Asheville institution for nearly two decades now.
If you’re an art lover, consider combining a visit for gourmet tacos at White Duck Taco with some time in the River Arts District.
You can walk 200+ artist studios there for pottery, glass, jewelry, paintings, and so much more.
Just be aware that these studios are pretty spread out and will require some serious walking. Your best bet is to browse the website (above) online first to scope out which studios you want to see to avoid overwhelm.
And to be fair, there’s plenty of art to be seen all over the city.
Fantastic murals are everywhere and there are truly unique local art galleries for folk art, hand blown glass, and Appalachian crafts all along Biltmore Avenue. You’ll also find plenty of cute indy boutiques near Pig Alley.
But I digress! Cúrate is one of Asheville’s best-loved restaurants with its authentic Spanish wine list and tapas. Alas, it’s practically impossible to get a reservation (or at least it was for me). I saw why when I peeked into the itsy bitsy one room restaurant on Biltmore.
And last, no weekend in Asheville would be complete without sampling the fantastic brewery scene here. Try Burial Beer, Wicked Weed Brewing or Funkatorium (for sours).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Sunset Drinks or Dinner at Omni Grove Park Inn
Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn—built in 1913— is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a beautiful historic luxury hotel and a wonderful example of the Arts and Crafts architecture style.
It’s well-loved for it’s massive great room with two mammoth fireplaces blazing at both ends as well as its modern subterranean spa (once rated by Travel + Leisure Magazine as #13 in the world’s best spas).
The inn has also hosted a famous national gingerbread house contest for 29 years now.
Most importantly, the Omni’s western-facing patio also makes the perfect spot to enjoy sunset drinks or dinner after a busy day wandering Asheville.
Just be sure to reserve well ahead as it’s a popular choice! If you’d like to stay here, you can check price and availability at the Omni here.
Join the Drum Circle
Asheville’s downtown drum circle in Pritchard Park is open to all comers. Bring your own drum or just listen to the rhythms! It’s free.
The drum circle draws quite a crowd between April and October in the warmer months. It starts around 5 or 6 pm and goes until 10 pm.
Where to Stay in Asheville
Two great options:
1. The Lion and the Rose B&B: This lovely B&B is located in the historic Montford neighborhood and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places itself. Look no further for the perfect romantic getaway.
Traveler review: “A beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood with welcoming hosts and amazing food.” —Georgina
Check price and availability on the Lion and the Rose B&B here.
2. Aloft Asheville Downtown: Looking for something sleek, modern and central? Stay at Aloft Asheville Downtown to enjoy an outdoor pool, onsite restaurant, and walk everywhere.
Traveler review: “Central to downtown, modern vibe, and exceptionally clean.” —Alan
Check price and availability on Aloft Asheville Downtown here.
Day 2: Get Outside
Asheville’s location smack in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it the perfect base for exploring some of the most gorgeous scenery in the USA!
Your biggest challenge here is going to be deciding where to go. Drive an hour south and you’ll find yourself in stunning DuPont State Forest. There are hikes galore here but even if you’re not interested in an all day hike, come for the waterfalls.
High Falls, Triple Falls, and Hooker Falls are just a short walk from the Visitor Center.
Pisgah National Park is another great choice…about a 45 minute drive from Asheville. This scenic drive comes with epic 180 degree views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Plus, a stop at the Pisgah Inn at the summit on Mount Pisgah makes a great stop for lunch.
Reserve ahead to dine at the restaurant or bring your own picnic and grab an Adirondack chair outside for incredible Blue Ridge views. (There’s a great little gift shop with lots of Appalachian arts and crafts here too.)
A third option is to drive the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s 469 miles long and extends into Virginia so it’s up to you how far you want to go. Plan on a full day of driving if you want to head all the way to Boone or Blowing Rock.
If you’re here in fall and in search of the best leaf peeping, you’ll find it up near Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Parkway early in October.
In late October or early November, the color flows down the mountains and into Asheville. DuPont State Park is alive with reds, oranges, and yellows this time of year.
In summer, float the French Broad River in an inner tube, kayak, or stand up paddle board. You can check price and availability on a guided kayaking tour here.
Read more on USA travel:
• Where to go leaf-peeping on the Blue Ridge Parkway
• Weekend getaways from San Francisco
• The Best Kauai itinerary
Day 3 or Optional Day 2: Visit the Biltmore Estate
The historic Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s most famous attraction and America’s premier château, just like the fancy castles in Europe…stateside.
Billing itself as “America’s largest home”, the Biltmore Estate took its inspiration from Chenonceau and Chambord castles in France.
It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1963.
This sprawling estate—built for George Washington Vanderbilt II at the end of the 19th century— is 8,000 acres! It’s one of the best examples of mansions in the gilded age and is seriously something to see.
