You don’t have to be traveling with your significant other to find romance in Asheville. This North Carolina tourist destination has it in spades. We’re talking about trails tripping over waterfalls, Instagram-flawless food, flowers galore and those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
It’s hard to cram it all in a weekend, but if you must, here’s how to do it while keeping things relaxed.
Note: Visit Asheville and area attractions assisted with recommendations and/or hosting, but this didn’t influence my opinion for coverage of local activities.
1. Pack a (gourmet) picnic in Asheville
If you’re going to be out in that gorgeous nature all day, you’ll be hungry, but you don’t want to cut your hike short. Plan ahead by bringing a picnic.
The Rhu has already this figured out. They offer picnic baskets you can pick up that morning and enjoy in the great outdoors.
This is the dream: you indulging in a gourmet feast against the backdrop of a waterfall or mountain valley. Trailheads often have picnic tables, though I find the food tastes even better at the end of a hike.
From olives and fancy cheese to salads and sandwiches, The Rhu can pack, tucked neatly into an adorable picnic basket (you can request a disposable bag if preferred). Their breads, like levain, brioche and baguette, are a highlight — it is a bakery, after all. If you get the brunch basket, ask for the bagel with smoked trout. It tastes a bit like smoked salmon, salty, contrasting nicely with the sweets you’ll be loading up on.
2. Hit the trails in Asheville
If you look at a map of greater Asheville, it looks like two giant swathes of green are about to converge on the city, one from the northeast, the other from the southwest. That said, if you have just a day for hiking, pick one direction and hit a couple trails nearby.
For killer views, head southwest to Mt. Pigsah, a 3-mile roundtrip with some serious elevation gain that’s all worth it at the end. Then climb the 70-foot Fryingpan Tower. The trail is about half the length but has even better views.
Or go northeast for waterfalls. Crabtree Falls is a moderate hike, and you’re rewarded with a massive cascade eye-level from the bridge. Stop by Catawba Falls on the way back into town. This popular hike is less than 1.5 miles with a wide path to accommodate the high volume of foot traffic.
3. Play like you’re a kid again
Unwind from your hike downtown. There are plenty of places to play: breweries, shops, theaters. There’s a lounge devoted to chocolate with lines out the door and street performers plying their trade.
But no place combines food with fun quite like the Well Played Board Game Café. For only $5 per person ($7 on Saturday), you can enjoy unlimited games — classics like Jenga and Clue and so much more. In their collection of over 600, you’ll find games themed for pretty much anything you want, whether that’s Disney, zombies or sushi.
Plus, it’s a great opportunity for some quality couple time.
Game cafe food can be mediocre, but this is a restaurant deserving of its foodie town status. They’ve got craft beers, espresso, local cheeses, seasonal pies and these root chips from the Corner Kitchen that are so much better (zestier and less greasy) than potato chips.
These aren’t the only nostalgic games downtown that you can pair with libations. Head over to the Pinball Museum for the ultimate retro experience. As museums go, it’s hands-on. Try your luck at more than 80 games from pinball machines to old-fashioned video games. Minus a couple that cost 50 cents, all are set to free play, so once you pay $15 at the bar for your wristband, it’s yours to explore.
If you played arcade games in the 80s or 90s, this is a trip down memory lane you have to take. You’ll rediscover old favorites like Pac-Man and Area 51. And, if you’re with your date, you can play against each other and finally prove, once and for all, who’s the better person.
4. Tuck in some place wonderful
Asheville has plenty of hotels to choose from, whether you want a local B&B or a name brand where you can rack up reward points. The Hampton Inn & Suites Asheville Biltmore Area was perfect for us because it’s convenient to downtown, Biltmore and the interstate, which you’ll be hopping on and off of as you explore the greater Asheville area and all those waterfalls. And it’s less than 3 miles from the North Carolina Arboretum and next door to the Asheville Outlets.
It’s also sparkling new, which I didn’t know before checking in but figured out quickly just from looking around. The hotel opened in September with a trendy, modern lobby and rooms with bedside outlets for your devices.
Rooms are comfortable and quiet, though after a day of hiking, especially if you stay out late (the game cafe doesn’t close till 1 a.m. on Saturdays), you won’t have trouble falling asleep anyway. The indoor pool is nice, if hard to share with an enthusiastic baseball team. But the amenity I liked the most was the water bottle filling station. Hydration is essential!
5. Visit Historic Biltmore Village in Asheville
Plan to spend at least one full day at Biltmore, but on your way there, swing by Historic Biltmore Village, a turn-of-the-century planned community originally created for estate workers and now a shopping and dining destination. The look complements the estate: graceful architecture, brick sidewalks. Even the McDonald’s is posh, dubbed the classiest in the world thanks to its baby grand piano and copper ceiling.
While Biltmore has plenty of dining options on site, they do allow outside food in designated areas, so you can grab lunch at Biltmore Village to enjoy on the grounds. I recommend Well-Bred Bakery & Café for fast service and quality food catering to different diets, including gluten-free and vegan.
Their lunch and brunch items naturally lend themselves to picnics. Choose something healthier like the refreshing grape and pecan chicken salad or more decadent like grilled cheese on challah. Don’t pass by their pastry case. Just remember how much you hiked yesterday, and go ahead and order that eclair or a cup of Swedish crème. They’ll even put their pudding-like desserts in a to-go cup for you. Perfect.
6. Bliss out at Biltmore
It’s America’s grandest estate, but superlatives really don’t do Biltmore justice. The gardens are showing off right now. Hydrangeas, magnolias, rhododendrons, dogwood, begonias — it’s not so much the profusion of color that’s dizzying as the sheer scale and artistry that underpins it.
The beauty helps you overlook the heat, and it does get warm in summer. If you’re going on a day where you need a timed entry for the house, reserve your slot midday to get a break from the sun.
Indoors, the panoramas are no less impressive. The medieval-style banquet room is seven stories tall. The library contains some 10,000 volumes on its rich walnut shelves. And the loggia opens onto views of the Deerpark and distant mountains that go on forever. Allow at least two hours for your self-guided tour (audio guide optional).
If you visit by Sept. 29, don’t miss the Biltmore Gardens Railway exhibit. You don’t have to like trains to be charmed by the sprawling railroads with colorful trains chugging their way past by miniature landmarks.
And you can’t ignore Antler Hill Village & Winery. There are more exhibits, animals and, of course, your free wine tasting included with admission. If that sounds like a lot, it is.
Although you can leave the estate and come back the same day with your ticket, it’s better to stay on the property to maximize your time. Tickets are cheapest ordered ahead. Watch their special offers page for additional deals and discounts.
7. Go for an evening stroll in an arboretum
The North Carolina Arboretum is one of Asheville’s top attractions, and if you can possibly stand any more natural beauty, you should go.
It’s open till 9 p.m. in the summer, though you might want to arrive in the afternoon to catch their exhibits. Through Sept. 2, they’re putting on a “Covered in Color” summer celebration focusing on color theory, nature, art and science.
There’s a parking fee, but admission to the 434-acre public garden is free. The gardens blend artistic touches like topiary and fountains with carefully selected flowers.
Enjoy the changing shades as the sun sets and dusk falls. The best view is from Blue Ridge Court, which, as you’d expect, looks out toward the mountains. It’s a romantic ending to the day and a peaceful way to close out a busy (but relaxing!) weekend.