Visiting The Biltmore With Kids
The Biltmore Estate is always listed as one of the TOP things to do when visiting Asheville, North Carolina. Before any trip I take, I scour through the internet to get as many details and tips about a place as possible, and it was hard to find an itinerary or internet listicle that didn’t include visiting the Biltmore Estate as a must-do. With that much fanfare, how could we not visit this grand spectacle of a home…even though it cost 70$ per person to get in!!
So was it all it was cracked up to be? WEHHL, yes and no. Okay honestly, I didn’t care for it that much. In the words of my father in law, it felt like a “monument to excess.” After the 40th room, I kind of felt like, “oh look, there’s another fancy room of the uber-wealthy.” Add in the fact that it’s listed as the number one thing to do in Asheville, so if you’re there in peak season you’re crowded into these small rooms with throngs of people all listening to audio phones and therefore losing all sense of body awareness. It’s agony for an introvert.
I don’t mean to paint the Biltmore House as a bad place. It’s not. Truly. I do believe some people would LOVE IT and enjoy their time at the Biltmore Estate. It is a castle after all! If you love Downton Abbey or are a Jane Austen fan, I’m sure you’ll find delight in immersing yourself in this fantastical era of opulence. If you enjoy architecture and design, you’ll be impressed by the grand scope of this gilded age mansion. If you appreciate fine art, there is an impressive display of 16th-century tapestries and artwork from the Vanderbilt’s bountiful travels.
That’s all well and good, but… how about visiting Biltmore with kids? Is it a good family-friendly activity in Asheville?
I joke. I joke.
With proper preparation and tips, I do think visiting the Biltmore Estate with kids can be a lovely day out. The property is HUGE and there are tons of activities outside of the tour of the home, including a petting zoo, a jungle gym, and bike paths that can please young active bodies. Here’s everything you need to know, how to avoid the crowds, and tips on how to survive and enjoy your day at the Biltmore with kids.
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Table of Contents
- Visiting The Biltmore With Kids
- What is the Biltmore Estate?
- How to tour the Biltmore with Kids
- What to know before you go to the Biltmore with Kids
What is the Biltmore Estate?
So…what is this gigantic home that everyone’s talking about? The Biltmore Estate was the former home of George Vanderbilt, son to the railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts are famous for being one of the wealthiest families in America. Built in the late 1800’s, the Biltmore Home is the largest privately-owned home in the United States. The floor space of the mansion is 178,926 square feet and when it was built the entire estate sat on 125,000 acres of land. Currently, the property now sits on 8000 acres of land. In 1930, the house was opened up to visitors by George’s daughter Cornelia as a way to help the estate and the city of Asheville survive the Great Depression. The estate is still owned and operated today by George Vanderbilt’s descendants.
1. The estate has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms! So much cleaning.
2. The home includes an indoor pool, a bowling alley, and a gym.
3. The Biltmore Estate gardens were designed by the same architect who created Central Park – Frederick Law Olmsted.
4. The library is home to 23,000 books. George Vanderbilt was a lover of books and read an average of 81 books a year. At age 12, he began keeping a record of the books he had read, including the title and author of each work. The last entry before Vanderbilt’s death in 1914 was No. 3159, the third volume of Henry Adam’s History of the United States.
How to tour the Biltmore with Kids
1. Tour the house
If you buy one of the guided audio tours (*highly recommended) your time in the house will be about two hours long. If you opt-out of the audio tour, you probably won’t need more than an hour to an hour and a half to walk through the home. Touring the Biltmore home with a toddler can be challenging. Our two-year-old was over it within 10 minutes and got pretty frustrated by our repeated reminders to not touch anything. If your toddler is more subdued, you might be able to get away with strolling them through the area, taking a break outside, and re-entering the home and starting again where you left off.
In retrospect, it would have been better to let one of us tour the house with the audio tour while the other parent walked around the gardens and trails outside of the home with the kiddo and then switched it up. There are plenty of outdoor activities that would have kept him happy like the gardens outside the home or the jungle gym set at Antler Village.
If you are visiting with school-age kids, there is a guided audio tour narrated by the Vanderbilt’s dog Cedric. The tour is from his point of view and engages kids with fun questions and kid-friendly trivia. I saw a lot of kids around the age of 7 doing the guided tour and they seemed to be having a great time.
If you don’t want to do the audio guides, you can pick up a free treasure hunt map from the same place you buy your audio guides.
2. Stroll the gardens
After touring the house, a walk through the gardens will be a welcome change for kids (and adults). The grounds are beautifully maintained and it’s well worth your time to explore. Designed by famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, the gardens include manicured gardens and nature paths that wind through the estate. The highlight of the gardens for us were the greenhouses. We particularly loved the impressive display of orchids. There are maps available when you arrive, but if you like to plan ahead you can also download a map here.
3. Visit Antler Hill Village
Usually the last part of the day at the Biltmore Estate is spent visiting Antler village. Located five miles from the house, you’ll need to drive there or take a shuttle provided by the Biltmore. Antler Village includes a small collection of shops, restaurants, a winery, an ice cream shop, a petting zoo, playground, and living history demonstrations of woodworking and blacksmiths. It’s a great place to sit back and enjoy a nice (albeit expensive) meal. The wine tastings are free with your admission and you are free to bring your kids in. We opted not to go, but we heard they do offer free grape juice to the kids.
