Tucked deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains is an architectural masterpiece that is worth your time. Losing yourself for a full day on the Biltmore Estates is a very easy thing to do, especially if you are toting little people. I have now visited the Vanderbilt family’s claim to fame two times in our 2.5 years stationed in North Carolina. Partly, because the house and landscape are so incredible and because it is different every time! With different, exquisite decor for every season and endless exhibit installations, you need to go! “But how do you tour things with small children?” With patience and a plan.
Planning Your Biltmore Estates Visit
You do not need to pre-book anything at all. Upon entering the grounds you will come to what appears to be a visitor center where you purchase all tickets and tours for your visit. This will take a bit of time. There are dozens of tour options. From the main levels only to servant quarter tours and the roof and rafters tours. You cannot go wrong with any of them! You need to allow approximately 2 hours per tour. The tours are not 2 hours long, but you will want some time to compartmentalize all of the new information you are learning, to ask questions and potentially have a bathroom or food break. There are a lot of stairs in the Vanderbilt Mansion. There is elevator access, which can reach most of the levels. Your experience will be richer by taking the stairs. The staircase itself is a marvel and the information delivered by tour guides while climbing is worth hearing. If stroller trumps baby-carrier then that is perfectly fine and you can still do a few of the tours this way.
Although, the tour guides will answer every single question you have with class and tact; I highly recommend watching a Biltmore Estates documentary or reading a book before going. The tour guides treat guests as if they have basic knowledge of the family history as to not insult anyone. Names and dates can get very confusing very quickly.
Planning Your Visit to Include the Kids
The majority of the tour options are quite kid-friendly. Obviously, some tour guides have that kid-friendly spark more than others, but all will gladly answer the children’s questions. I found that my children enjoyed the Roof and Rafter tour the best because you get to see the call bells of the servants, the original electrical guts and the exterior roof walks. My science-loving kids thought that this stuff was pretty cool. It is also a more specialized tour. Therefore, the tour was smaller than the main level handheld tour that EVERYONE does.
If you are on the fence about spending money on an extra tour that your children may or may not enjoy-then don’t! You can do a general tour, which includes the basement, kitchen, and two main level floors. This tour alone will take every bit of 2+ hours and is handheld audio guided. The kids can have an audio guide as well, which I have always found helps them feel included in the experience.
If you do not want to go into the house at all with the kids then you can spend your day exploring the grounds and gardens of the Biltmore Estates! There are endless trails, gardens, greenhouses, fountains and when you are finally hungry there are the stables! Yes, that’s what I said, the Stables! The original horse stables have been converted into a beautiful shopping area and restaurant to include an ice cream parlor, toy store, and Christmas shop! Yes, these were well-treated horses. It really is THAT big.
A Biltmore Estates Vacation
Whether you are planning on spending the day or a week you are going to have a wonderful time exploring. The Estates are approximately 20 square miles. From the roof of the mansion, the Vanderbilt family owns everything the eye can see. Also on the grounds are a hunting reserve, numerous restaurants, two hotels, a golf course, private fishing tours, and the list continues. If you want to spend a week on the Estates you can do so without ever needing to leave the grounds. If you want to spend thousands of dollars or simply less than a hundred, both are entirely achievable. Regardless of how you vacation you are certain to have a wonderful experience. You and your children will consider it time well spent. Get out there.