Like big homes? Touring mansions? Then Ashville, North Carolina has something for you to see. Built at the end of the 19th century (completed in 1896), the Biltmore estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States.
This place is huge…. And by huge I mean, 3 kitchens, 40+ bathrooms, 30+ bedrooms (20 on the fourth floor), almost 70 fireplaces, a bowling alley, indoor pool, walk-in refrigerators, and a dining room that is 70 feet tall by 72 feet long. Yes, you read that right.
Not only is it huge, but it’s decorated from floor to ceiling in extravagant art, tapestries, vases, and furnishings. Plus this place is built for families to enjoy.
When you first arrive, you find a parking lot and large building where you can buy your tickets. They do have the option to buy a season pass (which is great if you’re planning on going more than once or twice per year). Special discounts are offered, so check their website for more details. There are anywhere from 5-12 ticket booths open at any given time. Only one person from your group needs to go in but this is a great place for a bathroom break.
You then drive through a security gate and to a much larger parking area. From here, you have the option of walking about 8-10 minutes or taking a bus from the parking lot to the mansion itself. We highly recommend you feed the kiddos a light lunch or snacks before starting your tour. The kids sat in a grassy spot in the middle of the parking lot while the adults fixed sandwiches and snacks out of the vehicle. The tour takes about 2-3 hours and is far enough away from the parking lot that we suggest bringing any snacks, water, camera, or umbrellas you’ll need for the visit (although you can’t eat inside they do allow backpacks, etc). Sunscreen would be an excellent item to stuff in your backpack and use while outside. Be aware a Saturday visit may lead to a rushed experience.
You can’t use the cameras inside the mansion but there’s plenty of photo ops on the front lawn and garden areas. In fact, bridal portraits and family pictures are often found being taken on the premises. Here are some photos online.
Due to weather conditions, we chose to tour the gardens first. That way, if it rained we would have already completed the outdoor activities. Grandparents came with us; so, it was nice for them to be able to go at their own pace and the kids didn’t feel rushed. They enjoyed running along the smooth hills and freshly pruned gardens. The girls enjoyed taking tons of pictures while the boys were more interested in the overall landscape. We spent about two hours touring the gardens and grounds. This does not include the hour we spent looking through the shops. We especially enjoyed the greenhouses.
The home tour itself takes about 2-3 hours. During the tour, the kids enjoyed interacting with the staff, asking them questions, listening to stories of this incredible home and the family for whom it was built! The boys were genuinely intrigued by the massive rooms and the stories behind each room. The tour was well organized with markers indicating where to go next. We walked through at a comfortable pace and didn’t feel rushed. It was nice to take our time and really soak in each room. There are quite a few sets of stairs to climb, so keep that in mind before booking your tour!
There are a few sets of bathrooms outside the house for public use. We would suggest taking your little ones before starting the tour.
There are two shopping areas associated with the Biltmore estate. The obvious is adjoining the home and houses several shops, bathroom area, toy stores, and a bistro for a light meal. The second area is a 5 minute drive from the parking area. This area contains a large hotel and “downtown shopping” experience with several restaurants. We skipped that in favor of getting back to Gatlinburg for dinner. Although you can’t take pictures inside the home, there is a book available for purchase with pictures of each room and their stories. We didn’t take any inside photos but there are plenty online.
There are opportunities to hold parties, reunions, weddings… you get the idea! Visit their website for more information on booking events/ special occasions and pricing. The Biltmore estate is a great place to learn some history, culture, taste of elegance and just enjoy someone else’s vision! It inspired our kids so much that three of them have started saving money “to buy the mansion one day.” 😉
For more information, visit their website at Biltmore.com.