Christmas at Biltmore Estate is a magical time to visit America’s largest home. Candles are burning brightly, and fires are roaring, bringing warmth to the grand rooms. Music fills the halls with melodious voices accompanied by the piano in the stunning Winter Garden.
A special day in Biltmore’s history was Christmas Eve in 1895 when George Washington Vanderbilt III opened the doors for the first time to family and friends. Today, over a million people journey to Asheville, North Carolina, to see this impressive home, and Christmas is one of the most popular times to visit. I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate several times because it holds special meaning since this is where my husband proposed. But I’ve never once visited during the nighttime or holiday season.
We put a little extra money aside to make this trip happen since visiting the Biltmore Estate can be expensive. And I am glad we did because seeing their Candlelight Christmas Evenings is well worth the enchanting experience. Of course, I loaded up my camera gear and film to capture the merry festivities.
In this article are some of my favorite images of Christmas at Biltmore, along with helpful tips for your visit during this most wonderful time of the year.
Highlights of Christmas at Biltmore
Christmas at Biltmore usually runs from early November to early January. Once you come upon the magnificent view of the Biltmore House, you will see a giant Christmas tree in the center of the long green field that stretches before the entrance doors.
As you make your way to the entrance, you’ll pass two marble lions decorated with wreaths and bows tied around their necks. Enter the doors, and you’ll find yourself in the entrance hall, greeted by music in the nearby Winter Garden. The Biltmore House has 65 fireplaces; many will have fire roaring in the hearths.
How many Christmas decorations and trees are in the house? For 2022, there were 67 unique trees decorated with many ornaments, including trees centered around a theme. The tallest tree is the 35-foot fir in the grand Banquet Hall, and it’s a sight to behold!
Around 45,000 lights and 250 candles glow and cast light on the stately furnishings. Garlands, ribbons, bows, and wreaths add to the holiday magicalness throughout the house and property.
The decorations don’t stop at the house. You’ll see more twinkling lights if you drive to Antler Hill Village, only a few minutes away. But remember to stop by the Conservatory at the Gardens to see the red poinsettias. These are grown on the estate and used for Christmas decorations.
A Very Brief Biltmore History
A Man With A Vision
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the massive Biltmore house has stood for over a century, greeting visitors worldwide. It took six years and many artisans to build this 250-room mansion with lavish family and guest bedrooms, over 40 bathrooms, an indoor swimming pool, and even a bowling alley.
The man who envisioned this French-inspired chateau country estate came from a well-known and wealthy family in America: the Vanderbilt family. George Vanderbilt III, the grandson of the wealthy Cornelius Vanderbilt, visited Asheville in the late 1800s and fell in love with its raw rural beauty. He decided that Asheville was where he would build his family’s home.
After hiring an architect and a landscape architect, Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmstead, respectively, George’s dream became a reality. You might have heard of Frederick Law Olmstead if you walked through Central Park in New York. He’s best known as one of the designers of Central Park in the 1850s.
Fast forward six years later, the Biltmore Estate is complete. George brought his newly wedded wife to the Biltmore in 1898 and had their daughter, Cornelia, shortly after.
European architecture, specifically the French Renaissance, inspired the four-story stone mansion. George Vanderbilt also loved to travel; inside, you’ll find many European and Asian-inspired art, tapestries, furnishings, and decor from his journeys abroad.
Unfortunately, George Vanderbilt enjoyed his new home for only a few years after its opening. He died in 1914 from an appendectomy.
Who Owns the Biltmore Today?
Despite the enormous costs it takes to maintain this place, the Biltmore Estate still belongs in the family, operating under the Biltmore Company. The property is now 8,000 acres (it used to be 125,000!), and it takes around 2,000 employees to maintain the house and grounds.
Christmas at Biltmore: How to Experience the Magic
Reserve in Advance
Reservations are required to see inside Biltmore House, and you’ll want to book in advance on their website. If you prefer not to see the Biltmore House at night but want to see all the Christmas trees, lights, and decor, you can buy daytime admission, which is slightly less expensive than the Candlelight Christmas Evening tour.
But the Candlelight Christmas tour also gives you daytime access to the grounds and gardens. If you book the standard Candlelight Christmas Evening tour and arrive at 4:30pm or after, you can use your daytime admission for the next day. If you arrive prior to 4:30pm, you can see the grounds and gardens before entering the house in the evening. The ticket does not allow you to see the house twice in the day and evening.
