I find I often take for granted the architectural prowess of my hometown. It may be no New York City, but with its signature Art-Deco skyline and impressive turn-of-the-century constructions, Asheville stands as an oddity among the cities of the southeast.
I have at times faced ridicule for my failure to take visitors around to see said architectural marvels, so commonplace they seem to me. But to save you from a visit to Asheville deprived of the city’s famous landmarks, I invite you to read on and discover five of the most iconic buildings in Asheville.
Completed in 1905, this north downtown icon boasts a distinctive Catalan style and the tallest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. The Basilica was designed by Raphael Guastavino, who came from Valencia in the 1880s to work on the Biltmore House and brought with him a tile-and-mortar construction system revived from the depths of Spanish history.
All this combined with the Basilica’s stained-glass windows will have you thinking you’ve made a wrong turn and wound up in Barcelona. Asheville’s weather, however, is far more temperate than that.
Note that the Basilica is a live place of worship, meaning that you may find the space in use for a service whenever you visit.
Nearby Attractions: Take a walk down Haywood Street, and you’ll pass by the Twisted Crepe, the Chocolate Fetish, and Malaprop’s Bookstore. Venture down Page Avenue for the Grove Arcade (see below).
Out of all the most iconic buildings in Asheville, I find the Grove Arcade is the one I personally most often visit. Opened in 1929 and built in a blend of Tudor and Gothic Revival, the Grove Arcade was conceived as one of America’s first indoor shopping malls, meant to enrich the downtown area. The Arcade still serves that purpose, hosting some of the finest shopping and restaurants in Asheville, as I believe I have often mentioned.
Whether you’re after books, gemstones, fine art, or apparel the Grove Arcade has it in stock. Visitors between 10am-9pm have the privilege to experience the outdoor “Makers Market,” where local artisans come to sell their wares.
Nearby Attractions: As the Grove Arcade lies in downtown, it makes a perfect follow up to your visit to the Basilica of St. Lawrence. To round off your day, indulge in the other delights of downtown, be it more shopping, the fine dining of Patton Avenue, or a wide-angle view of Asheville’s skyline from atop a rooftop bar.
Perhaps Asheville’s most iconic building, this vast estate was conceived in the style of a French Renaissance Chateau and completed in 1895, through the efforts of such nationally famous designers as Frederick Law Olmstead. As the Biltmore’s marketing makes efforts to remind me, it is the largest privately owned house in the nation. Let me affirm the implication there: I’ve been to quite a few cities by now and there isn’t anywhere else quite like the Biltmore in all of the United States.
For first time (or second time) visitors, I strongly suggest a guided tour of the house’s interior. After the first few visits, you can branch out and enjoy the Biltmore’s nigh-endless walking grounds, the charms of Antler Village, or even schedule a visit to their spa.
Nearby Attractions: Historic Biltmore Village lies at the entrance to the House, at the crossroads between downtown and south Asheville. It’s the perfect place to enjoy some fresh mountain air while you walk between the plentiful cafes, shops, and galleries.
Returning to downtown, this Queen-Anne style Victorian residence is somewhat of an overlooked gem. Although certainly not as grandiose as some of the other iconic buildings in Asheville, a tour of the Thomas Wolfe House constitutes an important slice of Asheville’s history.
Once known as “Old Kentucky Home” (for reasons unclear), this former boarding house was the childhood home of the eponymous local author of Look Homewards Angel. Tours run from 9am-5pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and take about half an hour. With an admission fee of only five dollars, I doubt you will find a more affordable or concise historic house tour in all of Asheville.
Nearby Attractions: Mellow Mushroom lies within walking distance. As the house lies within downtown, most of the opportunities listed in the first two entries apply here as well.
To round off this list of the most iconic buildings in Asheville, I’d like to introduce this absolute titan of architecture, which rivals even the Biltmore House itself. Finished in 1913 in the Arts and Crafts style, the Grove Park Inn is the most impressive mountain resort I’ve seen by a longshot.
Its halls wind on without end, taking you up from high balconies, with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, down into the watery grottoes where the Inn keeps its spa. Along the way you’ll pass through a host of fine restaurants, gigantic fireplaces, and if you’re lucky enough to visit in the winter, the entries in National Gingerbread House Competition.
Nearby Attractions: Although the Inn stand somewhat off on its own, it does host an extensive golf course and the Sunset Mountain hiking trail.
Basilica of St. Lawrence
97 Haywood St, Asheville, NC 28801
1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Thomas Wolfe Memorial
52 N Market St, Asheville, NC 28801
Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804