Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Asheville, NC

  • Published 2022/11/15

The city of Asheville is a spectacular place in North Carolina where you can enjoy an unforgettable adventure without blowing your budget.

Asheville, the seat of Buncombe County, allows you to experience the great outdoors in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers.

There’s also a rich history and culture to uncover in the city that was once a part of the Cherokee nation before the arrival of the Europeans.

People started settling here as early as 1785 after the American Revolution.

In 1797, the settlement was renamed Asheville to honor North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe.

Like any other city, Asheville has its ups and downs.

However, it was able to preserve its historical architectural wonders.

It offers a thriving music and vibrant arts scene in the present, which you can enjoy at no cost.

Read more and discover the free things to do in Asheville, North Carolina!

Wander through Biltmore Village

View of Biltmore Village

Nolichuckyjake /

Recognized as “Asheville’s premier shopping district,” Biltmore Village is a place to give you a rewarding shopping experience and satisfy your cravings with delectable food.

Otherwise, if you want to do a lot of sightseeing, you can explore the sights and sounds of this site, resembling a small English village designed by world-renowned architects.

View of Biltmore Village

Dennis Joslin /

Biltmore Village is located outside the entrance gate of the iconic Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room castle and America’s largest home on One Lodge Street.

However, you must pay an admission fee to enter the estate and estate grounds.

The village started as a “company town” and home to Biltmore Estate workers, a community with its church and a railroad depot turned into a famous restaurant.

Aside from local boutiques, popular shops, and dining spots, you can also tour craft and art galleries at Biltmore Village.

View of Biltmore Village

Dee Browning /

Follow the Asheville Urban Trail

Following the Asheville Urban Trail is an excellent way to learn more about the past of the mountain city and its prominent and remarkable characters.

Asheville Urban Trail consists of 30 sculptural trail stations that will give you a glimpse of the crucial events that shaped the city.

You may begin your two-hour urban trail journey at Pack Square Park, at 1 Court Plaza, where many downtown festivals and events occur.

Likewise, several families gather there for an excellent time.

Pack Square Park was named after George Pack in 1900 for his land donation.

You’ll see the first marker called “Walk Into History” there.

Visit Asheville’s travel site for the interactive map and audio tour materials to guide you on your Asheville Urban Trail experience.

Discover Native Plants at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville

View of Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Jill Lang /

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville is an urban sanctuary that preserves and promotes the native plants and habitats of the Southern Appalachians.

Spanning ten acres next to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the botanical gardens were previously called the University Botanical Gardens and are kept alive through volunteers’ efforts.

Take a closer look at the wildflowers and native plants as you follow the half-mile trail that loops through the Botanical Gardens at Asheville.

View of Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Gingo Scott /

According to the sanctuary, peak wildflower blooms are recorded in mid-April and mid-August but may change depending on the weather conditions.

While admission is free, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville encourages donations and membership to keep the gardens open.

You can also show support through the Garden Path Gift Shop, where you’ll find nature-themed cards, shirts, garden tools, native plant books, and more to buy as souvenirs.

Take a closer step at nature by visiting the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, located along W.T. Weaver Boulevard.

Catch a Theater Performance at Hazel Robinson Amphitheater

Thanks to Montford Park Players, you can experience excellent dramatic entertainment free of charge at the outdoor Hazel Robinson Amphitheater.

Montford Park Players is the longest-running Shakespeare theater company in North Carolina that performs classic plays during the summer months.

Hazel Robinson founded the organization in 1973 with the presentation of William Shakespeare’s five-act comedy “As You Like It” in Montford Park.

After a decade, the city constructed the Montford Amphitheatre, inaugurated with the performance of the play “Romeo and Juliet.”

In time for Montford Park Players’ 25th anniversary, the amphitheater was renamed “Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre” to honor the organization’s founder.

If you’re touring the city in the summer, catch Montford Park Players perform at Asheville’s premier outdoor live entertainment venue on Gay Street.

See Local Artists at River Arts District

View of River Arts District

Fotoluminate LLC /

River Arts District is a must-visit site in Asheville for people who want to immerse in a creative atmosphere or find inspiration for their projects.

