Your First Trip To Asheville: What To See, Eat & Do

A list of adventures to have, restaurants to try and things to do during your first trip to Asheville.

We love sharing ideas and itineraries for visitors, especially if it’s your first trip to Asheville. We know planning a trip here can be overwhelming, so we pulled together a tried-and-true list of places and attractions that we love. We also have an itinerary for the perfect weekend in Asheville if you are looking for more.

Whether you are heading to Asheville for the outdoors, the views, the brews or the bites, let our guide for planning your first trip to Asheville lead the way!

Iconic Activities In Asheville

While there a ton of fun attractions in Asheville, the ones highlighted below are those we believe are absolute musts on your first visit to Asheville. These are the ones that feel very ‘Asheville‘ and really showcase what the city has to offer.

1. Drive On The Blue Ridge Parkway

Curvy section of the Blue Ridge Parkway during peak leaf season with yellow trees all around

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a can’t-miss attraction when visiting Asheville, especially during leaf season. The Parkway cuts right through Asheville, so you can either take it south through the Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest or north toward Blowing Rock. It can get really busy in October during the leaf-peeping season.

Plan to pack a picnic and disappear for at least half a day. If it’s hot out, head to either Mount Mitchell or Black Balsam Knob. Both are much cooler than the city! Another option is to take our Blue Ridge Parkway day trip itinerary. It takes you by waterfalls and a ton of trails. PS You may want to consider Dramamine if you are prone to getting carsick.

2. Explore Downtown Asheville

Isa's French Bistro Exterior with a colorful door and exterior seating

Downtown Asheville simultaneously has the feel of a big city and charming local mountain town. You’ll find fun shops, art galleries, places to get coffee, independent bookshops and award-winning restaurants. There are also a ton of great hotels in downtown Asheville that are close to everything.

A few of our favorite stops downtown are Woolworth Walk and Kress Emporium for local art, Mast General Store for outdoor clothes and old-fashioned candy, Nest Organics for pretty things, Moonlight Makers for fun finds and Horse + Hero for prints.

For food, check out Asheville’s only food hall the S&W Market. It’s on our top spots for lunch in downtown Asheville list– we can’t get enough of Buxton Chicken Palace. For a fancier night out, we love Limones (lobster nachos!) and Ukiah (the mushroom!) And if you are looking for a delicious vegan dinner in Asheville, Rosetta’s is a must.

Guide to downtown AVL

3. Take The Gray Line Trolley

Gray Line Trolley in Biltmore Village

We always recommend the trolley for first-time visitors to Asheville. The trolley in Asheville travels to ten stops throughout the day and you can hop on and off at any of the stops.

It’s a great way to see downtown, the Omni Grove Park Inn, River Arts District and Biltmore Village without worrying about directions or parking. Wondering what all of these places are? Check our guide to the coolest neighborhoods in Asheville.

Trolley tickets are valid for two days, so you can always swing back by if you miss something. The trolley picks up at multiple hotels, which may be worth planning around.

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4. Spend Time At The Biltmore

View of the Biltmore Estate with Christmas trees out front on a fall day

If time allows (and it sounds like something you’d enjoy), then you should plan to spend at least half of a day at the Biltmore Estate. It is so impressive and beautiful. And there are so many things to see and do at the Biltmore!

You can either get a pass for just the grounds and skip the house tour, or get a pass for all. The house is especially beautiful inside when it’s decorated for the holidays.

Not only is it fun for adults, but kids love the Biltmore Estate, too. There’s a playground, an ice cream shop and so much land to explore.

More About The Biltmore Estate

Must Visit Restaurants For Your First Trip To Asheville

Though we could easily tell you over 30 awesome restaurants to dine in Asheville, we’ll keep this to a really short list of must-visit eateries. The ones highlighted below cover a variety of cuisines. You’ll find some of the darlings of Asheville on the list, like Cúrate and Chai Pani, others are new to the scene and a few are just our personal favorites.

  1. Neng Jr.’s: New to the scene and making big waves! Neng Jr.’s is a Filipinx restaurant with an ever-changing menu. It’s a small space with only 17 seats, so reservations are encouraged. They are released 30 days in advance (and go fast!) You should plan to dine at Neng Jr.’s if you like a fun atmosphere, delicious food and cool people.
  2. Chai Pani: Delicious Indian street food in a casual space. 2022 winner of the James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant. There’s typically a waitlist going, but they use Yelp to keep track of it so you can keep an eye on your spot on the list. Try the fish sandwich!
  3. Cúrate: Spanish tapas in a date-night-worthy setting. Make reservations early and go hungry!
  4. Liberty House: Breakfast and brunch spot in North Asheville with a great garden area. We love their sourdough pancake and you can always count on awesome weekend specials.
  5. Gan Shan West: Casual Asian fusion spot in West Asheville. You can dine in but we typically order to-go (it’s our favorite takeout in Asheville!) Don’t miss the rice bowl with Korean BBQ.
  6. Sunny Point Cafe: An all-day café in West Asheville with excellent food. Get anything with bacon, carrot hotcakes or huevos rancheros. It’s a popular spot so plan to wait! Luckily for you, they recently opened a small bake shop next door called The Rabbit Hole. It’s a perfect place to grab a coffee and a pastry while you wait for a table.
  7. All Souls Pizza: Foodie-style pizza with a side of soft-serve ice cream, but make it fancy. We love their outdoor seating, especially when dining with kids. All Souls is a casual order-at-the-counter spot.

Must Visit Breweries In Asheville

Now that we have covered where to eat, let’s look at where to drink! There are so many great breweries in Asheville and you can easily make a whole trip out of brewery-hopping. If you can only go to a couple, though, start with the ones below.

