Creative, friendly and beautiful, Asheville, North Carolina, truly deserves its reputation as one of the most pleasant places to live or vacation in the United States.
This Art Deco jewel of a city has retained its period charm and avoided the plague of high-rise development that has ruined other cities. Instead, Asheville is studded with stunning architecture, wonderful accommodation and galleries, music venues and stores.
Visit during the fall to witness an exquisite array of reds, golds, and oranges. Spend an afternoon picnicking at the foot of picturesque waterfalls like Rainbow Falls, and head back to town for a craft ale and a pizza at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company. Then try to think about leaving. It won't be easy.
Asheville is Appalachia's cultural capital, and its music scene is the primary reason for its nickname, the "San Francisco of the East." Whether you love banjo and fiddle hoedowns or cool jazz piano, Asheville will always have an event on to suit your tastes.
Central Asheville hasn't changed much in the past 100 years, which is fortunate as the city has some extraordinary historic buildings. From the bright pink stone of the City Building to the enormous Biltmore Estate and the Victorian homes of Montford, Asheville is a treat for architecture lovers.
The city is also a gift for anyone who appreciates the beauty of nature. In autumn, the abscission is one of the most beautiful in America, while the area around Asheville is dotted with easy to reach waterfalls like Crabtree Falls or Rainbow Falls.
Asheville always ranks highly in surveys of America's best places to retire, and the easy-going attitude of the locals is one of the prime factors. The city is also a bohemian center, with plenty of bookshops, cafes and boutiques, and a range of civic events that you'd expect from a much larger city.
Along with music, Art is Asheville's other great cultural obsession. The list of small art galleries in the center of town seems endless. Galleries like Ariel Gallery and Bella Vista are the perfect place to pick up quality artworks by local painters, while craft stores like the Appalachian Craft Center are the best place to stock up on souvenirs.
The first thing that jumps out at visitors to Asheville is the sheer beauty of much of its architecture. The city seems to have been undisturbed since the golden age of American architecture in the 1920s and 30s. Walk the Asheville Urban Trail or join guided tours for a feast of wonderful sights.
If you plan your visit for September or October, you are in for a treat. The trees of Asheville and the surrounding area erupt into a gorgeous variety of reds, yellows, and oranges. For the best views, take a drive just outside town on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Asheville has a thriving microbrewing scene, so if you are in need of refreshment, it's a great place to be. The easiest way to taste all of the local brews is by taking the Asheville Brews Cruise, which visits local hotspots like the French Broad Brewing Company and the Highland Brewing Company.
Asheville is also a city of music. You can head to captivating folk events like the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival or the Shindig on the Green. Alternatively, the city hosts internationally respected jazz festivals and even Moogfest, an event dedicated solely to the Moog synthesizer.
If you have a car, be sure to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to trailheads like Pisgah or Craggy Gardens. If you have the time, explore the trails of the area. Many of them lead to stunning waterfalls like Rainbow Falls in the Pisgah forest, and they are a truly magical sight.
There's almost never a bad time to visit this lovely city. However, the best times to visit are probably spring and fall. The fall months from September to November are particularly pleasant, with mild temperatures and the colors of fall to enjoy. Then again, summer in Asheville isn't as humid as other nearby cities owing to its altitude, so it's a good time to escape the coastal heat.
Asheville Regional Airport is a few miles to the south of the city and connects Asheville to destinations across the U.S.A., including New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit. The cheapest way to get into town is by catching the ART S3 bus, which costs just $1. Taxis from the airport will cost $2.50 per mile, so work out at around $15-30 depending on where you need to go.
The closest Amtrak stations to Asheville are in Spartanburg and Greensville (both in South Carolina). The best way to reach Asheville is probably by catching the train to Greenville, then transferring to a Greyhound bus to Asheville, which is just an hour and 20 minutes away.
Driving to Asheville is particularly popular due to the scenic approach roads. In the fall, there's no better way to savor the colors of the local trees. Take I-26 from the south or north and I-40 from cities to the east or west of Asheville.
Greyhound buses stop at 2 Tunnel Rd and connect Asheville with cities across North and South Carolina and the rest of the country. You may need to change in Charlotte or Columbia to make the final transfer to Asheville.
One of the best things about a break in Asheville is the abundance of high-quality bed and breakfast accommodation available, especially in the Montford district. Popular choices include the 1899 Wright Inn & Carriage House, with its gorgeous gardens, Asheville Seasons Bed & Breakfast, which pampers guests with complimentary wine on arrival and Carolina Bed & Breakfast, which is known for its excellent home cooking. Bon Paul and Sharky's Hostel is a great option for anyone traveling on a budget.
Montford – The heart of historic Asheville, Montford is where you'll find most of the city's best B&Bs. It's crammed with elegant Victorian-era homes built in the Queen Anne style and is the ideal place to base yourself during a stay in the "Paris of the South."
Biltmore Village – Just to the south of the city center, you'll find the lavish Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home on earth. The area around the estate is a prosperous neighborhood in its own right, with upscale dining options like the Corner Kitchen and the Red Stag Grill.
Downtown Asheville – Most of the sights in Asheville are located in the center of town. In the early 20th century, the city became the most prosperous in Appalachia, developing a collection of stunningly beautiful Art Deco buildings. Thankfully, most of these remain, including the striking pink City Building and the Buncombe County Courthouse. You can tour them all in the Downtown district.
Buses in Asheville are provided by Asheville Transit, but they may not be the most practical transit option. Buses are few and far between outside the center and as the Downtown area is easily walkable, waiting for the buses rarely makes much sense. If you do need to catch the bus the fare is a reasonable $1 for adults and just $0.50 for seniors.
Taxis in Asheville operate at a flat rate, with a meter drop of $2.50 and then $2.50 per mile after that point. There's also a $2 surcharge for every passenger after the first two. Uber is slightly cheaper, with a meter drop of $1.50 and a cost of $0.85 per mile.
Renting a car is a great option in Asheville, not least because it gives you the flexibility to see some of the beautiful locations in Appalachia. There's plenty of metered parking Downtown (at a reasonable rate of $1 per hour), and parking lots like the Civic Center Garage are even cheaper.
Asheville's major shopping street is Merrimon Avenue, also known as "the Strip" by locals. It stretches north from the city center for three or four miles, with plenty of different stores to check out, including boutiques like Clothes Encounters, music stores and places to grab a bargain souvenir such as the Susquehanna Antique Company. If you are out and about in Downtown Asheville, try to check out some of the city's chocolatiers as well. The French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Chocolate Fetish are top-quality artisan candy makers, and well worth a visit.
Asheville has a number of chain supermarkets to choose from, including Publix, Whole Foods, Ingles Markets, Walmart and Aldi, so finding affordable groceries should be simple. Prices tend to be cheap across town with a pound of apples costing $2.50 and a gallon of milk $3.80.
Asheville's dining scene includes pretty much every kind of cuisine you can think of, and features plenty of high-class eateries. If Japanese food is your favorite, try Heiwa Shokudo, while Mexican food fans will love Limones. Great Italian food is served at Cucina 24 while Chop House is the best place to tuck into a huge, perfectly cooked steak. In the north of the city, the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company is also worth a look. It doesn't just serve great pizza, but also offers craft ale and movie nights. Expect to pay $15 for a good mid-range meal and over $30 at Asheville's high-end restaurants.