I used to dismiss trolley tours as “too touristy.” But after our tour in Savannah in 2014, I disembarked convinced that guided trolley tours are an excellent way to get the overview of a city, plus learn tons of history. Even if you don’t budget time to get off at every stop, you can always return to the places that caught your attention later.
When the Asheville Visitor Center generously offered us tickets to the Gray Line Trolley Tour, we jumped at the opportunity.
Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley
We started our adventure at the visitor center, which is stop #1. (You can start the tour at any of the 10 stops if you want.) After gleaning Asheville suggestions from our awesome welcome committee–the knowledgeable and friendly individuals behind the counter–we scrambled to board the trolley in time for the 1:30 p.m. departure.
Before we had even pulled out of the parking lot, we were thrust into the storied history of Asheville. The “pebbledash” homes of the Montford Historic District were next. Pebbledash was a compound made of pebbles and even horsehair, mixed together and thrown against the outer walls of homes to create a stucco-esque look. Architet Richard Sharp Smith used pebbledash in homes throughout the Montford neighborhood.
Sanitariums and Hauntings
As the tour continued, we learned of Asheville’s history in healthcare. Individuals with diseases like tuberculosis or typhoid would come to the city for treatment. There were numerous sanitariums for people with “nervous disorders,” like the one that held Zelda, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, Highland Hospital caught fire in 1948. Nine female patients who were looked in their rooms for the night, including Zelda, didn’t make it out. [Read/listen to more of the story from NPR.] As a result of this horrible disaster and others in the area, some believe that Montford Historic District is haunted.
We were about a tenth into the trolley tour, and I was already fascinated. Over the next three or so hours, we maneuvered through narrow Asheville streets I would never be brave enough to take Meriwether through. Stops included:
- Grove Park Inn with its stunning stone exterior, each piece laid by hand.
- Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, near Asheville Community Theatre (Charlton Heston was an artistic director there in 1947!).
- Pack Square, where we happened on the wonderful Downtown LEAF festival when we arrived in Asheville on Saturday.
- Haywood Street downtown, near St. Lawrence Basilica, and home to tons of cool local shops and beloved restaurants.
- Grove Arcade, an indoor collection of eclectic businesses like Battery Park Book Exchange and Fresh Quarter Produce, where we grabbed a quick snack.
- River Arts District, near where we’re staying at Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park. This neighborhood is full of warehouses converted into galleries and work studios. It’s really quite impressive, with so much creativity to soak in.
- Biltmore Village, where we wandered briefly before hopping on the next trolley to return to the visitor’s center.
Before You Take a Trolley Tour
Our hop-on, hop-off tickets are even good for a second day. We can go the next consecutive day, or skip a day and go back the next day. So, for example, we could go Monday and Tuesday, or Monday and Wednesday. There’s most definitely enough to see over two days. It’s so convenient to not have to worry about directions or parking. And the narration from the guides is so indepth that you’ll need to hear it at least twice to retain it all.
I was really impressed by the tour as a whole. We had three guides throughout the day, with different styles. One was fact-driven, with an unbelievable number of dates and names memorized. Another had an entertaining sense of humor that made riders forget about the afternoon heat and their tired feet. And the last one was a mix of the two, and particularly appreciated because he picked us up a block away from the real stop.
Feel free to comment with any questions, and I’m happy to answer. If you’re ready to go, you can get your tickets online. Or visit the Asheville Visitor Center to buy tickets and take the tour on the same day (36 Montford Ave.). Trollies currently leave every half hour between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.