A weekend in Asheville is a wonderful way to sample this hipster mountain town that sits 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 Asheville has really only been drawing big tourist crowds in more recent years. Travelers love its fabulous foodie scene and creative take on Southern fare. There are so many delicious Asheville restaurants here!
You know what else is amazing in Ashville? It’s got a fabulous craft beer scene and is an epicenter for artists…from jewelers and painters to potters and glass blowers. It’s all here!
- Weekend in Asheville
- Day 1: Take an E-bike Tour + Eating Adventures
- Getting Around Asheville
- Day 2: Get Out in Nature
- Where to Stay in Asheville
- Day 3 (or Optional Day 2:) Visit the Biltmore Estate
- Asheville Itinerary
Weekend in Asheville
With just two or three days, you’re probably going to wish you had more time.
The Asheville weekend itinerary below is my best suggestion for squeezing in the highlights of this area in two days with an extra day suggested if you’ve got one more day.
With three days, I recommend spending one day seeing the best of the city, a second day touring the absolutely gorgeous Biltmore Estate, and your last day for hiking waterfalls and mountain views.
The outdoor opportunities here seem endless! Between the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pisgah National Park, and DuPont State Park, scenic nature abounds. Be sure to save a little time to savor it!
If you only have two days to explore, you’re going to have some tough choices to make. The good news is you can’t go wrong.
Day 1: Take an E-bike Tour + Eating Adventures
Head out on an e-bike tour.
Our favorite experience during our few days in Asheville was the three hour electric bike tour we took here with Flying Bikes. This was such an epic way to get a great overview of the area.
I recommend you take this tour on your first day here so you make a mental note of interesting areas or great restaurants (which the guide will point out) and still have time to adjust your sightseeing priorities while you’re here.
Our guide also shared quite a bit of Asheville’s history during our tour which really enhanced our experience of the city.
He talked about Asheville’s history in the 19th century as a haven for people looking to regain their health through santioriums and fresh mountain air.
We also learned about the railroad industry and how it financed the building of the lovely Hotel Battery Park.
Plus, we heard all 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…which is why there’s so much beautiful older architecture here!)
On our tour, we saw the incredible Basilica of St. Lawrence (the largest unsupported dome in North America, by the way) and we meandered along a scenic and peaceful dedicated bike trail by the river on the beautiful Reed Creek Greenway.
We climbed up, up, up past the the stately Victorian homes in the historic Montford neighborhood, too. There are some truly impressive grand old homes here.
Plus, there’a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the sunset terrace at Omni Grove Park Inn. (More on that below.)
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.
Read more on USA travel:
• Where to go leaf-peeping on the Blue Ridge Parkway
• Weekend getaways from San Francisco
• The Best Kauai itinerary
Taste Test the Restaurant Scene
The foodie scene in Asheville is well known in the U.S. And for good reason, there are a lot of creative takes on Southern fare by local chefs here. It can be challenging to choose with just a few days!
If you want to stick with a southern 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. In other words, the whole hog is smoked for 18 hours and then doused with a peppery vinegar sauce. Don’t miss the collard greens and coleslaw for sides!
Otherwise, you could also check out 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!
Everybody’s favorite—and especially convenient if you’re enjoying a meal on Wall Street— is Capella on 9 at the AC Hotel. There are great rooftop views here.
We can also vouch for Corner Kitchen, a really excellent farm-to-table restaurant and Asheville institution for nearly 20 years now.
Do you love art? Don’t miss the River Arts District. And while you’re here, definitely stop into White Duck Taco for some of their unbelievable and original gourmet tacos.
You can walk 200+ artist studios in the River Arts District for pottery, glass, jewelry, paintings, and so much more.
One thing to know though is that you’re going to need to plan on some serious walking to see them all since the studios are pretty spread out.
My suggestion? Browse the website (linked above) and create a priority list of studios you don’t want to miss. Otherwise, it can be a little overwhelming to decide.
And if you don’t want to devote a half day to walking the River Arts District, never fear. There are art studios all over Asheville.
One of the first things you’ll notice after you arrive is likely to be the many, many beautiful murals.
You’ll find plenty of unique local art galleries for folk art, hand-blown glass, and Appalachian crafts on Biltmore Avenue. Don’t miss the cute indy boutiques for clothes shopping near Pig Alley.
But I digress! Back to more restaurant recommendations:
Cúrate is one of Asheville’s top spots with its authentic Spanish wine list and tapas. The downside is that it can be really difficult to get a reservation here so plan ahead.
When we peeked into the itsy bitsy one-room restaurant on Biltmore we could see why. (Leave me a note if you get in and tell me if the hype is true!)
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 beginning!
Head to the 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 truly historic luxury hotel and a wonderful example of the Arts and Crafts architecture style.
