Everything You Need To Know About Visiting The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate is the largest home in America, spanning 175,000 square feet or four acres of floor space. This French Renaissance château dominates in size yet does not compromise a single detail. The Biltmore Estate is a beautiful blend of excessive luxury, homely comforts, innovative technology before its time, and character greater than many competing mansions of its time. The extravagant gardens are overwhelming, and the house itself is a wonder of architecture.
The mansion was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II and featured a mixture of European Colonial and French Renaissance styles.
The Biltmore Estate is a historical museum and a popular tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. Although it is a popular public venue, the house is still owned by the Cecil’s – living descendants of the first Vanderbilt’s to occupy this wonderful home.
The Biltmore Estate was built as the ultimate indulgence of George Washington Vanderbilt II. A descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s “The Commodore,” the builder of Grand Central Depot in NYC and a pioneer of the Gilded Age in America. The build started in 1889 and ran through 1895, although the enormous estate was never completed. George welcomed his family on Christmas Eve, 1895.
The name Biltmore is a combination of ‘De Blit’ – a small town in the Netherlands and ancestral home of the Vanderbilt family, and ‘Moor,’ the Anglo-Saxon term for ‘Rolling Land.’ The original Biltmore Estate spanned close to 125,000 acres. A few years later, due to newly introduced income taxes, the family sold 87,00 acres of the estate to the federal government. By 1930, the Great depression made The Biltmore Estate even more challenging to maintain financially, so the family opened up the house. The estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963.
Today, the estate covers approximately 8,000 acres. Guests are invited to enjoy exploring the home’s inside and explore the sprawling gardens.
Opening The Biltmore Estate to the public revitalized Asheville. This small city is well known and is a destination that attracts thousands of visitors every year. The Biltmore Estate is also one of the largest employers in the Asheville area.
History Of The Build
George Washington Vanderbilt II, the grandson of the famous industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt, commissioned the build. George loved the North Carolinian landscape. He would visit every year, but his memorable visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1888 confirmed his desire to settle in the area and establish an estate that would stand for generations.
The prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt was the architect. Richard Morris Hunt built many Vanderbilt estates, including the famous Breakers and Marble House in Rhode Island.
Hunt designed the 250-roomed estate based on visits to French châteaus that he and William visited in 1889. Hunt used the French château as his inspiration for the build. He borrowed styles from Château de Blois, Clemenceau, Chambord in France, and Waddeson House in England. It was prevalent for wealthy Americans to visit Europe for inspiration for these grand mansions during this era. And all of them contain trophy pieces purchased for European estates. Many Gilded Age mansions have tapestries, chandeliers, paintings, carpets, and prints dating between the 15th century and the late 19th century.
It took six years and an entire town of artisans to build The Biltmore Estate. And, despite this accomplishment, it was not 100% complete. For example, the music room remained unfinished until June 1976.
The Vanderbilt Family
George Washington Vanderbilt II married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, a descendant of the first Dutch governors of New York, in 1898. Edith gave birth to their only daughter Cornelia, the first Vanderbilt to be born at The Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt passed away unexpectedly in 1914 due to complications from an emergency appendectomy. Edith honored Vanderbuil’s wishes to keep the land unaltered however consolidated some of the estates in 1917. She continued to occupy the estate sporadically until her daughter Cornelia married John Francis Amherst Cecil in April 1924. At which point, the Cecil’s took up residency.
Cornelia and John had two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil (1925-2020) and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil (1928–2017), born on the estate. The Cecils divorced in 1934, and Cornelia left the estate, never to return. John continued to live at the estate until he died in 1954.
Their eldest son, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, lived at the estate until 1956. He ceased living there once the estate became a historic house museum.
Upon the death of Cornelia, their mother, in 1976, William Cecil inherited the estate, and George Cecil inherited the profitable dairy farm now known as Biltmore Farms.
In 1950 the two brothers came together to save the estate from financial ruin. They could carry on their grandfather’s vision of a self-sufficient estate, ultimately leading to a profitable enterprise.
In 1995 William Cecil turned over the company’s control to his son, William (Bill) A. V. Cecil, Jr. Bill Cecil is The Biltmore Estate CEO.
Interesting Fact: George Washington Vanderbilt II was Gloria Vanderbilt’s great-uncle. Gloria Vanderbilt was Anderson Cooper’s mother. So, Anderson Cooper is the great-nephew of George Washington Vanderbilt II.
If you are not familar with Anderson Cooper he’s a reporter for CNN. Somone that I adore, someone that fights for justice and human rights.
The Vanderbilt Family Tree
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Inside The Biltmore Estate House
I’ve visited many places, castles, and estates in various countries. If you are not a fan of historical homes, you may be like my other half and think if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I don’t see it this way. Unless you’ve visited The Biltmore Estate, you haven’t seen the best that America has to offer. Furthermore, The Biltmore Estate is the finest example of a 19th-century château comparable to some famous European ones.
I have explored The Biltmore Estate many times; however, during his summer during COVID, we virtually had the place to ourselves. A rare unexpected treat.
