Asheville is a small mountain city with lots of action year-round! Spending time outdoors, exploring the farm-to-table food scene, and sampling craft beers at the many breweries are some of the best Asheville activities, and many local festivals showcase the highlights of Asheville’s unique culture.
Do you love multicultural events? Would you prefer spending your time learning about Southern Appalachian arts and crafts? Or have you been reading all about Asheville’s excellent breweries, local food movement, and James Beard award-winning restaurants? There’s a festival for that!
When it comes to festivals in Asheville, there is something for everyone, from free live music and a “laugh-your-Asheville-off” comedy festival to foodie-friendly events and a parade of merfolk that will delight the little ones in your family. And if you’re visiting Asheville during the holiday season, there are tons of festivals and events to attend!
I’ve compiled a list of Asheville’s best festivals and events. Many of them have been around for years, while others are new. Some are small but well attended by locals, while others are so unique to Asheville that they also attract a crowd of out-of-towners.
Ashevillians love to take their parties and celebrations to the streets, and there are always talks about new events. While there is much room for improvement, and I’d love to see a big weekend-long festival that takes over downtown, as Belle Chere used to do (we’re talking about a festival with 300,000 people in the busiest years!), I think our festival scene is eclectic and fun.
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The Best Asheville Festivals and Events
1. Dance Your Worries Away at the Goombay Festival in Pack Square
Goombay is a fun weekend-long festival held every year in September at Pack Square, Asheville’s iconic downtown park. Goombay takes its name from the music of Black and Caribbean people and celebrates Black culture in all its expressions.
When it comes to live music in Asheville, the festival offers all kinds of performances and chances to dance the day away to everything from West African drumming sessions to gospel, reggae, funk, and soul music.
Vendors offer cool clothing, CBD products, and yummy food and drinks. Think jerk chicken, oxtail stew, and goat curry. You’ll see lots of families having a blast dancing and enjoying themselves.
Goombay is organized by the YMI Cultural Center in The Block, a downtown area that once was the Black American cultural and financial center in Western North Carolina.
The Block is just a few blocks from Pack Square, so take some time during the festival to visit it. Take a look at the mural in Triangle Park, one of Asheville’s most unique urban parks. The Block now hosts many businesses that honor its legacy.
GrindFest is another weekend-long block party-style celebration in the Rivers Arts District (RAD), which celebrates Asheville’s many successful Black entrepreneurs and business owners. Be sure to take some time to explore the RAD, which is home to breweries, restaurants, and artist studios.
2. Travel the World without Leaving the City at One of the LEAF Festivals
The LEAF Global Arts Foundation hosts three super-popular annual festivals, combining artistic performances from around the world, educational activities and workshops, and beautiful mountain and lake views. The LEAF Festival is one of the best Asheville festivals and a favorite family-friendly activity for locals.
The free LEAF Downtown takes place either downtown or by the French Broad River, and it’s one of the best Asheville events in the summer. It features performances from local and international artists and showcases young artists from LEAF’s school and summer camp programs.
The spring LEAF Retreat is an invitation to 1,500 people only, and the fall Leaf Festival is open to 6,000 people. Both last Friday to Saturday and take place around beautiful Lake Eden. There are options for tent and park camping and cabins for rent.
The different stages and pavilions host dozens of daily performances, classes, workshops, and other cultural activities. Definitely get your tickets in advance because they often sell out.
Do you prefer to attend outdoor festivals in the summer, when the chances of perfect camping weather are greater? Then, check out the annual, magical, community-building Firefly Gathering!
3. Check Out These Other Fun Asheville Festivals for International Vibes
The Asheville Greek Festival has been around for over 30 years, and it’s one of the most delicious of the Asheville fall festivals, featuring everything Greek – from music performances to fantastic food. It takes place at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the historic neighborhood of Montford.
Hola Asheville is one of my family’s favorite Asheville festivals because it celebrates Latino culture, and we can speak mucho Español! It happens downtown in June, and we love everything, from the food and the featured vendors to dancing cumbia and merengue while cooling down at Splashville (Pack Square’s summer splashing pad).
In the fall, the HardLox Jewish Food and Heritage Festival celebrates another part of our family’s heritage. It’s fun to spend the day eating excellent food and pastries, enjoying music performances, and learning about Jewish culture. You can return home with a souvenir with your name written in Hebrew!
Do you want more? Check out Waynesville’s Folkmoot International Dance and Music Festival, which has been celebrating international cultures since 1984.
4. Celebrate the Music of the Appalachians all Summer Long with These Two Asheville Festivals
Do you enjoy the hand-clapping, toe-tapping rhythms of bluegrass or the explosive energy of clogging? Do you want to learn more about the cultural heritage of the Southern Appalachians? Then, these two Asheville festivals are a must!
The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is one of the best opportunities to listen to live music in Asheville, featuring musicians, dancers, and storytellers that celebrate and preserve the richness of our mountain culture. This Asheville music festival takes place in the summer at the UNCA Lipinsky Hall, and the tickets are very affordable.
