You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy your vacation getaway to Asheville and the western North Carolina mountains. In fact, many activities won’t cost you a dime! Here are our Top Ten Free Things to Do for romantic outings or fun with family and friends:
- Explore Downtown: During the day, downtown Asheville bustles with shoppers browsing more than 200 spots, including dozens of galleries, antique shops, an old-fashioned general store, local boutiques and a variety of funky shops. The Grove Arcade has been restored to its original 1929 grandeur as one of the first “malls” in America. Each evening, enjoy street entertainers and great people watching. Relax in the beautiful Pack Square Park, home to many free festivals and concerts.
- Discover Lots of Art: Asheville is one of the top arts destinations in the country. Galleries abound downtown and in Biltmore Village, and visits to these are as fascinating as a world-class art museum. Visit studios tucked away in the River Arts District and watch artists at work. To learn more about Southern Appalachian artists, don’t miss the Folk Art Center, with three fine art galleries and daily craft demonstrations. It’s located on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 382) near the US 70 intersection. There is no admission fee to any of these, but bring your credit card in case temptation overcomes you. See our Asheville Gallery Guide.
- Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway: Often named one of the top ten drives in the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides a leisurely drive to see nature’s beauty along the crest of the mountains. You’ll find breathtaking scenery from numerous overlooks and walking trails, plus great spots for picnics. Drive north to Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell or south through a dozen tunnels to Mt. Pisgah. There is no entrance fee. See our Top 50 Blue Ridge Parkway stops.
- Find Waterfalls: There are many waterfalls near Asheville in state and federal parks with no admission fee to discover. About 40 miles outside of Asheville is DuPont State Forest, where you can take a short hike and see three waterfalls including Triple Falls, where you can picnic on a large flat rock area between the second and third waterfall. Two other popular “free” waterfalls include Looking Glass Falls and Linville Falls.
- Take a Hike: To appreciate the natural splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, get out of the car and explore by foot. There are trails for all fitness levels, from short walks in the woods to strenuous hikes to mountain peaks. The Top 60 Asheville Hiking Guide includes the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell and the best hikes in the Smokies. Bike the Point Lookout Trail.
- See the Smokies: For a serene evening watching elk graze a short distance away from your car, drive to the Cataloochee Valley section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are two additional entrances to the park within 50 miles of Asheville (the quieter side of the most visited national park) at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee.
- Attend a Festival: Free outdoor festivals abound. Gather downtown on Saturday nights during July and August for Shindig on the Green, a genuine glimpse into the musical traditions of Appalachia. The Drum Circle happens every Friday evening downtown. Plan your trip around one of the many art walks and tours, including Center City Art Walks, the Village Art and Craft Fair, Weaverville Art Safari and River District Artist Stroll. Even the outdoor Shakespeare Festival is free each summer. See our Art Festival Guide, Top 50 Summer Festivals and Annual Events Guide.
- Explore Architecture: If you love art and history, don't miss Asheville's Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile walking tour through the streets of downtown. Asheville's history is told through 30 stops, each with public sculptures that function as landmarks along the trail. Free Urban Trail maps are available at Pack Place near the tall monument downtown and the Visitor Center.
- Stroll Through a Garden: The Asheville area contains some of the most diverse plant life on the planet. The Botanical Gardens of Asheville, part of the University of North Carolina at Asheville near downtown, is a hidden jewel with a ten-acre nature preserve dedicated to preserving and displaying the rich, native flora of the Southern Appalachians.
- Visit with Farmers: Talk to farmers and see the seasonal bounty of the mountains at the big Western North Carolina Farmer's Market. The retail area features displays of high-quality fruits and vegetables, mountain crafts, jams, jellies, preserves, sourwood honey and dozens of other farm fresh items. The market is open year-round, seven days a week. Visit local farms, including cheesemakers.
Bonus: The new Tryon International Equestrian Center is amazing to see, especially when riders are competing from around the world at their many horse jumping competitions. Free admission and parking. Read more!
Asheville continues to receive awards and accolades as one of the best places to visit in the United States. In fact, Frommer’s named Asheville as one of the top ten most unique and enticing destinations in the world!