Time-honored traditions, milestone celebrations and surprising feats of Christmas magic bring some much-needed sparkle to 2020 through the holiday season in Asheville, N.C. Travelers (and armchair travelers alike) will enjoy tech-enhanced experiences and socially distanced offerings from virtual classes with gingerbread masters to a rock-climbing practice run with Santa, to America’s Largest Home aglow with candlelight and classic Christmas style.
Gingerbread House Competition on (Virtual) Display + Online Classes with the Masters
Since 1992, the Omni Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread House Competition has grown into one of the nation’s most celebrated holiday competition events. This year, the event is prioritizing safety by hosting a virtual contest. While there won’t be a physical display of the winners this year, gingerbread fans will enjoy whimsical creations like sugar-spun landscapes and candy-covered cabins and castles from the comfort of home. Entries will be judged by a renowned group of food, arts and media professionals, including Food Network star Carla Hall.
- During 12 Days of Gingerbread, Omni Grove Park Inn will announce one gingerbread house winner per day Dec. 1-12 on the resort’s Facebook and Instagram pages. The grand prize winner will be announced on National Gingerbread Day (Dec. 12).
- Now available online: Learn how to make gingerbread houses from the gingerbread masters themselves via the new Baking Spirits Bright: A Gingerbread Making Class Series, a three-part online class featuring all-star chefs and competition judges, including Chef Carla Hall. FUTURE TRAVEL BONUS: Baking Spirits Bright participants will receive 15% off future stays January through March of 2021.
- Starting Nov. 23, guests staying at the inn can exclusively enjoy Best in Dough: Gingerbread Finalist Showcase, a docu-style film interviewing judges and competitors as well as showcasing finalists’ creations with 360-degree footage.
Celebrate a Milestone Christmas with Gilded Age Traditions at Biltmore
The Vanderbilt family opened the doors of Biltmore House for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1895. Take a step back in time to where it all began and celebrate Biltmore‘s 125th anniversary with “An 1895 Christmas,” which takes inspiration from oral histories, newspaper articles, letters and menu books in the estate’s archives for décor that echoes the very first Christmas at Biltmore. With visitor safety in mind, Biltmore has adapted estate experiences by limiting capacity, requiring face coverings and reservations for tours of Biltmore House. Face coverings are required in all estate buildings. They have also enhanced their stringent disinfection procedures in accordance with CDC guidelines and industry best practices. Click here for details on modified operations.
- New this season: One of Biltmore’s most beloved holiday traditions is the raising of the 35-foot Fraser fir Christmas tree in the Grand Banquet Hall. This year, the celebration is completely online, featuring a new mini-documentary that will give viewers an inside look at the tree’s journey to become a seasonal centerpiece and a special look behind the scenes with details and stories from the people who create the magic of Christmas at Biltmore. To end the day with a bright spot, tune in for the premiere on Nov. 4 at 5 p.m. via Biltmore’s Facebook and Instagram.
- With more than 100 hand-decorated Christmas trees, 25,000 ornaments, 100,000 holiday lights, nearly 6,000 feet of garland and 1,200 poinsettias gracing the house and estate, Christmas at Biltmore (Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, 2021) provides a feast for the senses.
- Take a tour of the house by fire and candlelight during Candlelight Christmas Evenings (Nov. 6 through Jan. 9, 2021). Hand-lit luminaries line the walkway into the house where musicians are stationed throughout performing seasonal favorites. The front lawn is a sight to behold with its 55-foot Norway spruce encircled by 36 illuminated evergreens.
Take an Illuminated Drive Through Olmsted-Inspired Grounds
Take a dreamy ride through the enchanted forests of The North Carolina Arboretum, where the grounds were inspired by designs from the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Winter Lights (Nov. 20 through Jan. 10, 2021) has evolved its 2020 visitor experience to ensure the safety of its guests. Guests will drive through a sparkling, mile-long stretch of lights designed to showcase the natural landscape and take in Asheville’s brightest holiday tradition from the comfort of their vehicle. The displays will feature colorful native butterflies and winter wildlife displays, as well as a special insect-themed lantern exhibit.
