This gem of a city tucked in the Blue Ridge foothills of western North Carolina attracts artists, musicians, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and a fair share of modern-day hippies, all lured by the beautiful setting and open-minded vibe. Its gorgeous historic buildings downtown, free music venues, Appalachian art center and lofty nearby peaks are all perfect for travelers looking to please their senses without spending a dime.Downtown:
Asheville was once dubbed the “Paris of the South” in part because of the stylish flair of its historic city center. You can’t miss the towering eight-story City Hall; its ornate art deco style is a highlight of the city skyline.
Other gems include the 13-story Jackson building, with its neo-gothic castle-like tower, and the Asheville Art Museum, housing an impressive collection of 20th century American art, including works from regional artists. Admission to all the museum’s galleries and exhibits is free from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. For two galleries adjacent to the museum’s Atrium entrance, admission is free during regular hours.Music:
Asheville’s most famous free music event is the annual Shindig on the Green, on Saturday evenings from late June through Aug. 30 in Pack Square Park. It draws top-notch bluegrass bands, string bands, Appalachian cloggers and storytellers from around the region. The family-friendly event attracts huge crowds; fans spread out on blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy the sights and sounds.Folk Art Center:
The center features three galleries, a library, and a Blue Ridge Parkway information desk. Admission is free; a shop sells textiles, pottery, jewelry and other crafts made by guild members.Blue Ridge Parkway:
Or hike part of the Mountains to Sea trail; look for a marker in the center’s lower parking lot. A moderately difficult hike takes you to Lunch Rock, a little over 2 miles each way — about three hours total. For more of the parkway, keep driving as the road steepens and you'll be treated to breathtaking views of surrounding Blue Ridge peaks.
From the Max Patch parking area it’s a fairly easy hike, a little over a mile, to the summit. The Appalachian Trail crosses through the Patch, so hikers can set off in either direction. Those content to feast their eyes will not be disappointed. From Asheville, head west on I-40 to exit 7 (Harmon’s Den). Go right on Cold Springs Road to state Route 1182 (Max Patch Road). Turn left for the parking area.