If you want to see a castle and can’t make it to Europe, here’s your chance. Biltmore Estate, touted as America’s largest privately-owned home, is truly a palace. At 175,000 square feet, it has 33 bedrooms for family and guests, to say nothing of the servants’ quarters. Built in the late 1800s as George Vanderbilt’s bachelor pad, it has dazzled millions of guests.
The house is not only beautiful and historic. It’s so fantastically frozen in time, but also surprising in terms of some of the technology they had 100 years ago. Electricity and indoor plumbing were novelties in the time George Vanderbilt erected his mansion, but dumbwaiters, drains, the indoor pool, and many other special features were amazing in those days. Maybe you are interested in enjoying its beauty and envisioning yourself living there, or you are just curious to see one of America’s castles. But it’s a must-see if you are in the area.
Please note: Photographs are not allowed inside the house. There is a photographer in front of the winter garden (in the entry hall) who will take a photo of your group that you have an opportunity to purchase when you exit the house.
When my father was a teenage lad sometime around 1960, he drove up to the grand palace with his grandmother and his aunt. He thinks he remembers paying $10 or so to get in. But once inside, they literally had the run of the house and could poke and prod and tread anywhere they liked. No ropes, no guided tour. At one point, my father stared down a dark hallway. As a docent walked by, he asked if it was okay to go down there. The response was, “Sure, just be careful.”
Today, things are quite different, but it’s all still wonderful. You may not be able to see the entire house like my father did, but you can see about 80% of it. Is the admission price worth it? Yes. Plan to spend your whole day there and drink it in. The highest traffic days tend to be on weekends (particularly Saturdays). Many of those high traffic days require advance ticket purchases, with limited or no access for last-minute walk-ups. Check the calendar on the website before you go, so you won’t be disappointed.
Included in your $60 admission ticket is a self-guided tour of selected rooms on three or four floors of the house (only a portion of the 80% I mentioned), the gardens, the conservatory, and Antler Hill Village & Winery. If you would like to actually see 80% of the house, you will need to purchase the additional add-on tours, such as the Behind the Scenes Upstairs Downstairs Tour and the Rooftop Tour (which is only pleasant depending on the weather). You can look up the current add-on offerings here. If you would like the narrated audio tour, you can rent the hand held recorder for $10. It operates like a phone, so that each person can listen quietly. The audio tour does pay for itself with interesting little facts. For instance, there is a hidden door that you wouldn’t otherwise spot alone. You will also learn that it took three days to fill the indoor pool with water, and they only filled the pool when someone wanted to use it.
In the garden
Enjoying the view at the back of the house
Will children like it?
Most likely, yes. but this will depend on the child. In preparing my son for where we were going, I built up the fact that we were going to see a castle. He was definitely not disappointed. There is an audio tour that is specifically geared toward children, too, which can be rented for $10 like the adults’ audio device. We were there on a summer day, so there were plenty of children to observe. Every single one I saw with the audio device seemed to be listening intently and enjoying the tour. The Halloween room is a favorite, of course, and much different now. If you’re like me and visited as a child 30 years ago, you probably remember a big, open basement room with fun murals. The murals are still there, but there are displays through the middle of the room showing different phases of construction of the house. There is more historical content available now, even to the guest who simply purchases the $60 admission ticket without any add-ons.
Are there discounts for admission?
Check the website for any special offers or deals. When we went, children under 16 were free. That is very attractive to families who aren’t sure whether their little people will enjoy touring the big house or not. There is also currently an opportunity to buy a second day’s admission for only $10.
You can save $5-10 on your tickets by pre-purchasing them online ahead of time. This will also save you some time standing in line when you arrive on the 8,000 acre estate.
Parking and Logistics
Many years ago, one could drive right up in front of the house and park. This is no longer possible, due to the size of the crowd visiting every day. There are multiple parking lots with free shuttles to the house and back. However, for an additional $18, one can drive right up front and enjoy valet parking, skipping the large, remote parking lots and shuttle rides. Shuttle drivers provide a little narrative about the property, though, so there is some value in skipping in the valet.
The natural flow of traffic through the estate will dictate the order of your activities. Your first stop is the visitor center where tickets are purchased, unless you already have tickets. Parking attendants will direct you to a parking lot, where you will pick up your shuttle to the house and gardens. After you enjoy the house and gardens for several hours and return to your car by shuttle, your exit route will take you right in front of the house and through the gardens, so you will have additional quick photo opps from your vehicle. Just please don’t hold up traffic. Following the exit signs, you will wend you way to Antler Hill. Even if you don’t have any plans to stop at Antler Hill, the exit route will loop you through the parking lot and back out again before you exit. They clearly really want you to park, come in, and buy some wine. There is a playground for the kiddos, so they won’t be too worn out with the grown-ups tasting wine and shopping. You will also find some of the property’s many dining options at Antler Hill.
Overall, did I like it or love it? Love it!
There are now three different hotel or cottage offerings on the Biltmore Estate. The Inn is a special place for an anniversary or a weekend getaway, complete with a spa and other luxurious amenities. The Cottage is a special experience where a limited number of guests have the opportunity to stay in what was once the home of the Vanderbilts’ groundskeeper. The Village Hotel is a brand new offering and will open in December of 2015. Click here to contact me about booking.
If one of these arrangements on Biltmore Estate is not right for you, there are many other options outside the gates which may fit your travel needs better. Contact me to find your best fit!