The 14 Best Things to do in Asheville in December
I love Asheville in December. Although I’m not a big holiday person (my motto is: every day is a holiday!), I do enjoy joyful activities and beautiful light displays. December is a great month to visit Asheville – it’s festive, there are many things to do, and the winter weather is gentle.
The average temperature is 50°F/31°F, but I’ve had a Christmas wearing a t-shirt and seeing a powerful thunderstorm and another magical white Christmas in 2020 (the year we needed to end the year with a beautiful surprise!). So, if you’re planning to visit Asheville in December, dress in layers.
December means different things to different people. For some, it’s a time to go from one festival to another and participate in every event under the sun (I have good news: there is a lot for you in this article!).
For others, it’s a time to slow down, enter hibernation mode, and enjoy silence and quietness the way nature does (there is something for you here, too.).
Of course, December is also that time of the year when some of us reconnect with family and friends and have the tradition of getting gifts for them. Asheville has wonderful locally-owned shops that make your holiday shopping easy and meaningful.
There is so much to enjoy here all winter, but visiting Asheville in December is especially fun and abundant when it comes to events to attend and things to do!
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What to do in Asheville in December: 14 Fun Ideas
1. Spend a Day Unwinding at a Japanese Spa Overlooking the Forest
The holidays are a great time to reconnect with friends and family, but also the end of the year, and the reunions and parties can take a toll on our mental health. So, why don’t you take some self-care time and go “2,500 feet above stress level,” where you can soak in a private outdoor salt tub overlooking a national forest?
Spending a rainy December day at Shoji Spa is one of the best things you can do in Asheville in the winter. The luxurious, Japanese-inspired wellness center offers excellent spa packages that you can also customize.
What I love about this spa is that it feels like a traditional spa, but it uses the latest technologies like infrared technology and hands-free massage chairs. It’s a wonderful place for couples, so go with your partner and take advantage of the special pricing.
They have hot tubs and saunas and offer all kinds of massage therapies. All soaks or spa packages include the 180+ degree wet cedar sauna, open-air double cold showers, Japanese Yukata robes, sandals, and spa towels.
Location: 96 Avondale Heights Rd, Asheville
2. Check Out the Winter Lights Festival at the NC Arboretum
Ask any local what the best way to celebrate the December holidays in Asheville is, and I guarantee you that their number one answer will be the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum!
This open-air walk-through light show features over one million lights and occurs every holiday season. The display changes every year, but some of the favorites, like the 50-foot tree, the cute G-scale model train, the Quilt Garden, and the Wishing Trees (my favorite!), come back year after year.
I love that it’s not heavily focused on Christmas only but on the coming winter season. It even features Hanukkah lights.
The NC Arboretum is one of the most beautiful urban gardens in Western North Carolina, and walking around the whimsical light display is one of the best things to do in Asheville in December. It’s also open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day if you’re planning on an end-of-month visit.
You’ll love the live music, hot cocoa, cider, wine, beer, and cookies, and you can buy s’mores kits at the Bent Creek Bistro. Then, stop by the large fire pit to roast marshmallows with Santa!
Winter Lights is a rain-or-shine event, and tickets are non-refundable. Tickets are sold per vehicle based on vehicle size, and the prices vary depending on the date.
Location: 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville
3. Take in the 360-Degree Winter Views at Craggy Pinnacle Trail
The last months of the year can be a time of reflection, balance, and setting intentions. The leafless trees, the long-range views, and the less crowded trails of Asheville in December naturally invite us to go inwards and let beautiful thoughts and ideas flow.
The good news? In Asheville, you don’t have to go far or work hard to get beautiful views. If you’re looking for an easy, short hike the entire family will enjoy that’s also close to Asheville, go to Craggy Pinnacle Trail, a 1.2-mile trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I love the rocky trail, the twisted trees, the fog in the winter, and the 360-degree views. You can also watch the sunset from the parking lot. So, grab some snacks and hot drinks, dress in layers, and head to Craggy Gardens! (Take a headlamp if you are going to see the sunset.)
There is no fee to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But do check for closures in December, and remember that when the road is closed to cars, you can still walk or ride your bike. Just park without blocking the road and start your adventure! There are wonderful trails, tunnels, and overlooks along the way.
Location: 3641 Blue Rdg Pkwy, Barnardsville
4. Experience Christmas at “America’s Largest Home” Like a True Vanderbilt
The Christmas season at the Biltmore Estate starts at the beginning of November and ends during the first week of January, and experiencing it is one of the best things you can do in Asheville in December.
If you visited the estate during the spring to enjoy its festival of flowers or went during the fall to see the changing leaves and you thought this place was grandiose, wait until you see the spectacular outdoor and indoor holiday decorations.
The Biltmore provides two experiences during Christmas at Biltmore. There is the Christmas Daytime Celebration and the famous Candlelight Christmas Evenings.
