So, you're going to be cruising into Asheville but don't have too much to spend? No worries. This buzzing, arty hub of the Blue Ridge is a fine place to put together a trip on a budget. You should find it's a cinch to keep costs low while still enjoying the delights of the city centre and its natural surroundings.

    Asheville’s downtown alone comes with farmers’ markets and art galleries that won't break the bank. There's also the wonderful North Carolina nature, which means soaring mountain lookouts and Appalachian hikes. Just be sure to bring along your culture hats and walking boots. Check out our guide to things to do in Asheville on a small budget.


    Craggy Gardens Pinnacle

    Get your bearings in the Blue Ridge

    • Budget
    • Adventure

    The Craggy Gardens Pinnacle hike is a short but sweet dip into the wonders of the NC highlands. It starts around an hour's drive down the wiggling Blue Ridge Parkway, which is famed as one of America's most scenic byways. You'll need to look out for the parking, just past mile marker 364.

    Walkers of all levels can usually complete the Craggy Gardens Pinnacle. It clocks up under 1.5 miles in total length and only 246 ft in vertical gain, making it an accessible and easy path. However, the views are something else. They sweep full circle to encompass high Mount Mitchell, flower-speckled heathland, and the Burnett Reservoir to the south.

    Location: 3641 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Barnardsville NC 28709, USA


    Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center

    Learn about one of America's most famous roadways

    • Budget
    • Families

    The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center sits on the outskirts of Asheville, just where the famous byway crosses big Interstate 40. It's an excellent place to go for an intro into the unique 470-mile drive that bisects this corner of Appalachia. It's also totally free to enter.

    Inside, the younger ones often love the 22-ft-long interactive map of the whole parkway with its popup videos and visuals. You'll also be treated to immersive exhibits that showcase the unique flora and fauna and natural history of the region. A taste of the wild awaits outside, too, where a mile loop walk weaves over some small hills and through pockets of NC woodland.

    Location: 195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC 28803, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 828-298-5330


    photo by Stilfehler (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Montford Area Historic District

    See historic buildings from different periods

    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    The Montford Area Historic District is a delight for lovers of vintage architecture. This 300-acre portion of central Asheville is wedged up to the bends of the French Broad River. You'll find it tucked between famous Five Points a little to the north of the downtown core of the city, offering a real medley of eye-catching building work.

    Most of the houses date from between the 1890s and 1930s, which is when Asheville was in the midst of a money boom. They move elegantly from Arts and Crafts style to Colonial Revival, showcasing redbrick walls and kitschy chimney stacks. Feel free to walk around to your heart's content – it's free.

    Location: Montford Area Historic District, Asheville, NC 28801, USA


    photo by Karen D. Hoffman (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Mount Pisgah

    Conquer the most iconic peak around Asheville

    • Budget
    • Adventure

    Scoring above the Blue Ridge Mountains some 15 miles southwest of Asheville, Mount Pisgah rises to over 5,721 ft. It's one of the most recognisable peaks in the region, and not just because it's topped with a 339-ft television broadcast tower.

    It's also home to an inviting and adventurous hiking path. Things start between mossy hardwood forests of oak and spruce-fir. As the trail creeps upwards, you'll encounter wildflower meadows that look spectacular in springtime with their pockets of Catawba rhododendron. The finale is at a soaring observation deck, from where Cold Mountain and the city of Asheville can be spied out in the distance.

    Location: East Fork, NC 28716, USA


    photo by Kewp (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Appalachian Trail

    A hiking route that surely needs no introduction

    • Budget
    • Adventure

    The Appalachian Trail is one of America's great walks. It counts more than 2,170 miles as it moves from New England up north to the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond. If you're looking to shorten the bucket list, you can get the boots muddy on the famous AT just 30 minutes by car out of Asheville.

    There are lots of day hikes on the Appalachian Trail to launch from the capital of the Blue Ridge. They include the trek over Big Bald and the Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, which straddles the Tennessee state line. Or there's the walking around Hot Springs, such as the expedition to Lover's Leap above the rapids of the French Broad River.


    Moog Music Factory

    Get grooving in downtown Asheville

    • Budget
    • History

    The Moog Music Factory is the home of the famous Moog Synthesiser. Part production facility, part workshop, part historic exhibit of all things MIDI, the institution sits in the heart of Asheville, just off the I-240 on the south side of the Five Points neighbourhood. Music lovers will want to be certain it's on their itinerary.

    Free tours happen Mondays to Fridays, so there's no budget-busting here. But you might be busting a move because the workshop is filled to the brim with old-school synths and music tech. Iconic pieces of interest include the Minimoog – a piece of kit reportedly once used by electronica masterminds Kraftwerk.

