How to Spend 24 Hours in Asheville, North Carolina

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I always make it a point to travel a bit in the US every year, simply because it's huge and diverse and there are so many parts of it I have yet to see. And for my US-based explorations in 2018, I visited mostly Southern cities.

There was a girls trip to New Orleans in the late spring, visits to Memphis and Nashville in the summer, and then a jaunt down to Asheville, North Carolina, in early September.

I admit that I didn't know a whole lot about Asheville before visiting. I knew it was up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I had heard it was emerging as a cool, funky foodie city.

But I didn't know much else and went to Asheville with basically no expectations – which is often the best way to visit a new city.

Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville

Since my long weekend trip to Asheville, I've done some reading up on the city. It's definitely an up-and-comer in the South, but already has a lot of devoted fans. In early 2018, Asheville made it onto several “South's Best” lists, which are decided by readers of Southern Living. 

Some of the lists Asheville made it onto included “The South's Prettiest Cities,” “The South’s Best Food Cities,” and also the overall list of “The South's Best Cities.” It also topped Lonely Planet's “Best in the US” list for 2017.

Not too shabby for a city with a population of less than 100,000 people.

Reasons to visit Asheville, NC

So why visit Asheville in the first place? Well, even if you weren't aware of all its accolades, it's still a pretty cool city with some unique draws.

Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville
Buxton Hall Barbecue
Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville
Battery Park Book Exchange

For instance…

  • Asheville is home to the Biltmore Estate – Built between 1889 and 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, the Biltmore Estate was built as a “country house” for the Vanderbilt family. But with 178,926 square feet and 250 rooms, the Biltmore is the largest privately-owned house in the United States. 
  • Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains – Asheville is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Swannanoa River and the French Broad River, giving it a slightly milder climate than some other Southern cities. It isn't far from the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile All-American Road and National Parkway known for its scenic beauty.
  • Asheville is weird – It's been called the “Portland of the South,” and is known for its artsy, slightly eccentric vibe. There are no shortage of galleries and cool boutiques throughout downtown Asheville, and there's even a fun public drum circle every Friday night in Pritchard Park.
  • Asheville is “Beer City USA” – Despite being home to only about 90,000 people, Asheville consistently gets named one of the top craft beer cities in the country. There are more than 25 craft breweries in Asheville itself, and dozens more within driving distance.
  • Asheville is a year-round destination – Even though Asheville is considered to be in the South, it still experiences distinct seasons. The best seasons to visit are in the spring when flowers are in bloom, or in the fall when the foliage in the mountains and nearby national forests is spectacular. But you can visit any time of year and still find plenty to do.
Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville

Things to do with one day in downtown Asheville

Asheville is perfectly sized for a weekend getaway. The downtown area is small enough to be explored on-foot, and all the other main attractions are within easy driving distance. 

And yes, you can see most of the highlights in downtown Asheville in just one day.

With 24 hours in Asheville, here's how I would spend my day:

1. Breakfast at a local favorite

Sure, you could grab breakfast at your hotel, but if you're only in Asheville for a short time, you may as well do things right.

Head downtown for breakfast at Early Girl Eatery, which serves up made-from-scratch meals all day. They are strictly a walk-up restaurant and don't take reservations, though, so you'll want to be sure to get there early!

Other popular breakfast spots that aren't downtown include Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville for Southern-style comfort food, and Biscuit Head, which has several locations in Asheville.

2. Shopping downtown

Grove Arcade in Asheville
Grove Arcade

Downtown Asheville isn't huge, but this city packs so much punch into its downtown area. You'll find everything from fabulous farm-to-table restaurants to independent shops to cool galleries and museums.

You'll also find some interesting architecture styles downtown, including some beautiful Art Deco buildings.

Asheville was a boom town in the early 1900s, but was hit extremely hard by the Great Depression. The city decided, though, that it would pay all of its debts back – which meant that downtown Asheville was suspended in the 1920s for decades, with none of the old buildings being torn down and replaced mid-century simply because the city couldn't afford it.

One of those old historic buildings that survived is the Grove Arcade. It dates back to 1929, and today is home to unique restaurants and shops, most of which sell things made in North Carolina.

My favorite spot in the arcade was the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, which is one of the coziest book shops I've ever visited!

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar in Asheville
Battery Park Book Exchange

There's no shortage of cool places to shop downtown, either – there are more than 200 locally-owned stores and dozens of galleries! Along with the Grove Arcade, you can also hit up trendy shops on Wall Street, and see work by regional artists and craftspeople at Kress Emporium.

And if you like art, definitely check out Woolworth Walk, a cool gallery and emporium located in the fully-restored downtown Woolworth building.

3. Lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe

Once you've had enough shopping, head over to Tupelo Honey Cafe on College Street. This spot serves up “Southern comfort food with a creative twist,” and is consistently ranked one of the top places to eat in Asheville.

They serve up an all-day breakfast menu, as well as Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and even catfish.

Tupelo Honey Cafe is a popular restaurant, and they DO take reservations – but I went later in the afternoon one day and didn't have to wait for a table. 

4. River Arts District

River Arts District in Asheville

To be fair, the River Arts District isn't in downtown Asheville. But it's such a cool part of town that I'm including it here anyway.

The area where the River Arts District sits today (along the edge of the French Broad River to the west of downtown Asheville) used to be an abandoned industrial area, left over from Asheville's booming railroad days. In the 1970s and '80s, the empty warehouses and industrial buildings slowly began being bought up and transformed into studios.

Today, the River Arts District is brimming with art studios, workshops, and galleries in 23 different buildings spread out over a mile along the French Broad River. 

Jonas Gerard Fine Art in Asheville
Inside the studio at Jonas Gerard Fine Art

Not all the studios and galleries have set hours, so you might want to check the district's “Who's Open” page before you visit (but don't worry – there are studios and galleries open every day of the week!).

5a. Visit a brewery

If you're a big art fan, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the River Arts District. But I have one more suggestion for this afternoon, and that's to visit at least one of Asheville's famous craft breweries.

Like I mentioned earlier, Asheville is “Beer City USA,” and is home to dozens of craft breweries. 

If you want to stay in the River Arts District, check out one of the two Wedge Brewing Company locations: Wedge at Wedge Studios or Wedge at Foundation. Both are located in old warehouse buildings, serve up unique small batch beers that you won't find anywhere else (since Wedge is not a distribution brewery), and have food trucks on-site during most lunch and dinner hours.

Or you can head to Asheville's South Slope neighborhood where you'll find several breweries, including Burial Beer Co. (the city's first nano-brewery), Green Man Brewery, the Funkatorium (a barrel house and sour tap room associated with Wicked Weed Brewing), Twin Leaf Brewery, and more.

5b. Cocktails at the Grove Park Inn

Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville
Omni Grove Park Inn

If breweries aren't your thing (hey, beer isn't really MY thing), another great pre-dinner option would be to head north of downtown Asheville to the Omni Grove Park Inn.

This luxurious mountain resort is visually striking with its Arts and Crafts architectural style and massive stone fireplaces. It's also historically important (it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and is known for its various famous guests, which have included several US Presidents, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, just to name a few.

You may not have time for a spa treatment or round of golf here, but you can certainly grab a cocktail and watch the sun set – in fact, the hotel is known for this and literally has a designated Sunset Cocktail Terrace.

Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville
The Sunset Cocktail Terrace

6. Dinner at an Asheville favorite

Where you should go for dinner will depend on where you decided to go for some drinks.

If you stayed in the River Arts District or headed to South Slope for a brewery visit, then I'd recommend going to Buxton Hall Barbecue for dinner.

This BBQ spot in South Slope is run by James Beard Nominee Elliott Moss, and serves up true Carolina barbecue in an airy space with an open kitchen. They smoke whole hogs, and I swear their pulled pork was some of the best I've ever eaten!

Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville
Buxton Hall Barbecue plate
Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville

If you'd prefer to head back downtown for dinner, I recommend Cúrate, a Spanish tapas joint run by another James Beard-nominated chef, Katie Button.

Whereas Buxton Hall is casual, Cúrate is hip and trendy – and you'll definitely need to make reservations well in advance if you want to have dinner here.

7. Dessert at French Broad Chocolate Lounge

After dinner, why not round out the night with dessert? Located just around the corner from Cúrate, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is a great place to grab dessert to either eat-in or to take back to your hotel room.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville

What I love about this spot is that everything inside (from the truffles to the brownies to the tasty drinking chocolates) is made right in Asheville at the French Broad Chocolate Factory. You can also pair your sweet treat with a glass of wine or an espresso.

Where to stay in Asheville

Top hotels in downtown Asheville

For those wanting to stay in downtown Asheville, here are my top hotel picks:

Non-downtown hotels

For those wanting to save a bit of money by staying in one of Asheville's outer neighborhoods, consider:

Top B&Bs in Asheville

And if bed and breakfasts are more your speed, Asheville has some historic neighborhoods with beautifully restored homes:

  • Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn and Spa – The top B&B in Asheville. It's located in the Historic Montford District, and has prize-winning English gardens for you to stroll through.
  • Beaufort House Inn – This house in the residential Chestnut Historic District was built in 1894 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 
  • Sweet Biscuit Inn – Located between downtown Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, this Colonial Revival house in the Kenilworth neighborhood makes a great base.