The Biltmore stands out for a few reasons. One is evident to all – the sheer size. But size aside, the estate’s grounds are palatial. Well-manicured with various sections, including a lake. The inside is very tastefully decorated with a classic countryside feel. Actually, for the most part, the interior is timeless. It does not have the over-indulgent tackiness of other estates that make your head spin. It’s not drowning in overdoes of color combinations. It’s undoubtedly not dripping in gold or gold paint, and it feels like home despite its enormity. There is a specific warmth about the interior of The Biltmore.
The house occupies over four acres and has a staggering 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, and a historical Otis elevator for novelty.
The four-story house is set facing the east so that the 375-foot façade complements the beauty of the mountainous backdrop. The steeply pitched roofs feature sixteen working chimneys, and if you look closely at the flashing on the ridge of the roof, you will find George’s initials and motifs from the family crest.
The First Floor Rooms
I won’t cover every room – that’s impossible! Instead, I will share the highlights. I will cover the rooms by floor, not in order of how you may view them on your visit.
You enter through the main hall, which does not become decadent while large and dramatic. To the left is the magnificent staircase and to the right is the winter garden. The winter garden is one of my favorite rooms. It takes the concept of a conservatory to new heights, literally and figuratively.
Then there is the billiard room that will impress anyone who enjoys social gaming. The gaming room connects the bachelor wing with a smoking room, gun room, and office.
Directly adjacent to the billiard room is the banquet hall. This banquet hall boasts three fireplaces, a seventy-foot high ceiling, an organ gallery, and can seat sixty guests. I’ve seen this room before, and I am always amazed at the sheer size. It’s beyond imagination that this was a personal residence vs. a royal palace. I find myself drifting off into my imagination. Always wondering what it would have been like to dine in this fine room.
Once you leave the banquet hall, you will be on to the salon and music room, followed by the tapestry gallery. I’m not a fan of tapestry, even though I’ve created a few myself. The tapestry on display is dull. This said, they are impressive and well placed throughout the gallery. I can’t even begin to think about how many hours it took to create one!
Then there is the library, another favorite of mine. The Biltmore Estate’s library is two stories high, contains over 10,000 books written in eight different languages! But, some would argue that a focal point here is the baroque ceiling.
The Second Floor Rooms
The main rooms here are Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s adjoining bedrooms. Additionally, there are several guest suites on the second floor and staff chambers.
Mr’s Vanderbilts Bedroom:
The Third Floor Rooms
As you reach level three, you’ll see the second grand living room, several more guest suites, and the grand banquet hall that can be the view from the third level. Not all tours allow you to view the banquets hall from the third floor, and some don’t allow access to the north and south tower rooms.
The Basement Rooms
If I had to give you one word to describe this basement, I would say, “baller.” Remember, this house was built in 1895. During the 19th century, most homes did not have plumbing or electricity; the Biltmore has both! But there’s more. The basement is home to what can only be described as the ultimate play den. The basement has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a state-of-the-art gym, and a Halloween room. The central kitchen is also located in the basement.
As you enter the pool area, it’s as if you are in a commercial facility. There are changing rooms for men and women. Not just a changing room, several designated ones for the Vanderbilts. The changing room layout reminds me of the Victorian Turkish baths of England.
The pool is 70,000 gallons large, and it was heated and had lights. The pool used to be filled from a direct line to a mountain reservoir close by. Notice the ropes on the side. Back in the 19th century, many did not know how to swim. The ropes were added to give people something to hold on to if they got tired or could not swim. Another interesting fact about the pool is that it did not have a cleaning or filtration system. This resulted in the pool being drained and refilled every three days.
Books About The Biltmore & The Vanderbilts
I will confess that typically books are not my thing. However, when it comes to the Vanderbilts, I have several. Some purchased at The Biltmore, some online, and some from thrift stores. I’ve been fascinated with this family since I first visited The Breakers many years ago. Here are some of the ones in my collection that I recommend. I love all of these books, but my personal favorite is Little Gloria, which tells the story of Anderson Cooper’s mother’s life as a child.
Books About The Biltmore And The Vanderbilts
The Biltmore Estate Gardens
The Biltmore Estate consists of both formal and informal gardens that are beautiful and meticulously maintained. The gardens were designed by Frederick Olmstead, the most famous and sought-after landscape designer of the era. The lush landscape features ancient trees and an all-American rose garden home to over 200 varieties.
The main house is the focal point. However, you only have to walk on the library’s terrace and take in the view to understand the grounds as just as impressive.
The Biltmore conservatory is stunning and a real gem of The Biltmore Estate. Completed in 1985, the conservatory houses a vast collection of exotic plants and rare fauna species. The large glass roof lets in a bounty of natural lights to illuminate the space, bringing the plants’ vivid colors to life.
Through the beautifully crafted tall arched windows, visitors can look out onto the terraced butterfly garden and The Walled garden that lies just ahead. The four-acre Walled Garden features 50,000 tulips each spring.
The conservatory is a popular spot for private functions and weddings for up to 75 guests.
