One of Appalachia’s hidden gems, Asheville is a relatively small but cosmopolitan city situated snugly between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Southern charm mixes effortlessly with European influences in the “Land of the Sky,” which offers a lot for visitors to see and experience during their time in North Carolina. Here are some of the best activities, restaurants and lodging options available in Asheville.
What to do
There is much to explore in Asheville, but perhaps no neighborhood will give visitors a better sense of the city’s vibrant community than River Arts District. Here, formerly abandoned warehouses have been turned into working studios for over 100 artists. The spaces are open to the public, and also near popular restaurant 12 Bones Smokehouse and acclaimed microbrewery Wedge Brewing Company.
Asheville has an excellent music scene, with everything from bluegrass to alternative rock. To hear some of the former, head to beloved dive bar Root Bar No. 1, where some of the city’s most talented acoustic musicians routinely play. Big-name acts, including artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Sonic Youth, tend to play the Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys both had one-year residencies at the Orange Peel in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and They Might Be Giants even recorded a song about the musical establishment for their “Venue Songs” album.
Outdoorsmen and -women will love the fact that Asheville is closely situated to some great nature areas. Essential visits include Chimney Rock State Park, named for a 315-foot tall granite cliff accessible by elevator, and the Appalachian Trail, portions of which run through the mountains surrounding Asheville.
In terms of landmarks, Asheville’s most famous is easily the nearly 7,000-acre Biltmore Estate, a gorgeous relic of the Gilded Age. George Washington Vanderbilt II built the estate’s main mansion, the 178,926-square-foot Biltmore House, in 1895, and it remains the largest privately owned house in the United States.
Where to stay
If you want to live like an obscenely wealthy industrialist for a few days, book a ridiculously lavish room at the Inn at Biltmore Estate. The prices range from $299 to $2,000 a night, but you get what you pay for at this luxury retreat, which offers fly-fishing, horseback riding and Land Rover excursions. Overnight stays also include access to Antler Hill Village & Winery. To make your reservations, head to the Biltmore’s website.
Another excellent hotel teeming with old world charm is the Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, a Tudor-style lodge located adjacent to the Biltmore Estate. Culture and fine dining are both available on the premises, as the hotel houses the Grand Bohemian Gallery, which features the works of international and local artists, and the Red Stag Grill, which serves locally sourced steaks and a very popular and unique river elk tenderloin. More information can be found at the hotel’s website.
Where to eat
It’s hard to find a better breakfast in all of Asheville than the one at Early Girl Eater, which uses ingredients from local farmers to create delicious dishes, such as the sausage and sweet potato scramble. To many, the retro 1950s design will be as delightfully familiar as the quality comfort food.
More comfort food staples can be found at Mayfel’s, a restaurant serving up classic Creole and Cajun dishes. From spicy jambalaya to seafood etouffée, the menu is stuffed with Louisiana-inspired creations, including Cajun pickles, which have proven so popular that Mayfel’s sells them as souvenirs. Mayfel’s also has the advantage of being located right across from Pritchard Park, which is home to live music and drum circles that can be enjoyed from the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
To get a taste of the diversity that defines Asheville’s eclectic dining scene, head to Mela, an Indian restaurant that has earned acclaim from The New York Times for deftly blending “imported spices with local ingredients.” The publication singled out dishes including Chowpatty ragada and shrimp bhuna as being among the best the city has to offer.
With great food, a rich culture and luxurious lodging options, Asheville has a lot going for it. Let this guide help you plan your trip today.