You’ve been asking us for more ideas on getaways from Raleigh, and downtown Asheville is one of our favorite North Carolina destinations. At only a four hours’ drive from Raleigh it makes for a perfect weekend trip (or longer).
Asheville is the commercial hub of Western North Carolina and its prime location surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest is just one reason this mountain city continues to draw visitors from near and far!
If you don’t know what to do in downtown Asheville, in this post I’m sharing our favorite things to do in Asheville that we experienced over a 48-hour period during a Thanksgiving weekend including where we stayed downtown! But we haven’t done everything yet, so please share your tips in the comments at the bottom!
We spent two days exploring the funky and artsy vibe of Asheville, along with the food, beer, arts and shopping scene. The good news, our kids loved it as much as we did which always makes for a better family vacation.
What I love about Asheville is that it’s a destination focused on LOCAL. From the arts scene to shopping to the fantastic Asheville restaurants and local breweries, you’ll barely find a chain anywhere in the city center.
And we really love how walkable the Asheville downtown area is. Simply park your car at your hotel and explore on foot – you will need a vehicle to explore nearby attractions though!
- See & Do
- Restaurants in Asheville
- Asheville Coffee Shops
- Asheville Breweries and Bars
- Where to Stay in Asheville
- Places to Visit Near Asheville
See & Do
Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar
What a cool concept this place is. If you fancy some champagne tasting with a charcuterie board inside a cool bookstore, step inside the Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar and experience a taste of French sophistication.
As we entered, a live bluegrass band was playing in the corner, and visitors and locals were exploring the large selection of books on offer and tasting flights, the norm in here!
The ambiance is cozy and welcoming. Black curtains draped the windows, and we grabbed a spot on the comfy couch and opted for a sparkling wine cocktail and Syrah instead paired with a charcuterie board with local goat’s cheese.
Shopping in Asheville
One of the cool things to do in downtown Asheville is explore all the independent stores, including 200+ locally owned stores and boutiques. I’m not typically much of a shopping person, but Caroline and our kids are and there’s a certain mountain energy here that draws you in.
We were all content to wander up and down the streets, it’s all very walkable and I was quite impressed with the downtown Asheville shopping scene and all it had to offer.
There are several main streets, each with interesting stores and a different vibe. Lexington Avenue was a clear favorite for us, where yuppy hip crossed with punk grunge in a way that works and reminded me of some streets in Melbourne, Australia.
Put the below downtown Asheville shops on your itinerary:
One of the most famous places to shop in Asheville is the Grove Arcade. This mall is located in an elegant historical building and here you’ll find a variety of retail stores, eateries, the Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar mentioned above and a daily artists market for local crafters.
Element Tree Essentials
Element Tree Essentials was Caroline’s favorite store in Asheville, and I literally had to drag her out of there after resisting buying all the things and settling for their signature hand lotion candles and a creativity spell jar for Savannah’s Christmas present.
Asheville Bee Charmer
If you love bees and honey, don’t miss the Asheville Bee Charmer store who have 2 locations in downtown Asheville. These guys work with beekeepers across Western North Carolina, and the world, to curate a selection of delicious 100% pure, raw honey.
They have a honey tasting bar at the back, where Bee-ristas take you on a honey tasting adventure around the world from local sourwood honey, to firecracker hot.
NOTE: it is always best to purchase local honey when you can. Not only does it support the local economy, but since bees are local pollinators the raw honey produced can help your body adapt to the environment, build up immunity, and help ease those seasonal allergies!
This store on Lexington Street is filled with crystals, mandala tapestries, tarot cards, jewelry and books on mystical living. Earth Magick is like a sacred space supporting local artisans by selling their handmade tools and empowerment pieces, from Asheville and surrounds.
Let’s face it, most souvenir type shops tend to be a little tacky, but the Asheville Emporium had a surprising number of cool local gifts and the perfect kind of travel souvenirs if that’s your thing? And they also have their own printing section for t-shirts you can check out and choose from.
River Arts District
Located just south of the main downtown Asheville area, the River Arts District is one of the top things to do in Asheville and well worth your time. This district is divided into hubs that take up a block or two and each hub is identified by a color, which is on the signs (and map) for each corresponding area.
Within each hub you’ll find art studios, galleries, places to eat and drink including BBQ joints, breweries and coffee shops, an abundance of cool murals, plus live music venues and a skate park. There’s something here for everyone and you could easily spend half a day here taking it all in.
Creativity is on full display here as you wander each block that runs alongside the French Broad River. A few of our favorite things include:
- The Blue Foundry St District was our favorite with wild graffiti art on every building and a skate park
- NC Glass Center – you can take a glass blowing class if you have time.
- Plebb Urban Winery – a fantastic wine bar for wine tasting, all made on site.
