A perfect long-weekend itinerary and travel guide
Rich in culture, history and natural beauty set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, NC offers the beautiful Biltmore Estate and much more. Experience farm-to-table restaurants, locally made crafts in boutiques, craft breweries, live music, hiking, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and adventures for the entire family.
Day 1 Asheville, N.C. itinerary: MSP-ATL-AVL
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My friend Sue and I decided (in a hallway conversation) to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC during bloom season – just one of the top things to do. I really don’t know what I was expecting, but the city was much more trendy and eclectic than I imagined.
The Asheville vibe reminded me of Vermont (where I lived for five years) and Austin, Texas. And it was much bigger than I thought with a wide range of demographics. We loved Asheville, N.C.
While we could have flown directly into Asheville, we decided to meet in Atlanta (I live in Minnesota and Sue lives in Florida) and road-trip it for about four hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains . Definitely recommend as bloom season made for a beautiful drive. I’m sure this scenic drive is beautiful every season – especially during fall foliage.
My day started at 3:45 a.m. before I headed to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. I enrolled in the CLEAR program, which uses biometrics (fingerprints and eyes) with the goal of speeding you through security faster. I’m still not clear if CLEAR is for me as I didn’t experience any speed and the entire process was a little chaotic. However, will give it another chance when I travel in a couple of weeks, and will share my experience in a future travel blog post.
How to get to Asheville, N.C. from Atlanta: Take the scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains
The four-hour road trip from Atlanta to Asheville, N.C. allowed me to admire the view, sing off-key to road-trip songs like Country Roads, and take time to look through the great information Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau sent me as well as travel tips from one of my fellow travel bloggers who lives in the area (for more tips about Biltmore, check out Travels with Bibi).
Future visit to Asheville, N.C.: One Asheville, N.C. attraction that piqued our interest was Franny’s Farm. Franny Tacy is the first female farmer to plant hemp in North Carolina. Unfortunately, their tour operator (Leap Frog Tours) didn’t have any availability until the day we were leaving. The tour includes a private look at the farm’s hemp production – and they offer goat yoga. Who doesn’t want to experience that?
But no worries – Asheville, N.C. offers a variety of experiences that you can’t possibly do all in one trip. Sue and I are already planning to come back with our husbands soon.
How to get discounted Biltmore Estate tickets
It’s difficult to find discounted tickets for the Biltmore Estate. If you purchase a week or more in advance on their website, you can save $10 on each adult daytime admission. Kids 9 and younger are free; and 10- to 16-year-olds are half price of the adult admission. They do post special offers on their website (for example, only $25 on Mother’s Day weekend). Note: The Biltmore Estate is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I learned that AAA in Asheville, N.C. offers discounted Biltmore Estate tickets to members. So we headed over there once we got into town and were pleasantly surprised they were only $58.50 per adult ticket. The current regular price online per adult ticket to the Biltmore Estate is $80.25 (includes fees and the audio guide). That’s a savings of $21.75 per person. If you’re a AAA member, this is a great deal for Biltmore tickets. If you’re not, I highly recommend getting a membership as it always pays for itself.
Know before you go: When to arrive at Biltmore Estate
Since we didn’t purchase our tickets on Biltmore’s website, we called the Biltmore Estate to reserve a house entry time (required) as well as audio tour guides (for a nominal fee). We were directed to arrive on the Biltmore Estate grounds at least a half-hour before our designated entry time, and that we would need to stop at the will-call office on our way in to pick up our house-entry and audio-guide tickets.
Reserve your spot: All visits to Biltmore House require a reservation time.
We chose the 9 a.m. slot for our self-guided tour of the Biltmore Estate – very thankful we did because there was no line. We walked right through the small security tent quickly. When we exited the Biltmore house, the line was extremely long so recommend going early. See more details on Day 2 about our Biltmore tour.
Things to do in downtown Asheville, N.C.
For our first night in Asheville, N.C., we went downtown to walk around and check out the sites, boutiques, bars, street musicians, and restaurants. Lots of fun things to do in Asheville, N.C.
Things to do in Asheville, N.C.: Ask for a personal tour of Pack’s Tavern’s prohibition tunnel
Our driver gave us a tip that Pack’s Tavern, located in downtown Asheville, N.C. (a former lumberyard back in the day), was a distributor of moonshine during prohibition. And that they give informal tours to see the tunnel where they would run the illegal liquor.
We stopped in at Pack’s Tavern for a couple of beverages so we asked about the prohibition tunnel. One of the Pack’s Tavern managers took us downstairs and gave us a quick six-minute-or-so history tour of the hallway and showed us where the tunnel is located under the street.
