The Biltmore Estate

Since the Biltmore Estate is the top tourist attraction in Asheville, it seemed like we had to visit while we were nearby. Biltmore House was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II and finished in 1895. It is still privately owned by a Vanderbilt descendant, and is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Portions of the house were first opened to the public during the Great Depression, although family members lived there until 1956, when it became purely a tourist attraction.

Mid-week and shoulder season. I can't image what it's like on a summer weekend.
Mid-week and shoulder season. I can’t image what it’s like on a summer weekend.

We went on a Wednesday in the fall, and it seemed quite crowded. I can’t image what it is like on weekends and in the summer. It’s also pricey. Tickets were $65 per person ($10 discount if you book a week in advance), plus the highly recommended audio guide at $11 each. If you have not prepurchased and printed your tickets, you’ll have to first stop at the ticket office, which is a mile or two from the house. We had no way to print tickets, so even with a very short line, we probably spent 20 minutes parking, walking to and from the ticket office, and purchasing tickets.

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We shared an audio guide, but that definitely slows down the tour. With an audio guide per person, you could probably make it through the main house in about 90 minutes to two hours. We took more than three hours due to sharing the audio guide and waiting for brief breaks in the crowds to try to take pictures.

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The house is full of beautiful (and expensive) art and furniture. The tour is self-guided, so the well-done audio guide is highly recommended. The house has about four acres of indoor living space. Male staff did not even sleep in the main house; the cooks, kitchen and scullery maids had rooms in the basement, and the 21 bedrooms on the fourth floor were used by the rest of the female house staff. Total staff was well over 100. We definitely felt we got more insight into life in the Gilded Age.

Oma loved the flowers, especially the orchids, in the conservatory.
Oma loved the flowers, especially the orchids, in the conservatory.

There is a ton of other stuff on the estate. We checked out the conservatory (it was too late in the season for the rest of the gardens), and Oma went nuts over the orchids. There is also lots of shopping (they recommend 1-2 hours for shopping!, although we passed on that), a winery, and accommodations on the estate (but several miles from the house). It was a long enough day that we did eat lunch on the estate, and our burgers were good and priced about what I expected (expensive, but not totally outrageous).

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Given the price and the crowds, it’s not something I’d rush back and do again next year, but we felt that it was worth visiting and I appreciated that they allowed non-flash photography. So recommended if you haven’t been there before and you can spend 4+ hours on the estate. Definitely get the audio guide.

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