Presented in partnership with Explore Asheville.
What’s the best thing about Asheville? The town itself (cool boutiques, great bars and restaurants, lively music venues, rich cultural offerings) or its natural setting (gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, forests, trails, and streams)? Both, of course. And while you can visit without a specific plan and explore Downtown, the River Arts District, West Asheville, and surrounding Buncombe County and see where your curiosity leads you, these special festivals and events are worth planning a trip around.
Downtown After 5
Spring in Asheville is a time for rejuvenation and reconnecting with the community. On the third Friday of the month, from April to September, Lexington Avenue turns up the volume with free concerts by local, regional, and national bands. The streets are blocked off to cars, and local beer flows and food vendors serve snacks — to make dancing in the street even more of a party.
Every year, spring makes its grand debut at Biltmore Estate — George Vanderbilt’s magnificent 250-room French Renaissance chateau, the largest home in America. Nearly 72,000 tulips in a rainbow of colors bloom in the Walled Garden, part of a springtime celebration that evolves as the weather warms with yellow forsythia and daffodils. Later in the season, azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel fill the meandering pathways that lead to the boathouse. Another blooming exhibition at Biltmore is "Monet & Friends: Life, Light and Color," on through July 10, a dazzling exhibition of the groundbreaking work of the Impressionists that visitors experience through immersive, large-scale, still and moving images projected in a large gallery space with accompanying music and commentary. Monet, Renoir, Cassat, Cézanne, Degas — the gang’s all here, and visitors are welcome to walk, sit, and even lie on the gallery floor to explore the painterly wonders.
Asheville Symphony Orchestra Concerts
Formed in 1960 by local volunteer musicians, ASO has been a vital part of the city’s music history and artist community. (There are even two local beers crafted in their honor: The Righteous and Barbaric Souls Imperial Stout by Burial Beer Co. and Wolfgang 1756 Vienna lager by Highland Brewing.) Every season, the symphony conducts seven masterwork symphonies, along with free concerts in Pack Square Park. This year’s new series, “ALT ASO Flexible Chamber Orchestra Series,” includes performances at many locations around Asheville, among them The Orange Peel, Asheville Art Museum, and Highland Brewing (where you know what you just have to order).
Hola Asheville Festival
On Saturday, June 11, Pack Square Park comes alive with Latin American rhythms through live music, dance, pageantry, artisans and vendors. The one-day event is free and open to the public.
Chow Chow Asheville Food Festival
Come one, come all for the second annual immersive culinary festival that celebrates the unique flavors of Southern Appalachia with flights and bites, hands-on workshops, and intimate, five-course roundtable dinners. The food-focused festival and its 30+ events offer a deep dive into the area’s diverse edible valleys, encouraging dialogue about the issues that affect the food industry, including food injustice, climate change, and racial inequality. The festival kicks off June 23 with three weekends of culinary events: June 23-26, August 4-7, and September 8-11.
Asheville Ideas Festival
It’s no surprise that Asheville is a destination for creatives. (There must be something in that invigorating and inspiring mountain air.) This year’s inaugural event will see leaders in arts, sciences, and industry converge on the UNC Asheville campus for four days of thought-provoking discussions. Among the participants this year are Gandhi Peace Award winners, environmental scientists, and Pulitzer-Prize winning authors and historians, and vaccine innovators.
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
The longest continuously run festival in the country — going strong since 1928! — celebrates its 95th anniversary with nightly performances by hundreds of musicians, dancers, and storytellers who preserve the performance traditions of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. High-energy hand-clapping and tap dancing, toe-tapping rhythms of Bluegrass and century-old ballad singalongs, rhythmic storytelling of the arts and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains: Just try to sit still through it. The festival takes place from August 4-6, with tickets starting at $20.
The River Arts District celebrates Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans, with a free, four-day block party celebrating Black entrepreneurs and business owners in Asheville through live music, games, and food. The 2022 lineup includes a lip sync battle, Roots Reveal, and Xtreme Hip-Hop Aerobics Class on Saturday, and yoga, a seafood boil, and a community awards presentation on Sunday. From June 17-19.
Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands
Asheville’s Olympics of art fairs celebrates its 75th year with more than 200 artisans selected by the Southern Highland Guild showcasing and selling their mixed media artwork and crafts made from clay, fiber, glass, leather, metal, paper, and wood. The festival takes place July 21-24, with live demonstrations and opportunities to mingle with the artisans. Admission is $10.
Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius
After the “Monet & Friends” show, Biltmore ends its three-year Legends of Art & Innovation series at its Amherst at Deerpark location with a bang: a multi-media, multi-sensory immersion in the world of Da Vinci, the groundbreaking inventor, scientist, philosopher, backwards-writer, and, oh yes, artist of the Renaissance. The show is on from July 7 through February 23, 2023.
Asheville’s local art community is the heartbeat of the city and its tight knit community. LEAF Global Arts’ free event in Pack Square Park is a two-day celebration of local artists, as well as Asheville’s diverse communities, creatives, and families. Highlights are 200+ music performances (soul, funk, and R&B), 70 culinary and craft vendors, a 5K race on Saturday, and the nightly afterparties hosted by Asheville Music Hall. Bring a blanket and camp out for the afternoon to soak in the spirit.
Head just outside Asheville into the surrounding state and national parks and forests to get up close to the leaves changing in all their green, red, orange, and gold splendor. A ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway is an ideal place to start and take in the panoramic valley views from the scenic lookout, but detours into Pisgah National Forest or Chimney Rock State Park for a different perspective on the kaleidoscope.
Blue Ridge Pride Festival
Fall really is the most colorful season in Asheville, especially during the Pride Festival, which brings together more than 10,000 attendees to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. More than 150 vendors and organizations fill Pack Square Park to provide resources and support to help promote social justice and equality for all.
A celebration of African-Caribbean culture and crafts, with dancing, music (West African drums, gospel, reggae, funk, soul), food, and costumes galore. The event is produced by The YMI Cultural Center to spotlight and promote Black-owned businesses. September 2-4 at The Block on South Market Street.
ASAP Farm Tours
The annual festival encourages guests to get their hands dirty and learn how food is grown and raised through guided tours, foraging classes, and tastings. The varied locations include fruit and vegetable farms, creameries, animal farms, vineyards and flower orchards. The event takes place Sept. 17-18.
See the Holiday Lights
To kick off the holiday season, Biltmore, America’s largest home, hosts Candlelit Christmas Evenings, decking itself out with more than 100 trees embellished with 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 twinkly lights glimmering throughout the mansion and the estate’s seemingly mile-high Norwegian spruce trees. The fireplaces roar, and carols ringate throughout. See more Winter Lights at North Carolina Arboretum, when the woods and garden are transformed into multicolored, glowing landscapes.
Witness Grove Park Inn’s Gingerbread House Competition
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the largest gingerbread house competition in America, held at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Competition is strict: The entrants must be at least 75 percent gingerbread and 100 percent edible. The prize is great: up to $25,000. And everyone wants a bite of the action: The event is broadcast on The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, and Food Network.
Santa on the Chimney
Santa may wiggle his jolly body down countless chimneys around the world, but the best may be when the man in the red suit clambers down the largest chimney of all, 315-foot Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park. Watch Santa scale the monolith from nearby trails, including the new Skyline Trail. Held Saturdays, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., December 3 and 10, and January 1, 2023.
New Years Day Hikes
Kickstart the new year immersed in the beautiful outdoors on a free guided New Year’s Day hike in North Carolina’s National Parks, including Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills. The parks and rangers offer this every year, and a day in the fresh air is a better idea than any late-night, early-morning afterparty.
Asheville Restaurant Week
Farm-to-table dining is not just a trendy buzzword around here: It’s the heart and soul of Asheville’s culinary scene. The area is home to many farmers and growers who help feed hundreds of independent restaurants, 20 local markets, and an ever-growing craft brew and local wine scene. During January’s Restaurant Week, dozens of restaurants prepare special menus showcasing the best of Asheville’s harvest.