Rock Climbing Santa Claus
Santa returns to Chimney Rock State Park this year for a Christmas Eve practice run. On Dec. 5 and 12, Santa will rappel down the 315-foot Chimney Rock, a 535-million-year-old monolith, to prepare for clambering down chimneys around the world. Festivities will be held outdoors, and guests can stop into the Sky Lounge for hot cocoa and Christmas cookies. Also, local poet Eddie Cabbage will be helping children get ready for Christmas by typing up their wish lists on his vintage typewriter.
Rockin’ Around the Neighborhoods & Towns
There are a variety of ways to celebrate the holidays in and around Asheville, both in the city and in its neighboring towns.
- Brand new in the South Slope, Rabbit Rabbit, an outdoor venue created by the Orange Peel and Asheville Brewing Company, will transform its outdoor space into a Winter Wonderland from November to January. Stop in to enjoy holiday lights and exhibits as well as themed drink menus and other holiday programming.
- Hosted by the historic Monte Vista Hotel, Deck the Trees (Dec. 3 through Jan. 4, 2021) celebrates its 10th year by expanding into downtown Black Mountain, the artsy main-street mountain town just 20 minutes from Asheville. This expansion allows for social distancing and the inclusion of more local businesses. The hotel will feature 12 trees in its lobby with 18 more spreading across downtown businesses, all fitting into this year’s theme, “And a Star Appeared.”
- Take an evening drive through Lake Julian Park this winter as it is decorated with dazzling lights and magical displays during this year’s Festival of Lights (Dec. 1 through 23) drive-through celebration.
Handmade Gifts and a New Online Gift Guide Featuring Local Makers
With an inspiring backdrop that has long influenced creatives and entrepreneurs, working studios, artist galleries and colorful boutiques featuring locally made wares can be found in nearly every corner of Asheville.
- Merry Markets: Plan ahead for special markets like the North Carolina Glass Center’s Annual Seconds Sale (Dec. 2-16), CURVE Studios Holiday Market (Dec. 12) and Biltmore’s new Christmas Pop-up Shop (located in the Legacy at Biltmore building).
- Home for Holiday Shopping: Popular Asheville craft markets have shifted to an online format this year, allowing local vendors to share their offerings with a wider audience. Don’t miss the special online Show & Tell Holiday Pop-up Shop (Nov. 1 through Jan. 10, 2021) and a “Party in the Stories” event from The Big Crafty (starting Dec. 6).
- New Online Maker Gift Guide: Holiday shoppers looking to inspire wanderlust with their gifts have a new maker-centric gift guide at their fingertips. Browse the new Explore Asheville Holiday Gift Guide or click here for a full roundup of makers and their stories.
Seasonal Packages & Deals: S’mores & Gingerbread Sweeten Travel Deals
In addition to all the holiday activities Asheville offers, many hotels craft seasonal packages to enhance the Asheville experience. For seasonal hotel packages and deals, visit: https://www.exploreasheville.com/packages-deals/seasonal/.
- As the weather gets cooler, enjoy s’mores on the terrace of Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast with their Fire up the S’mores package. The package includes a fire-starter, hardwood, skewers and all the fixings for a delicious evening.
- Spend the night at the luxurious Inn on Biltmore Estate and receive one-night admission and audio guide to Candlelight Christmas Evenings with their Candlelight Christmas package. In addition to admission, guests will receive breakfast in the dining room and a special Biltmore Christmas gift.
- Take in the history and lavish holiday decorations of the Omni Grove Park Inn with the Holiday Mountain Memories package. Enjoy the Art of Breakfast Buffet in the Blue Ridge Dining Room in addition to a Gingerbread cookie per registered guest.
- Surrounded by the highest peaks in the eastern U.S., Asheville is steeped in natural history, winter adventure and cultural legacies—including America’s Largest Home, Biltmore, and America’s favorite scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway (which intersects Asheville at several points).
- Tucked away in the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is located in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard (though about as far from salt water as you can get and still meet that definition) and is roughly a day’s drive or less for 50 percent of the nation.
- Compared to the Northern U.S. and western mountains, Asheville is known for its mild winters. Annual snowfall averages about 12 inches, and single events rarely have more than 6-8 inches.
- Downtown kiosks and Asheville’s whimsical safety bear remind visitors that North Carolina requires masks indoors and outside, including sidewalks when social distance cannot be maintained. Information on the safety actions of local businesses and shared responsibility of visitors can be found via the “Asheville Cares Stay Safe Pledge.”