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Asheville, North Carolina, is easily one of my favorite cities in the country. And if you’ve never been there, you should definitely make plans to visit this beautiful small city that is surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains you’ve ever seen.
Fair warning though: Once you’ve spent time in Asheville, your life will be forever changed. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself daydreaming about moving there and making this charming city your new home.
Once you have tasted Asheville, you will forever walk the earth with Asheville on your mind, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Visiting Asheville doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many things you can do there that don’t cost a dime.
Let’s check out 20 free things to do in Asheville, NC, on your next trip. You can very easily spend a weekend (or longer) exploring the city without spending anything on attractions. Your only expenses will be food, lodging, and transportation.
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You don’t have to drive far to take in Asheville’s free attractions. With a population of just over 92,000, it isn’t a big city. I’ve always thought that Asheville is just the right size. It isn’t so big that you get lost in a sea of people – and it isn’t so small that you feel like you’re in a village.
1. Omni Grove Park Inn
What’s so great about an inn, you might be wondering? Well, this one is on the US National Register of Historic Places and has been visited by numerous Presidents of the United States. In addition to being a working inn with over 500 guest rooms, it’s also a popular tourist attraction due to its unique architecture and historical significance.
The Omni Grove Park Inn has been visited by many celebrities. The names of celebrities who stayed at the inn are memorialized on plaques on the doors of the rooms they stayed. You and your family could make a game out of it by wandering the halls to see how many celebrity plaques you can find.
As a visitor, you can walk through the inn and check everything out. As a popular tourist destination, the inn’s staff is used to visitors roaming the inn and the grounds who aren’t paying guests.
Other points of interest at the Omni Grove Park Inn are the 43,000 square foot subterranean spa, the 50,000 square foot sports complex, the 18-hole golf course, and you may also decide to eat at one of several casual and formal restaurants that offer panoramic views of the mountains.
Check out this short video to see why the Omni Grove Park Inn is so popular:
2. Grove Arcade
No Pac-Man here, sorry.
A popular destination in downtown Asheville that you don’t want to miss is the Grove Arcade. This isn’t the type of arcade with video games. It’s something completely different.
An arcade is an early version of what are now indoor malls. The Grove Arcade isn’t just a collection of shops and restaurants – although it has plenty of those – the building itself is a work of art.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Grove Arcade was developed by E.W. Grove, the same guy who developed the Omni Grove Park Inn. The arcade is a Tudor and Late Gothic Revival building that is just as interesting as the shops it contains.
The Grove Arcade is a great place to spend some time. You can peruse the many shops it contains, and you may even decide to eat at one of the restaurants inside and around the building’s perimeter.
3. Watch Glassblowers at the North Carolina Glass Center
Do you find the art of glassblowing fascinating? If so, you should definitely check out the North Carolina Glass Center. You can watch people make glass ornaments, paper weights, sun catchers, cups, and other exciting glass works of art.
The North Carolina Glass Center is an arts center that is dedicated to all things involving the art of glass blowing. If you would like to experience the craft yourself, classes are available for a fee.
4. Walk the Asheville Urban Trail
The Asheville Urban Trail is a self-guided tour with 30 stops in the downtown area where you can explore the city’s rich history and outdoor art. The trail is only 1.7 miles long, and you should plan on 2 – 3 hours to complete it. It all just depends on how fast you walk and how long you take at each stop.
The Asheville Urban Trail highlights five time periods in the city’s history including the Gilded Age, the Frontier Period, the Times of Thomas Wolfe, the Era of Civic Pride, and the Age of Diversity.
Check out this short video to see why walking the Asheville Urban Trail should be on your to-do list:
5. Botanical Gardens at Asheville
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville is a small 10-acre forest in the city that is a lot of fun to explore. As you walk the half-mile trail, you can take in the nearly 600 different trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Admission and parking are both free.
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville is one of the world’s most diverse natural habitats, and if you would like to learn more about it, informative classes are offered for a fee.
6. Explore Downtown
One of the best ways to explore Asheville is to walk around in the downtown area to take it all in. The downtown area is filled with interesting things to see and do including museums, over 200 interesting stores, close to 100 restaurants (a total foodie paradise), street performers (weather permitting), and festivals.