4. Outdoor Activities
There are also a variety of outdoor activities that are available around the property. Honestly, unless you’re staying at one of the hotels on the property and have access to the grounds beyond your one day, that feels like a lot to jam into one day…especially with kids. There is the option to pay 25 dollars to return the next day, but Asheville is a nature lovers Mecca and there are plenty of other great options that are free and just as beautiful around the Asheville area. It did look enticing though. If I were a resident of Asheville, I might consider buying an annual pass since the bike paths and trails looked heavenly.
What to know before you go to the Biltmore with Kids
Ticket Prices and Information
-Ticket Prices are steep. There’s no way around it. It’s best to consider this a whole day event to get the most out of your money. Consider it akin to spending a day at Disneyland. Since prices fluctuate according to the season, the most up to date information on prices will be found on their website here. They do offer discounted tickets if you are an active or retired military, a senior citizen, or purchase your tickets seven days in advance. We were able to save 40 dollars because they applied my father-in-law’s retired military discount to all of our tickets. Sweet!
-Young kids are always free, and youth (10-16) are free in the summer months.
-Unfortunately, your ticket price does not include a guided audio tour. The cost is $15 if you buy it at the door, or you can save 20% by buying it online when you purchase your tickets. If you’re up for spending the extra cash, it’s highly recommended to put everything you see in the home in context. There are no placards or signs along the way explaining what you’re looking at.
-To save yourself time, buy your tickets beforehand and print them up so you can avoid waiting in line at will call. If you don’t have access to a printer, then you will first drive onto the property and park at the Guest Services building to buy or pick up your tickets. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, the Biltmore Estate is a well-operated machine with people guiding and directing you every step of the way. After picking up the tickets, you’ll get back in your car and drive to the parking lot.
Parking at the Biltmore Estate
Parking is included with admission. There are two choices of parking lots, the park and ride or the park and walk lots. When approaching the parking lots, there will be a fork in the road where you can go straight to the lot where you take an eight-minute walk to the estate. Or you can veer to the right and park where there are shuttles that drop you off directly in front of the home.
The walk from the “park and walk” lot Is about 5-8 minutes on a gravel trail that does include a long set of stairs. Jogger strollers will be fine, but if you’re bringing an umbrella stroller you will have to carry it for that portion of the walk
Should you bring a stroller to the Biltmore?
If you have a young baby or toddler that enjoys being in a stroller, then having one available is an excellent option for the day. There are a lot of stairs though, and since the home is old, the hallways in the house can be quite narrow, so space can become an issue while touring the home. A jogger stroller would be a nightmare in the home, so your best bet is to use a lightweight umbrella stroller for the day. That way you can carry it upstairs with ease and park it in places without taking up too much space.
That being said, once you’re outside of the home, the trails surrounding the garden are made of loose gravel, so the umbrella stroller isn’t so useful anymore. So many times, we ended up leaving the stroller somewhere and carrying him around.
All that said, we’re glad we brought our stroller for the few moments he sat contently in it. If I were to go again, I would still bring the umbrella stroller in addition to a baby/toddler carrier for when we were in the home or gardens.
Where to eat and drink
There are plenty of food options available right outside the home in a courtyard offering a few different options. Food will be slightly overpriced, but from what we hear it’s all delicious and fresh. In addition to the food near the home, there is a handful of nice sit down options at Antler Village. Every restaurant on the property is family-friendly. Since we knew we would be having a pricy day, we opted to pack our lunches and eat at tables near the quieter and much more peaceful garden area. You are allowed to bring in food, but you can’t picnic in estate dining locations, Antler Hill Village or Biltmore House areas, including the Front Lawn area of Biltmore House, Stable Courtyard, and South Terrace.
You can bring water into the home, but it must be kept in a see-through plastic container. We had our nice stainless steel Hydroflask containers with us, and sadly they made us dump the water out before we entered the home. Any other beverages besides water will not be allowed into the house.
There are three water fountains on the property, so you can refill a water bottle you bring.
How to avoid the crowds
The Biltmore Estate is a hugely popular spot for tourists. Over 1.4 million people visit every year, so avoiding crowds will be difficult. Spring through Christmas are the most popular times of the year, and understandably so since each season offers something outstanding, whether it’s the spring blooms, the summer heat, the fall colors, or the festive holiday lights and decorations. There are a few things you can do though:
- Avoid visiting on the weekend at all costs.
- Get there as early as possible. 8:00-9:00 in the morning would be ideal, depending on what time the Biltmore Estate opens. Their hours vary with the seasons, so check the website for accurate open and closing times. We arrived at 10:30, and it was already packed with people.
- If you can’t get there early, something you could try is to tour the house in the late afternoon. I asked one of the workers what time the crowds die down, and she said by 3:00 PM, the groups will have significantly diminished. I can’t say I did it myself, but I consider her an insider tip! If I were to do it again, I would reverse the order that everyone always does. Typically, people choose to do the home, gardens, and then Antler Village. Instead, you could try to do Antler Village, the garden, and then a late afternoon tour of the home.
Bathrooms at the Biltmore
There are no working bathrooms in the home, so make sure to use the restroom BEFORE you go in. You are free to exit and re-enter, but it’s not super convenient since the line to enter the house can be long.
It will be a big walking day so wear comfortable shoes and clothing to suit the season. There is no air conditioner in the home, so if you are visiting during the summer, you’ll want to make sure to have light, breathable clothing.
Also, a sun hat and sunscreen will be useful when touring the outside gardens.
In the past, they did not allow photography in the home. That rule has since been lifted, but you are prohibited from using flash photography inside the home
We hope you enjoy your time at the Biltmore Estate. Remember to pin it for later!