One of my favorite things about Asheville is the seasons: we get four seasons of three months each. The summers are friendly, with the highest temperatures in the low 80s (64-82°F average, with rare temperature peaks in the 90s). The winters are also moderate, with an average of 30-50°F and occasional colder snaps.
While most visitors might be more familiar with the astonishing views of the fall leaves, the flowering rhododendrons in the spring, or the lustful waterfalls and rivers surrounded by shades of green in the summer, there is also beauty in Asheville in the winter.
Travelers are surprised to learn that Asheville rarely gets snow (the average is 12 inches yearly). However, there are light dustings, ice, and occasional snowstorms (once or twice a year). We got a white Christmas in 2020!
There is much to do during late November and December in Asheville, from downtown holiday shopping to visiting a winter lights display, the decorated Biltmore House, or a nationally renowned Gingerbread House Competition.
But, of course, everyone knows that January and February are the most inexpensive months to travel. So, why don’t you take advantage of the cheap airline fares and low hotel prices while getting to know Asheville when it’s less crowded by tourists?
I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Asheville in the winter. We would love to know what you love to do when it’s cold and gray outside. Please tell us in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 13 Best Things to do in Asheville in the Winter
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13 Fun Asheville Winter Activities
1. See the Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum
Winter Lights is the North Carolina Arboretum’s open-air walk-through light show featuring over one million lights (and a million opportunities to take photos to embellish your Instagram account!). The display changes yearly, but some of the favorites, like the 50-foot tree, the cute G-scale model train, and the Quilt Garden, remain.
You’ll love walking around the magical lights while sipping hot cocoa and eating cookies. Make sure you stop by the large fire pit to roast marshmallows with Santa (you can buy s’mores kits at Bent Creek Bistro).
There are live performances every night. Food, snacks, and beverages are available for the entire family, and the Cocoa Shack and Bent Creek Bistro sell cocoa, beer, and wine. Also, remember to leave your wish for the coming year by the Wishing Trees! I love reading people’s wishes.
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.
2. Admire the National Gingerbread House Competition
The Omni Grove Park Inn is one of the best and most traditional hotels in Western North Carolina. It’s just a few minutes from downtown Asheville in a beautiful setting with amazing views. It hosts the famous Gingerbread House Competition that began in 1992 with just a few gingerbread houses.
Today it’s a highly competitive event judged by a panel of renowned food, arts, and media professionals and often featured by the national media. The display starts at the end of November and ends during the first week of January.
One of Western North Carolina families’ most cherished winter traditions is visiting the exhibition. They enjoy seeing the cute gingerbread houses and walking around the resort’s property to admire the Christmas decorations (there are 80 illuminated Christmas trees!) while sipping hot chocolate by the giant lobby fireplaces or having dinner at one of the fabulous restaurants.
Please remember that guests not staying at the resort can only visit the display on certain days and times, so please call or check the website before heading out. Parking is limited, and there is a parking fee, so taking an Uber or Lyft will be a good option.
3. Experience Christmas at Biltmore Estate
If you think Biltmore Estate is one of the dreamiest places on earth, wait until you see it around the holidays. If you’re looking for things to do in Asheville in the winter, a trip to Biltmore Estate is a must.
Visitors can enjoy Christmas at Biltmore in two ways: the Daytime Celebration and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings. Of course, you also can stay at one of the estate’s three properties during this magical time of the year to experience it all.
The Christmas season at Biltmore starts at the beginning of November and ends during the first week of January. The outdoor and indoor decorations are grandiose, and there are countless opportunities for amazing photos (your Instagram account will be thankful!).
During the Candlelight Christmas Evenings, you’ll find countless candles, glowing fireplaces, and live music. It’s an invitation “to imagine yourself a guest at the first Vanderbilt family Christmas in 1895.” If you choose to go during the day, you’ll still get to admire all the magnificent decorations.
