In a city where many consider the must-do activity a visit to the Biltmore Estate, (adult admission is $80) it is important to build in some less expensive activities. Here are 10 valuable experiences you can have in greater Asheville for an investment of a half-day and $10 or less.
Tour a Chocolate Factory
Dan and Jael Rattigan met, fell in love, dropped out of graduate school and moved to Costa Rica. They purchased a cacao farm and learned everything there is to know about developing beans for the world chocolate market. As the years passed, they decided to move back to the United States, settling in Asheville and opening the French Broad Chocolate Factory. Their understanding of the farming side of the business drove them to source the best beans and value the fair treatment of growers.
Their factory tours take anywhere from 15 minutes for a quick walkthrough up to an hour with a full explanation of using a bean-to-bar process for making chocolate. In their first small factory, the Rattigans employed DIY methods to roast, mill, refine and temper the beans. Visitors touch and taste the products, enjoy free samples and discounts at the factory store or at the downtown lounge at 10 Pack Square.
To most of us, 18 tons of chocolate sounds like a large quantity. But that annual capacity at the first facility was far exceeded by demand for the product. The new chocolate factory just opened November 17, 2018 and there are plans to open a creamery.
Cost: $3 for a 15-minute factory walk through, $6 for a 30-minute tour, $12 for an hour-long tour
Go on a Mini-Road Trip
Billed as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway’s scenic, hairpin turns connect the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Rewarding as the entire trip becomes to drivers, no one needs to tour all 469 miles to get a sense of the scenic wonders these mountains reveal.
Drive northward from the U.S. 70 entrance in East Asheville and enjoy a 40-mile round trip that offers a series of scenic lookouts, a unique museum and one of the region’s favorite short hikes to a spectacular vantage point.
The Folk Art Center (milepost 382) features displays of crafts common to the area. Guides will explain the handiwork, but rules here prohibit photography inside the building. Starting in March each spring, the center hosts daily art demonstrations in the lobby.
Back on the road, drive northbound another 18 miles and you’ll climb to more than 1 mile above sea level and park at Craggy Pinnacle trailhead (milepost 362). From there, it’s a 1.4-mile round trip hike that is moderately strenuous in spots, but ends with a summit that provides 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge mountains, including Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
Happily, there are no tolls on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If your car gets at least 20 MPG on the mountain road, you should complete the round trip in about 2 gallons.
Cost: 2 gallons of gas (~$2.71/gallon of regular gas)
Explore the River Arts District
Not long ago, the area now known as the River Arts District was a rundown industrial area best avoided in a typical Asheville tour. These days, 22 renovated buildings host into studios with working artists who happily describe their work to visitors.
The area hosts special events to draw visitors, but artists create on their own schedules, so it is possible to wander into the area on a weekday morning and watch the work unfold. Naturally, the artists sell their creations. Most will pack your purchases for travel or shipment home.
Parking in the district is free, but be aware that sidewalks are not available. Use caution moving from studio to studio.
See How Beer Gets Made
Asheville has the highest proportion of beer-makers in any U.S. city, with 50 breweries scattered around the city. Many of these breweries offer tours but for a less expensive view of the local brewing industry, visit Wicked Weed Brewing’s BrewPub, where tours are free. Consult their website for times and procedures. You must be 21, wear closed-toe shoes, and be among the first 10 people to sign up for a given tour time. Those who make the list get a commemorative glass and three free samples.
Watch Master Glassblowers at Work
In a city that brews so much beer, it probably makes sense that there would be a glass-making operation worth visiting. Lexington Glassworks in Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood offers free demonstrations of the process. Seats cater to those who want to linger over a cold beverage, or, on some days, a musical performance alongside the glassblowing. Take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to spend some time observing skilled artisans at work.
Go on a Self-Guided Downtown Walking Tour
Asheville walking tours are available at reasonable prices, but most do not qualify for our $10 maximum.
If you own a smartphone, check out the Urban Trail tour at ExploreAsheville.com. Download the free audio guide that traces the route, which begins in front of Pack Place in the center of downtown Asheville. Each of the 30 stations is marked with a piece of street art and features a story from the city’s history.
See Sharks Feed at Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab
This first inland aquarium in North Carolina affiliates with similar facilities in places like Key Largo, Key West and Biosphere2 in Arizona. Staff members perform research, so operating hours shift to accommodate the traveling staff.
Public shows are staged Wednesday-Saturday from 1-5 p.m., with Tuesdays reserved for special group tours. The daily schedule includes reptile feedings at 3:30 p.m. The facility is in Hendersonville, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Asheville.
Cost: $5 for adults, $4 for children 2-4 and seniors over 75, children under 2 enter free.
Pilot a Mars Rover
Another favorite with families is the Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS). Visitors to the museum encounter a fossil site, a hall of minerals, and a large exhibit dedicated to weather and climate. You and your family can also pilot the AMOS Mars Rovers around the museum or experience its journey on a virtual reality headset.
Cost: $8 for adults, and $7 for seniors, students, children and military personnel.
Tour the Historic Grove Park Inn
The Biltmore Estate might be Asheville’s most famous building and grounds, but the historic Grove Park Inn on Macon Avenue also attracts much attention. Guests can take a free, 45-minute guided tour Wednesday-Saturday at 9 a.m. and learn about the famous guests, arts & crafts style of furniture and construction of the first phase of the resort. If the high-end room rates conflict with your budget, join the 20 person tour for $10.
Explore Biltmore Village
A visit to the Biltmore Estate is expensive, but it costs nothing to wander Biltmore Village. This area started as a place for the many servants and staff to set up offices and living quarters. Today, the tree-lined streets and historic buildings make for an interesting diversion. Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect renowned for his work on New York City’s Central Park, had a hand in designing Biltmore Village. Make your entrance in late morning, enjoy some shopping, then visit one of the area’s popular restaurants.