IT’S HARD TO ARGUE with the fact that Asheville is just too cool of a city. It tops lists on the beer scene, cities for millennials, cities for creatives — you name it. And because its people are so remarkable — they’re the city’s funky beating heart, and proud of it — we sometimes forget one other obvious fact: It’s absolutely gorgeous, too.

Sitting in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers, Asheville is right in the middle of Western North Carolina postcard country. Combine that with its local characters, its architecture, its music and culture, and yes, its beer, and you’ve got a city more than worth looking at.

1

Drum Circle in Pritchard Park

Cities Asheville's size (~80,000 people) can sometimes have trouble establishing an identity, but that problem certainly doesn't exist here. The local flavor is most evident during the drum circle in Pritchard Park, held every Friday night during the warmer months. Anyone can attend (play, dance, or just take it all in), it's free, and the energy lasts from around 6 to 10pm.
Photo: Explore Asheville

2

The Biltmore Estate

Redefining #housegoals since the 1890s, the Biltmore is the largest privately owned house in the country, coming in at 178,926 square feet. You have to see it to believe it, and if you do, be sure to set aside an entire day: the gardens, stables, and winery top off this already memorable look into the past.
Photo: Explore Asheville

3

The live music scene

Asheville takes "free outdoor concerts" to a whole new level. Pictured are the Steep Canyon Rangers, a homegrown North Carolina band, playing to a crowd of thousands. This is not an unusual occurrence.
Photo: Explore Asheville

4

Kayaking on Lake Lure

In the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, less than an hour's drive from Asheville, is Lake Lure. If it looks familiar, it probably is: The area was used for filming in Thunder Road, Dirty Dancing, A Breed Apart, Forrest Gump, The Last of the Mohicans, and Firestarter. Many consider it to be one of the most beautiful man-made lakes in the country—it's surrounded by forested mountains and granite cliffs, and you can even see Chimney Rock in the distance. In addition to kayaking, you can swim, sunbathe on the beach, and go boating, mountain biking, and hiking here.
Photo: Explore Asheville

5

Downtown performance art

Asheville is well known for its eclectic characters. Head downtown and you'll find the normal buskers (keep an eye out for the spoon lady), but you'll no doubt see all kinds of performances going on.
Photo: Explore Asheville

6

The colors of fall

Asheville shines all year long, but its beacon is brightest in autumn. For miles around, the trees turn into vivid hues of red, gold, and orange. Bonus: Thanks to a unique combination of geography and climate, this part of Western North Carolina has one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the country.
Photo: Scott Sporleder

7

Hiking in Craggy Gardens

Twenty miles from downtown Asheville, Craggy Gardens sits 3,500 feet higher than the city, meaning you don't have to do more than get out of the car for some epic views. Shown above is the hike to Craggy Pinnacle (pictured later in this gallery), a favorite for its aesthetic rewards at the end as well as along the way.
Photo: Explore Asheville

8

Looking Glass Falls

The mountains of Western North Carolina are waterfall country. Some of these falls, like Sliding Rock (a 60ft "natural water slide" down a smooth stone slab) are made for play. Others, like Looking Glass Falls, are better suited to standing back and enjoying the view. There are dozens more—find your favorite.
Photo: Explore Asheville

9

Foodtopia

Welcome to Foodtopia. Asheville's food scene is diverse, high quality, and driven by the same passionate community spirit that informs every other part of life in this city. Explore your options—there's everything from an authentic taste of Madrid to the best home-cooked Southern fare you'll find anywhere.
Photo: Explore Asheville

10

Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of possibly the prettiest drive in the States, and if you follow it west of Asheville, it'll take you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can drive it, cycle it, or hike it, and whichever you choose, you'll be rewarded—there's a reason it's the most-visited site in the entire National Park System.
Photo: Jared Kay for Explore Asheville

11

Beer with a view

It's rare that you hear about Asheville without hearing about its top-class beer scene—there are more breweries per capita here than practically anywhere else in the US (and a lot of those breweries come with one hell of a view). You could spend months trying local brews without ever repeating here in Beer City.
Photo: Emily Chaplin for Explore Asheville

12

Mount Mitchell

The highest peak east of the Mississippi sits an hour's drive northeast of Asheville. With an elevation of 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell gives you panoramic views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountain landscape, and the eponymous state park has a lot of rewarding hikes.
Photo: Explore Asheville

13

Black Mountain, NC

Technically part of the Asheville metropolitan area, Black Mountain is the city's comfy, quaint little sister, replete with a laundry list of cool shops and quintessentially Southern B&Bs—a perfect day-trip destination from the "big" city.
Photo: Explore Asheville

14

Basilica of St. Lawrence

Yep, Asheville even has its own basilica. Built in 1905, it's purported to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. Regardless of this trivia tidbit, we know one thing for sure: It's definitely gorgeous.
Photo: Payton Chung

15

Hiking up Black Balsam Knob

If you're looking for this spot, you'll find it near milemarker 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, southwest of Asheville. Hop on the Art Loeb Trail to get to the peak, and it'll take you all the way to Pilot Mountain, too. And know that this isn't just any hike—National Geographic Adventure rated it one of the 30 best hikes in all of North America.
Photo: Explore Asheville

16

Downtown skyline

Asheville sort of pops out of the mountains, an oasis in a sea of ruggedness. It looks as good from afar as it does up close.
Photo: Jared Kay for Explore Asheville

17

Sunrise on Craggy Pinnacle

To get to the top of Craggy Pinnacle (5,892 feet), it's a surprisingly short—and easy—1.4-mile round-trip hike. You'll find it off the Blue Ridge Parkway around milemarker 364. Here, effort does not correlate with reward: You still get epic 360-degree views, tunnels of rhododendrons, and fields of mountainside wildflowers. Pro tip: If it's foggy, just wait a bit.
Photo: Explore Asheville

This post is proudly produced in partnership with Explore Asheville.
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