The Candlelight Christmas Evening invites you to “imagine yourself a guest at the first Vanderbilt family Christmas in 1895.” Picture thousands of candles, glowing fireplaces, and live music. Of course, if you go during the day, you’ll still get to appreciate some magnificent decorations.
“A Dickens Christmas” will make you travel in time. This free, open-to-all event showcases Dickens-themed acts performing around the Historic Biltmore Village, the neighborhood surrounding the Biltmore Estate.
Location: 1 Lodge Street, Asheville
5. Go Chocolate Tasting in Downtown Asheville
Eating chocolate is always a great idea, but chocolate is a central element of the December holidays, at least in this part of the world (wait, isn’t chocolate a central element of every holiday in Asheville?).
Did you know that Asheville was named Yelp’s “Top US Foodie Destinations of 2020,” especially for the handcrafted artisanal chocolates of French Broad Chocolate? Visit their downtown Chocolate Lounge to find out why, and don’t miss the Chocolate Creme Brulee and the decadent drinking chocolates!
Also, Asheville Chocolate has perfect truffles, The Chocolate Fetish is one of the oldest shops in downtown Asheville and offers indulgent chocolate bars, and Kilwins has terrific fudge.
6. Take a Drive and Check Out Asheville’s Best Holiday Light Displays
Driving around to discover the small and big light displays around town never gets old – it’s one of the best things to do in Asheville in December!
The best neighborhoods to see homes decorated are Biltmore Lake, Montford, and Biltmore Park Town Square (they host the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting event with a special visit from Santa!).
The town of Hendersonville (the second-biggest downtown in Western North Carolina after Asheville’s) organizes the annual Merchant and Home Decorating Contest during the holiday season. The offer is broad and diverse because the participants are private homeowners and businesses. You can vote for your favorite one once a day.
Another great family-friendly option is to take the Gray Line Asheville Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley. This festive tour will take you around the best places to see the Christmas lights in Asheville. In addition, there will be Christmas caroling and beverages to keep you warm.
7. Enjoy These Other Displays In and Around Asheville
Lake Julian’s Festival of Lights is a drive-through festival displaying beautiful lights around the lake. There is a fee, and 20% of the proceeds are donated to the Special Olympics Buncombe County.
Bryson City hosts the super festive Smoky Mountains Christmas Lights spectacular with a beautiful display of lights and an ice skating rink. Also, the whole family will love riding on the Polar Express Train!
Another fantastic holiday side trip is Tyron, which features a drive-through Christmas light show synchronized to holiday music at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Or take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Bakersville to enjoy the spectacular A Mountain Christmas Trail of Lights.
Deck the Trees is a fun Christmas tree competition in Black Mountain. The center is the Monte Vista Hotel, but you can also find participating trees in stores and businesses throughout Black Mountain and the Swannanoa Valley area.
Finally, check out the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge winter wonderland!
8. Check Out These Hanukkah and Kwanzaa Celebrations
Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah in December. The eight-day “festival of lights” commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and a candle is lit every night of the holiday in a special candelabrum (menorah) called a hanukkiah.
Chabad Asheville organizes a fun, open-to-all festival on Pack Square on the first night of Hanukkah, with traditional food (latkes, sufganiyot, chocolate gilt) and free menorah kits. Witness the magical moment of lighting the first candle of Hanukkah in a gigantic menorah!
Jewish or not, this is an excellent opportunity to expose yourself and your family to this beautiful festivity of lights and to learn more about Jewish culture.
Just a couple of blocks from Pack Square, is The Block, a Black history landmark in North Carolina that was once the cultural and business center of Black people in this area. Here you’ll find the YMI Cultural Center, one of the oldest Black cultural centers in the country.
The cultural center hosts an annual Kwanzaa celebration offering food, live music, and the opportunity to learn more about this secular holiday. Kwanzaa honors seven values of African culture: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
9. Join Marie, Clara, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King in an Epic Christmas Eve Adventure
In December, the Wortham Center For Performing Arts offers three local dance studios’ productions of The Nutcracker at affordable prices. These are perfect occasions to introduce your little ones to ballet and start an Asheville Christmas tradition.
There will be hot chocolate, cookies, nutcrackers, and other holiday goodies for sale, and you’ll be benefiting a local dance studio. So, dress up for the occasion (or not, it’s Asheville!), and go to the theater to dance with the dancing snowflakes, the flowers, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Asheville Ballet and the Conservatory Ballet of Asheville perform the classic version of the ballet, featuring professional dancers for the leading roles while the students play the rest. But, of course, they always make sure to include cute surprises in their productions to keep the holiday magic alive.
Did you know that Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet is based on the fantastic book The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffman? The book is a holiday must-read, and fortunately, Asheville Contemporary Dance offers an entertaining and original dance performance based on it. This used to be my kids’ favorite Nutcracker when they were little. It’s humorous and festive, and there are many fun characters and types of music.
Finally, the professional Moscow Ballet comes to Harrah’s Cherokee Center every December, offering an excellent show and more Christmas shopping and photo opportunities.