1. Burial Beer

Exterior of Burial Beer (Sloth mural in the background)

With two locations around town (one in South Slope and one near Biltmore Village), Burial Beer Co. really is a must-visit brewery in Asheville.  They have a great Biergarten located in Asheville’s brewery district South Slope. We love their food, beer and Asheville feel. Don’t miss the Sloth and Tom Selleck mural!

They also have an equally fantastic location (Burial Forestry Camp) near Biltmore Village.

2. Archetype (West)

Exterior of Archetype Brewing Haywood in West Asheville showing outdoor seating

Archetype is a beer-first kind of place. They obsess over the process and the ingredients (mixed fermentation, wild ‘less-predictable’ yeast…) and it shows in their unique brews.

While they don’t have a kitchen on-site, you can order dinner from two of of our favorite Asheville restaurants: Gan Shan West and Pizza Mind for excellent pizza. Gan Shan will even deliver to your table at Archetype. Get the GSW rice bowl with Korean pulled pork for a life-changing meal.

3. Wicked Weed

Beer Garden seating at Wicked Weed Funkatorium

Elephant in the room: beloved Asheville brewery Wicked Weed sold to Anheuser Busch in 2017. BUT! They still produce everything locally and it’s a great Asheville brand. They also have some really awesome locations around town, delicious food, great beer and it’s always a good time.

We really like sitting outside at their Brewpub downtown. The menu is great and the beer is delicious. If you like sours, though, head to the Funkatorium in South Slope! There you’ll find elevated pub fare and beer garden-style seating, and a ton of sours (and other brews) on tap.

If you are looking for somewhere to grab a drink with a gorgeous backdrop, check out one of the many awesome rooftop bars in Asheville.

Coffee Shops To Visit In Asheville

While there are a wild amount of coffee shops in Asheville, there are a few that we consider the best of the best. If you love coffee like us then you will be in heaven at any of these shops.

1. Rowan Coffee

Rowan Coffee exterior in downtown Asheville

Rowan Coffee is our number one coffee recommendation in Asheville. They offer pour-overs as well as signature coffee drinks that are unmatched in the area.

The décor is perfect and it’s such a cool space to work from or catch up with friends. Rowan recently started roasting their own coffee and the packaging is as good as the coffee itself. While you’re there, grab some merch!

2. Rite Rite

Oudoor seating at Rite Rite in downtown Asheville

Rite Rite is another great downtown coffee shop. It’s on the other side of downtown from Rowan, though it’s all very walkable. We love their industrial-style space and their outdoor seating. It used to be called Trade and Lore if you’re familiar!

You’ll find great signature drinks here, as well as beer and wine. While they don’t have a dedicated kitchen, Rite Rite has pastries from The Rhu and other local bakeries.

It’s somewhat on the edge of town but there are a ton of restaurants and shops nearby, including the Grove Arcade. Just look for the stairs to the left of Rite Rite to get there.

3. The Rhu

Exterior sign of The Rhu in downtown Asheville

The Rhu is somehow both off the beaten path and also right in the middle of downtown Asheville. This is an excellent stop for pastries and coffee. If you go, get a brownie!!

We love The Rhu because it feels like you just stepped off the streets of Manhattan. There’s a great window up front with seats. It’s perfect for people-watching. You’ll find more seating upstairs (look for the door to the left of where your order) if you are looking for a quieter place.

The Rhu’s food is absolutely delicious, whether it’s a breakfast biscuit or a gourmet sandwich.

All three of these happen to be in downtown Asheville. If you are in River Arts District, though, check out Summit. And if you find yourself in Woodfin, the High Five coffee shop on the river is awesome when the weather is nice.

PS Try to find a bag of local Cooperative Coffee to take home with you as a souvenir. You can find them in various retail shops as well as Rite Rite.

Can’t Miss Desserts in Asheville

Though we love Asheville’s many bakeries, there are three that we will never get enough of. These are the spots we recommend to everyone and frequent ourselves often.

1. OWL Bakery

Assorted pastries from Asheville's OWL Bakery

OWL may be our number one recommendation for all of Asheville. Driving through for the day? Go to OWL. Need breakfast? Go to OWL. Need a picnic lunch? OWL. No, really. Go there and get a ham and cheese croissant for your picnic. They are amazing.

We also love their almond rose croissant, chocolate chip cookie, apple strudel, cardamom buns, danishes… everything. It’s all beautiful and gourmet. And their coffee is perfect, too. They brew Methodical Coffee out of Greenville and have their own blend available for purchase.

OWL has a location in West Asheville and a second bakery in North Asheville. The West one is perfect when the weather is nice because they have outdoor seating in the back.

2. Baked Pie Co.

Pie flight from Baked Pie Co with three pieces of pie and ice cream

Another bakery that is absolutely worth mentioning is Baked Pie Co in South Asheville. Yes, it’s a bit of a drive from downtown. But they have a pie flight (!) where you can pick any three pie flavors plus a scoop of ice cream.

If you are planning to do this, don’t go too late in the day! Their pastry case starts to look pretty empty the later it gets. I recommend going for a late breakfast around 11 when they open.

You can also opt for a whole pie and order in advance to make sure they have one for you.

3. Vortex Doughnuts

Box of Vortex Doughnuts in assorted flavors

The Asheville donut scene is actually pretty fantastic. You’ll find everything from build-your-own to gourmet treats. Our favorite spot for donuts, though, is Vortex in South Slope.

You’ll find excellent coffee (1000 Faces) and a variety of donuts available in both cake dough and yeast dough. The flavors change weekly and are always creative and delicious.

Vortex sells apple fritters on the weekends! They sell out early, though, so plan accordingly.

Ready for your first visit to Asheville? Start planning your trip now and find a place to stay.

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