Asheville should be at the top of anyone’s weekend getaway bucket list. A foodie’s dream, a beer lover’s playground, a bluegrass picker’s oasis, and an adventure seeker’s sweet spot … this town has a heartbeat and an x-factor you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a feeling of being at home. Asheville is wrapped in blankets of natural textures, steeped in Appalachian culture and fueled by creative artisans, music makers, top culinary minds and some really good beer brewers. This two-day itinerary packs a lot but leaves plenty of room for a return trip during each season. Let’s explore Asheville!
48 Hours in Asheville, NC
Friday arrival by way of The Biltmore
Right around noon, we arrive at The Biltmore Estate — America’s biggest home and the crown jewel of North Carolina. This massive estate was a collaborative effort between George Vanderbilt, architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed a little place called Central Park). Completed in 1895, the home sits on more than 8,000 total acres (four of those acres are indoor floor space), 35 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Tickets are pricy and it’s a half-day excursion at least, but it is worth it.
The handheld audio guide provides the history of the palace as you float from room to room, and you can skip around and move quickly if you so choose. The house itself is only the beginning. Outside, through a canopy of viny trees, traverse the vibrant gardens into a large greenhouse and botanical model train exhibit. It’s sort of “see it to believe it” kind of thing. A network of tracks and moving toy trains crisscross around you as you meander through a lush indoor jungle. Biltmore Gardens Railway runs now through September 29 and it’s free with your admission to the estate. Also, beginning on November 8 is the wildly anticipated Downton Abbey exhibit. If you have time after the main house, drive across the property to Antler Hill Village & Winery for the complimentary wine tasting included in admission.
After touring the country’s biggest house, it’s time to head to a much smaller — but no less impressive — home: The Bunn House. This five-room house-turned-inn could not be a better home base for a weekend in Asheville. Make sure you give yourself some time to cozy into the impeccably stocked quarters. The manicured gardens, giant outdoor chimney and fortress of freshly chopped wood are the most overt things to welcome you — but more subtle, thoughtful amenities meet you at every turn once you press your keycode into the door lock (no reception counter here!). White noise pumps softly through ceiling speakers while you sleep, the shower turns into a steam room, and all the goodies — including local granola, chocolate, popcorn, ice cream, craft beer and their own Bunn House White Wine — are free with your room.
Night on the Town
While Asheville’s downtown nucleus is walkable, some of the surrounding neighborhoods are a quick drive or Uber ride away. After enjoying the welcome beers at The Bunn House, travel into the heart of downtown to the boulder- and tree-lined Pritchard Park drum circle. Every Friday night during the warm months, hundreds of drummers and onlookers of all ages, skill levels and walks of life show up to this communal, invigorating and so Asheville tradition.
A quick stroll through a bustling Friday-after-5 downtown will prime you for a meal of shared plates at The Greenhouse at Noble Cider. The renowned cider brewery’s new food concept has received varying marks, but we loved everything we tried. The vibe is Miami-esque: pewter pink walls, wicker furniture, plants everywhere — it’s warm and inviting but not indicative of the serious dishes formulating in the open, glass-walled kitchen. Fresh seafood collides with seasonal produce and some Southern classics on this well-rounded, inventive menu. Plates like charred carrots, summer ceviche, and truffled watermelon flatbread flew across the table.
Sunset in Asheville is a spectacular sight to soak up with a cocktail in hand at one of their rooftop bars. The Montford — an independently run eatery and bar atop the Hyatt Place — should be atop your list. Their tag line, “Visit for the views. Stay for the small bites and seasonally driven craft cocktails,” is exactly what we did after dinner. The bartender will come chat flavor preferences before whipping up the perfect accompaniments to a mountain sunset.
On any given Asheville Friday night, a slew of talent — superstars and local — grace the stages of the town’s many reputable music venues. During your visit, check the schedules at The Orange Peel (one of our favorite venues in the South), The Grey Eagle, and at Pisgah Brewing and White Horse. They are just down the road in the neighboring town of Black Mountain. We opt for a taste of a typical Asheville night on the town, and that — according to nearly everyone you talk to — includes Ben’s Tune Up. This craft sake brewery turns into “a real trip after 10 p.m.,” the owner tells us before our visit. And that it is. DJs spin everything from ’70s rock to ’90s hip-hop on vinyl, and the dancefloor just gets hotter as midnight approaches.
Ben’s is proof that Asheville isn’t filled entirely to the brim with beer. Local sake, wine and spirits abound in Asheville’s sea of quirky watering holes and chic bars. A few more that we love are Sovereign Remedies, The Golden Pineapple and The Rustic Grape Wine Bar. If it hasn’t become apparent by now, it’s difficult to distill Asheville’s food and beverage gems into two days’ worth. This calls for another round of drinks, over which to plan a return trip.
A Saturday of Exploration
Back in downtown, Wall Street is the perfect place to fuel up for a packed Saturday. Visit the friendly baristas at Trade & Lore for a latte or Americano, then head a few steps up for breakfast at Early Girl Eatery. This popular morning hang draws early eaters for a reason (there are two more locations in the Asheville area if the downtown one is too packed). We loved the Local Sausage & Sweet Potato Scramble (cage-free eggs scrambled with local pork sausage, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, bacon and green onion). The coffee is as strong as their boozy drink options, so take your pick.
Walk from Wall Street to downtown, where some amazing shopping awaits. Lexington Avenue offers something for everyone — from record stores and hippie headshops to trendy clothiers and antique havens. But what many don’t realize is that Asheville is home to one of the best shoe stores in the South. Tops for Shoes is a treasure trove that’s just good for the sole, with hundreds of brands and styles and a friendly staff to help you find the perfect pair.
