Visiting the Biltmore Estate is fun for the whole family! Let me tell you what to expect when visiting with kids and a few tips for getting the most out of your visit. Scroll to the end to find 2 GREAT book recommendations - read them before you go, or even if a trip isn't in your near future.
To get to the beach this summer, we embarked on a 30 hour road trip from Albuquerque to the Outer Banks. To make it bearable, we spread it out over 4 days and made a lot of stops. My favorite stop along the way was our day in Asheville, North Carolina where we visited the Biltmore Estate.
With 175,000 square feet and 250 rooms, visiting the Biltmore Estate is an incredible experience! It was so fun for me to take my kids to a French Renaissance Chateau without ever leaving the country.
If you are visiting the Biltmore Estate between now and October 2018, there is also an incredible art exhibit by Dale Chihuly. Chihuly's incredible glass blown art is on display in the house and all through the gardens on the estate. The Biltmore Estate and Gardens are definitely noteworthy on their own, but the Chihuly exhibit really did make the whole experience even better.
If you have been thinking about visiting the Biltmore Estate, I highly encourage you to go before the Chihuly exhibit ends. You will thank me later.
Now, let's talk about the estate!
Visiting the Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore House is nestled away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You enter the estate from an ordinary and bustling city street, but as you wind through the trees it feels like you're entering another place in time. You can't see the house at all until you are right in front of it and that first view is pure magic.
We knew it was big - 250 rooms! - but the size and grandeur really does take your breath away. We spent almost as much time walking around the outside of the house and examining all the details in the architecture as we did inside the house. It's really stunning.
Tip # 1 and #2
Bring Binoculars. We didn't, but we wished we had. There are so many details that you'll want to see up close. My kids were so fascinated by the gargoyles!
Prepare for a lot of walking and some driving. The estate is huge! You can't easily walk, especially with kids, from the house and gardens (I think it's about 5 miles) to Antler Village so plan accordingly.
The interior of the house is amazing. However, it's hard to even think of it as a "house." The size and splendor of everything doesn't feel very homey, but the kids had a lot of fun imagining what it would be like to wake up in 250 room house everyday. Plus, there's a huge indoor pool in the basement and a bowling alley! A kid's dream come true.
My favorite parts of the house tour were the servants quarters in the basement. I loved the kitchen and the pantries and the room where they store all the china. The simplicity downstairs is refreshing after all the ostentation upstairs.
Tip #3 and #4
Upgrade to the self guided tour. Seeing the house is interesting, but hearing the stories behind everything is fascinating. Plus, if you're bringing kids, it makes the tour more fun for them too.
Give yourself plenty of time. You'll need at least 1.5 hours to really enjoy the house and another 1.5 to 2 hours to spend in the gardens. I know it sounds like a lot of time when you're talking about young kids, but there really is so much to see and you don't want to feel rushed. We were only in town for the afternoon, but if you're around for a few days, it really is worth the multi day pass.
Around the outside of the house are more stunning Chihuly pieces to admire. We weren't there at night, but if you have a chance to go in the evening, they light all of the glass sculptures up and I can imagine that it's breathtaking.
Look how beautiful they are:
Tip # 5
If you're visiting during warm months, bring tons of water and some paper fans - no joke. Also, remember the humidity. You can't do anything about it, but just be prepared. I say this for all the other desert people that feel shocked every time they get out of the car in North Carolina. Your hair will frizz up. You will melt into a sweaty, sticky puddle. There's no getting around it. And there's no air conditioning in that house, thus the paper fans.
On a more positive note, the fresh squeezed lemonade at the snack bar is delightful.
Bring your camera. This is an obvious one, I know. But really, this is the place to get your Christmas card photos and portraits for Grandma. There are so many beautiful spots to take pictures. If I lived nearby, I'd buy the annual pass for this reason alone.
If you forget your camera or just don't feel confident in that area, they did have a professional photographer taking portraits in the house in front of the gorgeous Chihuly pieces in the second photo in this post and you can purchase prints before you go.
Visiting the Biltmore Estates was one of the big highlights of our trip. I've been to castles in Europe, but my kids haven't and won't any time soon, so this was quite an experience. And, even having traveled around Europe, I'd say this was one of the most spectacular places I've ever visited.
In fact, I'm just getting started. I haven't even showed you my favorite part of the Biltmore Estate yet. In a separate post, I'll show you the magnificent gardens, Antler village, and all my favorite Chihuly pieces. Coming soon!
And now for the most fun part of this post! The book recommendations:
Read these books before you go:
You know you're a family of bookworms when you plan your road trip based on places you read about in books. Well, that's us! Visiting the Biltmore Estate made it into our road tripping plans largely because of the middle grade book Serafina and the Black Cloak. We listened to Serafina two summers ago on a shorter road trip and the intriguing descriptions of the Biltmore House stayed with me.
Although we enjoyed listening to Serafina, we really didn't like the ending of the book and didn't keep reading the other books in the series. Still, I'd have to say that reading it before visiting the Biltmore Estate really made the trip more interesting. It was fun for the kids to find the places described in the book and see them come to life. It was also very easy to see how someone could live secretly in the house with its owners none the wiser. It is 175,000 square feet! We talked about this book the whole time we were there.
I didn't discover The Last Castle until after we visited, but I'm reading it now and it's great. It's gripping narrative nonfiction with all the intrigue you'd hope to find in the story of this mansion - murder, suicide, betrayal, financial ruin, and triumph. It will definitely enhance your visit to read this before you go.
And if visiting the Biltmore Estate isn't in your near future, these books are fun way to arm chair travel.