Best Kept Travel Secrets: Get to Know Asheville, NC

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Got a trip to Asheville coming up? Don't wait until you're in city limits to start planning fun things to do. Asheville is full of attractions worth exploring, but if you're looking for the more unique sides of the city, try one of these eight stops.

Specialty events and tours are scheduled every week, so take a look and see if there's anything coming up you can't miss.

Helen's Bridge

Those in search of the spookier side of North Carolina will want to visit Helen's Bridge. Technically called Zealandia Bridge, the bridge was built in 1909 to connect roadways with Zealandia Estate. Legend has it that a woman named Helen hanged herself on the bridge and now haunts the property. If you see her, she's said to ask if you've seen her daughter, who died in a fire on the property.

Literature fans will also appreciate the references to the bridge in Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel." This bridge haunts the corner of College Street and Beaucatcher Road. As you wait to see if Helen appears, keep an eye out for traffic. The road can get busy.

Biltmore Estate: Secret Passages

Near Helen's Bridge, you'll find a 250-room mansion built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. The Biltmore House sits on an 8,000-acre estate, which bills itself as "America's largest home." As you walk through the home, keep an eye out for doorways hidden among luxurious décor and Renoir paintings. The camouflaged doors conceal hallways and secret rooms. Many of the hallways were meant for servants, so they could quickly zip in and out of rooms to serve the Vanderbilts and their guests. It's a fascinating, up-close look at the extravagance of America's Gilded Age.

A day pass will cost adults between $55 and $85, depending on the day, and youth tickets are half price. That ticket will grant you access to self-guided tours of the property, including historical exhibits and live music. It's also popular with couples looking for a unique wedding location. As America's largest home, it's hard to miss the Biltmore Estate, but the address is 1 Lodge St.

Basilica of Saint Lawrence

Another time capsule of Gilded Age extravagance, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino in 1905. He retired just outside Asheville, built this church in his adopted hometown, and was later buried in a crypt there. It's perhaps best known for its beautiful stained glass windows.

You'll find the church at 97 Haywood St. While the Basilica of Saint Lawrence offers tours, its congregation is still active, so be mindful of mass times. Visiting won't cost you anything, but donations are encouraged.

Folk Art Center

If stained glass art isn't your thing, you might prefer the locally made arts and crafts at the Folk Art Center. Work featured here dates back to the mid 1800s, when local artists first began to coalesce under what became Southern Highland Craft Guild. Rotating exhibits also showcase contemporary work from the artists of Southern Appalachia. There are also special events and workshops, so check the schedule before planning your trip. The building is near milepost 382 along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Grove Park Inn

Rooms here will most likely run you at least a couple hundred dollars a night, but that's what it costs to stay at a historic hotel that has hosted nearly a dozen presidents over the years. The Omni Grove Park Inn dates back to 1913, but the story got a lot more interesting in the ‘50s. That's when, according to a Wall Street Journal report, the hotel struck a deal to host Supreme Court Justices in the case of nuclear fallout. However, justices were unlikely to follow through on any evacuation. Chief Justice Earl Warren was apparently upset that wives weren't allowed to evacuate with them.

The Grove Park Inn's address is 290 Macon Ave. The history to the property is cool, but don't forget to relax in the day spa or with a round of golf.

Wagon Road Gap, Blue Ridge Parkway

Asheville is surrounded by natural beauty. Just about a half hour south of the city, you'll find one the best spots in the country to watch the Monarch Butterfly migration. Every year the butterflies fly south to Mexico through the area. Drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to higher elevation areas for the best view. There are a number of viewing spots between mileposts 412 and 425. One of the top-rated among them is the Wagon Road Gap, which sits 4,550 feet above sea level. You'll find it at milepost 412.2.

No Taste Like Home Tour

For a more hands on experience with nature, book a trip with No Taste Like Home. These guided tours show tourists and locals alike how to forage for food in the wilderness. The exact locations of the tours vary. They also vary in time. The Wild Food Stroll will introduce guests to up to 10 wild foods during an hour-and-a-half of strolling around the Grove Park Inn. The Foraging Tour lasts twice as long, and during that extra time you'll go deeper into the wilderness and gather ingredients. Instead of eating them raw, you can hand over the ingredients to a local restaurant that'll turn them into an appetizer dish.

Tickets for the shorter experience start at $40. The more intensive tour will cost at least $60. Experienced foragers may consider booking a private tour to take their skills to the next level. You can also partner the tour with other local attractions for a discount.

River Arts District

If you like exploring neighborhoods at your own pace, the River Arts District is where you'll want to spend your time. This historic industrial district is now filled with artists of all mediums. Old mills now host galleries and working studios, where visitors can watch the artists at work. Specialty events and tours are scheduled every week, so take a look and see if there's anything coming up you can't miss. Even without a specific plan, you're bound to find something worth putting on your credit card.