4. Treat Yourself to a Wellness Experience
I love how Asheville is oriented toward integrative health. Of course, I’m not talking only about the farm-to-table movement, the locally grown, organic food, and the terrific yoga classes. This community is also rich in social health projects (3,268 non-profit organizations!).
So, having wonderful wellness experiences comes naturally, and there is an option for every mood. You can book a couples massage at Blazing Lotus Healing House (or call Massage on Wheels) to reconnect with your partner or get the entire family to join a yoga class with goats through Asheville Wellness Tours (we all know laughter and baby goat snuggles are the best medicine on a gloomy day).
Some of the most popular Asheville winter activities for locals are floating in a tank at Still Point Wellness for a couple of hours, supported by half a ton of Epsom salt in skin-temperature water, and hanging out in a 30-ton pure pink salt cave at Asheville Salt Cave.
The Hot-Cold-Relax and repeat experience of Sauna House will leave you feeling 10 years younger in just a couple of hours. Wake offers 45-minute foot soaks with add-ons of 20-40 minutes of massage, and there’s the Recline & Unwind Social Spa that encourages you to talk, laugh out loud and make TikToks!
Another fave is Shoji Spa and Retreat, a Japanese-inspired wellness center overlooking the National Forest just a few minutes from downtown.
5. Indulge in a Shopping Spree
When it’s cold outside, you’ll appreciate that Asheville has so many fun shopping opportunities! If you are here by the end of the year, your visit will be a great chance to get your holiday shopping done.
Downtown Asheville is eclectic, artsy, and full of fun things to do. It’s home to about 200 locally-owned businesses, from clothing boutiques, arts and crafts places, art galleries, bookstores, and chocolate shops to tarot readings and mystical gems. There is something for every interest and budget.
You’ll love the historic Grove Arcade‘s unique shops (and decorations during the holidays) and Lexington Avenue’s businesses that honor our slogan, “Keep Asheville Weird.”
Some of downtown’s favorite shops are the traditional Mast General Store, LOFT (you will leave the store laughing and with the best Asheville souvenirs), Instant Karma (yes, it’s as fun as it sounds), Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe (a great selection of local and regional authors), Harvest Records (vinyl!), and the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. If you need to update your wardrobe with cool pieces, go to Minx and Hip Replacements.
The 200+ River Arts District’s art studios are your best bet if you are into local art and crafts. Also, please check our seasonal farmers’ markets, where you can get everything local and unique gifts.
6. Take a Fun Tour
Asheville offers tours for every interest. But, nothing screams Asheville louder than the “historical and hysterical,” multi-award winning LaZoom comedy tours that mix comedy, history, and partying on a purple bus with big eyelashes guided by eccentric characters. For a more traditional yet excellent sightseeing tour on wheels, take the Gray Line Asheville trolley.
If it’s not too cold (it rarely is), you can do a walking tour. Follow the self-guided Urban Trail, or take these tip-based walking tours around downtown and the Rivers Arts District to get the basics covered.
You’ll love learning about the history of the African American community of Asheville, the local music history, or getting to know our downtown coffee gems with the Asheville Coffee Tour. My kids and I did this ghost tour last Halloween, and it was a fun way to learn about the old times.
Of course, there are many tours to discover Asheville’s beer scene and to learn about our farm-to-table food movement. Some of the favorites are the rooftop tour (drinks and mountain/city sunset views, anyone?), the foraging tour (you’ll gather the edibles you’ll eat), and a tour to Asheville’s most famous chocolate factory (it includes a chocolate tasting!).
7. Explore the Outdoors
When the leaves are gone, winter hikes give some of the best views of our mountains. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Asheville in the winter, why not hit the trails?
Some favorite trails are Catawba Falls, Bearwallow Mountain Trail, Moore Cove Falls Trail, Lover’s Leap Loop Trail, John Rock Trail, Rattlesnake Lodge Trail, and Craggy Gardens (360-degree views!).
You can also hike the Blue Ridge Parkway (check for seasonal closures before you head out) or drive to a frozen waterfall (like Looking Glass Falls) to get good photos without walking much. Remember to dress in layers and take all your winter gear.