It’s a great pick for where to stay in Ashville but if you’re on a budget, at least plan drinks or dinner here.
What makes it special? Imagine a massive great room with high ceilings, lots of stone, and then two mammoth fireplaces blazing at both ends.
Plus, its modern subterranean spa is special. (It once made the list of Travel + Leisure Magazine‘s world’s best spas).
And if you’re visiting during the winter holiday season, you’ll want to time your trip to check out the famous national gingerbread house contest here. It’s in its 30th year!
Most importantly, the Omni’s western-facing patio also makes the perfect spot to enjoy sunset drinks or dinner after a busy day exploring 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
If you want to join the locals, don’t miss Asheville’s downtown drum circle in Pritchard Park. Everyone is invited. You can either bring your own drum or just listen to others play. Either way, it’s free to all.
Expect a crowd between April and October in the warmer months. It starts around 5 or 6 pm and goes until 10 pm.
Getting Around Asheville
Your best bet for getting around Asheville is to rent a car as we did.
While there is a historic trolley in town and taxis are a viable option in Asheville itself, you’ll definitely want a rental car if you plant to take a hike or scenic drive as recommended below and/or visit the historic Biltmore Hotel.
Discover Cars has no hidden fees, 24/7 customer service, and free cancellation. They search all the major rental car companies so you don’t have to.
Check price and availability on rental cars for Asheville here.
Day 2: Get Out in Nature
Asheville’s location directly in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it the perfect base for exploring some of the most incredible scenery to be found in the USA! (Insider tip: Fall leaves are amazing here!)
The biggest challenge is choosing where to spend your day. 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, see the many rushing waterfalls.
High Falls, Triple Falls, and Hooker Falls are just a short walk from the Visitor Center and don’t require a hike!
Pisgah National Park is another great option…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 the perfect place for lunch.
If you want to dine at the restaurant, be sure to reserve ahead. However, you can also bring your own picnic as we did and plop down in on the Adirondack chairs with Blue Ridge views for days.
There’s a great little on-site gift shop with lots of Appalachian arts and crafts here too if you’re looking for a quaint souvenir.
Aside from DuPont State Park and Pisgah, your other option is to drive the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Be aware that the parkway is 469 miles long and extends into Virginia so you’ll only get to see a small section on a day trip. That said, a full day’s round-trip drive will take you to Boone and 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 sometime in October. (More info here.)
Depending on the year—either later in October or early November—the color flows down the mountains and into Asheville. DuPont State Park is also flaming with reds, oranges, and yellows this time of year.
If you’re here in summer, it’s a great time to 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.
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 at 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 at Aloft Asheville Downtown here.
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…but stateside. It calls itself “America’s largest home.”
The Biltmore Estate took its inspiration from famous French castles Chenonceau and Chambord castles and 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 $79 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’ll find plenty to occupy a full day.
The Biltmore really comes alive at Christmas. In fact, it’s a top pick for a Christmas vacation in the U.S. The whole place sparkles with sumptuous decor, poinsettias fill the conservatory, and magical white lights twinkle in the long tunnel entrance to the winery.
Tips for your Biltmore visit
I will say I found Biltmore’s website really confusing and not at all user-friendly when trying to plan my visit.
So having learned the hard way and also wasted a bunch of time driving and parking in the wrong area, here are my best tips for planning your visit:
• Go early. The Biltmore is crazy busy with visitors year-round. Even with your ticket in hand, you’re likely to wait 30 minutes 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 (for a fee, of course), if you’d like to enjoy a casual meal.
However, you can only go if you make an advance reservation. And you can only make that advance reservation on the day of your visit. Reservations fill up fast so plan to call as soon as the winery opens at 11 am after you’re already at The Biltmore. It’s a little weird…I know.
• 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 notice that there are restaurants in both areas. The winery is at Antler Hill along with the 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 which “hub” your restaurant is located in 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.
Plus, you’ll need to plan time to take the tram up from the parking lot…so don’t cut it too close.
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.
• 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.
• The gardens here are a huge highlight. Seeing the massive and extensive botanical gardens was my favorite part of my day at the Biltmore Estate. And in fall, the Walled Garden is planted with hundreds of vibrant salvias and chrysanthemums. It’s simply stunning!
They change out flowering displays by season so leave at least an hour in your day to walk the gardens…and more if you’re a garden lover.
The botanical gardens were 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, too. 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.
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 hospitality and originality make it a city on the rise.
Lisa Kaplan says
Thanks so much, Chris. This should be perfect, as the four sisters are planning a belated 60th birthday trip for the youngest of us and this is one place she wants to go! I was there a long time ago and didn’t get the full experience so this has inspired me and I am going to send this along to my other sisters.
This will absolutely the perfect spot for a sisters birthday celebration, Lisa! Have so much fun.