10. Pick Up Some Local Crafts at One of These Three Asheville Holiday Events
The Big Crafty happens twice yearly in July (Pack Square) and December (Harrah’s Cherokee Center). This is one of the best festivals in Asheville, voted Best Arts/Crafts Fair by readers of Mountain Xpress since it started in 2008.
This is an inclusive space for artists of all backgrounds and levels in their careers to showcase and sell their work. You’ll spend hours walking around, perusing the stands, talking to the very friendly vendors, and getting refreshments.
The Holidays Makers Sales at the Folk Art Center are one of the best places to appreciate and buy traditional and contemporary crafts of the Southern Appalachians. The Folk Art Center is open all year round.
Holiday Sip & Shop at Grovewood Gallery is a fun event at the historical Grovewood Village, which was once home to Biltmore Industries. The gallery is adjacent to the Omni Grove Park Inn (you can plan to have dinner there!). The space represents 350 American artists and craftspeople and features two art galleries, a beautiful sculpture garden, two museums, and open studios.
11. Ring In the New Year Asheville Style
How does an NYE Roaring Twenties party at the historic Grove Arcade sound? Dress up like you are in the 1920s (suggested but not required), enjoy a fun party with live music and games, and “usher in the next year by stepping back a century.”
If you prefer something more low-key, check out if your favorite Asheville restaurant is open for dinner (most are) and enjoy a fantastic night out with top-notch food and drinks. Of course, the Omni Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate offer world-class NYE dinners and packages.
For a more cultured evening, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra performs at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium every year on NYE, and the concert is one of Ashevillian’s favorite things to do in December in Asheville.
Stay tuned to what events The Grey Eagle, The Orange Peel, Salvage Station, and Asheville Beauty Academy host on that special night.
12. Hike Around Hot Springs and Soak in Mineral Waters
Lover Leap’s Loop Trail (1.8 miles) starts in downtown Hot Springs and takes about an hour to complete. You’ll be going up the entire time, and it’s steep, offering a great workout with good views of the town and the French Broad River. It’s a moderate trail, perfect for older kids who are used to hiking.
Don’t worry if you’re feeling the December chill after your hike. The only hot springs known in North Carolina will keep you warm! The 100-acre Hot Springs Resort and Spa has jetted hot tubs where you can relax while soaking in natural mineral waters.
All the tubs are outdoors, and all the experiences are private. The spa offers premium and signature tubs featuring a roomier deck, a table and chairs, and fire pits. This place is popular, so it’s always better to make reservations.
There are eight camping cabins, campsites, and luxury suites with private hot tubs, too! If you’re with a group, you can even rent the three-bedroom rental house with a full-size outdoor tub.
The charming, quaint town of Hot Springs is part of the Appalachian Trail, and it has some cute little shops and good restaurants if you’re looking for a December getaway.
13. Warm Up at the Sauna House and Never Be Cold Again
One of my favorite things to do in Asheville in the winter is to spend an afternoon at the Sauna House. I love how I feel during and after their Hot-Cold-Relax and repeat experience. If it’s cold outside, I no longer feel it, making me feel rejuvenated and full of energy.
The experience starts with a warm greeting from the front desk staff, where you can get some local snacks and beverages. They’ll provide you with towels. This is a cell phone-free space, so you’ll have to leave it in a cubby. Also, unlike in Finland, swimming suits are required!
There are two stories. Each one features a sauna, a cold plunge, showers, restrooms, and changing rooms. The difference from your average sauna experience? Folks are encouraged to be social upstairs, and there is a relaxed lounge space with comfy furniture. This place is perfect for groups of friends or for making new friends.
The downstairs floor is for people who want a quiet experience, and talking is discouraged. But, of course, you can yell a little once you plunge into the freezing cold ice bath! They also offer private sauna experiences, including infrared saunas, which provide the same benefits with less heat.
14. Stop By the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn
The Grove Park Inn’s annual Gingerbread House Competition is among the most cherished holiday events in Asheville. It starts in November and ends in the first week of January. If you happen to be in town, definitely check out the cute and creative houses made by artists of all ages.
Image Christmas scenes like “Santa Yoda and His Baby Elves” (Youth First Place Winner in 2023) or “Tea House Fairy,” in which everything is made with gingerbread, lots of chocolate, and colorful candy.
Although the gingerbread houses are the highlight of visiting Grove Park Inn during December, there are many fun holiday-related things to do at the resort. Plan to spend a few hours learning about the history of this Asheville landmark or shopping in some of the lovely stores.
Also, the Christmas decorations at the Grove Park Inn are beautiful. There are 80 illuminated Christmas trees, each one displaying a unique theme.
Enjoy a cocktail or a hot chocolate by one of the giant 36-foot-wide fireplaces (a unique feature of these is that the elevators are concealed within them!). Of course, you can also make reservations to have a fabulous dinner at one of the restaurants and enjoy one of the best sunset spots in Asheville.
Walking around the resort is free year-round, but be aware that there is a parking fee during the holiday season.