Is Asheville a Destination for Solo Travelers?
I had wanted to visit Asheville for some time, but is it really somewhere a solo traveler would feel welcome?
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While I’m a big believer in touring local, almost every advertisement for the city touts it as “Romantic Asheville”.
Commercials with couples clinking glasses on the balcony at Biltmore Estate or walking through streets with colored leaves filled the television.
You can imagine my surprise when I read that Asheville was listed as one of the top destinations for solo travelers multiple years in a row.
Curious, I decided to head out and explore Asheville as a solo traveler to see if it really measured up.
Since it’s only a three and a half-hour drive, I had some flexibility and was able to put together the trip quickly.
First Impressions – A Quaint New York
My first impression of Asheville was, “this feels a lot like New York”.
Now a lot of people will balk at this, but bear with me because there’s solid reasoning behind it which I learned on my tours. It’s surprisingly also what makes touring Asheville as a solo traveler easy.
Asheville became a vacation destination for the rich when the railroad came through in the late 1800s.
Many rich families at the time thought that the area promoted better health. George Vanderbilt bought 120,000 acres to build Biltmore Estate which was finished in 1895.
As more people with money came to town, gentlemen like Edwin Grove saw the opportunity to build grand hotels such as the Omni Grove Park Inn completed in 1912.
These well to do wanted only the best and hired famous architects from big cities to design and oversee their construction. Many of these talented craftsmen made Asheville their home.
When the Great Depression hit, Asheville had the largest debt of any city. Asheville opted to pay off its debt, which took almost 50 years.
With no money for new buildings, all they could do was maintain existing structures. Many of the original buildings still stand in their untouched form.
Later, new buildings were erected, but the effect of old and new is part of the charm.
The Asheville Vibe
While Asheville is smaller than most metropolitan cities, and the buildings aren’t as tall, it has that eclectic feel.
There’s something about the architecture and the sense that people in Asheville play by their own rules.
Small businesses are the norm, and large chains aren’t made to feel welcome.
It’s somewhere between University town and big city. There’s a metropolitan sensibility but Western North Carolina laid back appeal.
The rich diversity is why visiting Asheville as a solo traveler is worthwhile.
Exploring Asheville as a Solo Traveler
Arriving in the City
I got to town early and did a quick survey of the land. The good news is that I felt confident about the size of the city and being able to explore in four days.
The bad news was all the people. Luckily, I found out it was just the last of the visitors arriving for the fall colors and they all seemed to leave that night.
A Nighttime Haunted Tour
To get a sense of the city, I started with a walking Haunted Tour with Haunted Asheville.
Having a little time to spare before the tour, I grabbed a latte at Old Europe. The displays were lined with beautiful cakes and desserts, but I was good and just looked.
Finishing my latte, it was time to head out for an evening of scary fun.
The tour started in the creepy alleyway (their words) near the Masonic Temple.
I didn’t know what to expect, but It turned out to be a great way to learn about the city, both the layout and the history while being entertained.
Our guide, Tadd, had an incredible knowledge of the area and was a master storyteller.
As we wound through the streets, I saw the city in a new light and tried to make note of places I wanted to return to during the day.
We also walked through areas I had not seen earlier and didn’t come up during my research and made notes to come back to these.
Our group was around 35 to 40 people but you wouldn’t know it. Tadd did a great job of projecting his voice and also stopping at key locations to let everyone pull in to listen.
I’m still not sure if I was the only solo traveler or not. We blended seamlessly with families, friends, couples, and singles.
The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate. It’s the elephant in the room. You can’t visit Asheville and not go to the Biltmore Estate.
I was really hesitant about this. I’m in Asheville, as a solo traveler, heading to the one location highlighted as THE Romantic getaway for couples.
My goal was to spend a half-day there, power through and get a few photos. I had been warned by many friends and family to block out the entire day, but for some reason, I just didn’t think it would be fun.
My house time was 1:45 pm so I started in the gardens. During peak seasons, you have a time noted on your ticket. You are only allowed to enter the home after this time.
I wandered through the main gardens and then the hiking trails.
No one mentioned that there were trails. Few people venture out on the trails, allowing me the opportunity to really enjoy the area and get great photos.
When my house time arrived, I went inside and spent about 1.5 hours touring the rooms.
Finally, I finished up at Antler Village for my free wine tasting. I do not leave free wine on the table.
All in all, I left Biltmore Estate seven hours after arriving. It was a good day with lots of amazing pictures.
The estate had much more to offer, even for a solo traveler, than I expected. As a matter of fact, it was such a big day, it has its own post here.
The Hop-on/Hop-off Trolley
Since I had already been through the city, I knew the places where I wanted to Hop-Off and had planned my itinerary.
The trolley started in the Historic Montford District which was one of the areas I had not been familiar with prior to the tour.
The trolley drivers were excellent guides. As they drove around, they wove history with fun facts and their own unique brand of storytelling.
It’s hard to say how much of the information was accurate, but it was fun.
I was beginning to learn that Asheville residents love their town, know its history, and really like to tell you about it.
The Omni Grove Park Inn
The Omni Grove Park Inn was on my must-see list thanks to its beautiful Sunset Terrace. It’s known as “The” location for grabbing a drink and watching the sunset over Asheville.
What I didn’t realize was that during the day the views were just as beautiful. Downtown Asheville is to the north in the distance with the mountains a bit south.
The architecture of the building itself and the grounds were beautiful. I wish I had time to sit and relax with a drink on the terrace.
