If you've ever been to the Biltmore Estate, you know how opulent and well-furnished it is... and if that's how the place looks on a normal day, just imagine what America's richest 19th century family did to decorate for the holidays! Each year, the estate's employees turn into Christmas elves and bedeck the entire estate in Christmas splendor, keeping the look to mimic what the Vanderbilts would have done back in the day. Just about every single one of the 250 rooms has received the Gilded Age Christmas treatment.
George Vanderbilt formally opened the Biltmore Estate to friends and family on Christmas Eve of 1895, so the holidays have always had special significance to him and the estate. Today, they carry on the Christmas Eve celebration tradition by going all out with the decorations and events, making it one of the most festive places to visit in the country. Think more than 50 fully-decorated Christmas trees, 130 mistletoe balls, thousands of ornaments, hundreds of candles, and miles of fresh, fragrant evergreen garland-- and that's just inside the main house! The main tree on the front lawn is almost as tall as the massive tree at Rockefeller Center-- then again, the tree has to look good next to America's largest house.
The ceremonial Biltmore Tree Raising is a popular event to watch each year. In early November, a team of 40 men and women bring the 30-foot Christmas tree to the house via a horse-drawn wagon, and then bring it to the banquet hall to raise it. You can even see the decorators adding lights and ornaments to it throughout the day! The reportedly use 500 ornaments and 500 lights, and put 500 wrapped gifts below it, in the tradition of George Biltmore.
The Biltmore also offers Candlelight Christmas Evening tours, which get you access to the estate's Antler Hill village during the day, and then into the house at evening for a rare after-hours look at the house, complete with festive decorations and themed music. It's the only way to see the house at its very coziest, so book your ticket for this event ASAP.
The gardens are lit up with tons of lights, which George Vanderbilt certainly didn't have in the late 19th century, but they look gorgeous. Plus, there's a special nighttime tour of the home that lets you see what the building looked like back in the day, illuminated by the warm glow of candles and totally decked out in Christmas splendor. The conservatory also gets a special holiday makeover, incorporating hundreds of red and white poinsettias in with the other tropical and exotic plants. And, the estate's Antler Hill Village and Winery goes all out as well. Carolers, visits with Santa, nighttime bonfires with s'mores and live music, wreath-making and table-setting seminars, and loads more fill the days leading up to December 25th.
If you want to get the full Christmas experience, stay the night at one of their onsite hotels like the Inn On Biltmore Estate and bask in the Christmas cheer. The festivities run through the first week in January, so you've got plenty of time to plan your trip to this Christmas wonderland!