Best Museums in Asheville—A Local’s Perspective
Asheville is known for its stunning outdoors, so perhaps museums don’t lie at the top of your itinerary. But think about this: what if it rains? What if it snows? What if you’re stranded in downtown with a couple hours to kill? Well, as it turns out Asheville has a museum to satisfy just about every kind of curiosity and I’ve had the privilege of visiting most of them. In this post, I’ve endeavored to capture my hometown’s eclectic nature by spotlighting a variety of museums. There’s got to be one that you’ll find to be welcome diversion on that rainy day.
Is it technically even a museum? Maybe. Does it matter? No. The fact is the Biltmore Estate is like almost nowhere else in the nation. Built around the turn of the century in a “chateauesque” style, a tour of the Biltmore House feels distinctly European. Its probably due to extensive displays of costumes and set pieces from Downton Abbey, a traveling exhibit recently extended to stay through early September.
That said, I’m actually more interested in the Biltmore’s grounds than the house. It could be because I’ve seen the house a time or two—I do live here. Covering more than twenty miles of trails, the Biltmore’s grounds encompass elaborate gardens, vast lawns, and brushes of forest. After an hour or two of wandering about, I’d aim to end my visit with some ice-cream at Antler Hill Village. You’ve got to restore those spent calories somehow.
Be advised though, that Biltmore’s daytime tickets are some of the most expensive in Asheville. You’ve got to be really ready to make the most of your visit here. Consult the map and hit all the stops.
What Else is Around? Biltmore Estate’s main entrance—or at least the one I use—connects to Biltmore Village, an excellent spot for upscale shopping and café-dining.
As a kid, I wasn’t too hot on art museums, especially those with a focus on modern and contemporary works, like Asheville’s. I found those movements—and many people echo this sentiment—too be to chaotic, too nonsensical. Since then, I’ve had a change of heart. I’d encourage even those who aren’t too interested in this kind of art to give the museum a go, even if just to get some enjoyment out of what strange things people can make, given enough time.
In specifics, a good portion of the museum’s displays are on rotation, meaning one visit is seldom like any other. Southeastern handcrafts lie next to works from the Black Mountain College, which my color theory professor tells me is a very big deal, educating such famous artists as Rauschenberg and John Cage.
General admission is $15—great deal less expensive than the Biltmore House. The first Wednesday of every month admission is free to WNC residents from 4pm to 6pm.
What Else is Around? Right next door lies the French Broad Chocolate lounge, an excellent place for some post-museum sweets. The museum has no parking of its own and their website encourages visitors to look for parking around Pack Square. I’d agree: that’s a safe bet.
3: Asheville Museum of Science
If you’d like your kid to get a doctorate someday, the Asheville Museum of Science is a good place to start. Now it didn’t quite work on me, but I still fondly remember cracking geodes in the Colburn Hall of Minerals and being terrified of the anatomical exhibits. The museum focuses on interactive displays concerning the earth sciences; it clearly has a bent towards inspiring the nation’s youth. That said, the mineral-hall I mentioned earlier still holds up. I guess you’re never too old to appreciate some shiny rocks.
All-in-all, I’d recommend the Asheville Museum of Science to families with kids ten and under. Adult admission is 8$, and for children its $7, making this museum one of your most cost-effective options.
What Else is Around? This museum lies on Patton Avenue, often mentioned for its plethora of restaurants. Personally, I’d suggest Jerusalem Garden. Its relaxed atmosphere is a perfect for reflecting on everything you’ve learned at the Asheville Museum of Science.
I’ve had a longstanding suspicion that the Asheville Pinball Museum is actually just an old-school arcade. All the better, I say. Pinball is fun and museums better be fun, or else what’s the point? For the price of $15, here you can enjoy a range of eighty vintage pinball-machines. Be advised though that lines can build up quickly on rainy days.
What Else is Around? Now there’s only so much time you can spend pinballing, so I would suggest pairing a visit to the Pinball Museum with some general enjoyment of downtown. Luckily, this museum lies near the Grove Arcade, one of downtown’s densest collections of shops and restaurants.
Additionally, on the southwest corner of the arcade lies the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Its atmosphere practically screams Asheville and its shelves are ever-changing. It’s kind of place you ought to include in your visit to Asheville in its own right.
5: The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI)
Hidden an hour and a half away from Asheville, deep in the Blue Ridge mountains, stands a testament to mankind’s mastery over the stars. Nestled under the shadow of vast radio-telescopes, PARI’s exhibits include a mineral collection—with specimens from the moon and mars—and artifacts and models from national space programs. Individual and group visits can be arranged with a call or by visiting PARI during one of their public events, which usually coincide with an astronomical event (like the Perseid meteor shower).
The real meat of PARI, in my opinion, is their stargazing nights in partnership with the Astronomy Club of Asheville. They occur on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the year, depending on weather conditions. Your best bet to find out if your visit coincides with such a night is to visit the club’s website. If you happen to be so fortunate, you’ll find the stargazing to be really, really cold and utterly breathtaking. Out in the Blue Ridge, the air-quality is some of the best in the region, offering stunning views of the cosmos. I’d go as far as to say it’s downright romantic—the perfect opportunity to impress your significant other with your resistance to the cold, and moderate astronomical know-how.
What Else is Around? Its in the middle of the forest.
The Biltmore Estate
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Ashevillle Art Museum
2 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Museum of Science
43 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Pinball Museum
1 Battle Square #1b, Asheville, NC 28801
Batter Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar
1 Page Ave #101, Asheville, NC 28801
1 Pari Dr, Rosman, NC 28772