Vacation rentals in Asheville

If renting a place all to yourself is more appealing, here are a few good options in Asheville:

  • Historic downtown Art Deco apartment – Located in the historic S&W building, this apartment is within walking distance to just about everything in downtown Asheville.
  • Contemporary luxury downtown – This sleek contemporary apartment is highly rated and in an excellent location in downtown Asheville.
  • Spacious arts district studio – This big apartment is near the River Arts District and right next door to the New Belgium Brewing Company.
  • Upscale Asheville treehouse – If you're looking for a quiet and luxurious stay outside of Asheville, this treehouse-inspired house is worth a look.
  • French Broad River Lodge – This massive home on the French Broad River north of Asheville has 6 bedrooms and a mix of modern and rustic touches.
  • Mountain views south of Asheville – This stunning 4-bedroom house is located about 15 minutes south of Biltmore Village and boasts a screened-in porch and hot tub.

How to get around Asheville

Asheville Trolley Tour
The Asheville trolley

While downtown Asheville is mostly walkable and there are ride share services like Uber and Lyft available, you really need to have a car to truly explore Asheville and beyond.

(Though I will say that I was able to see a lot without driving by booking a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off Asheville Trolley Tour. The fully narrated tour drives through downtown and the Montford Historic District, and makes stops at places like the Omni Grove Park Inn, the Grove Arcade, the River Arts District, Biltmore Village, and more.)

What to do with more time in Asheville

I definitely recommend spending more than just one day in Asheville! In fact, you could probably spend a whole week here and still have plenty of things to do.

There are two *main* things I recommend doing with more time in Asheville, though: visiting the Biltmore Estate, and driving part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is still perfect for a long weekend getaway; you can spend one day exploring Asheville itself, one day at the Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Village, and one day on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

You can't visit Asheville and not tour the lavish “country home” of the Vanderbilts. This “house” looks more like a French-style chateau, and you can easily spend hours exploring it and its gardens. I highly recommend the audio tour of the inside of the house, as well as one of the guided specialty tours (I did the Rooftop Tour, which was really cool!).

After the house tour, you can explore the gardens, visit and shop at Antler Village, and then wander around Biltmore Village (which George Vanderbilt created so his staff would have a place to live).

RELATED: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to the Biltmore Estate

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Mountains from Mount Mitchell

Asheville is only a couple miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway that stretches more than 460 miles from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When I was visiting Asheville, I hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway for just one day, exploring the sites closest to the city. Close to Asheville you can find plenty of viewpoints and short hiking trails, a Folk Art Center, as well as Mt. Mitchell State Park, which is home to the highest peak in the eastern United States.

If you can dedicate a full day to the Blue Ridge Parkway while you're in Asheville, I don't think you'll regret it.

Great Asheville tours

Here are some of the highest-rated tours in and around Asheville, whether you're into ghosts, beer, or hiking:

  1. Asheville Insider Guided Walking Tour
  2. Downtown Asheville Brewery Walking Tour
  3. Asheville Historic Downtown Electric Bike Tour
  4. Asheville Nighttime Walking Ghost Tour
  5. Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls Hiking Tour


Have you ever been to Asheville? If not, is it a city you'd like to visit?

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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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32 Comments on “How to Spend 24 Hours in Asheville, North Carolina

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  1. Great info – thanks! Planning to go for a long weekend next month. One question – is there a way to print this article? I’d love to have a hard copy of it.

      Glad you’ve found it useful! As for printing, I’m afraid I don’t have a special printer-friendly version available.

    I appreciate you visiting and writing about Asheville, one of my favorite places, the only thing I would take note of is I don’t think Asheville is an “up and comer”, Asheville arrived a long time ago and is a destination and dreamed of place to live by many.
    Thanks safe and fun travels.

      Ha, you’re right – Asheville is pretty popular right now! When I first visited a couple years ago, though, not many people I knew had ever been there!

    Thanks for the “quick trip tips” article, Amanda. I’ve put it on top of my list for a base between the Smokies and Blue Ridge when we get our customized van in 2 years and travel the US and Canada for 8 months of the year. Question: Are the names of the hotels missing because they changed their website’s page location/URL or some other reason?

      Hi Linda! Happy to be able to give you some inspiration. I’m not sure what you mean when you say the names of the hotels are “missing,” though – links to all of them with their names are showing up on my end just fine. If you’re having issues viewing my content, feel free to shoot me an email so I can try to troubleshoot it – [email protected]

    Thanks for the helpful guide! Love these recommendations.