- Summit Coffee – the best coffee in Asheville (see more about coffee shops below).
- Wedge Brewery – cool industrial feel of their location at (the red section). They also have one in the blue.
- 12 Bones Smokehouse – Popular BBQ joint, even Obama went back twice!
Read our full guide to the River Arts District over on our international travel blog.
Participate in an Art Class
Asheville is of course very artsy, and on a previous Asheville trip our two daughters participated in an art class which is one of the fun things to do in Asheville with kids and for them to get to know the culture on a deeper level.
There are various places in Downtown Asheville for art classes. Hummingbird Candle Co offers candle making classes and the FiredUp Lounge has pottery and painting classes. And if you’re looking for black owned businesses in Asheville, check out this guide from Caroline’s friend Nadeen from The Sophisticated Life.
Asheville Museum of Science
On Patton Street in Downtown Asheville you’ll find the Asheville Museum of Science, another of the popular Asheville attractions for kids. Small enough to not bore parents and big enough to entertain young kids, the Asheville Science Museum is a good place to spend an hour or so.
Although not in downtown Asheville, it’s only a 2.5 mile drive to The Biltmore Estate and I can’t write about Asheville without mentioning one of my favorite attractions in North Carolina.
America’s largest home sits on an 8,000 acre estate nestled in the NC mountains of Asheville, an estate we have visited three times and we always take family when they visit from Australia.
You can just visit the magnificent 250 room, 175,000 square feet home, but this estate is a destination on its own and deserves more time including at the village, gorgeous gardens, 20+ miles of hiking trails, and its own Biltmore Estate winery.
So why not linger a while. You can explore by bike, segway tours, paddle boarding, horse riding, and enjoy spa services and many other activities on offer on the estate grounds.
And, if you want to make Biltmore the main focus when you visit Asheville, we previously stayed on site at The Inn on Biltmore Estate and highly recommend it as a way to enhance your Biltmore Estate experience! Read our full review here.
Downtown Asheville Tours
If you like taking local tours to get a feel for a new destionation, consider this Guided Walking Tour of downtown that focuses on the city’s history, architecture, and culture. Another option is this 2.5-hour guided tour by electric bike including downtown and greenways.
Restaurants in Asheville
If you’re looking for breakfast in downtown Asheville the locals love, pull up a stool like we did at the diner counter and enjoy watching the cooks expertly take care of an endless line of waiting orders at this iconic Asheville Diner.
The Med serves up plates of omelets, French toast, pancakes, country ham and eggs, homemade hash browns, and biscuits, plus modern breakfast items like bowls and fancy grits.
Open for breakfast and lunch. Keep in mind it’s one of the most popular downtown Asheville restaurants so plan your time accordingly!
Early Girl Eatery
We enjoyed a delicious brunch at Early Girl Eatery on our first day and the kind of farm-to-table experience you expect from Asheville restaurants in the area with meals made from scratch and ingredients sourced from the highest quality in the region.
On the menu are breakfast bowls, omelets, biscuits, burgers and southern breakfasts plus lots of Gluten Free options too for those who are sensitive!
We recommend the Heirloom Organic Grit Cake Stack piled with mushrooms, red pepper, squash and a southern tomato sauce. Kalyra enjoyed her spicy chicken sandwich with bacon.
12 Bones Smokehouse
The unpretentious 12 Bones Smokehouse serves up a few mouthwatering items your former President and his family will love. Yep, this BBQ joint is so good Obama went back twice for some Carolina BBQ and it’s hard to resist the smells wafting through the entire Foundy District as you]re exploring.
Meats include pulled chicken and port, and sliced beef brisket. And 12 Bones makes everything from scratch and meats are smoked long and slow over select hardwoods, oak, and cherry.
We did not have the pulled pork, which I think is what Obama returned for. While the brisket was good, I have had better. I do highly recommend a visit though. Have some of that pork and let us know what you think?
And next door is the Wedge Brewing Foundy Street if you need to wash it down with something cold and local.
I’ve never been to India and had Indian street food, but after tasting several dishes at Chai Pani I think I’d enjoy eating my way through India – we’ve already spent over one year in Southeast Asia and love Asian cuisine.
Chai Pani has received accolades from the Washington Post to Fox News for its cuisine, and the brightly colored walls and murals are the perfect match to the vibrant flavor diversity of its dishes from thalis, to uttapam, street burgers and snacks.
If you love Southern biscuits like me, be sure to head to The Rhu and order one of their fluffy, melt in your mouth biscuits. And gluten free folks you’re in luck as they have GF biscuits too!
This popular cafe, bakery and pantry also offers sandwiches, bagels, chocolate croissants, pastries, and their own loaves of bread.
