As part of a summer series, T+L is highlighting amazing lesser-known attractions found in the United States. Next up: where to go for an elaborate, traditional Christmas season.
If you thought Christmas was a big deal at Grandma’s house, just wait until you visit Biltmore Estate. As the country’s largest, privately-owned residence, Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina is among the country's most elaborately-decorated homes during the holidays. More than 30,000 Christmas lights and 150 candles are used to illuminate just the house's interior.
This year, the holiday decorations—which are always inspired by stories from Biltmore's past—will be themed “Hearth & Home." After all, it was on Christmas Eve in 1895 when the Estate’s original owner, George Vanderbilt, first opened his house to friends and family for a huge feast in the Banquet Hall beneath an evergreen tree.
Now, during each holiday season, a total of 75 Christmas trees adorn the estate, including the iconic, 34-foot-tall Fraser Fir in the Banquet Hall.
In 2016, “Tree-raising Day” will take place on Wednesday, November 2, when 40 people will help carry the enormous conifer inside. Visitors should look out for Santa Claus, who makes a regular appearance on this day and continues to hang around Antler Hill Village on select days from November 5 through December 23.
Tickets are sold to the estate’s daytime Christmas experience (simply called “Christmas at Biltmore”), which runs November 4 through January 8. Prices range from $50 to $75, depending on the day of visit. Save $10 by purchasing your ticket seven or more days in advance. General admission grants access to the estate and winery, including a guided tour of the wine production facility and a wine tasting. Of course, there are many activities for the whole family to enjoy, such as wreath making demonstrations.
Splurge for “Candlelight Christmas Evening,” which begins November 4 and runs through January 7. This is the only time of the year when guests can take a tour after nightfall. Unlike the first option, “Candlelight” requires reservations for a specific time entry to Biltmore House. Highlights include the 55-foot-tall Norway Spruce on the front lawn, lined with luminaries, and performances of traditional Christmas music by soloists and choirs. Tickets range from $70 to $85, but youth (ages 10-16) enjoy half-priced admission for either Christmas experience. Kids ages nine and younger receive free admission.
To fully experience early 20th-century charm, be sure to book a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. Twelve-passenger and private options are available, both for an additional fee.