Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate

Are you planning a visit to the Biltmore Estate? Read on!
As promised, here are the tips we picked up during our recent trip to the Biltmore (and some of my favorite photos from that day).


Look for deals ahead of time.
It's expensive to visit the Biltmore: If you purchase your ticket at the gate, it's $60 per person, per day. But many Asheville innkeepers sell two-day Biltmore passes for just $55 per person. And the estate is so big, we could've easily spent two days there. You may also be able to get admission deals through AAA or your credit card company. Plan ahead, and you'll save money.


Go on a weekday.
I heard that weekends at the Biltmore Estate are a madhouse. So we went on a Monday, and found the crowds to be quite manageable. It's easier to enjoy the mansion when there aren't twenty people blocking your view, so try to go on a weekday.


Pack a picnic lunch.
The food at the Biltmore is much better than the food at most tourist traps--but it's pricey. At lunchtime, we waited in a long line and paid $20 for two sandwiches at the Bake Shop next to the mansion. The veggie wrap was crisp and flavorful, but I would've liked to avoid the line and enjoy a cheaper lunch. Picnic lunches are allowed, and a picnic on the lawn in front of the mansion would be beautiful.


The audio tour is excellent.
The 90 minute self-guided audio tour is fascinating. It's $10, and I thought it was worth it because I loved learning about the Vanderbilts and hearing commentary from estate curators. If you enjoy history or antiques, you'll want to purchase the audio tour. We also liked the flexibility it offered; we set our own pace, paused the audio often, and took breaks when we wanted.


Consider a special tour.
If you want to learn about the architecture or servants who worked at the estate, consider a special tour. These one-hour guided tours are $17 per person, in addition to the base ticket price. But they give you access to parts of the mansion that are off limits to the general public. Keith loved that; he felt special. I was very interested in learning about the process by which the home was designed and built, so we purchased the guided architectural tour. It gave us access to the observatory, roof, and attic. Did you know that each slate tile on the roof is hand-wired to the house? Can you imagine the man-hours required just to construct the roof? Incredible!


Make time for the gardens.
There is so much to see in the mansion, it's easy to forget about the gardens. But that would be a mistake. Our walk through the gardens and greenhouses was the most relaxing part of the entire vacation. When you go through the garden, be sure to visit the orchid greenhouse--it was my favorite!


Enjoy the scenic lagoon and bears!
The winery is a three mile drive from the mansion. Halfway to the winery, there is a beautiful turnoff on the left side of the road. It's next to a peaceful lagoon, but the turnoff is easy to miss, so drive slowly and look carefully for this spot. It would be a beautiful place to have a picnic. However, I'm partial to the spot because we saw a bear there. No joke! We parked the car, got out to admire the water, and saw a young black bear running up the road. I might have started jumping up and down in delight. It was my favorite part of the vacation.


The better restaurants are worth it.
Since it was a birthday trip, we splurged on a three-course meal at the Bistro next to the winery. I loved every bite! The calamari and swordfish were perfectly seasoned and prepared, and the wine pairings were spot-on. And can we talk about the service? Our server, Joe, was attentive and so observant. We had everything we wanted, but he never hovered or broke the spell of our romantic dinner. To me, that's the hallmark of perfect service. It's also worth noting that the Bake Shop food was typical pricey tourist food, but the bill at the Bistro was exactly what I'd expect to pay for a good three-course meal with wine. I didn't feel like we were overcharged because we were at a popular tourist destination.

Winery?
I wish we had gone to the winery, but we had to choose between the winery tour and dinner--and our demanding stomachs won out. This is why a two day pass would be a good idea. I guess we need to go back soon!

Do you have any tips for visiting the winery, or any other tips for visiting the Estate? I'd like to return sooner than later, and I'd appreciate any advice you can offer.

3 comments:

  1. We went to the Biltmore twice last year, mainly because we invested in annual passes. (If you go twice in a year, it's worth the expense.) With the pass, you get discounts on food and more, and also first dibs on tickets to things like Candlelight Christmas. Candlelight Christmas is well worth attending, and it feels so intimate because they limit foot traffic and it's at night with the fireplaces going. I loved it.

    I also loved the carriage tour I did a few years back. It takes you to a hill where you can view Biltmore from the back, gorgeous vistas! You also get to see where a lot of movies have been filmed on the grounds.

    The winery is fine, it can be very crowded and have a wait for tastings. I actually prefer the paid tastings (higher end) because it's more relaxed and better wines. I always buy wine when I'm at Biltmore though, because why not? :)

    My favorite meal at Biltmore was at the Inn's Dining Room restaurant. Oh, and to save money, you can bring your own Biltmore wine and they'll uncork it for you! :)

    Here's the post from my birthday trip (with link to my review of the Dining Room restaurant at the Inn... AMAZING!): http://adventuresinaubreyland.blogspot.com/2013/03/asheville-day-2-biltmore-birthday.html

    And here's the post from Candlelight Christmas: http://adventuresinaubreyland.blogspot.com/2013/12/biltmore-candlelight-christmas.html

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    Replies
    1. I love this! Thanks for the tip about season passes. I can easily imagine us going there two+ times a year, since my brother in law lives in Asheville. And your post about Candlelight Christmas makes me want to attend. The lights, the fires, the music... I think we may need to go back for that! Being in the mansion with a much smaller crowd would be really special.

      Also, you two look adorable in your portrait from that night. And your booze haul was VERY impressive. ;-)

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    2. At a minimum, get ONE annual pass and then get discounted "guest" passes. The discounts you get make it worthwhile.

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