Even though Ashevile is Beer City, U.S.A. and a great base for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the Biltmore Estate that’s the biggest attraction to the area. It’s the largest privately-owned estate in America and covers a bit under 11-square miles of real estate.
While you can stay in the high-end hotel, eat at the winery, see a concert and shop, a half-day or full is plenty to explore the house, the gardens and the grounds. Here are a few pointers to plan your visit and make the most of your experience.
Buy your tickets ahead of time and print them out
Like any major attraction, you can buy online to take advance of some coupon codes. In this case, it makes a huge difference. If you drive up without a ticket, you’ll be directed towards the ticket office, park, get out to take get your tickets and yadda yadda yadda.
Be prepared — it’s not, cheap on- and off-season ($40-$75). It’s not a national park so they can charge whatever they want. Your paying for a lot more than the operation of the house, it’s 11 squares miles of forest.
If you have the tickets on your phone, they might have difficulty scanning. The person in front of me had to hand their phone and the dude was struggling with his ticket scanner thingamagig. I printed mine out and there was no problem.
There’s no best time to go, but noon to 5pm won’t be as crowded
On a Wednesday morning in July, it was a tolerable level of crowded. The weekends during the summer tends to be a nutty while off-season is perfectly fine.
As for the time of day, most people and tour groups arrive in the first hours (9-11am) and spend the rest of the day.
Four and half hours is plenty of time to see the house, follow with the audio guide and explore the gardens and surrounding grounds
The audio guide is worth the extra cost. It gives a good overview of the design, how each room functioned and some biographical information about the Vanderbilts. It also allows you soak in the grandeur and history of the space while not feeling rushed.
Dress light and don’t carry a lot
You know my stance on tourists and backpacks — they are stupid. The house is not air conditioned. Even though there are plenty of blowers around that brings down the temperature, you’ll spend a good chunk of time walking outside.
Skip the gift shops and restaurants, but get ice cream
Asheville has some major good eats, so don’t waste a meal at a place geared toward tourists. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, the ice cream shop is perfectly serviceable. It will tide you over for a late lunch or mid-afternoon snack.
The gift shops all sell crap and cheap crap. You don’t need anything there.
Spend time walking the gardens and up the hill that looks over the estate
It’s a nice view and a great place to sit on the grass and rest a bit.
I’m not much of a gardens and flowers guy, but I was mightily impressed with the grounds. The greenhouses, the small fountains and the manicured beds makes for great pictures. You can even buy a beer and enjoy it among some fine greenery. Here’s a taste…
Take the long way out
Basically, a shuttle takes you to and from the central parking lot. They give you two options when you are ready to leave. You make a left and you take the express exit out. Make a right and you’ll able to drive pass the house and gardens and then through the rest of the grounds. While the drive through the house gates and gardens are a tight squeeze and you’ll need to drive 5mph to not hit any families, it’s worth it.
You’ll get to drive through winding roads through some great scenery. I didn’t pull over to take pictures of the lakes and fields, but I saw some who did. You’ll eventually get to the winery. I didn’t visit it.
It takes about 25-30 minutes to drive out if you take the long way, but it makes a nice end to a truly grand estate.