Initial Doubts about Touring The Biltmore Estate
I did not want to go to the Biltmore Estate. There, I said it.
Something about it just screamed, “families, groups, and couples only”. It was going to be weird being by myself.
But I was planning a trip to Asheville. An entire week to find out why the city has been listed as a top destination for solo travelers multiple years in a row.
As much as I was dreading it, if you’re going to “do” Asheville, then you have to visit Biltmore.
There was a lot of whining and trying to find people to agree with my logic it wasn’t necessary, even though I knew better.
At one point, I thought the solution would be a half-day visit. My parents, who have been, told me at least four times that a half-day wasn’t going to cut it.
Resigning myself, I bought a ticket and put it on the itinerary. One full day at the Biltmore Estate as a solo traveler, check.
You can sense my excitement.
What Your Ticket Covers
A basic ticket to the Biltmore Estate provides access to the grounds, including the gardens and walking trails, free parking, free access to the trolley which circles the grounds so you can easily get around, access to the house, and a free wine tasting at the Biltmore Winery in Antler Village.
It’s actually not a bad deal, considering the Estate sits on 8000 acres. The free wine tasting was a big plus in my book. Things were looking up.
Additional tours can be purchased separately. These include a rooftop tour, behind the scenes tour, et cetera.
During prime season, each visitor selects an available “house time” when purchasing their ticket. To avoid large crowds in the house, visitors are paced out for when they can enter.
You can enter any time after your house visit time, but not before. It actually works well.
Arriving at the Estate
I had pre-purchased my ticket so I was able to go straight to the parking lot. There’s a far lot where you go through security and then hop on the trolley, or you can choose to self-park and walk.
If you self-park, as I did, you’ll go through security when you reach the main gate on foot.
The information packet says it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk from self-parking to the house.
I’m not sure what standard this is based on, but it took me less than 5 minutes. I should say, it would have taken me that amount of time, but I got distracted.
Along the path, I saw a sign with an arrow, “Diana”. Curious, I wandered in that direction and found a gazebo with a beautiful statue of Diana the Huntress in the middle.
The hill she sits on offers great views of the Estate for photos. This appears to be where the professional photos of the house and grounds are taken.
Feeling a bit more optimistic, I headed to the house. Luckily I had arrived at opening time so the security line was short.
Exploring the Grounds
The Italian Garden
Since I had purchased my ticket only two days earlier, I had a later house time of 1:45 pm. It made sense to spend the morning exploring the grounds.
I knew there were beautiful gardens, but it was cold and overcast so I didn’t have a lot of hope for good pictures. Having poured over the online map ahead of time, I ventured out.
As you round the side of the house, you immediately reach the Italian Garden. It was beautiful, but its prime time would be spring and summer. Statues, water features, and lily pads line a large rectangular area.
Taking the stairs down for a closer look, you have the option to turn down a hallway lined by a stone wall overgrown with plants or enter the azalea garden with its winding paths.
I opted to stroll away from the crowds and into the azaleas.
As I wandered, I realized the paths meander in circles while linking with one another. It’s easy to become lost without really losing your way.
The further I went out, the quieter and more relaxing it became. I felt in my element, hiking along wooded trails.
At one point, I was glad to be there alone, lost in my thoughts. I was starting to feel that touring the Biltmore Estate solo wasn’t going to be so bad.
Feeling a little better about being by myself, I headed towards the bass lake.
Along the way, my current path intersected with the Meadow Trail which leads to the backyard of the house.
While the trails are not always well marked, as long as you’re following a path, you’ll loop to the road or back to the gardens.
Overall, the trails in this area are around two miles if you do all of them, but you can make it a longer walk if you want to enjoy the solitude a bit longer.
The entire estate boasts over 22 miles of trails, perfect for those staying overnight.
The bass pond marks the end of the loop of trails. Just beyond is a waterfall and a small creek. I can imagine little kids, and adults, enjoying the area in summer.
On my way back, I crossed the Bass Pond Bridge, to continue the loop.
The Bass Pond Bridge is a historic bridge, known for its red brick arch. The beautiful setting did not go unnoticed by movie producers and it was used as a backdrop in The Last of the Mohicans.
As I wandered back towards the house, I wound my way to the gardens around the conservatory.
The rose garden still had some flowers but was beginning to fade. However, the colder weather was great for the mums which were in full bloom.
With the recent cold spell, you could see the paths through the garden. During the summer, I could see how the area would be thick and green, creating a maze to get lost in.
The garden area is designed for leisure. There’s no rushing. You’re meant to stay and stroll, losing yourself for a bit.
Because the plants were going dormant for winter, the view of the conservatory building was clear.
It’s a beautiful building with red and orange bricks in an intricate design.
The Side Terrace
Exiting the gardens, as you look to the far corner, the towers of the main house peek out of the trees. I still had some time so I headed in that direction for photos from the side terrace.
The terrace overlooks the gardens and nearby mountains. It’s a large area with spectacular views from every point.
I could imagine the Vanderbilts spending time out there, just enjoying the sunsets and sunrises.
With an hour and a half before my house time, I decided to check out Antler Village and the winery. It seemed like a good time for that free wine tasting.
Arriving at the Winery
Since Antler Village is 5 miles from the main house, I hopped on the trolley. It took us about 15 minutes to make the trip.
The trolley driver plays a sound bit where the current owners of the home, heirs of the Vanderbilts, discuss the house and its origins.
Our stop was right in front of the winery which is a large retail facility with wine, food, and gifts.
The wine tastings are in the back of the winery building. As I wandered toward the tasting area, I stopped short when I saw the line.
It never crossed my mind that there would be a line.
