You Should Go to Asheville: An Overview

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I was going stir crazy in February after a few weeks in a row of staying indoors, so I needed an opportunity for a getaway.  Since I’ve seen almost everything I want to here in Virginia, it was time to venture further afield.

The perfect solution?  A roadtrip to Asheville, complete with a great playlist to rock out to while driving solo.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this small mountain city, but I ended up loving it and highly recommend a visit.

Asheville is a small city, with 85,000 residents according to Wikipedia, and yet it feels much larger, perhaps due to the fact that there is so much variety in town.  Somehow, everything goes in Asheville, adding to the tourism slogan of “any way you like it”.  That’s true as can be, and in a single day, you could go from a business meeting to a salt therapy treatment to mountain hiking without ever feeling out of place.   That adds up to a buzzing atmosphere!

With only a weekend to spare, I had to pick and choose what to include in my visit, so I decided to spend one day exploring town and another day at the Biltmore Estate.

In a perfect world, you’d throw in a third day to spend outdoors, whether that’s driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, climbing Chimney Rock, rafting the French Broad, or hiking in one of the many nearby state parks, but that particular set of activities got the ax this time around (after all, it was February).

Here’s what you have to look forward to in the city of Asheville itself:

A Thriving Art Scene

I know absolutely nothing about art except that I like some of it and don’t understand most of it.  Say that in an art museum, and you’ll get dirty looks.  Say that in the River Arts District, and one of the artists at work in their studios or one of the shoppers perusing through the gallery will patiently and passionately explain a style or piece of work to you.
Not good enough?  Tons of artists offer workshops, even in a single afternoon, if you prefer a more hands-on approach to anything from sculpture to glass-blowing.

Interesting Architecture

When I think art deco, my brain jumps to Miami, but Asheville has a ton of preserved buildings from the 1920s.  If you have time to stop and smell the roses, it’s worth checking out the different buildings.

While you’re strolling through town, also check out the interior of the beautiful Basilica of St. Lawrence, home to the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.

basilica asheville nc

Unique Shopping

No, I’m not generally a shopper, but this is the city to visit if you need a unique gift for someone.

Traditional mountain crafts are offered in the Grove Arcade downtown, contrasting to today’s contemporary art galleries.  Music lovers can flip through old vinyls or talk to shop owners about new bands and foodies will be delighted with a large selection of spices, teas, or hand-crafted chocolates.

Clothing shops incorporate vintage, sustainably-produced, and today’s trends for a complete wardrobe and outdoor hobbyists will find specialty gear for just about anything.  And yes, still others will be amazed by the huge amounts of smoking accessories available.  Funky West Asheville is often overlooked by tourists but is also home to unique shops.

Live Music

While most national shows head to bigger cities, some do make it into Asheville.  However, the local music scene is where it’s at.  There are lounges and clubs featuring anything from rock to jazz to bluegrass and many don’t even charge a cover.

If you’re not into nightlife, you still won’t be missing out because buskers are everywhere.  Some of them downright suck, but many of them are actually really good and you can easily sit on a park bench with a cup of coffee and live entertainment for just the cost of an appreciative gratuity.

Good Food

The variety that’s apparent in all other aspects of Asheville life carries over to the food as well.  The downtown core is wonderfully void of chain restaurants, and instead features local spots.

Local, sustainable sourcing is a fairly common theme, as is eating organic, and vegetarian/vegan options.  However, you’ll also find darn good Southern cooking, Indian street food, and European specialties.  Round it out with a local microbrew or craft cocktail to make it really feel like a vacation.

tupelo honey asheville nc
Good morning! My biscuit breakfast at Tupelo Honey was delish!

Friendly, Interesting People

Asheville shares a lot of common features with other cities nationwide, and you may have already drawn comparisons in your head.

Setting itself apart, Asheville maintains its small town roots and southern hospitality.  Scoot on up to the counter for breakfast and the locals will make pleasant conversation with a solo traveler, without being prompted.  Ask for directions and someone will likely walk with you to your next destination.  Inquire about the daypack someone’s using, and they’ll gladly talk about their favorite hobby.

Honestly, this is utopia for a solo traveler because you can be friends with anyone by day’s end…yet the community is respectful and observant of when you need time alone to think, meditate, or read even in a public place.

Plan Your Trip to Asheville

If you’re thinking about heading to Asheville, be aware that lodging can get pretty expensive during peak season, which includes the many festival weekends during spring and summer, basically all of fall when the Blue Ridge Parkway is full of beautiful colors, and between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when the Biltmore is decorated for holiday festivities.

Staying downtown – like at the Four Points Sheraton, Aloft, or Hotel Indigo – will put you in walking distance of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.  However, hotels outside of town in the bland Tunnel Road suburbia or touristy Biltmore Village areas will likely be more affordable and you can still be downtown in ten minutes.  Budget time and money for parking!

I’m lucky that Asheville is an easy drive away, but for the rest of you, Asheville does have a small airport.  For better prices and/or more options, you can also consider Greenville, SC (1.5 hour drive), Knoxville, TN (2 hours), Charlotte, NC (2 hours), or even Atlanta (3.5 hours).
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Share your thoughts!

Have you been to Asheville?  Does it remind you of anywhere else you’ve been?

