The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in America, and is one of the most visited destinations in North Carolina…attracting over 1 million people every year. With nearly 8,000 acres of gardens, trails, meadows, and ponds to explore, it certainly has a lot to offer. In this post, I’ll be discussing when the best times to visit are, as well as going over some touring strategies to make the most out of your trip. So, let’s leave the city life behind, and venture into a world of rolling mountains, lush gardens, green forests, and grandiose architecture that can only be found inside the Biltmore Estate!
A (very) Brief History
George Vanderbilt opened his estate in 1895 on Christmas Eve, inviting friends and family to come celebrate and enjoy a leisurely mountain vacation. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the 250 room house spans close to 179,000 square feet, and takes inspiration from French Renaissance architecture. The house includes an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, a large library, and antiques and fine art from across the globe. Wanting nothing but the best, the grounds of the estate were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted…who most notably helped design Central Park, Golden Gate Park, and the landscape around the US Capital building. Working with what was mainly old farmland, Olmsted envisioned the Estate as a park-like environment, with forests and self-sustaining farms set up around the property. At the request of George Vanderbilt, Olmsted also incorporated 75 acres to be used as formal gardens directly surrounding the house; an Italian garden, a walled garden, a shrub and rose garden, and a conservatory…which houses orchids and other tropical plants. Today, guests can traverse approximately 30 miles worth of garden and woodland trails and paths, as well as visit the ever-growing Antler Hill Village…which features shops and restaurants, a creamery, the farm, two hotels, and (most importantly) the winery.
So, when is the best time to visit? If you only had one day to spend at the Biltmore Estate, I’d make that day fall sometime within the first week of May…preferably a weekday. The average high temperature is usually in the upper 60’s to low 70’s, the days (and estate hours) are longer, most native azaleas and wildflowers will be in peak bloom, the annual Biltmore Blooms event (which showcases more than 50,000 tulips throughout the Estate grounds) will be in full swing, and it’s still early enough to beat the summer vacationing families and tour groups that tend to flock to Asheville after schools let out. And how would I go about spending that one day, you ask? I’d want to get there early. The house doesn’t open until 9 a.m., but the admission gate opens at 8:30 a.m, which means you have a little bit of time beforehand to check out the grounds directly around the house. Park in lot A, and take the walking trail to the house. I’d use this time to explore the grassy slope in front of the house, known as the Vista. At the top, you’ll be greeted with the statue of Diana, and from here you’ll get a great panoramic view of the house and the mountains behind it. This is also a great spot in the evenings for a picnic and watching the sunset. From the Vista, I’d start making my way down the slope to the Rampe Douce. This feature is interesting, as it was designed for a horse and carriage to easily make it up to the Vista…giving the horse an easy incline, and allowing a smooth path for the carriage wheels. Now it’s time to head towards the house and explore the inside. For the Biltmore Blooms event, most rooms will be decorated with flowers and plants, so it’s especially beautiful. Take your time going through the house. My favorite rooms are the library and the Louis XV Room.
Once you’ve finished touring the house, head over to the stable area shops. Here you can peruse candy, books, toys, and gifts. Grab a snack from the Courtyard Market before heading to the south terrace and formal gardens.
The Italian Garden is one of my favorite spots on the estate. It features three large formal water gardens, usually filled with koi, goldfish, and water lilies when it’s warm. After some quiet reflection at the Italian Garden, it’s time to head to the Walled Garden. This is where Biltmore Blooms really shines. Here you’ll find an assortment of tulips and annuals, and as you move further down, you’ll come to the glass-roofed Conservatory. After exploring the tropical flavors and shop inside the Conservatory, it’s time head down to the 15-acre azalea garden. Containing some of the nations finest selections of native azaleas, this garden is also home to the large dawn redwood tree, believed to be extinct up until 1941…when seeds were found in China. It’s believed that the Estate’s redwoods were from those found seedlings.
From the azalea garden, head to the bass pond. Here you’ll find a cool, rustic boathouse that once housed rowboats for fishing and exploring the pond. As you make your way around the pond, you’ll see a cool bridge that was featured in The Last of the Mohicans. The final stop before heading back towards the house and the parking lot is the bass pond waterfall.
Now it’s time to drive over to Antler Hill Village. Here, I’d head straight to the winery for the free tour and wine tasting. After the tasting (and purchasing a few bottles), head down to the Village and look around the shops. The Biltmore Legacy offers rotating exhibits on the Vanderbilt’s history…displaying family heirlooms and relics. Visit the Creamery for a refreshing ice cream snack. After exploring the Village, make your way to the farm, which offers information on what life was like for families living and working on the Estate near the turn of the 20th century…usually with demonstrations from blacksmiths and woodworkers. I’d then end my trip back at Antler Hill Village with dinner at Cedric’s Tavern (and a Cedric’s Brown Ale).
Really, there is no bad time to visit the Biltmore Estate. If possible, get an annual pass. After just a couple of visits, it really does pay for itself. There’s so much more to Biltmore than just the house. There’s restaurants, walking/running/biking trails, shopping, wine, and beautiful gardens.
*Now, let’s rank the best times to visit:
- First week of May – beautiful flowers, beautiful weather, not terribly crowded on weekdays…it’s just perfection.
- Last two and a half weeks of November – Fall colors are still sticking around, Christmas decorations are up, the huge tree on the front lawn is lit up at night…it’s magical.
- New Years Day – Christmas decorations are still up, not a whole lot of crowds to deal with.
- Last two weeks of April – Biltmore Blooms is going strong, the weather is pleasant, not too crowded.
- Last week of October through the first week of November – fall foliage is almost at its peak, autumn blooms are popping up around the grounds, the weather is nice and crisp, but crowds are somewhat heavy on the weekends and moderate on weekdays.
- January through February – crowds are extremely low, but not much is happening as far as events and blooms are concerned.
- June through September – The gardens are full and blooming, the weather is great, but crowds are going to be pretty heavy no matter the day.
It really is best to enjoy the Estate with minimal crowds. There’s nothing like having huge gardens and the house basically all to yourself. It’s a very relaxing feeling.
*Some tips for touring the Estate:
- Take your time. There isn’t really any reason to rush through the house and gardens. Really look at all the details in and around the house. It’s amazing the amount of skill and planning it took to make estate look and feel the way it does today.
- Do the audio tour. There is a lot of detailed information that you’ll get by doing the audio tour that you won’t get with the paper brochure they hand you at the front of the house.
- Do a behind the scenes tour. Not only are they informative and fun, but it also gives you access to areas of the house not seen to everyday guests.
- Take advantage of the annual pass. There is just so much to do on the Estate beyond the visiting actual house. Miles of trails, restaurants, gardens…there’s just so much to explore. You can’t possibly do it in one trip.
- Visit on weekdays. It really is a lot less crowded.
- Purchase your tickets in advance. Not only does it save time when entering the estate, it also saves you money. If you buy 7+ days in advance, it’s $10 cheaper.
- Try all the snack samples. Snack samples are set up in the Carriage House, the Gardner’s Shop, and the Wine Shop.
- Try the wine. Free wine tastings are offered with admission, and all of the wine selections are delicious.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’d be surprised at the amount of steps you can put in.
- Take a picnic. It’s a peaceful setting that promotes relaxation…take advantage of it.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. George Vanderbilt dreamt of a place where family and friends could come together for a time of leisure and relaxation…to find a moment of peace in a hectic, ever-changing world. Those principles are still in force today at the Biltmore Estate. It’s just up to us to take advantage of it.