We also can’t get enough of HORSE + HERO. This funky shop is overflowing with screen-printed clothing, framed wall art, weird trinkets and unique jewelry. Next, a stroll through Grove Arcade offers a chance to shop some of Asheville’s artisans and makers in a condensed corridor that also houses the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Yep, you read that correctly — a champagne bar in a bookstore. Bubbly before noon on a Saturday is always admissible … especially when accompanied by a good book.
After some downtown retail therapy, head to the artsy River Arts District (cutely deemed RAD) — an artists’ colony of more than two dozen old industrial buildings spanning about two square miles along the French Broad River. Many maps and lists exist to help guide you, but a great starting point is the area near Wedge Studios and Wedge Brewing. Book a workshop or a class at NC Glass Center or Odyssey Center For Ceramic Arts. Or just peek in and observe the many RAD makers — they love to share their craft.
If lunch is already on the mind, the flagship White Duck Taco Shop is a fabulous stop. A spicy margarita, queso and a couple of the creative tacos should tide you over until dinner. If beer is more your thing, you can take a short walk across the river and hop into a free 90-minute tour of New Belgium Brewery, one of Asheville’s biggest and most commercial breweries and taprooms.
For a taste of more local breweries — and there are more than 40 in Asheville proper — head to South Slope, a walkable, vibrant neighborhood that’s home to about a dozen of them. If you only have time for two afternoon pitstops, we choose Burial and Eurisko. Burial is dark, rowdy and established, while Eurisko is newer, friendlier and brighter. There is — quite literally — a brewery for all tastes in this town. It can be overwhelming, but luckily there are many resources and professional tour guides to help you hop through AVL’s unmatched beer scene.
After a whole day of touring and tasting, a pre-dinner siesta is in order. But revamp your appetite, because there’s no better Saturday night dinner reservation in Asheville than one at Cúrate. Culinary Queen Katie Button has created a not-to-be-missed Spanish tapas mecca to which people pilgrimage. Playful interior details and an action-packed menu are made even more memorable by the polished service. Standout dishes: sautéed shrimp with sliced garlic, sherry and a chili, patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes topped with a slightly spicy tomato and garlic sauce), and croquetas de pollo (traditional creamy chicken fritters). If you weren’t able to reserve a table at Cúrate (it books up weeks out), pop by Chef Katie’s second concept, Button & Co. Bagels, for an irresistible array of fresh-baked bagels, cream cheeses and meats.
If you’ve saved any room for after-dinner drinks and dessert, congrats. French Broad Chocolate Lounge, just up the block from Cúrate in bustling Pack Square, serves up lots of creative confections — from housemade ice cream to artisan truffles, and caramels to cookies, cakes and brownies. They also have an entire menu of drinking chocolates; we strongly suggest tasting their signature Liquid Truffle sipping chocolate.
Sunday Departure by way of Waterfall
After checkout at The Bunn House (just as hasslefree as check-in), ease your way into Sunday with the dynamic duo of Vortex Doughnuts and High Five Coffee. The high-ceilinged, sweet-smelling donut factory envelops every sense. High Five is an established caffeine favorite for Ashevillians, and they just opened a third “to-go” location at The Mill at Riverside. Their mantra aligns with ours at StyleBlueprint: “Serve great coffee. Be nice to people.”
From your on-the-go breakfast, head to The Grove Park Inn. With its free surface lot parking (up to three hours), even half an hour spent here is worth it. Pulling up to the circular motorway is reminiscent of the mountain-chic version of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Everything at this hotel is larger than life: the fireplace, the porch, the rocking chairs, the cavernous spa pools. Grab a coffee or bloody Mary from the lobby bar and nestle into a rocking chair on the mountain-facing porch. If timing permits, discover one of Asheville’s hidden gems, Grovewood Village, a historical Appalachian arts and craft destination adjacent to the hotel that once housed the weaving and woodworking operations of Biltmore Industries.
No visit to Asheville is complete without some time spent soaking in the scenic mountain landscapes. Depending on which way your exit takes you, we have a couple of ways to tack on a half-day of outdoor adventure. Northbound from Asheville, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Mitchell — the highest peak east of the Mississippi — has a network of “choose-your-own-adventure level” trails for hikers and walkers of all physical fitness levels. You can drive to the top of the mountain and take a short walk up to the viewing area, or hike up the Mount Mitchell Trail and make it an all-day or half-day excursion.
At Sliding Rock in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest (about 45 minutes southwest of Asheville), kids and kids-at-heart plunge down a 60-foot sloping, rock face waterfall into an 8-foot-deep pool of crisp, cold water. You can view it year-round, but sliding season is Memorial Day to Labor Day when lifeguards are on duty. Chimney Rock is also a 45-minute drive from downtown Asheville and is home to the famous Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall (upon hiking to its base, you might recognize it from the movie The Last of the Mohicans).
If you’re headed South from Asheville, on the parkway near Pisgah, the hike to Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower is a great trek. This 1.5-mile round-trip to a tower is a primo spot to peep fall colors in the mountains and valleys below. Western North Carolina is known for having one of the longest and most colorful fall leaf displays in the world, and conditions are lining up for a vibrant season that should prove to outshine the last few years.
But what can possibly outshine Asheville’s colorful fall foliage? The people and places symphoniously create Asheville’s cultural heartbeat — a heartbeat that persists throughout every season, and that will certainly stay within you long after your 48-hour trip concludes.
When you’re ready to book your trip to Asheville, start your planning at exploreasheville.com.
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