Up for a road trip that includes something extraordinary, loads of natural beauty and maybe a touch of history too? We’ll tell you why we think the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is a great option for a journey this summer! You’ll find history, wonderful dining, family friendly activities and more at this beautiful estate.
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About the Biltmore Estate
Of all the family escapes that we’ve taken, a day trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina rates as one of the most enchanting, unique and definitely out of the ordinary (unless you’re a Vanderbilt yourself).
The Biltmore estate is only 90 minutes from Greenville. Known to be the largest private residence in all of America, it was built in the late 1880’s by George W. Vanderbilt, grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was George’s first visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother that inspired him to build his country house. With his love for all things French and passion for nature, he built a chateau style mansion featuring 250 rooms on 125,000 acres of land. Later, the house would become a home with his marriage to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and the birth of their daughter, Cornelia.
Summer is a great time to see the estate as the mansion has many outdoor events and exhibitions. But before anything else, do buy a week ahead to avail of ticket discounts and decide whether to visit peak (weekends and requires calling ahead to reserve a time slot for seeing the house) or off peak.
Tour du Jour
The house designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, took six years to build featuring 250 rooms, 35 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. It’s of course recommended that you start your tour here. The sprawling estate requires a car to navigate, and takes about three miles to the parking lot from the ticketing office. (Tip: Print your tickets ahead of time to skip the registration process. With tickets in hand, you can go straight to your parking lot of choice. We usually park at the gardens and walk to the house to avoid having to wait for the parking lot shuttle).
Allot about an hour and a half of your day to see the mansion. If you are interested in anecdotes and stories behind the rooms, you may rent an audio guide. Tip: Since we usually visit with kids 9 and below, we usually skip the audio tour and rely on the free printed brochure of Cedric’s Treasure Hunt guide of the mansion at the house. Just ask for it when you go inside. Also, be sure to go to the bathroom before you go inside the mansion since there are none inside.
While some kids thoroughly enjoy the mansion with its maze-like architecture and magnificent rooms, it may be boring for smaller children. Our favorite highlights of the house: George’s 22,000 volume library; the cavernous dining hall; in some of the rooms, the unmarked secret doors and passageways; the indoor pool, bowling alley and Halloween room.
While you can take a self-guided tour of the house, the Biltmore offers lots of really cool guided tours.
Roam the amazing Biltmore Gardens
Designed by no other than Frederick Olmsted of New York’s Central Park, the Gardens of Biltmore Estate are one to behold. From the mansion, we love walking through the formal walled garden and stroll thru heritage roses in full bloom. If you’re lucky, you may spot a hummingbird or two hovering about patches of Bee Balm and Zinnias. At the end of the rose garden is the conservatory filled with exotic plants. During the Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s time, the conservatory provided fresh flowers and plants for the mansion.
While visiting the gardens is a thrilling experience any time of the year, the spring and fall are especially stunning.
Kid-friendly Antler Hill Village
A more casual affair, the Antler Hill Village is a great way to cap a Biltmore visit with kids. A short drive from the main house includes a Winery, more dining options, a creamery (hooray!), changing exhibitions and specialty estate shops. To the edge of the Antler Hill Village is the Farmyard where kids can play at the playground, pet the barn animals or tour the stables. The Antler Hill barn features turn of the century games and displays of old farming equipment to make Biltmore a self-sustainable community. Blacksmith, woodworkers and craft demonstrations are held daily to introduce old artisan traditions to young curious onlookers.
This Biltmore has brought back the Vanderbilt Travels Railway, a 250-foot model train display which showcases George Vanderbilt’s travels by using handcrafted architectural models made from leaves, twigs and other natural materials. Includes five model trains that run along track loops, passing by miniature versions of the Biltmore Rail Depot, the USS Vanderbilt Steamship, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe, London Bridge and other landmarks. This display is shown several months out of the year.
More on the Biltmore Winery
Begin by taking a stroll underground through the historic cellars of the former Biltmore Dairy. The kids enjoyed the cool temperature of the cellar and wandering thru the exhibit. Your stroll will lead to an impressive tasting room where gracious wine hosts guide you through a complimentary wine tasting. For a nominal fee, you can sample their finest reserve. Kids had grape juice and complimentary snacks while adults enjoyed their wine. The tasting room opens up to some wine shopping, cooking ware and gourmet tastings of spreads and honeys produced in the estate.
Tip: Combine your visit with a private Wine Tasting tour such as the Red Wine and Chocolate tasting tour. There are several other tours at The Biltmore Winery as well. Book your free tasting when you first arrive at the Biltmore at the Visitors Center. Slots fill up fast.
If you are looking to extend your visit, the Biltmore has a whole list of private tours to capture every imagination. Last year, we took the Upstairs-Downstairs tour and were able to see how the 438 employees kept the mansion in tip-top shape including the use of synchronized clocks and a state of the art in-house communication system and combined with other technological marvels of the time. Staff unlike those at the Downtown Abbey mostly lived upstairs in the upper floors with hidden passageways to the Master Bedroom and guest floor.
Seasonal events happening at Biltmore
Biltmore is a home for all seasons. The estate plans seasonal celebrations and many families have made this part of their tradition. They have an annual Easter Egg Hunt, summer concert series, art exhibitions, Christmas displays, and so much more.
Book an overnight at Biltmore Hotel
The Biltmore Estate is certainly a romantic destination perfect for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions. Book your stay at Village Hotel, The Inn or the Cottage.
Dining Options at the Biltmore
Dining at the Biltmore estate can range from quick but delectable Courtyard Market fare such as sausages and pretzels in the House and Garden to a more formal sit-down affair complete with white linen and finery at The Dining Room located in the The Inn. There are over 16 places to choose from. And yes, they have a two ice cream shops, a bakery and BBQ! Most of the restaurants near the House and Garden are open daily but the Smokehouse at the Farmhouse at Antler Hill Village is only open on weekends. During our visits with kids in tow, we pack a light lunch and treat them to ice cream at the Creamery
If you’d like to sample afternoon tea Vanderbilt style, The Inn serves a selection of Newby Tea’s along with some artfully prepared sweet and savory bites. Offered daily 1 pm to 2:30 pm at $40 a person.
Have a picnic by the lake, go for a hike
If you’d rather take a picnic basket, Guest Services can recommend picnic spots in their many beautiful lawns and gardens. (picnics are allowed just not around the mansion or near any of their dining establishments). Use of tents, grills, multiple camping chairs/tables, and large coolers, is not permitted in Biltmore parking lots or on the grounds. The Azalea garden path, Bass Pond and Boat house are wonderful choices for your a walk and a packed lunch.
We love to go biking on the trails at the Estate as well. The paths run along the French Broad River and up to the Gardens.
Early Christmas Shopping at the Biltmore Estate
For those folks who have everything, the estate has some beautiful shops to choose from. Our favorites would be the Toy Maker’s which carries vintage toys and exquisite dolls for the quintessential doll collector; A Gardener’s Place by the conservatory sells rare plants and flowers such as the Chinese Lantern vine and heritage tomato seeds; and The Barn Door, located at the Antler Village Barn and features beautiful locally made arts and crafts.
Tickets are priced by season but most start at $86 for adults and include the House and Gardens plus Antler Hill Village and the Winery. Reservations are required for visits inside the House.
If you plan to make more than two visits a year, buying an annual pass makes it worthwhile. Annual passes go on sale at different times throughout the year. To make it friendlier to families, during the summer months, Biltmore offers free entrance for kids 16 and under with the purchase of one adult admission.
One Lodge Street, Asheville, NC
The Biltmore is open daily but hours vary
Have you visited the Biltmore house? What were your favorite parts?