You’ll love the many urban parks and trails Asheville offers. For example, the French Broad River Park in West Asheville goes along the river, and it has a dog park, trails to walk or ride bikes, and tables for picnicking. Also by the river is Carrier Park, which offers playgrounds, volleyball nets, and a former NASCAR circuit turned velodrome (perfect for walking, biking, and skating).
The historic district of Montford is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods to walk around. Don’t miss the Riverside Cemetery and Montford Park. In addition, the North Carolina Arboretum, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, and the WNC Nature Center are local families’ favorites.
8. Take an Art Class
Asheville is known for being home to talented artists, and the numbers prove that reputation. Downtown Asheville has about 25 art galleries, including the Asheville Art Museum serving the 24 counties of Western North Carolina. Its collection features an overview of the movements and trends in American and Southwest art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
There are 200+ studios in the River Arts District (RAD). RAD is located in a former industrial area, so the buildings are converted warehouses. Inside are the studios where you can see the artists in motion, buy a souvenir (there is something for everyone), or even take an art class. Click here to find a complete guide to planning your visit to the RAD.
Finally, plan to go to the Folk Art Center, where you’ll find the traditional and contemporary crafts of the Southern Appalachians. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway 8 miles from downtown Asheville, the Folk Center offers craft demos, features exhibitions, and hosts special events. Admission is free!
9. Warm Up in a Coffee Shop
Asheville has many excellent coffee shops where you can sit down to get cozy and people-watch while enjoying a warm wintery beverage and a fulfilling dessert.
Of course, downtown is the best area to people-watch. You’ll love the multi-awarded Old Europe Pastries cafe (try the tiramisu and the crunchy-creamy-fluffy Hazelnut Napoleon), Green Sage Cafe (it has great sandwiches and is one of the best cafes to work from), Trade and Lore (has the perfect location and amazing croissants), and Well-Bred Bakery (located in the Grove Arcade and voted “Best Bakery in Western North Carolina” annually since 2014!).
If you want your coffee shop experience to be extra unique, go with Double Ds Coffee and Dessert Bus on Biltmore Avenue (it’s great for kids!) or to Session, the coffee shop/bar inside Citizen Vinyl, North Carolina’s first vinyl record pressing plant. PennyCup Coffee Co. is a small-batch coffee roaster inside the YMI Cultural Center, one of Asheville’s historic landmarks.
Locals recently voted the eclectic BattleCat CoffeeBar in West Asheville as the “Best Coffee House for Its Vibe.” It’s one of the best spots to grasp the local atmosphere on a chilly winter’s day. Finally, if you are a tea lover, you’ll love warming up at the Eastern tea house Dobra Tea.
10. Sample Chocolate
Asheville was named one of Yelp’s “Top US Foodie Destinations of 2020,” especially for the handcrafted artisanal chocolates of French Broad Chocolate. It’s the most popular chocolate shop, but we have other outstanding chocolate sources in town!
You’ll find French Broad Chocolate located in a cute blue building in Pack Square, in the middle of downtown. You can get everything chocolaty, from house-made ice cream to artisan bonbons and caramels, cookies, cakes, and brownies, and a great selection of drinking chocolates.
Try the Liquid Truffle, and visit the gift shop next door to get some souvenirs. All of the chocolate they use for their treats is made in their chocolate factory (you can book a tour, and it includes a tasting!).
Asheville Chocolate has the best truffles (try the Aztec and the Passion Fruit). They also serve ganache-infused hot chocolates and mochas – a delicious way to warm up in the winter months. In addition, they offer 90-minute chocolate classes where you’ll work with tempered chocolate to create your truffles from scratch (children over 12 are welcome with an adult).
The Chocolate Fetish is one of the oldest shops in downtown Asheville (it opened in 1986). It has the best chocolate bars and a good selection of European truffles (with a lighter center than American truffles). They also sell cute holiday-themed treats like the Chocolate Saint Nicolas and the Chocolate Hanukkah Dreidel.
