As you might expect from the quintessential Blue Ridge mountain town, Asheville offers visitors a dose of magic year-round. But few locales compare to Asheville during the Christmas season. You’ll find something for everyone here, whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or traveling with young children in tow. Prepare to be enchanted with these must-stop experiences for your Asheville Christmas vacation.
1. Christmas at Biltmore
Once America’s largest home, The Biltmore Estate still welcomes thousands of visitors each year; in fact, almost 76,000 people hold annual passes, a number that rivals Asheville’s population itself! Known as a gilded age mansion that was once America’s largest residence, Biltmore Estate comprises 175,000 square feet and 250 guest rooms. The French Renaissance-style home feels even more magical during the holidays.
Lights and candles twinkle in every corner. Over one hundred hand-decorated Christmas trees preside over the festivities. Fresh evergreen boughs, live Christmas music, and enchantingly-lighted gardens will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the ultimate Christmas wonderland. And Santa himself delivers the largest 35-foot-tall tree in his well-appointed sleigh. The Christmas at Biltmore season lasts a full two months each season; to enjoy the lightest crowds, plan to visit early in the day or on those fleeting few days right after December 25th.
2. National Gingerbread House Competition
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through a village of impossibly detailed gingerbread houses, and you’ll instantly feel your spirits start to rise–along with the unmistakable aromas of Christmastime: ginger, cinnamon, and all types of sugary confections. Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn hosts a national gingerbread competition annually, and competitors travel from all over the country to compete for the prizes: upwards of $25,000 worth.
Here you’ll find dozens of stunning gingerbread houses, each built out of completely edible materials, three-quarters of which much include gingerbread. They aren’t all the typical Hansel and Gretel cottages; you’ll also find gingerbread mansions, rustic cabins, replicas of historic buildings, and cozy farm homes lit up for the holiday season. The Omni Grove is the perfect place to go for a stroll among these masterpieces: large stone fireplaces, impeccable Christmas decorations, and made-from-scratch hot chocolate near at hand invite travelers to step in and stay awhile.
3. Visit Downtown for a Craft Beer and Stunning Lights
Let us be honest: a walk through Asheville’s cozy downtown streets is a must, no matter when you visit. So are Asheville’s microbreweries, if you’re at all a fan of craft beer. But it’s all particularly spellbinding during the winter months when the city is festooned in light and seasonal decor. The giant gilded purple snowflake in Pack Square Park is a great spot to aim for; you’ll find the entire park aglow for the season, and the snowflake itself is quickly becoming the ultimate #snowflakeselfie destination. Local light exhibits in Pritchard Park and Pack Square Park are both lovely places for a stroll arm-in-arm with your favorite person.
Asheville’s many local breweries and pubs carrying local craft beers offer a warm escape from the chilly weather–the perfect excuse to pop in for a drink (or three) as you explore the shops and lights that make up downtown Asheville during the holidays.
4. Experience the North Carolina Arboretum Decked Out in Christmas Spirit
Every holiday season, the North Carolina Arboretum bedecks itself for the holidays with nearly half a million lights twinkling throughout its 434 acres. Each year since 2014, the Arboretum has been knocking the stockings off visitors from around the world. The Winter Lights exhibit features a 50-foot animatronic tree, enchanting lighted trains, and even a heartwarmingly impressive Quilt Garden–the epitome of Christmas, Smoky Mountains style.
The arboretum offers the lowest pricing on Friends & Family Tuesdays, but keep in mind that those are also among the busier days to visit. For an even more magical experience, you can take a trolley from the Renaissance Hotel downtown or from Biltmore Gardens. A trolley ticket will take you to the entrance of the arboretum–a magical ride, with a complimentary cup of hot chocolate to enjoy along the way.
5. Whittle Down Your Holiday Shopping List
This one is obvious, but no list would be complete without it. Asheville is brimming with brilliant little shops–from MTN Merch, which offers an array of boutique local-leaning products, to Herbiary AVL, a haven offering essential oils, herbs, and bath products that make it impossible to feel stressed. You’ll find small, local bookstores, yarn shops, gift shops, and hole-in-the-wall nooks offering a touch of their own magic.
There’s truly something for everyone here, even if you don’t have much extra room in your luggage. And few things feel more Christmassy than strolling through warm, cozy shops, sipping a latte and finding special small somethings for the particularly special people on your Nice List.
6. Take in a Show
No matter when you’re planning your holiday visit, you’re likely to find a show to delight your senses. From The Nutcracker ballet to an array of holiday music performances, Asheville’s performing arts venues are among their busiest during the holidays. For theater fans, the Asheville Christmas Show is a natural choice; it’s a professional Broadway-style production featuring some of western North Carolina’s most talented performers. It’s also worth checking the schedule at the Asheville Community Theater and the North Carolina Stage Company (keep an eye out for the one-woman show The Twelve Dates of Christmas.
Dance fans appreciate The Nutcracker, with beautiful renditions produced by the Asheville Ballet, the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre, and the Moscow Ballet, which usually performs one night only at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium as part of its international tour. And musical concerts abound throughout the holiday season!
7. Step Back in Time On a Trolley Tour
Grey Line Tours’ Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley lights up the holiday nights for Asheville visitors each year. More than just a ride around town, the tour includes storytelling, live music, and (of course) cookies and hot chocolate. You’ll roll through downtown Asheville, by Biltmore Village, and through the Montford and Grove Park neighborhoods, which are both known for their decadent light displays. You’ll ride in comfort no matter the weather; the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley is enclosed and heated, with roll-up window curtains you can adjust to your liking.
For an authentic train tour, stop by the Craggy Mountain Line for tickets on the Jingle Bell Trolley Train Run. This train ride takes about an hour and includes a meet and greet with Santa and (no surprise here) cookies and hot chocolate.
Our advice to make the most of the season? Don’t try to pack too much in. There’s so much here to inspire delight; choose one or two activities a day, schedule plenty of margins, and enjoy a slow, unrushed pause in the season to take in the beauty and ambiance around you. There are always delightful hideaways to stop in for a mouthwatering respite from the day, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, so no “extra” time will go to waste during your Asheville Christmas visit.