You could easily spend an entire weekend exploring all of Asheville’s shops and boutiques. There are also art galleries and museums to visit, breweries, and parks. There’s truly something for everyone in the Paris of the South (as Asheville is often called).
Check out this short video of Downtown Asheville to see why it’s such a magical place for tourists and residents alike:
Asheville, North Carolina, is a premier destination for all things outdoors. Regardless of whether you are interested in hiking, camping, rafting, mountain biking, or something else, your chances of having a thrilling outdoors adventure in and around Asheville are very high.
If you are interested in a more leisurely experience, there are also many waterfalls in the area you can visit. Asheville is located right next to the Pisgah National Forest with 500,000 acres of forest.
7. A Hiker’s Paradise
Is hiking one of your favorite pastimes? Maybe you’re someone who would prefer spending a day in the woods than hanging out in the city. If so, Asheville won’t disappoint.
Asheville is a hiker’s paradise. In fact, it is quite possibly one of the best hiking destinations in the world. There are thousands of miles of hiking trails in the area that take you through some of the most beautiful forest you’ve ever seen.
There are hiking trails for every skill level, whether you are a novice and prefer a short hike or you are an experienced trail enthusiast who is looking for a challenge.
Check out this short video of gorgeous waterfalls in the Asheville area that you can hike to:
8. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the ultimate road trip.
What’s so great about a parkway?
Well, this one just so happens to be part of the National Park Service and is one of the most scenic drives in the country. The parkway was designed from the beginning to be more than your typical highway. It was designed to be a scenic adventure from start to finish.
The 469-mile parkway winds its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Asheville, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Shenandoah National Park. There are plenty of areas along the parkway where you can stop and take in the view, have a picnic, and relax.
If you are driving to Asheville, you might want to consider making a detour and traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway to reach your destination. Even if it requires driving out of your way to be on this scenic road, it’s totally worth it.
Check out this short video of the Blue Ridge Parkway to see its natural beauty:
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located close to Asheville is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States.
While in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can drive through Cades Cove, an 11-mile loop road through a beautiful valley in the mountains where abundant wildlife is often spotted. Don’t be surprised if you see deer, wild turkey, and possibly even a black bear.
Cades Cove is also home to several old homestead buildings you can check out including a working grist mill, barns, three churches, log houses, and other buildings that have been restored to how they were in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Other popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include Clingmans Dome, Foothills Parkway, Alum Cave Trail, Laurel Falls, Sugarlands Visitors Center, Grotto Falls Trail, and many other trails. Adventure awaits!
Check out this short video of Cades Coves to see why it’s the most visited part of the most visited national park in the country:
10. Float the French Broad River
The French Broad River is a beautiful 213-mile river that winds its way from Transylvania County, North Carolina, to Knoxville, Tennessee, where it combines with the Holston River to form the beginning of the Tennessee River.
If you have your own boat, canoe, tube, kayak, or something else, you can spend an hour or two floating down the river and taking in all of the incredible scenery. If you do this, be sure to make arrangements to have someone pick you up at one of the river parks to transport you back to your point of origin.
Check out this short video to see what rafting on the French Broad River is like:
11. Mt. Mitchell State Park
Located a short drive outside of Asheville is Mt. Mitchell State Park. Mt. Mitchell, by the way, is the highest mountain peak in the eastern United States with an elevation of 6,684 feet. This free park is a popular destination for many. You can drive all the way to the summit (no need to hike), and once you’re there you can take in a panoramic view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
Public restrooms are available at the summit, and there’s also a museum to explore. And if you are up for a hiking excursion, there are several great trails in the area to explore.
Check out this short video to see why Mt. Mitchell State Park is such a popular destination:
The Art Scene
Asheville has a thriving arts scene that easily rivals many larger cities. There are a number of artistic centers and museums to check out that can keep you busy for hours – perhaps even all weekend long. The following are just a few of the many great options.
12. Grovewood Village
Grovewood Village is located right next to the Omni Grove Park Inn on what used to be Biltmore Industries’ woodworking and weaving operations. Today, Grovewood Village is home to an antique car museum, artist studios, a sculpture garden, and a restaurant.
It’s important to point out that studio visits are by appointment only, so you can’t just walk in and watch someone paint or sculpt something – most of the time. The resident studios are open to the public, however, every third Saturday of the month during the months of May – October. Be sure to check Grovewood Village’s website for more information.