Suwana’s Thai Orchid
Having lived in Bangkok for six months and a year in total in Thailand, we are fussy with our Thai food and can pick an authentic dish with one mouthful. While you’ll never get Thailand authentic in the US, Suwana’s Thai Orchid was a good substitute, and the simple décor and restaurant space brought back fond Thailand memories.
On the menu are your Thai favorites including noodle dishes, rice bowls, classic stir fries, curries, spring rolls, dumplings, and my favorite, mango sticky rice!
Asheville Chocolate & French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Chocolate lovers rejoice. Downtown Asheville has more than its fair share of local, hand crafted chocolate stores. Check out the following chocolate places:
- Asheville Chocolate: offer small batch truffles and gelato made by hand in store. You can even watch them make it while you wait.
- The Chocolate Fetish: wowing Asheville since 1986 with award winning truffles and European style chocolates.
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge: Located in the unmissable celestial blue building, this very popular emporium has artisanal, organic chocolates and pastries and signature sipping chocolates.
Asheville Coffee Shops
As Australians we are self-confessed coffee snobs and we always seek out the best coffee spots wherever we travel in the USA.
To be honest, Asheville didn’t blow me away as much as I expected (unlike their brewery and food scene) and is definitely not up there with Seattle or Portland, but we did find two very good coffee shops to recommend and a few others.
To be clear, we didn’t have time to visit all of the downtown Asheville coffee shops, but we gave it a good nudge. Let us know your favorite spots in the comments down below?
High Five Coffee
We are big fans of Counter Culture roasted coffee out of Durham and were happy to learn that High Five Coffee’s baristas have to pass tests before serving you up your favorite brew. Glad we found these guys before leaving Asheville, and they have three locations in Asheville.
Summit Coffee Co
Another quality Asheville coffee spot is Summit Coffee Co and possibly my favorite of the two. We always appreciate coffee that is responsibly sourced and roasted in small batches in their certified organic facility.
We visited their River Arts District location, and they also have a place in the Grove Arcade.
Ultra Coffee Bar
Located at the corner of the 5 points intersection in the heart of the River Arts District, Ultra Coffee Bar is a specialty coffeeshop and café with a full espresso bar who also serve Counter Culture Coffee from Durham. Cold brew is on tap and their Nitro Cold Brew is a specialty.
Their coffee was good, but I think I enjoyed the interior space and outside sitting area more than the coffee. The other highlight for us was the range of menu items including bagels, English muffins, wraps, paninis, house made baked goods and that they offer gluten free options!
Double D’s Coffee & Desserts
We didn’t try a coffee from Asheville’s Landmark Double-Decker Coffee Bus Double D’s as we ran out of time but walked past it a few times and it’s definitely one of the popular coffee spots and looks like a fun and unique experience – London is one of our favorite cities in the world so next time for us! If you’re looking for coffee with a side of adventure, consider getting your cup of Joe here.
Grind Coffee Shop
Grind Coffee Shop is the first Black-owned coffee shop in Asheville that also operates as a coworking space and café whose aim is to nurture entrepreneurship, especially in the Black community. You’ll find pastries AND cool artwork on the walls inside as well.
Asheville Breweries and Bars
If you’re a lover of craft beer, definitely put Asheville high on your list of getaways from Raleigh. We’ve been fortunate to drink beer in the top cities in the US such as Portland, San Diego, and Denver and the Asheville beer scene is on par for quality and quantity.
In fact, it almost seems like there are as many breweries in Asheville as there are pubs in Dublin and you won’t run out of breweries dedicated to showcasing the flavors of the Appalachian region.
The other good news for families like us, is many of them are family friendly. And, for the non-beer drinking gluten free folks, they have a lot of cideries’ as well.
If you’re up for a brewery crawl, the South Slope part of downtown Asheville is home to some of the top breweries, and this revitalized hip warehouse district also has a growing number of restaurants and shops making it one of the best Asheville neighborhoods.
We didn’t scratch the surface as far as breweries go, but here are some we can highly recommend.
A legend in the North Carolina brewing world and originating out of Asheville, I love visiting the Burial Beer location here in Raleigh too but they are a must stop on your Asheville brewery tour. Not only do they make excellent beer, but their brewery in Asheville is super cool with lots of outdoor space and cool artwork, you can’t miss the mural featuring Sloth from the Goonies.
With a covered outdoor space and delicious pizzas, Asheville Brewing is a casual place to drop in, especially if you are traveling with kids like us, we’ve been here several times. And the gluten free pizza here was probably the best we’ve had.
Green Man Brewery
Just outside of downtown Asheville, Green Man offers a terrific selection of beers that are true to style in a cool building, relaxing atmosphere, with a great setup for outdoor seating (and indoors).