11. Plan Fun Activities for the Kids
While many of the Asheville winter activities described above are perfect for kids, I’d like to dedicate this section to things local kids love to do when it’s gloomy outside.
Not into video games? Well Played Board Game Cafe features a selection of 700 games organized by difficulty level.
My kids loved going to the Asheville Museum of Science when they were little. It boasts a gem and mineral collection, a virtual climate display, and a dinosaur skeleton. In addition, there are water and sand tables, and the gift shop is full of interesting items.
Of course, you can go to the movies anywhere in the world on a rainy day. Still, our Asheville Pizza and Brewing (North Asheville location) offers local beer, delicious pizza, and a 150-seat dine-in movie theater all in one place (the tickets are the cheapest in town!).
If it’s not too cold, the entire family will love the Adventure Center of Asheville, featuring zipline canopy adventures, treetop explorations, and KidZip, America’s first zipline adventure designed for kids under 10.
12. Visit Surrounding Towns
Black Mountain won the TripAdvisor Readers’ Choice Award for “Prettiest Small Town Vacation in America” in 2017 for a reason. Eat a delicious brunch at Louise’s Kitchen and take a walk downtown. Check out the bookstore Sassafras on Sutton and the award-winning season ice cream from The Hop.
Brevard, the “Land of Waterfalls,” is home to the beautiful Pisgah National Forest and hosts the locally renowned Brevard Music Festival each summer. After hiking or driving to see the waterfalls or strolling around the beautiful Brevard College campus to spot a white square, take a walk around Brevard’s downtown. Don’t miss the Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop and O.P. Taylor’s, “the coolest toy shop on the planet” and the perfect place to do some holiday shopping.
Hendersonville’s downtown is the second largest in Western North Carolina, after Asheville’s. You’ll love the Bearfootin’ Public Art Walk, which features a new set of sculptured bears every spring. The bears are auctioned off in the fall, benefiting local nonprofits. Hendersonville also has a thriving restaurant scene including Umi and Shine. If you’re headed there make sure you check out this list of our favorite Hendersonville restaurants!
Weaverville is home to Lake Louise and features a cool nature park. The downtown is full of exciting art shops and excellent places to eat. Go to Stoney Knob Cafe (one of the best off-the-tourist-track brunch spots in Asheville), Twisted Laurel, and Blue Mountain Pizza and Brew Pub.
13. Dine at a Farm-to-Table Restaurant
Asheville’s food and beverage scene – often called Foodtopia – is to be enjoyed year-round, not only in the winter. But, since it is one of our biggest attractions, I must mention it as one of the best things to do in Asheville in the winter.
Why is our food scene so special? It’s the mix of high-quality, locally grown, seasonal ingredients, the commitment to the farm-to-table movement, the variety of offerings, and the talent and creativity of our chefs.
You can eat from two 2022 James Beard award-winning restaurants. Chai Pani was selected as the most “Outstanding Restaurant” for its excellent Indian street food, and Curate won “Outstanding Hospitality” (just one of the several recognitions this fantastic wine and tapas bar has received).
Whatever your craving is, you’ll find a place to sate it here in Asheville. It’ll be what you expected but much better, probably with a twist. We have top-notch barbeque places (12 Bones Smokehouse and Luella’s) and fantastic breakfast, brunch, and lunch places (check Sunny Point Cafe, Tupelo Honey, and Vivian).
Have I mentioned Asheville is a four-time winner of the annual Beer City USA poll of Examiner.com? With so many beer options you might not even know where to start, but lucky for you we put together our roundup of the best breweries in Asheville.
Finally, my sweet-toothed friends will also have a feast here. From handmade chocolates to uniquely-flavored donuts, there’s something for everyone! The Drinking Chocolates at French Broad Chocolates are the perfect way to warm up on a cold winter’s day!
There you have it! The 13 best things to do in Asheville in the winter. What are your favorite winter activities in Asheville? Let us know so we can add them to the list!
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