I stroll through Asheville’s River Arts District, popping in and out of galleries, and notice a phrase in the association’s brochure, “Creativity flows here.” The words certainly resonate, describing not only a burgeoning arts scene, but more broadly, the whole city – from its energetic vibe and novel experiences to Art Deco architecture, eclectic boutiques and cozy spa retreats.

Sunset over downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by ExploreAsheville.com
Sunset over downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by ExploreAsheville.com

Asheville, North Carolina

Enveloped by the beauty of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has long inspired artists and nature lovers as well as business icons including George Vanderbilt, who chose the scenic locale for his chateauesque Biltmore Estate, built in the late 1800s. Just after the turn of the century, entrepreneur E.W. Grove began building the celebrated Grove Park Inn, an architectural showpiece that became, and still is, a landmark resort and spa.

Asheville has embraced its rich heritage, preserving historic buildings while adding contemporary style and re-imagined spaces, from chic hotels to lively pubs and eateries. Award-winning chefs have built a booming culinary scene; and with more breweries per capita than any U.S. city, Asheville embraces the moniker, “Beer City USA.” And beyond food and drink, the city offers new activities and year-round fun.

Asheville History and Art

The aforementioned River Arts District is home to more than 220 artists’ studios and galleries. Their repurposed work spaces in a former industrial area once housed a meat packing plant, a chicken hatchery, a tannery and various warehouses. Browse on your own or take a guided tour with Asheville Art Studio Tours to meet artists in all genres. Second Saturdays are held each month with demos and events, and the annual fall Studio Stroll draws a crowd for special activities and free trolley rides throughout the arts district.

Pottery lovers may want to visit East Fork at its downtown boutique. The pottery/lifestyle brand, co-founded by the great-grandson of French artist Henri Matisse, began on a tobacco farm in Madison County with artisan pottery made from North Carolina clay, and it has since grown production with a new factory in Biltmore Village.

Downtown sunset, photo credit Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours
Downtown sunset, photo credit Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours

Sign on with Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours for bird’s eye views and a short history while sipping a drink (optional). The newly founded company offers van-chauffeured tours to several scenic rooftop venues, such as The Montford at Hyatt Place, Capella on 9 at AC Hotel, and Hemingway’s Cuba at Cambria Hotel. Tour creator Kaye Bentley is passionate about history and offers a glimpse into Asheville’s storied past, with then-and-now photos of city blocks and notable neighborhoods.

Self-Guided Walking Tours in Asheville

Two self-guided walking tours showcase the historic downtown: The Asheville Urban Trail and the Asheville Architecture Trail, which focuses on well-preserved masterpiece buildings built during city’s heyday in the 1920s. You may want to linger at Grove Arcade, an architectural gem with one-of-a-kind shopping where you can lose yourself at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, or chill out at Wake Foot Sanctuary with a foot soak and massage.

The new Dog City Tour begins here. Photo by Ann N. Yungmeyer

Canines are welcome in Asheville. A Dog City Tour begins with an urban walk from Asheville’s Dog Welcome Center (the first of its kind in the U.S.) and includes stops at breweries, eateries, and shops that cater to man’s best friend. Aloft Hotel is pet-friendly and conveniently located downtown.

Culinary adventures from Farm-to-Table Tours to Asheville Brews Cruise make it easy to sample the city’s food legacies and local craft beers. Wicked Weed Pub offers a new chauffeured Grand Cru Experience, touring its four facilities with demonstrations of the brewing process and barrel tastings.

If you prefer a discovery tour on your own, head for the South Slope, where you’ll find unique tastes at Bhramari Brewing, Burial Beer, Catawba Brewing, Funkatorium, and more.

Asheville has been called “foodtopia” with countless great choices, but don’t miss the Spanish tapas restaurant Cúrate, a local favorite led by superstar chef Katie Button who recently opened Button & Co. Bagels.

Fried catfish on waffles at Benne on Eagle. Photo by Ann N. Yungmeyer
Fried catfish on waffles at Benne on Eagle. Photo by Ann
N. Yungmeyer

A recent James Beard semifinalist, she swears by ingredient-driven cuisine and offers the “Spanish Experience” for a wonderful sampling. A new hotspot is Benne on Eagle at The Foundry Hotel, which introduces a new era of Appalachian cuisine with dishes like onion-braised rabbit and fried catfish on waffles.

Where to Stay in Asheville

The new Foundry Hotel (opened December 2018) blends luxury and history in renovated buildings that once housed Asheville Supply & Foundry Co., which produced steel and other metal castings for Biltmore Estate and area buildings.

A guest room at The Foundry. Photo credit The Foundry Hotel.
A guest room at The Foundry. Photo credit The Foundry Hotel.

Part of the Hilton Curio Collection, the boutique hotel features century-old brick walls, contemporary furnishings and vintage-inspired touches in spacious guest rooms and suites. Situated on South Market Street, The Foundry is just a short walk to downtown attractions. But the best hotel amenity is the Tesla Model X house car, available to chauffeur guests around town, on brewery visits, and out to Biltmore.

At Biltmore Estate, one of the key attractions besides touring the mansion and winery is exploring the grounds, conveniently done when you stay on property at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate and Gardens. Photo by Ann N. Yungmeyer
Biltmore Estate and Gardens. Photo by Ann N. Yungmeyer

You can enjoy hiking, biking, and other activities from horseback and carriage rides to kayaking the French Broad River. Biltmore’s newest outdoor adventures include falconry, fly-fishing from a kayak, and the Outrider Tour via electric recumbent tricycle.

Summer and autumn are prime time for outdoor activities, terrace dining, and scenic drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but winter and spring are a well-kept secret – great for avoiding crowds, browsing downtown and discovering the true spirit of Asheville.

Regardless of the season, you’ll find myriad activities and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere among locals and visitors, alike.

If You Go to Asheville, visit www.ExploreAsheville.com.

Author Bio: Ann N. Yungmeyer lives in Tennessee and is a member of Society of American Travel Writers. She contributes to regional print and online travel publications. Hiking, biking, and cultural quests are usually on her agenda, and always in search of postcard vistas, her mantra is, “On a clear day, get to the top!”