Over 200 artists work at this creative hub situated along the French Broad River, one of the five oldest rivers in the world.

Artists began to occupy the mile-long section in 1985; years later, in 2005, the area was officially called River Arts District or RAD.

View of River Arts District

Fotoluminate LLC /

By touring this vibrant neighborhood, you can meet and observe local artists and visit their working studios and galleries.

You can also join workshops and browse artworks like pottery, painting, photography, jewelry, and many more.

River Arts District is divided into five sections, where you can check out multiple studios in a former tannery, a cotton mill, and other former industrial and historical buildings.

You may catch free trolley rides passing along these 23 buildings that compose River Arts District.

Just wear comfortable shoes for your tour!

View of River Arts District

aceshot1 /

Check Out the Grovewood Gallery

Grovewood Village is an 11-acre scenic property along Grovewood Road that was previously a site for Biltmore Industries’ weaving and woodworking operations.

Grovewood Village is located 2.8 miles from downtown and adjacent to the Omni Grove Park Inn.

Nowadays, it’s a popular art and crafts destination where you can tour two museums, working artist studios, and the Grovewood Gallery.

Spanning 9,000 square feet, the gallery was built in 1992 and focused on fine American art and craft.

You’ll appreciate the beauty of the jewelry, textiles, pottery, and more works by artists and craftspeople of the United States.

In its second-floor showroom, you’ll be amazed at the selections of handmade studio furniture and accessories created by local and regional artisans.

Grovewood Gallery also showcases the skills and talents of the artists through special events and live craft demonstrations, so check out their calendar section when you plan your visit.

Stop by Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum

Front view of  Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum

Jane023, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to learn a bit of history, go to Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum of Grovewood Village.

This one-room museum will show you how Biltmore Industries evolved from a humble craft education program into an enterprise with an outstanding reputation in America’s craft and textile history.

An antique four-harness loom is the centerpiece of the Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum, which also features other memorabilia like letters and photographs.

From April until November, you may catch a free tour offered on a first-come, first-served basis that will let you dig deeper into the enterprise’s history.

This free guided tour also includes a stop at the historic Dye House at Grovewood Village.

Find a Unique Car at Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum

Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum is another attraction worth visiting in Grovewood Village, especially if you’re a fan of antique and vintage automobiles.

Asheville entrepreneur Harry Blomberg founded this museum in 1966 after he purchased Biltmore Industries in 1953.

From 1913 to 1959, Blomberg’s vehicles are displayed at Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum.

Built in 1923, the museum building originally contained the enterprise’s weaving shop with 40 looms.

Hence, the cars are not the only highlights of the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum.

Look up to find the quotes inscribed by a manager named Fred Seely on the overhead beams and chandeliers to inspire his employees in the past.

Marvel at the Art and Architecture of the Basilica of St. Lawrence

Architecture of The Basilica of St. Lawrence

aceshot1 /

The Basilica of St. Lawrence is one of the city’s most magnificent architectural wonders, which features the largest self-supporting elliptical dome in North America.

Completed in 1909, this Spanish Baroque Revival masterpiece is the work of Rafael Gustavino, a renowned Spanish architect and engineer, with the help of Richard Sharp Smith.

Together, they had also worked on Biltmore House in the late 1800s.

Architecture of The Basilica of St. Lawrence

Warren LeMay from Cincinnati, OH, United States, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the church’s designated visiting hours, you can take a self-guided tour inside the Basilica of St. Lawrence along Haywood Street.

The solid brick structure is built without wood or steel on a stone foundation, while the walls, floors, ceilings, and pillars are made of tiles and other masonry elements.

The interior of the Basilica of St. Lawrence is just as outstanding as its exterior, adorned with stained glass windows and religious art pieces.

Architecture of The Basilica of St. Lawrence

Paul Adams Photography /

Find More Historic Buildings along the Historic James Vester Miller Trail

James Vester Miller was an African American master craftsman responsible for many of the best historic buildings of the city during its Golden Age.

The structures he built range from stunning churches to commercial buildings and residences.

To appreciate the beauty of his intricate works, you may embark on the Historic James Vester Miller Trail.

The trail’s first stop is at St. Matthias Episcopal Church on Dundee Street, while the last station is at Hopkins Chapel AME Zion Church on College Place.