My Wine Tasting
The tasting facility had at least 5 large bar areas, each with a sommelier, serving up to six people. With the line growing, they opened two more bar areas and I got in with only a ten-minute wait.
Our sommelier recommended we tasted 5 to 6 wines. She provided us with a card listing each wine with a good description. After a few questions, I was able to pick the five I wanted.
Like all tastings, there were one or two I didn’t care for, but at least three I really liked The pours were generous and the sommelier took her time with each person.
Wrapping up the wine tasting, I headed back out to catch the trolley to the main house.
The Main House
I was visiting the Biltmore Estate the first weekend the holiday decorations were installed.
This is a really big deal for the Biltmore Estate. People buy tickets and come to Asheville just to see the house during the holidays.
They were also prepping for the Downton Abbey exhibition and had some of the costumes in the house. Overall, I was feeling pretty lucky considering this entire trip was booked last minute with little preparation.
When I first walked in, the main foyer appeared to be in chaos. One employee was standing in the middle with a cart of devices and a sign, “pre-purchased audio tours”.
There was a desk area with a crowd of people and another sign, “ready to purchase audio tours”. People seemed to be standing in the room, looking lost.
Trying to get away, I headed to the right and the first station. It was a solarium. A large round area in the middle of the foyer with a lot of holiday stuff. There’s just no other word.
There were plants and a harp, and red bows and greenery. I was expecting a large tree, but that was later.
The solarium itself is beautiful with a domed ceiling. It was just a bit crowded.
The Dining Room
Opting not to do the audio tour, but just explore on my own, I wove my way through the crowd. Reaching the first room, the Dining Room, I was blown away.
It’s hard to explain if you haven’t seen it, but while it has the pomp of a royal dining room, it also has a homey comfort to it.
It’s easy to picture adults having a fine meal with wine and children running around the fireplace.
The craftsmanship is unbelievable. Rich woods, expertly carved, lined the room. Immense and well-built fireplaces stood at either end.
But the red velvet chairs softened the feel, and the accessories gave the room a feeling of home.
This is where you see the large tree from all the ads. It sits at the end of the dining room, seemingly at home with the dark woods and red velvet.
Towards the end of the tour, you wind back down and reach the other side of this room.
From this vantage point, you can get better photographs of the room and the tree.
Lived in Luxury
Weaving through the other first floor rooms, I had the same feel of lived-in luxury.
Expert craftsmanship by artists, large amounts of money for the best materials, well designed with royal flair, but with a sense of home. Someone lived here.
The library was my favorite room. Bookshelves lined with leather-bound books and rich red throughout the room.
I could have spent hours if they allowed you behind the ropes.
As you continue the tour, you’re funneled up stairwells and down corridors, effectively moved in one direction to keep the tour moving and the house flowing.
I found myself going up and then downstairs and hallways with other visitors.
We passed bedrooms, guest living rooms and servants’ quarters. There were even dressing rooms on the lower floor of the house.
The Unique Rooms of the Biltmore Estate
The kitchen was smaller than I thought, but the pantries were larger. There was an entire room for fruit and vegetables and another for staples.
They even had walk-in refrigerators which were a huge surprise to me.
Continuing the wander and weave, I saw the bowling alley, Halloween room, and gym.
It turns out the Halloween room was named for the large, circus-like murals on the walls. Historians have now discovered they were actually painted as part of a themed New Years’ Eve party.
Still in a bit of awe over the modern concepts in the house, you can imagine the shock of walking into a room and realizing it’s the indoor swimming pool.
It was surprising that someone came up with the idea of an indoor pool and was able to design one at that time.
It wasn’t a small pool either. The deep end was at least 15 to 20 feet deep, complete with a diving platform. This was no “wading” pool.
After the last room, the tour basically pushes you out a side door to the food court.
After spending 3 hours on the grounds, I was surprised the house took me about an hour to complete.
Return to Antler Village
By this time, I understood why everyone said to give myself the entire day.
With what was left of the remaining daylight, I headed out for a few more pictures around the gardens.
The crowd was thinning as I headed to the car and I was able to get additional pictures of the main house.
On my way out, I stopped at Antler Village for a final visit before exiting. There’s parking at the village and it’s on the way to the exit so it made sense to just move the car.
Antler Village is home to the Biltmore Inn where guests can stay on the grounds in luxury. It also has playgrounds and a small farm with a pony and horse for the children.
You’ll also find the creamery, winery, and some small shops in the small area.
From the courtyard area, there is a tunnel that takes you to the winery. As you wander down the tunnel, there are several installations highlighting the history of the winery.
The tunnel is dark and was lined with fake candles to give it an eerie feel.
Arriving at the winery, you climb up a flight of stairs and find yourself in the shop.
I toured the shop, tasted some food, sipped some cider, and then headed back.
By the time I reached my car and pulled out, I had been at the Biltmore Estate a whopping seven hours. I was shocked.
Final Thoughts Exploring the Biltmore Estate as a Solo Traveler
Somehow, this place I didn’t want to go, this place I was trying to barter into a quick half-day visit, had entertained me for an entire day.
In all honesty, if there had been more daylight, I would have stayed longer.
It was a surprise how much there is to do and see at the Biltmore Estate as a solo traveler.
As a matter of fact, I may have had more fun than some of the other visitors who had to finagle multiple people through the tour, onto the trolley, and keep track of everyone at the stores.
I had so much fun touring the Biltmore Estate as a solo traveler that I added it to my list of 11 Things to do in Asheville.
If you’re a solo traveler heading to Asheville, NC, definitely schedule a full day at the Biltmore Estate into your itinerary.
Don’t skimp on touring the grounds and give yourself time for Antler Village. It’s an experience every solo traveler should enjoy.
For additional ideas on things to do in Asheville, check out our full trip here.