Over Memorial Day Weekend, I was able to check off a major item from my bucket list—visiting the Biltmore! I’ve wanted to go for as long as I can remember, but definitely had a renewed interest after touring all the Vanderbilt mansions in Newport, Rhode Island a few summers ago. Earlier this year, my sisters and I knew we wanted to plan a MDW trip, but it was still when vaccine rollout was slow—so we decided on Asheville because it was within driving distance, but still a new-to-us place. By the time we visited, we were fully vaccinated and all Covid-related policies at Biltmore (and Asheville generally) had been lifted—but as with all things right now, I am sure policies and procedures could still be in flux. So, if you’re using this post to plan your own trip, I’d recommend checking out the Biltmore website for the latest and greatest—I also had a lot of luck getting intel from recent visitors on Trip Advisor!
Biltmore is the largest private residence in the United States, and was built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895. George was the youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt and grandson of “The Commodore,” Cornelius Vanderbilt. (George’s siblings were the ones that built a lot of the most famous “summer cottages” in Newport like The Breakers and Marble House.) George would make regular visits to Asheville with his mother, who was in poor health, under advice from her doctor’s to get fresh mountain air. He ultimately decided to build in Asheville and pieced together land for his estate by buying it from local farmers—they were happy to sell him the land as much of it was in poor condition. George furnished the home from his trips to Europe and it officially opened on Christmas Eve 1895, six years after construction began. Shortly before his death in 1914, George sold some of Biltmore’s land to the US Government to help pay for maintenance of the estate and the new personal income tax. The land he sold to the government became Pisgah National Forest. After his death, his widow, Edith, inherited the house, and it eventually passed to the couple’s only child, Cornelia, and her husband, John Cecil. Descendants of their sons still own the estate today, though it has not been a private residence since 1956.
We pretty much spent from 9am to 5pm at Biltmore, so I wanted to dedicate an entire post to the Estate so I can share all of my tips and tricks for ensuring your visit as successful as ours was. And, you can read my full guide to Asheville here that has a roundup of everything else we did while we were in town!
So, without further ado, let me take you inside our day at Biltmore—
HOW TO GET THERE + PLANNING YOUR TRIP —
In my aforementioned Asheville guide, I share a full recap of how we got to town (spoiler alert: we drove), but regardless of if you drive or fly to AVL, I would recommend having a car for your trip to Biltmore. While it’s pretty easy to Uber to the property, the mansion and Antler Hill Village, where Biltmore Winery is, is about four miles apart. As of the time of our visit, there is no estate-wide transport service, so to get from the mansion to Antler Hill Village, you’d have to call another Uber. Parking is included with the cost of your ticket, and we never had a problem getting a spot—so if you’re planning on visiting Biltmore while in town, I think it’s worth having your car or renting one.
There are three types of tickets you can buy to Biltmore, outside of becoming an annual member—The Enhanced Experience, which is what we did, Exclusive Experience, and Garden & Grounds. All ticket types come with a complimentary wine tasting, access to the grounds and gardens, and free parking. The Enhanced Experience comes with a self-guided audio tour of the mansion, while the Exclusive Experience is led by an expert guide. My sisters and I love touring historic homes, and we felt like the audio tour was comprehensive enough for our needs—it was very thorough and well done; plus, there were Biltmore employees stationed throughout the house to answer our questions.
Because Biltmore is a really popular tourist spot, tickets do sell out—and the most popular mansion tour times—which are the ones earlier in the day—go especially fast. We bought our tickets about six weeks before the trip and had our choice of mansion tour time. (Regardless of what time you tour the mansion, you can enter the estate when it opens! So even if you have 4pm mansion tour, you can get on the property when it opens at 9am.)
We planned our day at the Biltmore as follows, and if we were to go back, I’d totally do it this way again!
- 9:30 – arrive at Biltmore, park, walk to mansion [it’s a short walk from the parking lot]
- 9:45-10:15 – take pictures of the mansion, walk its front lawn, do a preliminary cruise of the gift shops
- 10:15-12:00 – enjoy the Mansion tour
- 12:00-12:30 – take a water break + shop the gift shops near the Mansion
- 12:30-1:30 – walk through the gardens and check out the Conservatory
- 1:30-1:45 – drive to Antler Hill Village and park
- 1:45-2:30 – lunch at Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village
- 2:30-3:00 – shop the gift shops in Antler Hill Village
- 3:00-5:00 – enjoy our complimentary wine tasting + grab a bottle for the patio after, then head home!
One very important thing to note is that when we went, you had to reserve a scheduled time for your complimentary wine tasting. Unfortunately, you can’t do this before the day-of your trip, you can only do it once you’re on the estate. At the check-in gate, make sure you ask for the visitor’s guide, and there’s a page with a QR code that you can scan to take you to the wine tasting reservation system. (They also have a few QR codes posted throughout the property, but we don’t mess around when it comes to free wine.) We were really nervous all the slots were going to be sold out, but luckily when we arrived, we still had our choice of times! Doing the mansion + gardens in the morning and then moving over to Antler Hill Village and the Winery in the afternoon worked out really well for us, which is why I’d recommend the itinerary above!
