But even though a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, seems like it would have to be expensive, you don’t have to spend a lot of cash to have a wonderful visit to The Land of the Sky.
Here are nearly twenty free things to do around Asheville, NC.
Downtown Asheville is famous across the United States for its eclectic culture. Art Deco architecture, coffee shops, bookshops, and fine dining are just a few of its attractions. Whether your trip to Asheville is an afternoon or a week, you want an experience to remember long after you return home. Downtown Asheville is the perfect place to find all that for“free.”
Downtown Asheville is full of free — starting with parking that is free for the first hour. Then you can spend time with your friends enjoying a cup of coffee in a great environment like the Battery Park Book Exchange. The two floors of old books, furniture, and paintings make for a picturesque location. It's located in the Grove Arcade, where you can browse the other shops for hours.
This article is full of free stuff around Asheville, but don't forget about downtown Asheville. Downtown is an interactive experience you’ll remember your entire life. Do your research, connect with the business owners and artisans, then budget all your resources wisely. Because in a place like Downtown Asheville your most limited resource will be time to enjoy all there.
Asheville Visitor Center
You’re reading this article because you do your research before going somewhere. Doing that research, contacting folks in the know, and allocating your resources makes your travel experience the best it can be. That’s why the Asheville Visitor's Center is the place to start.
The staff here are invested in your travel experience --- to begin with. They want you to come back. These locals will ask you the right questions and then guide you to the restaurants you want, the lodging you’ll enjoy the most, and the attractions that fit with the trip you want. So even if you stop and just browse the brochures, this needs to be your first stop in Asheville.
Pisgah National Forest
You will find the city of Asheville to be a fascinating destination, but you must not ignore the area around it --- especially the Pisgah National Forest. This Forest has a direct connection to The Biltmore Estate since much of the land was donated by the Vanderbilt Family as a permanent national legacy.
A large chunk of the half a million acres are "old growth" forests, meaning this may be one of the only times you and your family experience what the woods looked like to past generations.
The National Forest offers an outdoor activity for every style --- short hikes, fishing, picnics, week-long backpacking trips, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Hundreds of waterfalls, thousands of campsites, and too many picnic areas to count make this a great place to visit.
Stretching across a dozen counties around Asheville, you can enjoy parts of this national treasure even if you don't have the time to make it to Downtown Asheville.
The Pisgah National Forest is free. Whether your idea of wildlife is a bird feeder outside your window or backcountry hiking, this is the place you can find that experience at no cost. This attraction is too big for you to miss.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is where to go no matter what you want to do, what you want to see, and how much you want to pay. They've been called the most popular national park in the United States, and there is plenty of reason why.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a vast area with an equally diverse range of attractions. Whether you want to stay in the car or camp in the backcountry for a week, it will meet your vacation requirements. In addition, it is very vehicle friendly since you can drive through Cades Cove in Tennessee or you can drive through Cataloochee in North Carolina.
Getting out into nature is more important than ever after the past two years, and that’s one reason the Great Smoky Mountains are such a bargain. You won’t find a greater concentration of biodiversity anywhere else, and you won’t find friendlier folks to help you maximize your visit. Start your trip at one of several Visitor's Centers—which are free.
French Broad River
The French Broad River has finally received the long-overdue attention it deserved as a tourist attraction. While it isn't the Mississippi or the Tennessee River, that's one reason people enjoy it so much. The depth --- around three feet in most areas --- provides the perfect place for tubing. Riding a tube up the gentle current is something people love to do. (
Fun Fact: The French Broad flows north, unlike all other south-flowing rivers east of the Continental divide in the Rocky Mountains.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway may be the most valuable free resource in Asheville since it’s the perfect way to get there while having fun on the way. The National Park Service is stringent in allowing no commercial traffic on the Parkway. They realize The Parkway is more than a highway. It's an attraction in itself.
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The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the Blue Ridge Mountains from Washington, DC, down to Cherokee. Asheville is the largest city along the way. The Overlooks dotted along the way mean you're not going to be stuck in the car all the way --- you’re going to pull off and take selfies.
Folk Art Center
The Folk Art Center of the Southern Highland Guild is an underrated attraction in Asheville for a couple of reasons, and the fact it’s free is one of them. You must take an afternoon to visit the Fine Arts Center, although the weekend is good, too, since they have craft demonstrations featuring the best regional artists.
Their rotating and permanent exhibits are informative, fun, and of the best quality you'll find anywhere. But, of course, you can’t forget their library, tucked away on the second floor. Whether you're casually browsing or looking for technical information about crafting, you can spend hours there.
The Biltmore Estate was not the original tourist attraction in Asheville, but it quickly became the area's central tourist attraction. If you have not been to the Estate, you have to go at least once. America's largest private home is a throwback to a different, slower, more elegant time.
Admission is not free, but there are ways to get the price to almost free, and there are plenty of freebies at Biltmore.