Check out this short video of Grovewood Village to see why you should put it on your list of things to do while visiting Asheville:
13. Folk Art Center
The Folk Art Center is a museum that showcases arts and crafts of the Appalachian region. It is right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it a great destination to combine with a scenic road trip.
The Folk Art Center contains three galleries, a library, a bookstore, information center, and auditorium. And it doesn’t cost a dime to check out this amazing place. The Folk Art Center houses a permanent collection of approximately 3,500 pieces and there are also changing exhibits, so there is often something new to see here.
Check out this short video to see what the Folk Art Center is all about:
14. Biltmore Village
Biltmore Village is a must-see if you are a fan of the arts.
Located close to the famous Biltmore Estate – the largest privately owned home in America – Biltmore Village has several fine art galleries, antique stores, restaurants, and other shops. Built in the late 1800s and modeled after a small English village, it was originally designed to be a self-contained planned community where its residents would have everything they need.
A lot has changed since Biltmore Village’s early days, but it hasn’t lost any of its charm. As an interesting side note, the Biltmore Village is home to the world’s fanciest McDonald’s, which features a grand piano and stone fireplace.
Check out this short video of the Biltmore Village to see why you could easily spend all day there enjoying the amazing shops:
15. River Arts District
Asheville’s River Arts District is an area of the city where you can visit working studios and observe hundreds of artists in action. You can watch them paint, make jewelry, blow glass, shape pottery, work with wood and metal, and create many other works of art.
Studios are open every day, and it doesn’t cost anything to watch artisans create amazing works of art. The studios are located in 23 buildings along a mile-long stretch of the French Broad River. You can very easily spend an entire day taking everything in.
Check out this short video of the River Arts District to see why there’s no other place like it in the country:
16. Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center
The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center is a museum dedicated to the history and legacy of an experimental college founded in 1933 that eventually closed in 1957 – Black Mountain College.
Black Mountain College placed a heavy emphasis on the arts. Today, the 6,000 square foot museum contains over 3,000 pieces of fine art including wood furniture, sculptures, ceramics, weavings, mixed media, collages, and other interesting pieces.
Check out this short video to learn more about both Black Mountain College and the Museum & Arts Center:
17. Basilica of St. Lawrence
The Basilica of St. Lawrence is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Asheville by many – and you can tour it for free.
Complimentary guided tours are available but they must be scheduled in advance on the basilica’s website. You can also take a free self-guided tour, and brochures are available to guide you as you explore the building’s architecture and history.
Food and Drink
Asheville is a foodie lover’s dream come true. The city has many wonderful restaurants with amazing culinary treats for every budget. It’s not a stretch to say that the food scene in Asheville easily rivals many larger cities.
Asheville is also the east coast’s premier craft beer destination. There are several breweries in the area for you to check out.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend money to enjoy Asheville’s food and drink scene. Let’s check out three things involving food and drink that don’t cost a dime.
18. Highland Brewing
Founded in 1994, Highland Brewing is one of the largest independent family-owned breweries in the southeastern United States – and you can tour it for free. Complimentary 45-minute tours are offered seven days a week. Beer tasting is included.
Check out this short video on Highland Brewing:
19. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is another Asheville brewery that is worth checking out. You can sample different beers and take a tour to see the behind-the-scenes action.
Two different tours are offered – guided and self-guided. You can drop in unannounced for the self-guided tour, but if you are interested in the guided tour, you must make a reservation in advance on the company’s website.
Check out this short video of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company:
20. WNC Farmer’s Market
There’s so much more to farmer’s markets than buying fresh produce. They are fun to walk through! Just walking through a farmer’s market and taking in all of the sights, sounds, and smells can be a relaxing experience.
Conveniently located near downtown Asheville, the WNC Farmer’s Market is open seven days a week all year long. Admission is completely free. In addition to a bountiful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can also shop the market for jams, jellies, preserves, honey, fresh baked breads, cookies, and other items.
Check out this short video of the WNC Farmer’s Market:
A Great Place to Visit for Families
Did you realize there were so many free things to do in Asheville? This makes Asheville a great place to visit if you are on a budget. You can very easily have an amazing time here without spending a lot of money.
If you have never been to Asheville, you are really in for a treat. Why not put this charming city in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains on your list of places to visit? You won’t regret it, I promise.