Few views of Asheville are as iconic as the majestic vista from Pack Square. This city park takes up two city blocks and has surrounding buildings like the Asheville Art Museum and the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.
In the park itself, you’ll find tree-lined paths, sculptures, fountains, and even the downtown splash pad known as Splashville, which is only open seasonally. There’s a large stage for musical acts and simply a ton of areas for gathering, so it’s no wonder that it has become a destination location for fun Asheville festivals and other free events in Asheville.
While this list includes festivals and gatherings that have at least once been events in Pack Square Park, each year, every festival may opt to relocate to a different part of the city. We recommend checking the social media pages for all festivals in Asheville and any other events since there may be up-to-the-minute changes that affect your interest and ability to attend.
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Fun Pack Square Park Events and Festivals
1. Embrace the Arts at the Downtown Asheville Memorial Day Weekend Festival of the Arts
Considered one of the most artistic towns in North Carolina, it’s great that downtown Asheville plays host to this incredible outdoor art market. With fine paintings, glass art, sculptures, and so much more, the Downtown Asheville Memorial Day Weekend Festival of the Arts is a great way to spend some of the beautiful end-of-May days outside.
Although, you’ll probably catch the bug and want to explore some of the other top-notch art venues around town, including the Asheville Art Museum and countless brick-and-mortar galleries along Biltmore, Lexington, and other streets.
Don’t assume you have to be a big-time collector either: you can just be a person who is looking for free things to do in Asheville, and you’ll still be welcome to appreciate the art as you mosey through the park.
2. Peruse Works from Local Artists at Asheville Art in the Park
Finding great art for a reasonable price can be a challenge, and one of the best ways to both support the artistic community in Asheville and find good deals is to shop from local artists rather than just from more widely-known (and expensive) artists.
Asheville Art in the Park takes place twice a year, during the summer and fall. Pack Square fills up on Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm with artisans from around the area, offering a free open-air event where you can find both the ornamental and functional art pieces that would best fit your home or be perfect gifts.
Not only is the art itself lovely, the festive atmosphere of shopping in the park is worth the visit, even if you know you’ll just be browsing. Artists in many different mediums, including glass, ceramics, wood, jewelry, and metal, in addition to painting and drawing, are present at this event.
If you’re just in town as a visitor, you can support the local art economy that contributed to the vibrant renewal of Asheville as a city and tourism destination while also getting some truly exquisite souvenirs.
3. Run Your Heart Out at the Asheville Marathon and Half
Pack Square Park is the host of both the starting line and finish line for many charity 5Ks each year, like the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but none are quite as well-known as the Asheville Marathon.
26.1 miles of running through the ups and downs of Asheville is an intrepid endeavor indeed, and it is nice to have a park setting from which to start since Pack Square features a permanent bathroom, nice places to sit, and plenty of benches for resting while you guzzle water after the event.
The event itself keeps things lively with music along the route and at the finish line, water stations, snacks, and more. The finish line for the Asheville Marathon and Half is in the River Arts District, near the Wedge, which is nice because circling back to downtown would require going uphill as much as down. (To keep the race less intense, they aim for flat and fast routes.)
While this race may be too much of an undertaking for most casual walkers and joggers, keep an eye on social media and other places for the announcement of other charity 5Ks and 10Ks, shorter races that often allow pets and strollers to make it a more leisurely stroll than a multi-hour trek.
4. Bring Your Own Instrument to Shindig on the Green
One of the nicest ways to unwind and enjoy a summer evening is to go to a free outdoor concert, where you can relax, enjoy the music, and do some prime people-watching. Asheville’s show-stopping free concert series, Shindig on the Green, is a series of Pack Square Park concerts you don’t want to miss.
This gathering includes both a stage show and an informal jam session, so you may be witness to the start of a new band as locals and visitors pull out their music for some improvised mountain tunes. The event combines Appalachian heritage music with various kinds of folk dancing, singing, and storytelling, so you never know what treat you might be in for.
It’s an informal, come-as-you-are gathering that happens “along about sundown” or around 7 pm on most summer Saturday evenings. Thousands of people come and bring their lawn chairs or blankets to set up and listen while enjoying concessions from The Hop Ice Cream Cafe or any of the many restaurants and cafes that surround Pack Square. This is truly one of the best free events in Asheville.