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Read More on The Girl and Globe:

  • Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate: If you go to Asheville and don’t visit the Biltmore, you’re doing it wrong.
  • 5 Things I Liked About PortlandSome people call Asheville the Portland of the east due to its alternative lifestyles and tons of beer.  I didn’t love Portland (but I did love Asheville).
  • Three Days in AtlantaIf you’re flying into Atlanta on your way to Asheville, read more about my adventures and plan your own trip.

19 thoughts on “You Should Go to Asheville: An Overview”

  1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    Asheville’s been on my bucket list, and now it’s moved up higher.

    Two questions:
    1) A vegan from western North Carolina once told me that in Asheville hot dog carts sell vegan soy dogs… is this true? or just a vegetarian fantasy?
    2) I remember reading that this was a solo trip. How did you listen to live music as a solo traveler? I’d love to explore live music on my travels, I’ve never been to a bar alone. I’m not worried about safety, it just seems awkward to go alone.

  2. @Bob, I agree! I’ll be back!

    @Kay,
    1. I can’t say I went out of my way to find vegan soy dogs, but if they exist anywhere, Asheville would be a good bet. As for a more general vegetarian fantasy, by all means eat at Plant (https://plantisfood.com/) if you go. I’m not vegetarian but even still I found their food delicious!
    2. Please, please, please take the plunge and listen to live music next time you’re traveling even if you’re solo! (Try it at home first if you want to get more comfortable). I don’t think it’s awkward at all: there will be other solo attendees there anyway, you’ll be distracted by the music instead of noticing you’re alone, and most of the time you can meet people there. I like to head there a little early and strike up a conversation while it’s still quiet enough to talk (the upcoming music is an easy conversation starter, i.e. “is this band any good?”), but it’s also pretty easy to invite others from a hostel or other social setting.

  3. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    @Sheldon Cooper

    I’m also in NYC. Have you looked at San Juan or Mexico City? San Juan has a ton of flight options from the city. I’ve done it over a long weekend. Mexico City is the most underrated city in the world. Perfectly safe (I’ve gone twice as a solo woman) and your cash/points go really far.

    Closer to NYC, I love the Hudson Valley, Lake George (Bolton Landing has a ton of independent hotels, nice dining options, hiking trails), and Philly. Philly in particular is an underrated city. I went with a girlfriend two years ago and had a great time.

  4. Jimmy @TravelByPoints

    I recognize the honey bottle and the biscuit :D. Hopefully, we will get to go back there later this year to see the fall colors on Blue Ridge Parkway, as I wished. Glad to hear that you really enjoyed it!

  5. @Kay Wife and I are vegan and have been to Asheville many times during our vacations to the mountains of Western NC. There are many good places to find vegan food. Not sure about the soy dog street cart, but you won’t have trouble finding vegan food that tastes amazing.

  6. Becky, any ideas for a last minute spring break getaway? We are looking to get away from NYC this weekend (talk about last minute!) and were exploring options in Central America but just cant get the flights to work out. Any ideas?

    1. @Sheldon Cooper, If I knew your interests, time available (just a weekend?), or budget (dollars/miles), I could probably help more. What is it about Central America that appealed to you for this particular getaway? If it was the culture, try Quito – it’s definitely different but would also have Palm Sunday events/processions. For nature, maybe try Dominica which has eco-resorts, snorkeling, and hiking. Or if it was for warmth and sunshine, try Palm Springs or Tucson, which both have 80-degree temps this time of year and plenty of resorts.

  7. Breweries, which are outstanding, are all dog friendly and so is the Sheraton and Aloft. Great place…been many times….

  8. @FlyingDoctorWu, you’re making me hungry!

    @Singtx, I loved that so many places were dog friendly.

    @Kay & Sheldon Cooper, Mexico City sounds great to me and would love to hear the final decision.

    @Jimmy, I hope you make it back this way. I haven’t done Asheville in the fall so I can’t comment specifically, but the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA is gorgeous then so I’d imagine the NC portions are also beautiful.

  9. Thanks for the responses, Becky (and Kay). We mainly wanted something that has an outdoor component to it plus some warmth. We did spend a week in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago, but Mexico City does sound intriguing so we might take a look at that (lots of points burning options there). Guatemala looks great, but flights are just terribly expensive (serves us right for being this last minute!)

  10. Love, love, loved Asheville. They call it the Berkeley of the East. Very funky vibe — for example, the Friday evening drum circle in the center of town. The art deco architecture was a pleasant surprise.

  11. Lori from Chicago

    So, Asheville looks like a “must visit.” I was surfing for B&Bs and stumbled upon this beautiful old place, Aberdeen Inn. I think it’s around 100 years old, in North Asheville. It looks pretty cozy – I think I’m going to check it out. It’s http://www.aberdeeninn.net if you want to check it out too. Hey, @New Girl in the Air – any recommendations on time of year?

  12. My husband and I visited Asheville and we loved it! A must see is the BIltmore Estate. You can get a 2-day pass and there is so much to see. And Lori, we did stay at the Aberdeen Inn because I love old houses with big porches and the breakfast menu looked delicious (and it was). I highly recommend it. And the Blue Ridge Parkway—I love trees and it was just a beautiful drive.

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