Unexpected Destinations: Asheville, NC

Check out art, architecture, and more in North Carolina’s coolest small city

Looking for an unexpected destination for your next vacay? Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has cemented itself as one of the coolest LGBTQ-friendly cities in North Carolina. Beyond art and architecture, discover shopping, dining, and fun experiences year-round. Plus, you’ll get to support queer-owned bed and breakfasts, galleries, and restaurants. You’ll love discovering microbreweries, farm-to-table dining, and a kick-ass bar scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to dance in North Carolina’s biggest gay club. Asheville is a destination worthy of your dream destination list.

Galleries & museums

Asheville’s mountain scenery has drawn artists to the area for decades. Many of these artists loved this unexpected destination so much they decided to stay. They opened studios, galleries, and shops to showcase their creativity. They’ve turned the city into a playground for art-lovers.

With beautiful architecture and dozens of galleries, Asheville is often called the “Paris of the South.” Within half a mile of Pack Square—the city’s central park—there are more than 30 fine art studios and galleries. 

Downtown Asheville Art District hosts a walking gallery tour on the first weekend of each month. From April to November you can meet local gallery owners while getting to know Asheville’s eclectic downtown scene. Don’t miss Blue Spiral 1, Asheville Gallery of Art, and Lexington Glassworks, home to beautiful blown glass (and a beer bar!).

Explore even more galleries in Asheville’s River Arts District, south of downtown. The site dates back to the 1980s, when artists began opening studios in the industrial buildings along the river. Today, the district houses more than 200 studios, and many are open to visitors. Guests are welcome to admire ceramics, paintings, jewelry, photographs, and more.

After years of anticipation, the Asheville Art Museum will open in the summer of 2019. The museum will showcase a permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century American art as well as special exhibitions. Appropriately, the museum will showcase North Carolina artists.

Iconic architecture

Many of Asheville’s buildings are works of art themselves. You could fill an entire Instagram story with unexpected destinations and architecture. The Biltmore Estate, the most famous building in the area, was built in 1895 by the Vanderbilt family. The Gilded Age extravaganza is lavish. It’s based on the Châteauesque style popularized in France’s Loire Valley between the 15th and 17th centuries. The grounds are as stunning as the building itself. The estate hosts the Biltmore Festival of Flowers each summer, when the gardens are at their most spectacular.

While the Biltmore is the crown jewel, you’ll discover architectural gems throughout the city. The Art Deco architecture downtown makes the city look like a 1920s time capsule. Make time to take a self-guided walking tour of Asheville’s architecture. The tour leads guests past the city’s most beautiful buildings. Start off by checking out the brilliantly pink City Building. North Carolina’s tallest skyscraper, the Jackson Building is a must-see. Also noteworthy is the Flatiron Building, a miniature version of the NYC landmark by the same name.

Boutiques & bookstores 

Thankfully for shoppers, many of these iconic facades house boutiques that are perfect for retail therapy. Asheville has it all, from independent shops to major brands. The tree-shaded streets are lined with vintage clothing stores, craft shops, and charming bookstores. This unexpected destination will encourage you to shop until your suitcase zippers threaten to burst open. The most beloved bookstore in town is Malaprop’s, an independent bookstore and café that opened in 1982.

Looking for a newer bookshop worth checking out? Firestorm Books & Coffee offers visitors a vegan coffee shop and popular LGBTQ gathering spot. The shop sells a wide selection of gay magazines and books.

Asheville Bee Charmer sells raw honey and a variety of products made with local honey. These only-in-Asheville products are sure to add a sweet burst of flavor to your home cooking. Souvenirs from this local boutique will wow your friends when you return home.

After dark 

After shopping and gallery hopping, the fun and fruity cocktails of this unexpected destination will call your name. Downtown Asheville is home to an array of LGBTQ-friendly bars. One of the classics is O. Henry’s, often called the oldest gay bar in the state.

Then there’s Scandals, which holds the title of the largest LGBTQ club in North Carolina. The club has three separate spaces: Scandals Nightclub, Club Eleven on Grove, and Boiler Room. The bar hosts drag shows every Friday.

The Odditorium hosts a variety of parties that are popular with the LGBTQ community. The space hosts live music most evenings, so don’t be surprised if your evening at The Odditorium turns into a dance party. On the first Wednesday of the month, the gallery-meets-music-venue hosts a popular drag show called Party Foul. In the warmer months, the outdoor patio offers a sunny day hot spot.

With a wealth of things to do in Asheville—from art to architecture to after-dark fun—an unexpected getaway to this North Carolina city is destined to become much more.

Find hidden gems in Asheville, NC.