    Now let me tell you some real things about Asheville. All the tourists who come and rave about the cool, funky, weirdness of the town encourage other tourists to come…those tourists decide to retire here with all their money. This drives up the cost of everything, mostly housing, which means people who actually live and work here can’t afford it any longer. They have to move further out of town, which leads to more commuting, which means more cars on the road. Speaking of roads, the city cannot keep up with all the traffic and incoming residents, so the roads are full of trash and animal carcasses due to the constant rush of speeding vehicles whose drivers have absolutely no concern for the wildlife. The beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway is used as a personal shortcut where cars routinely travel at 50-60 mph with no repercussions at all. Crime rates are rising as fast as the cost of housing and it’s not unusual to see homeless people on nearly every corner, some sleeping in the local libraries, in the kids’ section! The weather sucks, landlords are getting richer and there are hotels and churches on every corner but NO affordable housing because it continues to get rejected by those in charge. The police are largely white supremacists and the schools suck. There, now you know. Enjoy!

      Living in a place and visiting a place are indeed two very different experiences. I write a travel blog, and can only comment on my own travel experiences in most cases. I do my best to promote responsible tourism, but I’m afraid I have no sway over local governments and how they handle things like roads and housing prices.

      Lou is Low, I see. What a negative perspective. I’ve lived here for years (after nine other states and three foreign countries) and wholeheartedly disgaree with “the weather sucks” as well as all the other whines. Sounds like Lou doesn’t want anyone else to move here. Because, you know, he has primary rights to the place. Sorry, but homelessness and rising cost of living is the flip side to the temperate climate/desirable place to live coin. Move on Lou, if you dislike Asheville so much. Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing to enjoy it here without you Loudicrous complaints. Let me know where you wind up. Bet I won’t visit there.

    My family and I stumbled upon Asheville while vacationing near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is only an hour away. I think we’ve vacationed in the general area 6-7 times and we’ll probably go back again soon. My recommendations to anyone staying a weekend or longer: Spend a weekend at the park, preferably stay in one of the many cabins you can rent via VRBO. The views are amazing and there are lots of trails where most people turn around after 1/2 mile. I once hiked 14 miles and only saw three people after leaving the trailhead. Go fly fishing even if you never fished in your whole life. Hunter Banks in Asheville provides everything including a guide who will teach you how to fly fish and even take the fish off the hooks. Snow Skiing in the winter! There are several places to go nearby. White water rafting in the Spring and Summer (also very close to Asheville). There is much more, but you get the idea. Enjoy!

    I think I could spend hours browsing books at the Battery Park Book Exchange! Asheville looks like a lovely city

    Hi Amanda, this is what I like to do. Just a short stop over in one place. Thanks for the things to do on this article. It makes travel easier.

      I’m a big fan of long weekends and shorter trips. If you just focus on one city or small area, you can still see and do a lot!

    Looks like a beautiful up and coming town! North Carolina is beautiful but Ive never been to Asheville.

      Asheville is beautiful, especially its setting in the mountains!

    I live two hours from Asheville and have enjoyed exploring the city and area over the last several years. You’ve got a great one day itinerary here with all of my favorites – Buxton Hall is the best, love the Arcade and you even discovered the drum circle. I try to get there whenever I can – and if my husband has business to do there he knows I’m tagging along. 🙂 In fact, I wish I had a trip planned soon!

      Buxton Hall was SO GOOD. I still dream about that pulled pork sometimes!

    Hi Amanda, Thank you so much for including the Hampton Inn & Suites in Asheville-Biltmore Village in your post! I’m the marketing manager for that property and enjoyed reading through your post because you named so many of my personal favorites as a lifelong resident of the Carolinas. My family and I adore this area and all it has to offer. I hope you get to head South again soon, and would love the opportunity to meet you if you do. Little bit of fun trivia – The Hampton Inn & Suites in Asheville-Biltmore Village is owned by Biltmore Farms which is led by descendants of George Vanderbilt!

      That is definitely a fun bit of trivia, Emily! And I’m glad to hear I hit on some of your favorites as a native! It’s always a fine balance of looking for the typical “touristy” things everyone wants to do/see in a place, and also trying to find things that are popular with locals when writing a post like this!

    I think I could spend hours browsing books at the Battery Park Book Exchange! Asheville looks like a lovely city

      That bookstore was amazing! And the fact that they had a small coffee shop and champagne bar inside meant you could totally buy a book and then sit down with a glass of bubbly to read it!

    Asheville is good to roam about but food is not good, especially breakfast. They have limited main course and do not have varity. The food is not too good in quality.

      I think maybe you were eating at the wrong places! Asheville has fabulous food!

    It looks really nice, I would love to visit! My favorite would be the national park as I love nature and the french style chateau

      If you love cities that are also really close to nature, you’d love Asheville!

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