MANSION TOUR —
The Biltmore mansion is absolutely stunning! If you’ve been to Newport, the audio tour is done in a very similar way as the homes there—you’re given a device that looks like an old school phone when you enter the mansion and each room has a number on a sign. When you get to the room, you enter the number on your device and the recording for that room begins playing and then directs you where to go next.
On the tour, you see a great mix of rooms—everything from Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sitting room to Mr. Vanderbilt’s library to the dining room to the beautiful veranda outback that overlooks the mountains. They also had a large indoor swimming pool and exercise room in the basement, both of which were really cool to see. One really cool thing we learned was that during WWI, Mrs. Vanderbilt allowed the United States government to evacuate some of our most valuable pieces in the National Gallery of Art, including the famous painting of George Washington that Dolley Madison saved, in hopes they would be protected in case of an enemy attack. She viewed it as a public service and never charged for this service.
After the tour, we went to the gift shops near the mansion—if you’re facing the mansion, there is a little shopping center to the right, covered by trees in most photos fo the mansion shot straight on. There’s a little cafe for lunch, an ice cream parlor, public restrooms, and several gift shops—one dedicated entirely to Christmas, your traditional tourist spot gift shop, and then a book store. While at the mansion, my sister Jennifer and I fell in love with a painting called The Waltz and really wanted to find a reproduction of it in the gift shops. At the bookstore, we noticed they had posters of some other paintings throughout the mansion, so we asked if they had any of The Waltz—luckily for us, the salesperson was so helpful and checked her inventory. We were in luck! They brought us the posters over in no time—so definitely ask if you want something and don’t see it as they have great hospitality!
The other thing to note is these gift shops near the mansion and the gift shops in Antler Hill Village carry different items—so if you see something you want, buy it when you see it! The shops near the mansion are more Biltmore-focused and the shops in Antler Hill Village carry gifts you’d find in a nice boutique—like coffee table books, handbags, candles, etc.—if that makes sense.
THE GARDENS & CONSERVATORY —
After the mansion tour, we spent about an hour walking around the Biltmore’s beautiful gardens and checking out the Conservatory, which has beautiful models of the house surrounded by foliage and lots of mini-train sets going, as a nod to the Vanderbilt’s railroad fortune. The grounds are really big and there is lots of walking involved, so I’d recommend wearing comfortable shoes. We all wore sandals and our feet were definitely hurting by the end of it!
Once we got out of the Conservatory, the skies looked quite threatening—and since we didn’t have any umbrellas on-hand, we high-tailed it back to the car and got back right as the rain started. Luckily for us, it was a quick shower—but I think it came at a great time as we all needed a minute to sit down in the air conditioning and rest our feet. We made the drive over to Antler Hill Village for lunch!
ANTLER HILL VILLAGE & WINERY —
Antler Hill Village is a short drive from the mansion, and access is included in your admission. Built on the land that used to be the Vanderbilt’s Dairy Farm—and we were told the ice cream is excellent!—it’s a fun way to extend your day. In addition to hosting two hotels, there is a farmyard, an ice cream shop, several restaurants, gift shops, and the Winery.
We didn’t have reservations for lunch since we didn’t know what time we’d want to eat since we didn’t know what time our Winery reservation would be. Biltmore has a lot of restaurants on the property, so I knew we’d be able to find something good! When we pulled up to Antler Hill Village, we first came across Cedric’s Tavern, named for the Vanderbilt’s dog. It was a great spot for lunch, with lots of American pub favorites. We all did the burger and they were delicious! This was a very family-friendly place and there were lots of young children here, too—so would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a spot to eat as a family. After lunch, we stuck our heads into a few gift shops, but I wouldn’t call out any of particular note—we weren’t really tempted to buy anything.
We headed over for our wine tasting a few minutes early and were allowed to go in! To get to the Winery, you walk through this beautiful underground cellar that has been decorated with a ton of string lights—it’s stunning. Off the Winery gift shop, there’s a room where they offer the complimentary tastings. It’s filled with multiple tasting bars and each party is assigned to a different section of one of the bars. They had about ten wines on the tasting, and you could choose five you wanted to taste—we made friends with our sommelier, and he let us taste a few extras, which was really nice.
After our tasting, we bought a bottle and posted up on their outdoor patio for a few hours and talked about the highlights of our day. (They also sell snacks and small bites, but we were still full from lunch.) On our way out, we cruised through the Winery gift shop to pick up a few bottles to take home and then we headed back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner.
We absolutely loved our day at the Biltmore—there is so much to uncover and experience at this grand estate that I definitely would love to get back one day. I’ve heard it’s beautiful at Christmastime (and I’ve heard the same about the Omni Grove Park Inn!), so would especially love to get back that time of year.
If you have any questions about our trip to Biltmore, please don’t hesitate to comment below or reach out via email, katie@atouchofteal.
And, as a reminder, you can also view my complete Asheville guide here!