How Much Does a Christmas at Biltmore Ticket Cost?
Tickets to the house and grounds are pricy, starting at $104 per person for the daytime audio guide ticket, and can go up to $404 per person for a guided group tour, access to a temporary exhibition, and 2-day grounds access. For 2023, the temporary multi-sensory exhibit is Italian Renaissance Alive, which celebrates the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Caravaggio.
The Candlelight Christmas Evening admission audio-guided tour starts at $109 per person and can go up to $414 for a guided group visit, access to the temporary exhibition, and 2-day grounds access.
You can also skip the house and buy admission to the Gardens and Grounds, but you’ll probably get more out of this ticket if you go during warmer months so you can enjoy the many hiking and biking trails.
View all available ticket options and costs here.
If you plan to visit the Biltmore Estate multiple times a year, you should purchase an annual pass. Although the passes are costly, they can save you money in the long run, and you’ll want to check their website for special offers. Note that the Candlelight Christmas tour is a separate charge, but you get discounted admission if you have the annual pass.
Special offers for the Biltmore Estate can be found here.
When Do Tickets Go on Sale for Christmas at Biltmore
Tickets for Christmas at Biltmore usually go on sale in August or September, and the best places to see if tickets are available are on their website or social media. You’ll want to reserve your tickets early as the holiday season is popular, and specific house tour times sell out quickly.
Location, Parking, and Hours
The GPS address for Biltmore Estate is 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803. During peak visiting times, they usually have someone directing where to park, but you’ll follow a long, curvy road to arrive at the lots closest to the house, lots A and B. From there, it is a short 8 to 10-minute walk to Biltmore’s front doors. You’ll want to bring a good pair of walking shoes to see the Biltmore Estate and grounds.
Since parking lots C, D, and E are further away, they offer complimentary shuttles to the house. They also have accessible parking in most lots and accessible shuttles to the house in lot C. Find a map of the Biltmore Estate here.
The Biltmore Estate is open 365 days a year. But their hours vary depending on which day you visit, and not all properties on the grounds have the same hours of operation. The Candlelight Christmas Evening tours are not offered on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.
Visit their website for more information on the hours of operation. The earliest you can enter the property is 8:30am.
Best Time to Visit and for How Long
As mentioned, Christmas at Biltmore sees many people walk through its front doors. For fewer crowds during the holiday season, visit early to mid-November (before Thanksgiving week) or early January when school starts to go back into session.
Some people visit the Biltmore Estate during the morning or afternoon, but I find it more challenging to see everything in just a few hours. To get a good taste of the Biltmore House and the surrounding gardens and property, you’ll want a whole day to visit. However, to see only the inside of the house, plan about 1.5 to 2 hours.
But if you have other places on your itinerary for the day, consider the time it takes to get to the actual Biltmore House. The GPS makes it seem that you’ll arrive at the house at the estimated time, but it takes an additional 30 to 45 minutes to get from the entrance gate to the parking area and then to the house.
When should you book the tour to see inside the house? The best time is early morning before 11am when crowds pour onto the property. You’ll have a shorter wait time in line, giving you the rest of the day to explore the grounds, grab lunch, sip wine, and shop.
If you plan to visit only the Biltmore Estate on your trip to Asheville, it might be easiest to stay on the property. You have three choices: Village Hotel, Inn on Biltmore Estate, and the cottages. I’ve never stayed in the newer Village Hotel or the cottages, so I can’t review them, but we’ve stayed at the Inn.
The Inn was more affordable a few years ago, but now it’s a bit out of our budget. We usually end up staying in downtown Asheville to get a better rate. More driving, but it saves money! But if you want to splurge a little, the Inn on Biltmore Estate has nice, clean rooms, and the complimentary shuttle service around the grounds is convenient.
Exploring Beyond the House
Where to Eat
There is more to explore than just the big house. If you want a bite to eat, there are places next to the house, such as the Stable Cafe and the Biltmore Dairy Bar (open seasonally). I like to grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate while waiting to enter the Biltmore House.
You can also drive a few minutes from the Biltmore house to Antler Hill Village and Winery for more eating options, including Cedric’s Tavern, an English-inspired pub, and my personal favorite. After dinner or lunch, grab a giant ice cream bowl sundae at The Creamery. They have many flavors, and the ice cream tastes good even on a cold, blistery day.