Pack Square Park and Downtown
While I had seen Pack Square when I first arrived, the Haunted Tour pointed out the significance of the area and the buildings surrounding it. It was one of the places I noted to return.
The area boasts a variety of architecture from Neo-Classical to Gothic which all seem to blend seamlessly and give Asheville a bit of its eclectic vibe.
As I walked downtown, I also found a few of the Urban Trail installations.
The Urban Trail is a walking museum with thirty installations throughout the city. You can download a map and locate all of them. There are videos explaining the significance of each piece.
If you don’t have time to find all thirty installations, just keep an eye out and you’ll see many of them throughout your adventures.
After snapping a lot of photos, I explored nearby shops, including the Mast General Store. Luckily they not only had magnets for gifts but also the car charger for my phone which had died on the drive up.
Haywood Street and The Grove Arcade
Haywood Street has a lot of shops and restaurants. There’s also a little park in the middle.
It’s a triangular shape and can be a bit confusing to maneuver around.
Of course, I wanted to check out Asheville’s Wall Street. It’s one block with cute shops and restaurants.
While nothing like New York’s Wall Street, there are some similarities like the Flat Iron building. In true Asheville style, to note it’s location, there’s a statue of a large iron across the street.
In this area, you’ll also find the Grove Arcade, with its beautiful atrium feel. If you look closely on the outside, you’ll see faces engraved along the pillars.
There’s a great story behind this which I won’t spoil. Just make sure to notice it when you’re there.
One of the best things about the Grove is Battery Park Book Exchange.
This little gem is a book store slash champagne bar. You read that correctly.
After enjoying an itty bitty baby apple cider cupcake with no calories (I’m sure of this – it was too tiny for calories), I wandered around the book shop with a blood orange mimosa in hand.
The Asheville Botanical Gardens
Wanting to explore the areas outside of downtown, I stopped at the Asheville Botanical Gardens.
There are 2 to 3 miles of relaxing trails and places to stop and enjoy. There’s also a gift shop with an extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff.
A Segway Tour of Asheville
I have wanted to ride a Segway since they became a thing. My dream came true thanks to a Segway tour of Asheville with Moving Sidewalk Tours.
A Segway is one of the best ways to tour Asheville. You have easy maneuverability like walking but can go faster and further.
I got really lucky and was the only person signed up. My guide, Scott, quickly assessed what I had already seen around Asheville and opted to take me through Historic Montford for a deeper look at the neighborhood.
We also rode through Riverside Cemetery and saw some of the famous graves there such as Thomas Wolfe.
Topping it off, we made a final stop at Basilica Saint Lawrence after a quick tour of Haywood Street.
I had already seen the outside of the Basilica but didn’t realize you could go inside.
The building is said to have the largest self-supported dome in North America. Inside, light comes through the stained glass windows and bounces off the ceiling.
In a room to the side, is a massive beautiful tour that opens to the tomb of Rafael Guastavino, the architect who patented the self-supporting arch designed used for the Basilica, Grand Central Station and the Boston Public Library.
Wrapping up Downtown Asheville
I finished up downtown Asheville by buying chocolates at Chocolate Fetish and taking a quick peek in the Woolworths store which is now an art gallery. It still houses the soda fountain though.
I also treated myself to dinner at one of the restaurants on Wall Street, including a drink made with tequila and something spicy. Asheville does know how to pour a great drink.
Hiking Near Asheville
Asheville is renowned for being a launching pad for outdoor sports in western North Carolina. Many visitors ask about hiking in the area.
There are plenty of options for beginner, intermediate, and advanced hikers. I really enjoy hiking by myself and getting lost in my thoughts.
Bent Creek Wilderness Area
Based on local suggestions, I started at Bent Creek Wilderness and wove my way to the North Carolina Arboretum through an attached trail.
The trails here are not marked and you can get turned around with all of the branches that spin off of main trails. Make sure to have a GPS app or map available before heading into this area.
The Hunger Games Triple Falls – Dupont State Forest
In a whirlwind afternoon, I hit up Dupont State Forest to take in four of the six waterfalls before the rain hit.
Many scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed in Asheville. The famous scene with the 3-tiered waterfall was filmed in Dupont State Forest.
The Forest sports 6 waterfalls. The famous triple falls can be found on a trail that takes you past 3 of them. It’s a popular area. Even on a rainy day, the parking lot was almost full.
On the way home from Asheville, I made a short stop at Catawba Falls.
The trail is only 2.6 miles round trip and the waterfall is worth the stop.
Visiting Asheville – Where to Stay
There are many places to stay in Asheville from small hotels to fancy splurges like the Inn at Biltmore or the Omni Grove Park Inn.
If you’re looking for something fun and different, Asheville has really embraced the tiny house or RV as an Airbnb, so you can take advantage and try something new.
For some fun ideas, check out the unique Airbnbs I used for this trip.
Touring Asheville as a Solo Traveler – Final thoughts
I have to say that exploring Asheville as a solo traveler was one of my favorite trips. I never felt awkward or out of place and busy almost every second.
The locals love to talk about their town and make recommendations and it’s rare they don’t know the answer to a question.
People would start conversations sitting next to me at the bar, standing in line for coffee, and on the hiking trails.
The city is teeming with families, students, couples, and solo travelers. There’s downtown to explore, great restaurants, rich histories, ghosts, and plenty of outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking.
If you’re a solo traveler, regardless of age or abilities, Asheville is a must-see destination.