Biltmore Bass Pond
Sitting just 1.2 miles away from the main house, the bass pond is a popular Biltmore feature. The pond features a quaint boathouse perfect for sitting and relaxing in the sun. The boathouse itself is a humble structure that fits wonderfully into the landscape.
The walk to the pond is just as beautiful as the pond itself. In spring, the Azalea garden is in full bloom, and visitors can enjoy a peaceful and beautiful walk around the ponds and soak up the fresh air and sounds of nature.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the walk to the bass pond. It’s definetly a walk to get to but it is worth it! On the way down there are tons of meandering little trails and fairytale worthy bridges.
At the rear end of the bass pond lies a waterfall. This year was my first visit to the bass bond waterfall. Unfortunately, it’s not a natural one. It is worth seeing, and the base is the perfect location for a picnic.
Things To Do At The Biltmore Estate
Visitors should see as much of The Biltmore Estate as possible. And, there’s plenty to see and do than just a tour of the house. Here are some things you can do:
Bikes are available for hire by the hour, so you are your fellow travelers who can take a breath and enjoy some moderate exercise.
Book a private carriage ride around the estate, drawn by majestic pedigree horses raised right here on the estate.
Take the rooftop tour and capture stunning views seen only from the house’s rooftop and balconies.
Embark on The Biltmore House backstairs tour, which gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the rarely-seen domestic staff’s areas.
Try Falconry – learn how to handle a trained hawk or falcon.
Kayak – single or tandem and embark on a peaceful self-guided trip down the gentle French Broad River.
Book a sporting clay lesson – learn proper gun mount, stance, target engagement, and other fundamental skills.
Ride horses on the private horseback trail on a two-hour horseback ride.
Try your hand at fly-fishing – fish at the lagoon following lessons.
And there is plenty more to choose from!
The Biltmore Estate Antler Hill Village
One cannot experience Biltmore in full without visiting Antler Hill Village.
The Village dates back to the estates’ earlier history. It is a social activity hub where guests can enjoy a luxury dining experience, shopping, and additional exhibits full of information about the area’s natural wildlife and history.
The Village has a hotel that welcomes guests throughout the year. The Village Green and Bandstand are where guests gather for some live entertainment. Sit back and enjoy a glass or two of wine to the orchestra’s sound. Antler Hill Village gives guests the perfect end to a perfect day on the estate.
Winery At The Biltmore Estate
Biltmore is famous for its wines and wine tasting experiences. All visitors can enjoy a complimentary wine tasting experience in the tasting room. The wine experts will guide you through a host of award-winning vintages to get your taste buds tingling. After the session, guests are invited to unwind at the bar for charcuterie and locally sourced truffles.
Specialty experiences and scenes winery tours are available for visitors who wish to extend their experience.
The Biltmore Estate Farm
The horse barn was built in 1900 and housed the workers’ families that farmed Biltmore. The horse barn was the beating heart of Biltmore’s agricultural industry and stood as a testament to its past.
The farm offers a complimentary farm life experience on the estate, where you will be introduced to the Animals that still reside there. The farm is home to laying hens, calves, goats, and horses. Be sure to stop by and visit the famous dairy cows that still produce fresh milk for the Biltmore Creamery to this day.
Dining at Biltmore is an experience like no other. The estate has over seven restaurants that provide a myriad of dining options for all times of the day. Each restaurant features its own estate-inspired specialty courses. Each restaurant is home to master chefs that create delicious dishes with fresh ingredients sourced from the estate.
Finding a restaurant is easy, and the variety is wide. You can either treat yourself to a late bite at The Kitchen café or a gourmet dinner at The Dining Room; the hosts are ready and waiting to welcome you for a delectable dining experience.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Biltmore Estate
What does it cost to visit the Biltmore Estate?
Biltmore daytime admission tickets start at approximately $64 per adult. Prices vary by date. Kids ages 10-16 are half the price of adult admission. Kids ages nine and younger are admitted free.
Reservations are required every day for all guests, so plan.
You can choose from the following tours:
Self-Guided Visit to Biltmore House
Enhanced Experience: Audio Guide of Biltmore House
Exclusive Experience: Two-Hour Private Tour of Biltmore House
How long should you spend at the Biltmore?
If you plan to see the house, gardens and Antler village you need a whole day. Suppose you want to see the house only, prepare for at least two hours.
Is there a dress code at the Biltmore?
Not a formal one but you will not be allowed entry in a bikini or other beach attire.
Does Biltmore have senior discounts?
No, there are no discounts available.
What is the Biltmore Estate famous for?
It is famous for being America’s Largest Home® and a National Historic Landmark.
Can you stay in the Biltmore Estate?
You can stay on-site at any one of these accommodations:
Village Hotel On Biltmore Estate
The Inn On Biltmore Estate
The Cottages On Biltmore Estate
I’ve yet to have the opportunity to stay on the grounds – it’s on my bucket list!
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If you are remotely interested in architecture or history, the Biltmore should be high on the top of your list of places to visit. In my opinion, it’s not just the largest home in America; it’s also the most exciting one to see!
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Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job without breaking the bank. Nikki is always in search of off-the-beaten-track experiences and unique stays. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com or follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.