The story goes that the moonshine would be dropped off at the loading dock and then smuggled through the lumberyard’s hallway to the tunnel where someone would be waiting under the street / across the street at the police and fire stations (allegedly).
When the infrastructure started collapsing several years ago, they had to fill Asheville’s prohibition tunnel with concrete to keep the street above from caving in.
Things to do in Asheville, N.C.: Line up for some decadent chocolate at French Broad Chocolate Lounge
We ended our night at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in downtown Asheville. It was around 9 p.m. and there was still a line out the door. But don’t let the line deter you as it moves quickly – we loved our chocolate snickerdoodles and quintessential chocolate cake. All products are made in French Broad Chocolate Lounge’s own chocolate factory, which you can witness during their daily tours. Check out their website for details.
Day 2 itinerary for Asheville, N.C.: Covered six miles in seven hours on a picture-perfect day during Biltmore Bloom season
After a brief detour to hunt down some new reading glasses (after breaking a pair), we set off for the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate (a modest size compared to the original 125,000 acres).
The house alone is 175,000 square feet. That’s four acres! At times it felt like we were living out a scene in Downton Abbey or the Great Gatsby. We learned the Biltmore House features 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.
As promised, we arrived on the Biltmore Estate grounds at 8:30 a.m. (half-hour before our reserved house-entry time). The driveway is a long one – and beautiful. Although we had our Biltmore Estate pre-purchased tickets, we needed to made a quick stop to pick up our house-entry and audio-guide tickets at the will-call counter in the reception and ticket sales center located on the left right before the admission gate. Note: The will-call line for Biltmore Estate is the same as the line for people purchasing other tickets, but it went fairly quickly.
Biltmore Estate offers a number of different tours and activities
Biltmore offers a number of different tours and activities including fly-fishing, biking, horseback and rafting, but we chose the basic home and garden tour (and will try something new next time like the rooftop tour).
Where to park at the Biltmore Estate
Since we arrived at Biltmore Estate early in the morning, we were able to park in the closest lot, A, which a sign says it’s about an eight-minute walk to the estate. Although it didn’t seem to take us that long.
Biltmore Estate tour travel tip: Wear comfortable shoes
One travel tip: wear comfortable walking shoes when touring the Biltmore Estate as we spent seven hours and walked six miles through the house, gardens, farm, Antler Hill Village and winery.
Beautiful stroll through the gardens of Biltmore during bloom season
I’m sure the Biltmore Estate is beautiful every day of the year, but visiting during what’s known as bloom season was breathtaking. You can check out Biltmore’s Bloom Report to find out what’s blooming across the estate every week. And even though you can’t visit in person currently due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can still get the report.
Yes, you kinda need a report because the Biltmore gardens are massive – eight locations across the estate. The landscaping at Biltmore covers 75 acres; the Wall Garden alone is four acres.
Biltmore bloom season photo gallery
Biltmore Blooms by the numbers (2019 when we visited)
Source: Biltmore public relations team
Antler Hill Village and Winery is a top thing to do when visiting Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.
We initially thought we would walk to Biltmore’s Antler Hill Village & Winery from the Biltmore House (which is located on the estate and included in the admission). A hotel shuttle bus driver told us we’d probably want to drive over as it was five miles away. So we trekked back to the parking lot and made our way over.
Where to eat at Biltmore: Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village
We needed to fuel up so stopped in at Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village for a quick lunch and beer. Along with our salads, we both enjoyed the buffalo calamari, and I indulged on some deviled eggs with tomato jam and crispy country ham.
Things to do at Biltmore: Wine tasting in Antler Hill Village Winery
After our delicous lunch at Cedric’s Tavern, we headed over to the Biltermore Winery for a complimentary wine tasting.
This beer-drinker does not do wine. However, I do like champagne and Prosecco and I’m all about the experience, so our sommelier was very helpful in selecting white wine samples for me to try. I think I’ll still stick to beer, but it was fun to try something different.
In addition to wine samples, they also offered some tasty dip samples. While I did not purchase any bottles of wine from their vast selection, I did walk away with some dip mixes to make at home.
Things to do at Biltmore: Stop by Deerpark
As we exited the Biltmore Estates grounds, we noticed some sheep and horses at Deerpark so took a little detour to get a closer look.
It was a very fun day at the Biltmore Estate and a little exhausting. We may or may not have taken a power nap when we returned back to our hotel rooms.