The mansion includes a banquet hall, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and a bowling alley. And that’s just for starters!
Be aware the admission price is steep. Tickets must be reserved ahead of time online and the cost varies by date and season. They start at $66 per person and increase to over $100. The audio guide is included.
So if you’re going to go, plan on a full day here.
And believe me, between touring the mansion, visiting the absolutely stunning 8,000 acres of gardens, enjoying a wine tasting at Antler Hill Winery, and dining at one of the many onsite restaurants, you won’t lack for things to do.
The Christmas season is particularly memorable here with the mansion festive and adorned beyond belief, poinsettias filling the conservatory, and magical white lights filling the long tunnel entrance to the winery.
Tips for your Biltmore visit
I will say I found the Biltmore’s website really confusing and not at all user friendly when trying to plan my visit. So having learned the hard way, here are my best tips for planning your visit:
• Go early. The Biltmore is mobbed by tourists every time of year. Even with your ticket in hand, you’re likely to wait a half an hour or more in the long queue at the front of the mansion to get in.
Do yourself a favor and arrive first thing in the morning to minimize the wait and throngs of people.
• Enjoy a wine tasting at the winery. A wine tasting at Antler Hill winery is included in your ticket price so be sure to go. It’s an elegant winery with an outdoor seating area where you can order a charcuterie plate as well, if you’d like to enjoy a casual meal.
Reservations for your tasting are required though and you can only make them on the day of your visit. Reservations fill up fast so plan to call as soon as the winery opens at 11 am.
• Be strategic about reservations. As noted above, the Biltmore Estate is huge. The mansion and gardens are a drive away from Antler Hill Village. These are the two “hubs” on the property.
You’ll find restaurants in both areas. The winery is at Antler Hill as are gift shops.
You’ll want to plan enough time between your visit to the mansion and gardens, restaurant reservation, and your winery reservation.
For example, there are more than a dozen onsite restaurants. If you’re interested in a fine dining experience, try Cedric’s Tavern or Stable Café (located in a historic stable).
Reserve ahead and know where your restaurant is located so you don’t find yourself dashing from your tour at the mansion over to Antler Hill with not enough time.
Or, keep it simple by hitting the Smokehouse Food Truck for Carolina BBQ and other Southern favorites (which is at Antler Hill…steps from the winery).
• Your ticket time is for your self-guided tour of the mansion. You don’t want to be late as your admission is only guaranteed up to 30 minutes past the time on the ticket. And you’ll want to leave time to take the tram up from the parking lot.
One itinerary idea would be to arrive in the morning, spend an hour exploring the gardens with a late morning tour time for the mansion (one to two hours) so you don’t feel rushed to be on time.
Then, either eat lunch at one of the restaurants near the mansion or drive over to Antler Hill for restaurants there or the food truck.
Reserve a wine tasting for early afternoon and then explore the shops at Antler Hill.
• Skip the bicycle rental. I was so excited to learn we could rent bicycles at Antler Hill but in the end, I didn’t think it was worth the price. Especially because both bikes weren’t well maintained and barely switched gears.
There is a lovely paved flat bicycle path along the French Broad River here but it’s short. In theory, it’s supposed to be possible to cycle over to the mansion, but we got completely lost (as did plenty of other people).
The trail was not marked at all and allegedly included an uphill climb on a dirt trail which did not bode well for the rickety bikes we had so we gave up, returned the bikes, and drove over instead.
• Leave time to explore the fantastic gardens. The extensive botanical gardens were my favorite part of the Biltmore Estate. And in fall, the Walled Garden is planted with hundreds of vibrant salvias and chrysanthemums. It’s simply stunning!
In fact, it was designed for the Biltmore family by America’s premier landscape architect, Frederic Law Olmsted, as the crowning jewel of his career. (Olmsted also designed Central park in New York City and is recognized as the pioneer of forest management.)
You’ll find unbelievable rare blooming orchids and tropical plants in the sunlit glass conservatory. And the Walled Garden is planted with vibrant seasonal displays.
Then there’s the Rose Garden, Bass Pond & Boat House, Italian Garden, Shrub Garden, Spring Garden, Azalea Garden. So many gardens.
So don’t skip the gardens!
As you can see, it would be easy to spend a week—or a lifetime—exploring everything this city has to offer between outdoor adventures and all the unique things to do in Asheville.
With just two days, explore the city and sample as many restaurants as you can. Spend your second day in the great outdoors or at the famous Biltmore Estate. With a three day weekend, you can do both!
However you choose to spend your time here, you’ll hunger for a next visit. Asheville’s warm Southern welcome and creative sparkle make it a city on the rise.