Nestled in a valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina, Asheville is a city renowned for both its natural and man-made beauty. It’s diversity and vibrancy becomes apparent when you consider some of its nicknames and the kudos awarded the city. It has been called “Paris of the South,” the “San Francisco of the East,” “New Age Mecca,” and “Land of the Sky”, and Rolling Stone magazine once dubbed it “America’s New Freak Capital.”
But lest you think Asheville is just some kind of liberal, hippie haven, Money magazine has called the city one of the “Best Places to Retire,” and AARP cites it as one of the “Best Places to Reinvent Your Life.” Self magazine proclaims Asheville as America’s “Happiest City.” PETA lists Asheville as “America’s Best Vegetarian-Friendly Small City.” Author Lee Pantas, in his guidebook The Ultimate Guide To Asheville & The Western North Carolina Mountains says it all in describing Asheville “as a city not easily forgotten once visited“. From its titles alone one can easily see that Asheville a place you should place on your travel itinerary.
Even Fodor’s has recognized Asheville’s uniqueness, naming it its Number 1 Place to Visit Worldwide in 2011 and imploring its readers to “get a taste of Asheville while it still feels local and before it goes global”.
What are the must-do places to see and experience during a getaway to Asheville? According to the readers of RomanticAsheville.com Vacation Guide, here are the Top 20 Things to Do in Asheville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. And romantic mountain outings don’t have to be expensive. Many of these are free!
1. Blue Ridge Parkway: Ride the non-stop 200-mile Asheville area stretch of one of America’s most scenic drives and stop at countless overlooks with mountain views and a variety of places to explore along the way. Take a picnic!
2. Hiking: To really appreciate the natural splendor, explore by foot. RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide features a list of the Top 40 hikes that offer the best mountain scenery and perfect for all fitness levels.
3. Biltmore Estate: This is a must see, even if you have visited before. In addition to America’s biggest house, stroll through amazing gardens, hike throughout the 8,000 acre estate, sample Biltmore wines, and enjoy many dining and shopping options. This summer, the new Tiffany at Biltmore exhibit runs July through October. For discount Biltmore tickets, order advance tickets on their web site.
4. Downtowns: With 200+ local stores, dozens of art galleries, beautiful architecture and 50+ restaurants, downtown Asheville is a wonderful place to explore. For a fun tour, take the LaZoom city tour on the big purple bus. And don’t miss the Friday night drum circle. Nearby Hendersonville, Brevard, Black Mountain, Highlands and Waynesville also have charming downtowns with plenty to see, do and taste.
5. Cabins: Snuggle up in front of the fireplace of a secluded cabin, while being near so much to do. Many mountain cabins have outdoor hot tubs under the stars. Many offer lower rates on Sunday-Thursday nights.
6. Waterfalls: This is the Land of Waterfalls. Highest recommended are High Falls and Triple Falls at DuPont State Forest, along with Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls and Rainbow Falls.
7. Food and Beer: Asheville was just named Beer City USA again, so sample some of the 60 local brews. At the same time, enjoy seasonal bounty at many farm-to-table restaurants. Take a farm tour and don’t miss the apple orchards near Hendersonville in late summer.
8. Art: Asheville was just named as top small city for art in the USA. You will find galleries and studios all around. Watch the artists at work, and buy directly from them in the River Arts District and the Toe River area studios near Penland School.
10. Mt. Mitchell: Drive to the top of the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can enjoy 360-views from the observation deck on the summit.
11. Sliding Rock: Ride down this natural waterslide in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. It’s fun for all ages.
12. Great Smokies: For a romantic evening watching elk graze a short distance away, drive to the Cataloochee Valley section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hike to Mt. LeConte or the Chimneys. Or drive to Newfound Gap from Cherokee.
13. Bed and Breakfasts: Have a very romantic getaway in a grand, historic home and awake to a gourmet breakfast. Many B&Bs have great vacation packages that include flowers, turndown service, Biltmore tickets and more.
15. Music and Theatre: There are many choices for theatre, dance, opera, and music including the stellar Brevard Music Center Festival, Folkmoot and Shindig on the Green. Plus, hear a huge variety of bands in many live music venues and clubs, including the Orange Peel in Asheville.
16. NC Arboretum: Celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer, this showcase of blooms, plants and trees includes a fascinating bonsai tree garden, nature trails and exhibits.
18. Shopping: From antiques store and art galleries to consignment shops, the area is a shopper’s paradise.
19. Whitewater Rafting: Ride down the rapids in a raft or kayak on the Nantahala, Pigeon or French Broad Rivers.
20. Get Married or Renew Your Vows: Celebrate your love and commitment in the beautiful and romantic wedding mountain setting. The area is especially popular for destination weddings and elopements.
For more details on these and other things to do, go to RomanticAsheville.com, with 400 pages and 1,400 photographs to help you plan your North Carolina mountain vacation. For the latest updates, find them on Facebook or go to their Asheville Travel Blog.
For timeshare owners, note that there are several timeshare resorts available within the city itself and in the surrounding Mountains, with exchange possibilities via both RCI and Interval International. To explore your options, visit the resort directories in RCI and Interval International.
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