Things to do in Asheville, N.C.: music, craft beer and southern comfort food
We headed back downtown for dinner later that night and stopped into a nearby pub, Asheville Club, for some live music (talented cellist), and a quick glass of craft beer while we waited for an outdoor table at Tupelo Honey. Great variety of southern comfort food. I even tried shrimp and grits.
Day 3 Asheville N.C. itinerary: Thunderstorms, 5 inches of rain and flash floods did not deter us from our adventures
Forecasts had warned us about heavy rain on our last full day in Asheville, so we were prepared – we brought rain jackets and umbrellas.
We headed downtown to check out the historic Grove Arcade. A beautiful building inside and out where we found some fun boutiques, and best of all, a used bookstore and champagne bar. What better way to spend a rainy afternoon?
I’m all about hats so I loved, loved, loved spending time in Asheville Home Crafts. This quaint boutique also features handmade quilts and baskets by local women.
As I wrote in a recent post, 9 ways to travel more responsibly and sustainably, I like to make practical purchases that are made locally that I can keep as souvenirs. Check out my post to learn more about two women who opened a small store nearly 17 years ago and continue to put money back into the pockets of local women today. Very inspiring story.
And, yes, I added a new hand-knitted hat to my collection. I live in Minnesota. You can never own too many wool hats.
What better way to escape the rain than at a combined used bookstore and champagne bar in Asheville?
Our Lyft driver had actually mentioned Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar to us the previous night – and didn’t even know I was a writer and avid reader (I’ve got a 50-books challenge going this year).
The two-level Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar is located in Asheville, N.C.’s Grove Arcade with an exterior entrance. We enjoyed a bellatini and mimosa while surrounded by thousands of used books. I wasn’t sure if I would ever leave.
While we didn’t eat there, the quiches and pastries smelled delicious so will definitely be a repeat customer. Another local souvenir: A used copy of Asheville-native Thomas Wolfe’s, “Look Homeward, Angel,”
Things to do in Asheville: Blue Ridge Parkway
Seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains was on my grandmother’s bucket list. And I so wished we would have had the opportunity to see them together before she passed.
With that in mind – and as the rains subsided – we decided to take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway for some photo ops at the overlooks. You can find a list of all the overlooks along with the mile markers online (mile markers are a little difficult to find as they blend with the landscape).
We didn’t get far when we ran into a downed tree – a really big downed tree that required a bulldozer and lots of chainsaws. The parkway is a two-lane highway, and it was a long ways down the mountain where we were stopped. So attempting to make a U-turn was not high on our priority list. We decided we could wait it out.
Well, until one of the road crew guys came and told us they were most likely going to shut down the parkway because they had been cleaning up downed trees all day. He was extremely helpful in getting us turned around without us sliding down the side of the mountain. (I was not much help as I recorded the whole thing – along with my sound effects and a gasp or two – sorry Sue!)
We thought we’d try our luck in the other direction and did find some beautiful views along the way.
Things to do at night in Asheville – Dinner and dueling pianos
We chose The Black Bird Restaurant in downtown Asheville for dinner on our last night.
My salmon and mashed potatoes with horseradish at The Blackbird Restaurant were amazing, as were the roasted Brussel sprouts.
Sue happened to see a vehicle drive by promoting Off the Wagon piano bar, so we decided to check it out.
The three piano players definitely kept the group lively. And when Sue suggested this as our entertainment, I’m sure she didn’t expect me to persuade them (with a tip) to call her up on stage. We had a blast! We also had an early morning departure for the four-hour drive back to ATL to catch our flights so we managed to make it back to our rooms before midnight.
Heading home – Asheville to ATL to MSP
I spent most of the roadtrip back looking over photos and talking with Sue about our plans to return as there was so much more we wanted to experience. Oh, and our kids. We talked about them a lot.
Things to do in Asheville, N.C. next time
Here’s an abbreviated list of what I’d like to experience during our next visit to the beautiful and historic Asheville, N.C.
- Franny’s Farm
- Asheville Pinball Museum (my husband, a pinball master, will love this when we visit next year)
- Asheville Lit Tour (walking tour that inspired writers such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, O.Henry, Carl Sandburg and Thomas Wolfe
- Craft brewery tour
- Hiking in Blue Ridge Mountains (including waterfalls)
- French Broad Chocolate Factory tour
- Other Biltmore House tours (e.g., horseback riding, rooftop tour, Biltmore House revealed behind-the-scenes tour, estate grounds guided tour)
- North Carolina Arboretum
Until next time, Asheville!