The Historic James Vester Miller Trail mainly lies on the city’s “East End,” an African-American neighborhood near Pack Square.

Enjoy a Moog Factory Tour at the Moog Store

Music enthusiasts can visit the Moog Store on Broadway Street, giving free workshops, performances, and tours of the Moog Factory.

The Moog Store is a portal to the factory, in which outer walls are decorated with synthesizer murals.

Here, you’ll learn more about electronic musical instrument pioneer Bob Moog and how he changed the course of music when he introduced his invention called the Moog Synthesizer in 1964.

Moog Music, the leading manufacturer of analog synthesizers, aspires to keep its legacy alive.

It invites everyone to step inside the Moog Store for a hands-on experience with Moog synthesizers and other innovative instruments.

Explore the world of electronic sound at the Moog Store and Moog Factory.

Learn Arts and Culture at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

Front view of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

Nolichuckyjake /

Founded in 1993, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is dedicated to showcasing the legacy of Black Mountain College and its impact on the history of education and the arts.

Black Mountain College dates back to 1933, described as “fundamentally different” from other educational institutions.

It hosts rotating exhibitions that spotlight the works of the alums and faculty and selected local and regional artists.

Over 4,000 objects make up Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center’s permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other art forms.

You can locate Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center on College Street to learn more about Black Mountain College’s remarkable impact and look closely at its museum collection.

Take a Reflective Stroll at Riverside Cemetery

View of Riverside Cemetery

Gingo Scott /

Riverside Cemetery is more than a final resting place.

It’s also a peaceful place to take a unique perspective into the city’s past and reflect on the lives of prominent figures interred here.

Designed as a garden-style cemetery, Riverside Cemetery encompasses 87 acres of landscaped grounds in the Montford Historic District.

View of Riverside Cemetery

Gingo Scott /

The Asheville Cemetery Company established the cemetery in 1885.

In 1952, the city acquired the cemetery on Birch Street.

Inside, you can walk through 3.5 miles of paved roads and visit the grave sites of some of the most notable residents of Asheville.

One of these residents is the prominent author Thomas Wolfe, author of the classic novels Look Homeward, Angel, and You Can’t Go Home Again.

During April, you can also view spring blossoms at Riverside Cemetery, home to several flowering trees and bushes.

Explore Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center

Of course, you can’t miss the remarkable Blue Ridge Parkway, touted as “America’s Favorite Scenic Drive,” accessible from Asheville.

Before you bask in the astounding mountain vistas, you may come to Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center first.

Here, you’ll discover fascinating facts and stories about the Parkway.

Browse the exhibits focusing on the region’s natural and cultural resources and recreational opportunities.

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center opened in 2008 on Hemphill Knob Road.

View Appalachian Arts and Crafts at Folk Arts Center

Folk Arts Center

Folk Arts Center is another famous attraction of Blue Ridge Parkway that centers on the Southern Appalachians’ traditional and contemporary craft.

It houses the headquarters of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, founded in 1930.

It is dedicated to cultivating and giving makers opportunities to build and maintain their creative livelihood through different programs.

The Folk Arts Center was opened through the combined efforts of the guild, National Park Service, and Appalachian Regional Commission.

You can enter for free year-round except for certain holidays since 1980.

View Folk Arts Center

Here, you’ll see the guild’s century-old Allanstand Craft Shop, three exquisite exhibition galleries, a library, and a Blue Ridge Parkway information desk and bookstore.

Established in 1895, the Allanstand Craft Shop is America’s oldest craft shop, featuring jewelry, textiles, pottery, and other crafts created by guild members.

Southern Highland Craft Guild hosts daily craft demonstrations at Folk Art Center during selected months.

You can visit the Folk Art Center at Milepost 382 on Blue Ridge Parkway, east Asheville.

Folk Arts Center View

EWY Media /

Final Thoughts

If you need a rejuvenating vacation, plan a trip to Asheville that you can enjoy even on a tight budget.

You can embark on many activities, and there’s always something for anyone visiting the city.

Save this list of free things to do in Asheville, North Carolina, for your next budget-friendly adventure!

© All rights reserved.