[If you’re planning a trip to the Biltmore Estate, use our link to save up to $20 off your tickets!]
Asheville, North Carolina had long been on my radar as “a city I’m sure we’ll love.” Mid-sized East Coast city? Check. Thriving food and beer scene? Check. Quirky, but not weird? Check.
Yet somehow, in all our years in Virginia, we’d never managed to make the seven-ish hour drive to Asheville. Our travels to North Carolina always brought us to the Outer Banks, and Asheville was juuuust far enough off the I-81 corridor we traveled to visit Ryan’s family in Louisiana to make it an inconvenient stop.
So, on this trip we were excited to check in with Asheville — and we loved it so much, we ended up staying six nights instead of the three we planned on!
Our visit started inauspiciously: we’d planned to camp at Lake Powhatan Campground, just south of the city. When we called ahead that morning as we left Pipestem, it was too late to make a reservation, but customer service rep at Recreation.gov assured me there were “plenty” of campsites available.
As we pulled into the campground, the attendant had a look of despair on his face. “Boy, I sure hope you folks have a reservation,” he said mournfully. Womp womp. The campground was full — although the attendant seemed to think we weren’t really missing out. “We’ve been stuck here all summer!” he grumbled. “There’s no wi-fi and you have to drive ten minutes just to get cell service.” We weren’t particularly distressed by that, but with no room in the inn, we were forced to find new digs. KOA, here we come.
The next day we headed into Asheville to explore. First stop: Coffee! We found this awesome coffee “shop” — Double D’s Coffee and Desserts — and I ordered my first pumpkin spice latte of the season.
Baristas served drinks and desserts downstairs, but the upper deck was also gorgeously renovated. I was already smitten with Asheville!
We spent the greater part of our first day in Asheville just wandering around — there were so many little shops and great restaurants down each main street and side street. And the architecture was phenomenal, with everything from Victorian to Arts and Crafts, from Art Deco to Modern design. We later learned that the Great Depression preserved Asheville’s historic downtown, as the city’s debt was too crippling to allow them to add modern skyscrapers.
We also enjoyed some really great meals in Asheville, although we barely scratched the surface of the food scene. It was definitely tempting to eat at a new restaurant every single meal, although we restrained ourselves for budgetary reasons. A few highlights: Ryan raved about his sandwich at Gourmet Chip Company, and we enjoyed a sunny afternoon on Rhubarb‘s patio.
Their menu was pricey, but we ordered fall cocktails and a truly fantastic cheese plate, and enjoyed some people watching and delicious food.
While we enjoyed exploring Asheville itself, we couldn’t leave without exploring the Biltmore Estate, the jewel of the city that is also the largest private home ever built in the US. It was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Biltmore Estate had been on Ryan’s must-visit list for years, and we were both excited for our visit!
It’s kind of funny; when the house finally came into view, we both said, “I kind of thought it would be … bigger.” Now, don’t get me wrong; at 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore is definitely the polar opposite of streamlined living. But while the house is absolutely gorgeous, it didn’t feel as overwhelmingly massive as I’d expected.
This was my favorite piece of the exterior; inside this portion, to the left of the entrance, is the twisting 102-step staircase that takes you to the second and third floors, spiraling around a four-story, wrought-iron chandelier.
And one of my favorite interior rooms was just to the right of the marbled Entrance Hall: the octagonal, sunken Winter Garden. The windowed ceiling, the hanging lanterns, and the central fountain were all gorgeous.
One of Ryan’s favorite rooms was also on the first floor — the massive Banquet Hall, which is the largest room in the house. It felt positively medieval, with its rare Flemish tapestries, triple fireplace, and table for 64. Across from the fireplace is an organ gallery housing a 1916 Skinner pipe organ … accommodated nicely by the 70-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling.
It was difficult to get photos in some rooms, but another favorite was the library. It reminded me of the library from My Fair Lady, with a second story balcony reached by a spiral staircase. We also loved the huge basement kitchen and the indoor swimming pool!
I was surprised to find that the house truly was only half the attraction of the Biltmore Estate. The grounds were phenomenal — and while much of that was owed to Frederick Law Olmsted’s masterful landscape architecture, the views of the Great Smoky Mountains certainly made his job easier.
Vanderbilt envisioned a park-like setting for his home — and while the formal gardens were lovely, the meandering paths and charming ponds definitely delivered.
One thing that we kept hearing reiterated as we toured the house and gardens was that different elements of the home and grounds were designed with the comfort and pleasure of guests in mind — from the 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms to the beautifully-designed property. The grounds were designed so guests could spend their days wandering the grounds, enjoying the coolness of the woods, boating on the pond, or picnicking on grassy hills … and I certainly thought that if I’d had a book and a picnic, I would have been content to never leave. We left feeling that being a guest at Biltmore would have been a wonderful thing!
A storm was rolling in over the mountains, so we cut our ramble around the grounds short and headed indoors to the Biltmore Estate winery and a free wine tasting! The pours were generous and we enjoyed the chance to sample some North Carolina wines.
While our visit to the Biltmore Estate was pricier than many of the attractions we choose to visit ($65 for a weekday ticket), it was definitely worth the cost for a full-day experience of history, architecture, and enjoying the outdoors. If you’re planning a trip to the Biltmore, you can use our link to save up to $20 off your tickets! That’s a pretty good deal as these tickets rarely go on sale and coupon codes are next to impossible to find.
We also added the daytime audio guide to our tour, which was $11. It’s not easily shared, so if you want to do the audio guide you really need one for each person or you’ll effectively double your tour time. I did find that a lot of the audio guide information was listed in the tour brochure, which is included with your tickets, but there were some interesting facts and background information only found on the audio guide.
I’d recommend starting your day early to give yourself ample time to wander through the house, explore the grounds, and visit Antler Hill Village. We ate lunch at the Courtyard Market just behind the house itself, which was one of the less expensive options (we spent around $25 on lunch for two), but there are quite a few dining options ranging from cafe-style food to luxurious seated meals. And don’t pass up the free wine tasting at the Biltmore Estate winery in Antler Hill!
Those are the highlights of our visit to Asheville! What should we do next time we go back? (Because that’s definitely happening!)