5. Anything is Possible at The Big Crafty
Going strong since 2008, The Big Crafty is more than just an arts festival – it moves into the space of being an all-out, DIY free-for-all. Makers of all kinds come together and set up booths around Pack Square to share what they make and form a creative community with others who also make things. While you can absolutely find some new treasures here, you might also find yourself inspired to pick up a handicraft or project you’ve long neglected.
The Big Crafty mentions that they “extend a warm welcome to the rich pageant of basement and backyard artists,” so this isn’t just for people who feel like official capital-A artists, but rather a celebration of what it means to be a human and love to create things. You don’t have to buy anything to enjoy the experience of community at these free events in Asheville.
6. Stock Your Larder at the Ceramic Arts Festival
As you can see, Pack Square has become a focal point for the arts, and on one weekend in October, Pack Square shines a light on the many types of ceramics that are handmade right here in North Carolina. The Ceramic Arts Festival is a wonderful place to shop for handcrafted vases, mugs, art pieces, and so much more, but it’s also a great place to get inspired to do some ceramics work of your own.
Live demonstrations show people how to do everything from sgraffito (a decorating technique involving scratching off layers of a ceramics piece) and kurinuki (a Japanese hand-building technique with clay) to hand-building vases and throwing sectional pots. There are also food vendors on-site to keep everyone full while they learn about the art and craft of pottery-making and live music, often bluegrass or Americana, that keeps everyone’s toes tapping.
It’s a festive atmosphere at the peak of leaf-peeping season, so it’s one of the best things to do in Asheville if you’ll be in town.
7. Celebrate Acceptance at Blue Ridge Pride Festival
If you’ve never been to a Pride Festival, Blue Ridge Pride is quite the treat. This celebration of acceptance of all gender identities and sexual orientations focuses on creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Music, dancing, and artwork all are on display, and the festival features the typical food trucks, lots of community resource booths, and a Pride Procession through downtown.
If you want to find your place in supporting this festival, it’s a worthy choice to volunteer since the festival has been all-volunteer run from 2009 until very recently, and they need around 6,000 volunteer hours of time to get the work done. Every year, they see even bigger turnouts and more community participation, so this might be just the perfect year to find your own place as part of one of the best festivals in Asheville.
8. Watch the Fireworks at the Independence Day Celebration
Asheville’s Downtown Association puts on an Independence Day Celebration that lasts all day on July 4th. You’ll find the festival atmosphere you look for on a holiday, including local food, craft beer, and live music, but also a few unique items.
For instance, check out a visit from the Ultimate Air Dogs, a set of talented, trained pups that can fly through the air much farther than you’d expect. If you bring your own dog, they can try their paws at catching air too!
During the height of summer, Splashville, the Pack Square splash pad, will be on in full force, so bring the young and not-so-young in swimsuits to cool off and jump around in the fountains.
Other downtown businesses like hotels often hold watching parties, so check for the best spot to post up for the fireworks, which tend to go off around 9:30 pm. It’s a great way to spend the whole day outdoors, enjoying the best that Asheville has to offer.
9. Cheers to Oktoberfest in Asheville
With Asheville’s craft beer scene becoming second to none in the past decade, it only makes sense that a truly lively Oktoberfest descends upon Pack Square Park each year. This 21+ festival is a ticketed event, but discounted tickets are available for those who aren’t drinking anything and just want to soak up the fun atmosphere.
You’ll find 20 or more breweries represented, offering tasting samples of both beer and hard cider and vendors offering pretzels, bratwurst, and many other German-themed foods. There is polka music, dancing, and even some yodeling performances, and you’ll be highly entertained by the Oktoberfest games, with things like the pretzel toss, the stein hoist, a relay race, and a keg roll to either participate in with gusto or enjoy from the sidelines.
10. Eat Your Weight in Tempeh at Asheville VeganFest
Asheville is a hub in this region for vegan and plant-based diets. For those who haven’t run into vegan eating much, this is a diet that cuts out not only meat but also dairy, eggs, and other products from animals. The result is a diet rich in seeds, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, and there are many innovations all the time in how to make incredible, flavorful food that’s also fully vegan.
Asheville VeganFest brings together providers like Dare Vegan Cheese, a company that creates luxurious cheeses out of only plants, as well as food trucks like The Smokin’ Onion, to create a fun and festive celebration of all things vegan.
Vegans and non-vegans alike will enjoy tasting a variety of cuisine options, getting inspired for how you might at least add a Meatless Monday to your weekly meal prep. You might discover a new favorite food along the way! Live music keeps things fun and festive at yet another one of the best festivals in Asheville!