Another of the more established breweries in Asheville is Hi-Wire Brewing, who now has locations in Durham and Knoxville. The guys at Hire-Wire love to brew traditional styles, and beer they want to drink!
Wedge Brewing Company
Tucked away behind the art studios is an industrial railroad yard is the popular brewery and beer garden of Wedge Brewing Company
While the vibe feels cluttered and thrown together it really works. I loved the industrial welding artistic style of the place with its tables, seats, and hanging art pieces made from salvaged iron and steel, possibly paying homage to Wedge Studios founder, metal artist John Payne.
They have regular rotating food trucks and patrons love their hoppy IPAs and stouts. Look for live music on Saturdays! They also have another location at the Foundy Section of the Arts District.
Sports lovers will appreciate Catawba Brewery with its wide open, inside area and big screens. It also has an outside beer garden that hosts food trucks.
If you really want to get into the Asheville beer scene, here are a few guided tours to consider:
1. This Guided Walking Brewery Tour can help you discover which breweries are worth the hype and they take you behind-the-scenes with ample pours at each brewery.
2. How about an Electric Bike Brewery Crawl to five of Asheville’s most popular microbreweries, enjoying a drink (or two) at each location.
The Crow & Quill Speakeasy Bar
I felt like I had stepped into the shadowy underworld as we walked through the non-descript green door of the Crow & Quill with the light above it of what looked like an abandoned building.
The dimly lit room was filled with antique furniture, art on the walls and an elaborate array of whiskeys from around the world and other spirits such as rums, mezcals, and gins (700 in total).
Known for their expertly created craft cocktails, this is a cool Asheville Speakeasy Bar and, in a way, reminded us of Revival 1869 in Clayton, Johnston County.
Jack of the Wood
Walking past the windows of Jack of the Wood seeing the Irish band playing in the corner I knew it was a bar we wanted to come back to. Anything to give us a taste of Ireland – our once home for a year that we miss so much!
Well, we did return the next evening on a Sunday, but the amps were turned off and the city almost empty (I guess because it was Thanksgiving weekend). However, we pulled up a seat at the bar and enjoyed a local craft brew, a delicious cider from Urban Orchard Cidery that tasted just like Thanksgiving, and a chat with the bartender.
Pleb Urban Winery
If there is one unmissable thing to do in the Asheville Arts District, it’s a tasting flight of local wine at Pleb Urban Winery. A giant-sized mural of an angelic girl blowing a dandelion into the breeze entices you into the large, open warehouse space that is both chic and rustic. The mural behind the bar is just as enticing.
It has an unpretentious vibe that invites thoughtful conversation, similar to the Roman plebeian community after which it is named. They wisely worshiped the gods of agriculture, fertility, and viticulture.
There is much to talk about over a $12 paddle of wine that gets you a choice of four different wines. Choose your own or select from the crafted options on the menu.
Know that with every sip, you are supporting local Western NC agriculture, sustainable practices, all the while enjoying the unique characteristics of Appalachian wine.
I chose the Roaming Lands Paddle with a Redwood white chardonnay, a Sequoia Rose, and a Sequoia Red (Syrah). The Syrah is worth leaving with a bottle in hand, or a return visit!
Olde London Road English Pub
Home of the Asheville City Soccer Club, the Olde London Road is a European Soccer Bar located in the River Arts District. I stared longingly through the windows of this English pub as we walked by. Crowds of people sat with their team scarves draped over their shoulders eagerly watching their team on the screen.
Our kids wouldn’t have been happy if we stopped in to watch. But, if you’re a soccer (football) fan, this may be a place you want to stop, especially if there is a game on.
Where to Stay in Asheville
If you don’t know where to stay in Downtown Asheville, we were happy with our choice of Hotel Indigo Downtown Asheville with its gorgeous mountain views and walkable distance to downtown – definitely ask for a mountain view room!
Located within an easy walk to all the Downtown Asheville restaurants, shops, music venues and experiences, including the popular South Slope for trendy breweries and local vibe.
We prefer accommodation options that help to tell the story of the area we are visiting, and this boutique Asheville hotel does that with its ideal location, engaging service (with insider tips), and local flavors in both art and food. Read our full review.
Other downtown Asheville hotels to consider include:
Places to Visit Near Asheville
If you’re looking for more ideas for a longer trip, check out the following posts for more inspiration and things to do in the Asheville region.
- 23 best things to do in Boone, NC
- Top Places To Go in the North Carolina Mountains (Western NC)
- Slip Into Serenity With These 8 Things To Do In Lake Lure, NC
- Lake Junaluska, North Carolina Mountains – a retreat for the spiritually minded
- Climb 499 Steps To The Top of Chimney Rock, NC for Incredible Views!
Do you have any questions or your own tips on the best things to do in Downtown Asheville NC? Leave us a comment below!