There is the Dining Room inside the Inn on Biltmore Estate for fine dining. Since reservations during Christmastime are only for overnight guests at the inn, getting a table here is a bit harder, but you won’t be disappointed when you do. While the menu has changed since I went, I had the best chocolate cake with raspberry drizzle here. I admit that I still talk about that cake to this very day.
Can you make reservations at the other places to eat? You’ll find reservation options on OpenTable; however, they also take walk-ins. While we’ve never had a problem getting a table, we also went early for dinner, around 4:30pm.
Biltmore Estate also has gift stores if you love to shop. Some of the merchandise and edible goods can be found in multiple places. Our favorite things to buy are their dips and seasonings. We always take our family’s dip orders beforehand to bring some home to them. Sometimes, they will have samples for you to try at the winery store in Antler Hill Village.
Since you are visiting Biltmore at Christmas, why not bring back an ornament for a souvenir? You can buy everything related to Christmas at their A Christmas Past store near the house. A few steps away from the Christmas store is the Confectionary, where you can satisfy your sweet tooth. Or if you love to read, you can buy a book at the Bookbinder’s store.
If you love wine like me, you’ll want to visit the winery for your complimentary wine tasting. Reservations are not necessary, but it is first come, first served. They have excellent white and red wine selections, so you don’t want to miss your five tastings.
The winery entrance is located at Antler Hill Village. You can enter near the Village Hotel and the Wine Bar or access the winery through the underground tunnel in the village. The tunnel used to be part of Biltmore’s dairy farm but now has sparkling white lights that guide you upstairs to the winery.
Gardens and Grounds
There’s not much to see in the outdoor gardens in late November and December, but we like to walk down to the Glass Conservatory to see the tropical plants and red poinsettias. Plus, if it is super cold outside, you can warm up in the tropical house since it is quite warm. There’s also a lovely garden store behind the Conservatory that will delight any garden enthusiast.
The weather and outdoor temperature might not be ideal for hiking the trails on the grounds, but it’s a nice drive around the property. You might be lucky to see the Biltmore Waterfall if there is a good water flow. It’s a small waterfall under a bridge; when it’s warmer, it is an excellent place for a picnic.
Do you love farm animals? If so, stop by their Barn and Farmyard at Antler Hill Village to pet goats, lambs, hens, and calves. They had the cutest bunnies the last time we went.
Don’t Forget to Stop at the Biltmore Legacy
The Biltmore Legacy can be easy to miss, but you don’t want to forget to stop here. It’s a small exhibition in Antler Hill Village that dives deeper into the lives of the Vanderbilt family. Plus, it has items from their trips abroad, including samurai armor and a silver Tiffany and Company tea set. You might even see Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set on display. When we visit, I always look for the French emperor’s chess set with red and white ivory pieces, but sometimes you will see it in the house instead, or it might not be on display.
Is Visiting Christmas at Biltmore Worth It?
I think so, and I hope to go back one day. It is expensive, but their Christmas decorations take it to the next level. There is also something enchanting about visiting at night for the candlelight tour compared to the daytime admission.
And for the first time, I could imagine myself sitting in the library room with a book and cup of coffee, cozy next to the fire. I felt like I had gone back to 1895 and experienced Christmas as the Vanderbilt family did. It’s warm and welcoming, and if you weren’t feeling Christmas beforehand, you will feel a bit more Christmas cheer when you leave.
If you love history like me, you’ll enjoy the audio guide. I always learn or see something new each time I go, and they change the audio guides frequently. The Biltmore Estate has come a long way since we first visited in the mid-2000s! I’m curious how they will continue to grow in the future.
Have you visited Biltmore at Christmas? What were your thoughts? Please share and comment below!
A Note on My Photos
Due to low lighting conditions, it can be challenging to take pictures in the Biltmore House. I loaded my camera with high-speed film, Portra 800, pushed by one stop to combat the challenge. The film was then cross-processed with ECN-2 by Atlanta Film Co. and Dunwoody Photo.
I must say that I think I love shooting in low-light settings. Most of the images in this post are from this film, and I’m happy with how they came out. The tones are pleasing, and the grain adds to that warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling you experience at this time of the year!
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