Shindig on the Green is a recurring summer (July and August) event held every Saturday at Pack Square Downtown. It starts when the sun goes down and features on-stage artists and spontaneous performances.
Folks are welcome to bring their instruments and play in the park. This fun, interactive Asheville event is very welcoming. I still remember how much I laughed participating in my first (and last!) clog-dancing class while wearing flip-flops.
There are vendors and food trucks, but you can also bring take-out food from one of downtown Asheville’s restaurants or order an Appalachian Mountainside picnic basket from The Rhu!
5. Check Out These Other Downtown Summer Festivals and Events
Downtown After 5 (DTA5) happens on the third week of the month from June to September on Lexington Ave. It offers free live music and many options for food and drink. Lexington is an award-winning street full of interesting shops, so don’t miss the chance to walk around it.
The Drum Circle takes place every Friday night at Pritchard Park, one of the best Asheville urban parks to people-watch. It’s open to anyone who wants to play drums (bring your own) and dance. There are many great options to eat around Pritchard park – from the S&W Market (downtown’s only food court) to Tupelo Honey, one of the best places to eat Southern food in Asheville.
Pack Square is also home to Asheville’s Independence Day celebration. The festival starts around 6:00 pm and ends with a fireworks display. In addition, there are live performances and food trucks. Lake Julian also features a Fourth of July festival with fireworks.
Finally, Juneteenth is celebrated at Pack Square Park with a parade and a Freedom Festival.
6. Immerse Yourself in the Southern Appalachia Food Culture at Chow Chow
Asheville was recently chosen by TripAdvisor as one of the best 10 food destinations in the United States. Attending one or all of the Chow Chow culinary events is a great opportunity to better understand why Asheville’s food scene is what it is.
Beginning in 2023, the organization is returning to its original long-weekend festival model and will offer experiences throughout the day and night. Tickets for the tasting events, chefs dinners, and various workshops go on sale in April.
This year the event will take place September 7-10, 2023 and will feature an incredible line-up of dinners, workshops, performances, tastings, talks, and demonstrations. The event will be held across the city of Asheville but anchored in Pack Square Park by its main stage and makers market.
Chow Chow Food + Cultural Festival is led by a community of chefs, makers, artists, farmers, storytellers, and entrepreneurs. The event will focus on the culinary and creative talent, history, and traditions of Southern Appalachia.
Asheville culture is all about local, so besides featuring Asheville’s best chefs and restaurants and the farms where their food is sourced from, Chow Chow also welcomes vendors so you can buy locally-made goods. So if you enjoy eating good food and learning where it’s coming from, this festival is for you!
7. Explore Asheville’s Beer and Food Scene at These Week-Long Events
Two of the things Asheville is famous for are food and beer. So, as a natural result, two annual week-long events highlight these popular attractions.
Asheville Restaurant Week happens every January, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to discover the city’s food scene, try new restaurants, or just change your usual rotations if you are a local. The participating restaurants offer special menus and deals. Restaurant hopping is one of the best Asheville activities to do in the winter!
Asheville (aka Beer City USA) has more breweries per capita than any other city in the United States (an average of 28.1 breweries per 100,000 residents). It also offers about 100 local beers.
Asheville Beer Week is a celebration of beer that will satisfy beer lovers worldwide. It happens in May (the peak blooming time of many native flowering plants and trees and a wonderful time to visit), and you can expect tastings, informative classes, workshops, special offers, and lots of beer!
8. Shop the Best Local Arts and Crafts at These Events
The Big Crafty happens twice a year in July (Pack Square) and December (Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville). This is one of the best festivals in Asheville, offering an inclusive space for all artists to showcase and sell their work.
This Asheville event has been voted as WNC Best Arts and Crafts Fair by Mountain Xpress every year since its creation in 2008, and it’s a great chance to buy some unique Asheville souvenirs.
The Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands is also a two-occurrence event (July and October) that takes place at Harrah’s Cherokee Center and features 200 craftspeople.
Asheville Art in the Park is another excellent arts festival that happens on three Saturdays each June and October in Pack Square and showcases the work of the most renowned artists in the area.
You’ll love accessing the local arts of crafts scene all at once in one place while supporting artists, learning about the history of crafts in Western North Carolina, and having the chance to connect with the artists and, in some cases, watch them at work.
Are you serious about your love for arts and crafts? Then, check out the annual National Arts and Crafts Conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn!
9. Confirm That Y’all Means “You All” By Participating in the Blue Ridge Pride Festival
The local nonprofit Blue Ridge Pride‘s mission is to promote equality, safety, and quality of life for western North Carolina’s LGBTQ and allied communities. They run the Blue Ridge Pride Festival every September, featuring a family-friendly procession, live performances, and the presence of more than 100 hundred local organizations.
