Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate is a place that looks like it’s straight out of the French Countryside. It is certainly a grand example of opulence and wealth and could easily be mistaken for a French château.
While the house is touted to be the largest privately-owned residence in the United States, its almost 11 square miles of park-like grounds make this beautiful setting a must-see on any visit to western North Carolina. The home was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II during the late 19th century and it is still owned by his descendants today.
The Biltmore Estate is located on the south side of Asheville and is easily reached from Interstate 40 and 26. The long, winding road that leads visitors into the property will give you an indication of just how large the estate is.
There is plenty of parking available, which is free, and a short and easy path will lead you to your first glimpse of the mansion. If you get stuck parking in some of the more distant lots, there are shuttle buses available.
From an elevated terrace, the Biltmore is laid out in front of you beyond the carpet of manicured grass and the oval fountain. It is a stunning sight. To your left will be the beautiful gardens of the estate and a likely place to begin your tour.
You can certainly tour the inside of the mansion first, but I recommend starting in the gardens seeing as they right there. The gardens are quite extensive and cover several acres, so plan on at least 90 minutes to 2 hours to tour just the gardens. The uppermost garden is known as the Italian Garden, and this is the area that includes the three water gardens with a number of Chihuly pieces strategically placed in the ponds. It’s a beautiful setting and a great place to sit and watch the koi and goldfish as they swim among the water lilies and papyrus.
The next area of the gardens is the Shrub Garden. This area includes over 500 different varieties of trees, shrubs, and other plants that were prominent during the late 1890s. There is an easy 1/3-mile walking trail that loops through and around the Shrub Garden and leads you to the Walled Garden.
The Walled Garden encompasses over four acres and is set up to be in near-constant bloom. With thousands of tulips in the spring, summer annuals, and fall mums, this area is always a kaleidoscope of color. The strategic placement of a few Chihuly pieces only adds to the magical colors of the garden.
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The over 200-foot central arbor of the Walled Garden takes you down to the Rose Garden. Here you will view over 40 different varieties of roses featuring heirloom roses, and even a trial growing area where they test new varieties.
If you have the energy, you can head to the left of the Rose Garden to the Spring Garden and the Azalea Garden. This large area contains one of the finest collections of native azaleas along with a number of spring blooming plants. The easy walking trails here can take you all the way to the Boat House and Bass Pond should you wish to get a little more exercise. Otherwise, it’s time to check out that beautiful building that is the Conservatory.
The final stop on the garden tour is the stunning Conservatory. The glass-roofed building houses a number of different ferns, palms, exotic orchids, and numerous other beautiful plants and flowers that were used to decorate the Biltmore House during the period when the Vanderbilt’s occupied the home. It’s a fitting end to the garden tour and also a great place to sit and relax for a while before retracing your steps back up to the house.
Before entering the house, be sure to step onto the terrace. It provides amazing views of the mountains and is covered with wisteria and trumpet creeper vines that provide a nice shady area to sit and enjoy the stunning view.
The Biltmore Mansion
As you approach the mansion, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could possibly need that much space to live. At over 175,000 square feet, it would literally be possible to get lost in there. Nevertheless, the building is certainly a masterpiece of late 19th-century Chateauesque-style architecture and construction. It literally took an entire village to construct the estate with over 1,000 local workers and craftsmen involved in the project.
As you prepare to enter the home, you will have to go through a security screening, and no liquid containers that are not see through are allowed. Once inside the massive foyer, you can purchase an audio headset or follow the signs that do a great job of directing you through the mansion. A handy map is also available to help guide you.
While it will be impossible to give you a description of all 250 rooms, rest assured that they pretty much thought of everything while constructing this home. It contains, among other things: an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, a banquet hall with a 70-foot ceiling that my house would fit into, a massive library, a gym, and of all things, a Halloween room.
Interesting Facts About the Biltmore Estate
- It is the largest privately owned home in the United States with 178,926 square feet of floor space.
- The original estate covered over 125,000 acres of land.
- Today the estate sits on over 8,000 acres of rolling hills in Asheville, North Carolina.
- The building took 6 years to construct. It was started in 1889 and completed in 1895.
- Over 1,000 workers and 60 masons worked to construct the massive home.
- The home contains 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms along with 65 fireplaces.
- The enormous dining room is fit for a king and has a 70-foot high ceiling and a massive fireplace.
- The two-story Library contains over 10,000 volumes.
- The first floor contains a Tapestry Gallery that is 90-feet long.
- There is even an indoor Winter Garden room.
Biltmore Visitor Information
Open 365 days a year.
Hours vary by season:
- Admissions Gate: 8:30am to 6:30pm
- Biltmore House: 9am to 5pm
- Gardens: M-W: 9am to 8pm, T-S: 9am to 7pm
- Stable Courtyard: 8:30am to 6:30pm
- Conservatory: 9am to 6pm
- Antler Hill Winery: 11am to 8pm
Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 800-411-3812.
Tickets are expensive and range from $54 to as high as $85 depending on the day and time of year so check their schedule before deciding which day to visit. On certain days that are deemed to be busy, you can purchase advance tickets for a specific entry time and this helps to control the flow of visitors in the house. Also, you can save $10 on the ticket price by purchasing your ticket 7+ days in advance.
- Children 9 and under are free year-round.
- Ages 10–16 get a 50% discount on the adult admission price.
- From May 25 to Sept 3, entry is free for kids up to age 16.
- Audio guide is available for $12 per person.
- Your admission includes a self-guided tour of the house, access to the gardens and the Antler Hill Village, and free wine tasting at the winery. Admission to the Chihuly at Biltmore exhibit is also included but the special display is only until October 7th.
- If one day wasn't enough, you can return the following day for only $10, which must be paid and purchased before leaving the grounds.
- AAA does offer advance discounted tickets so check with your local AAA office.
To see the entire home, plan on at least 90 minutes to 2 hours to go through the 40 rooms that visitors have access to. Be sure to go down to the basement, which we almost missed. The indoor swimming pool in down there along with servant quarters, kitchen, the Halloween room, and the gym.
When you are done with the house, you can head to the right side of the building to where the old Carriage House and Stables were located. Today, this area has been converted into shops and cafes. It’s a nice spot to relax after touring the home, and the prices for snacks and drinks were reasonable. If you missed the terraces on the left side of the house, be sure to stop there before heading out. The view of the mountains is spectacular.
In addition to the gardens and home, the estate has been greatly expanded since the early 1980s. The addition of the Biltmore Winery (formerly the dairy barn), the Inn, and Antler Village have all been added to make a visit to the Biltmore Estate a complete experience.
Your ticket price includes a wine sampling at the winery, so be sure to stop by before departing. While we spent the better part of an entire day touring the estate, you could spend many days exploring its grounds and hiking its trails. The entire property is kept in immaculate condition, and it really is an absolutely beautiful setting, not to be missed if visiting western North Carolina.
© 2018 Bill De Giulio