    Location: 160 Broadway St, Asheville NC 28801, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday from noon to 5 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +1 828-251-0090


    photo by RadioFan (CC BY 3.0) modified


    East Asheville Tailgate Market

    Sample and shop tasty local foods and produce

    • Shoppers
    • Budget

    Locavore food and selling hardly gets better than down in the East Asheville Tailgate Market. Open once a week on a Friday in the summer months, this buzzing North Carolinian bazaar takes place on the forecourt of the Groce United Methodist Church, about a 6-minute drive from the heart of the city.

    It's a hubbub of chatting residents and visitors who come to shop farm-to-table veg and artisanal produce sourced from across the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond. You'll see stacks of gleaming aubergines, muddy carrots, fresh apples, homebaked bread – the list goes on. It's a tasty way to finish a week in Asheville, that's for sure.

    Location: Groce United Methodist Church, 954 Tunnel Rd, Asheville NC 28805, USA

    Open: May–September: Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 828-458-2270


    Looking Glass Falls

    A romantic pitstop on your Asheville mountain drives

    • Budget
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    The Looking Glass Falls are considered some of the most romantic and handsome waterfalls in the whole region. They’re sat along pretty Highway 276, some 50 minutes' drive southwest of Asheville.

    You'll need to veer off the Henderson Highway and drive the hairpins into the Appalachian Mountains. Somewhere past the Davidson River is a dedicated parking area that links to a short trail that will take you straight to the falls themselves. Excellent for scenic photos, the single-step cascade of water drops 59 ft over rugged rock bluffs into boulder-speckled pools below.

    Location: US-276, Brevard, NC 28712, USA


    River Arts District

    Browse local art galleries and studios

    • History

    The River Arts District is a mile-long stretch along the French Broad River that houses art studios and galleries in several old buildings. It’s not too far from downtown Asheville and is a great place to support artists across different mediums.

    The galleries and artist workshops occupy 23 former industrial and historical buildings. You can find a variety of art, from paintings to ceramics to handmade jewellery. There are no set open times for each of the galleries, but you'll find plenty of open studios with resident artists any time of the year. Some galleries even offer classes and events for those interested in getting involved.

    Location: 3 River Arts Pl, Asheville, NC 28801, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 828-388-3526


    Blue Ridge Parkway

    Take a scenic drive along a section of this 469-mile road

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Photo
    • Group

    The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile drive that begins in Virginia and winds its way through much of western North Carolina. The headquarters and main visitor centre for the parkway are located in Asheville, just 6 miles east of the city centre.

    There are several scenic lookouts, picnic areas, and hiking trails along the road to stop and enjoy. You can start at the visitors centre and drive a local section of the parkway as a day trip. The beautiful mountain scenery along the road is breathtaking any time of the year.

    Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, NC 28803, USA

    Open: 24/7

    Phone: +1 828-298-5330


    Asheville Urban Trail

    Explore the cultural and architectural history of the city

    • Photo
    • Adventure

    The Asheville Urban Trail is a 1.7-mile long city trail that weaves through downtown Asheville. It’s designed to showcase the city’s unique past, with 30 stops marked with a public sculpture that captures an important moment in history.

    The trail is divided into 5 time periods, from the Gilded Age to the present. It starts at Pack Square and circles around downtown before finishing back at the same place. If you want to explore the entire trail and all 30 stops, you should allow about 2 hours of your time. It’s a self-guided tour, but you can download various resources such as maps and an audio guide from the Asheville Urban Trail’s official website.

    Location: 11 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801, USA

    Open: 24/7

    Phone: +1 828-258-6129


    photo by Jason Riedy (CC BY 2.0) modified



    A taste of small-town NC

    • Budget

    Cute and quaint Weaverville sits just along I-26 to the north of Asheville. The drive should take a mere 15 minutes in normal traffic, and it's a pretty one to boot – expect to cross the babbling French Broad River and skirt the grand houses of Montford as you go.

    Once you arrive in Weaverville, it's all about the welcoming small-town vibes. Main Street has sourdough pizza spots and cosy bakeries. There are bookshops next to homegrown barbers and even quirky microbreweries inspired by Appalachia. Weaverville also happens to have a plethora of galleries and studios, which open for free during the town's Art Safaris in spring and autumn.

    Location: Weaverville, North Carolina 28787, USA


    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Take a walk in the woods in the Great Smokies

    • Budget
    • Adventure

    Unlike loads of other national parks in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has no entry fee. That's right, you can cruise westwards to the North Carolina-Tennessee border on I-40 to discover this vast wilderness of Appalachia without spending a dime. The drive takes about 50 minutes. 

    Some of the best entry points from Asheville are Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee Valley and Bryson City. They all offer direct access to the many hiking trails that weave and wiggle into the park on its south side. Sunny? Consider a walk on Clingmans Dome, which boasts one of the region's best lookout platforms. Rainy? Check out the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for exhibits about old mountain life and culture.

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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