To begin with, the Season Pass Perks make up for its price. For example, I paid nothing for my parent's visit to the Biltmore House because of my Season Pass. Although I financed my original ticket to the Biltmore House with a Christmas bonus from work, I immediately upgraded to a Season Pass because it made financial sense.
The Estate is a destination itself, and that is free. Locals with Season Passes visit The Estate every weekend—or daily—to hike the trails and forests. Recently The Estate’s gallery has begun consistently bringing experiences like Van Gogh and Monet to the area.
The gallery owners offer quality articles that are collected by serious customers. Afternoons spent browsing the galleries is what folks do in Asheville. These owners value clients who take their time before buying and will welcome you as you admire what they are offering. This is a great way to enrich your trip to Asheville with your friends.
River Arts District
Asheville's River Arts District may be the greatest success story in the past decade. The development has completely changed the old warehouse district into a diverse, must-visit area with incredible walkability.
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The restaurants, galleries, and parks provide an engaging experience for visitors and residents alike. So whether you want to pick up lunch or art or just stroll by the River while watching artisans at work, the River Arts District is the place to go.
The Biltmore Estate is by far the most famous part of Asheville, and it's well worth the time and money to visit. But you'll want to spend the day there, and sometimes all you have is an hour.
When you want to visit the Biltmore Village --- it's an extension of the Estate, built by George Washington Vanderbilt for the Estate staff. Between the All Souls Cathedral, the shops, and the Grand Bohemian Hotel, this is a fantastic Biltmore-esque experience.
The Village hosts Dickens-esque “caroling” every Christmas along their cobbled streets. But you don’t have to wait for the Holidays to enjoy these streets. I’ve made it a habit to take afternoon strolls past the shops and restaurants in this amazing shopping district.
Asheville Urban Trail
The Asheville Urban Trail is the perfect feature for a city full of galleries. Around 30 sculptures carefully document Asheville's history, beginning in Pack Square with bronze statues of turkeys and pigs, celebrating the crossroads that the city is built on. Most sculptures delve into other well-known parts of the Land of the Sky, such as the bronze watch from O. Henry's Gift of the Magi and a bronzed pair of Thomas Wolfe's shoes.
But other sculptures look at Asheville architecture and lesser-known residents, such as Elizabeth Blackwell-- the first female doctor in American history. The Urban Trail is a no-lose proposition for a rewarding and free afternoon in downtown Asheville.
Asheville Drum Circle
Asheville's Drum Circle is one of those free attractions that is uniquely Asheville. This local gathering is an eclectic outpouring of creativity. As a result, it has gained national acclaim. Events like these are one reason you need to plan your trip to enjoy the experiences you’ll only find in Asheville.
Asheville Guided Tours
When I took art history in college, our teacher spent the first few weeks focusing on Asheville itself. From the Basilica of Saint Lawrence to Robert Morgan flying a B-17 between the Courthouse and City Hall, she shared terrific details about the city with her students. It was proof the greatest attraction of Asheville is the city itself, and guided tours are the best way to enjoy this. These are crafted by people who have done careful research to learn the most interesting details about the city.
Many of these tours --- like the ghost tours --- are available from folks who do this professionally. However, in this age of podcasts, there are numerous free tours you can enjoy. Downloading a tour of the city and then streaming it through your headphones is a perfect way to enrich your visit to Downtown Asheville. Or you stream it through your car's speakers as you drive through some of the storied neighborhoods.
Asheville's Art Center
The area around Asheville is famous for the arts, and no visit to the area is complete without a visit to these arts centers. Most offer free experiences shouldn’t minimize the value they offer. The Southern Highland Craft Guild's Folk Art Center is the place to start, but it's not the only one. Not many people know Buckminster Fuller was a faculty member at Black Mountain College.
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The University of North Carolina in Asheville, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, and Warren Wilson College are other institutions in the area famous for their history of arts education. While their galleries are full of unique exhibits, the River Arts District is the epitome of free art studios. The open studios along the river are a perfect way to get a feel for the art scene in Asheville for free. Of course, don’t forget the world-famous John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown and the Penland School of Craft near Burnsville.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the Eastern Continental United States, but that's only one reason people want to go there. At just over a mile high, it's a great place to visit, with a vibrant schedule of events and various activities. Picnics, camping, and hiking are only a few things folks love to do here. A selfie on the highest point in the Eastern United States is something not everyone can share.
The Visitor's Center itself was worth the drive, which was enjoyable even in that weather. Take the drive3 up from Downtown Asheville, past the Governor's Western Residence, and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the way back to Asheville, take Ox Creek Road down for lunch in downtown Weaverville.
But as enjoyable as the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center was, the Gardens themselves are even more impressive. The views are gorgeous, and --- depending on the time of year --- the flowering bushes are well worth the drive. This is only one reason the Blue Ridge Parkway is an incredible drive any day of the year.
What Free Things to Do in Asheville, NC, Did We Miss?
Do you know other free things to do in Asheville, NC? Please share them with us below!