This is Western North Carolina’s largest Pride event and an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to how to support the 55,000 to 80,000 people who identify as LGBTQ+ in our area. Even when all the rainbow flags around the city of Asheville would make you think otherwise, there are still significant challenges folks who identify as LGBTQ+ face.
You can participate as a visitor or unite with your family, friends, church or school groups, or co-workers to create a team and be part of the Welcoming Procession, a half-mile walk that’s free, family-friendly, and open to everyone. They also need volunteers to help with the festival.
10. Celebrate Mardi Gras in Asheville, Of Course!
If you went to the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, you might have noticed the wonderful work of the Street Creature Puppet Collective (they create the most enchanting Asheville puppets!), Brass Your Heart and Second Line Band musicians, and the presence of members of the Asheville Mardi Gras.
Do you want to see them again? The Asheville Mardi Gras Parade is a small yet super fun Asheville event, excellent for people-watching and understanding why we want to “keep Asheville weird.”
It takes place in February, and its purpose is to celebrate Mardi Gras in a small mountain city style. So no nudity or alcohol is allowed at this family-friendly celebration.
The parade begins at 3:05 pm at the corner of Southside and Coxe Ave in the South Slope. There is also a Queen’s Ball evening event that’s fun and free (check their website for more details about where this event will be held).
11. Recharge with Yoga, Meditation, and Music Classes at LoveShinePlay Festival
Asheville is known for being health-oriented and offers many fantastic wellness experiences for locals and visitors. Since 2016, the LoveShinePlay festival has been “raising the collective vibration” in the heart of Asheville.
Would you like to be part of this contribution? Then, get your tickets to attend this festival in July! This four-day wellness-oriented Asheville event features health and wellness classes, experiences, live music, and a market with unique offerings and treats.
All the venues at this pedestrian-friendly festival are located downtown and are all within walking distance. Walking plus wellness, I can’t imagine a better way to explore downtown Asheville!
The Mountain Air Market at Pack Square Park is the center of the festival. It’s open and free to the public, and there are food vendors, wellness-related shopping opportunities, free live music, classes, and workshops throughout the weekend.
12. Take Thousands of Photos at the Biltmore Estate Spring Festival of Flowers
Well, this is not a one-time organized event. Still, it’s a festival of colors and beauty and one of the best things to do in Asheville in the spring. America’s biggest house offers many interesting seasonal events and exhibitions year-round. Still, there is nothing like visiting in the spring!
Of course, once you buy your day ticket to visit the estate, you’ll have access to the gardens. Still, you can also buy the Gardens and Grounds entry to access the outdoor areas (a visit to the house is not included), including the winery, hiking and biking trails, lots of picnicking spots, and a complimentary wine tasting.
Don’t feel like walking around manicured, perfectly maintained gardens surrounded by tourists? Instead, go hiking or head out to the Asheville Botanical Gardens or the North Carolina Arboretum like locals do to enjoy wildflowers and butterflies for free or with a small fee.
13. Get Into the Season’s Spirit with These Holiday Events
Winter Lights in the North Carolina Arboretum is an open-air walk-through light show featuring over one million lights! It happens every year from November to January, a favorite tradition of local families. I like that it’s less Christmas-oriented than other holiday events in the area, and there are Hanukkah-related lights.
The Omni Grove Park Inn is one of the best hotels in our mountains, and it’s worth a visit every day of the year. But during the holiday season, it hosts the famous and competitive Gingerbread House Competition that began in 1992. Entry is free, but there is a parking fee.
Another popular time of the year to visit the Biltmore Estate is the holidays. Can you imagine how America’s biggest house gets dressed up for Christmas? Christmas at Biltmore offers the Daytime Celebration and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings – both are spectacular!
The Asheville Holiday Parade takes over downtown during the second to last Saturday of November. It’s an excellent opportunity to people-watch and see all the different groups that form our wonderful community. Of course, it can be cold that time of the year, so grab a hot cocoa, coffee, or tea from one of the many downtown coffee shops.
14. Attend One of These Fun Festivals Near Asheville
Since 2007, the town of Marshall has been hosting its annual Mermaid Parade and Festival. This is a fun and popular family-friendly celebration. Participants are encouraged to dress as merfolk, pirates, and other sea creatures. The parade happens on the first Saturday in June, with food, kid-friendly activities, and live music.
During Memorial Day weekend, the streets of downtown Brevard are taken over by the White Squirrel Festival, one of Brevard’s signature events featuring local music, food, and beer.
Are there any white squirrels at the festival? I don’t know if they’d enjoy the noise, but Brevard is famous for its significant population of white squirrels. Head to Franklin Park and Brevard College to spot them!
The Brevard Music Center Summer Festival features some of the best concerts in the area. The program offers about 100 performances during 10 weeks from June to August. The performers are gifted international students spending the summer on campus.
There you have it! The best events and festivals in Asheville. What are your favorite events and festivals in Asheville? Let us know so we can check them out!
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