Top 5 Biltmore Family Activities for Summer

Here are our Top 5 Biltmore family activities for summer that are sure to please the entire clan, from grandparents to grandchildren!

Winkie Bar Sundae in a waffle bowl
Try all the ice cream treats, including this delicious Winkie Bar Sundae served in a waffle bowl

5. Ice Cream for Everyone

Did you know that the vanilla ice cream served on the estate is based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe? Now at Biltmore Dairy Bar near Biltmore House and the Creamery in Antler Hill Village, you and your family can enjoy the same rich flavor enjoy by estate guests more than a century ago.

Tip: Get sandwiches and ice cream to go from The Creamery and have a picnic on the nearby Village Green. Celebrate summer with Biltmore wine for the grownups and Biltmore sparkling grape juice for the younger set.

Family biking at Biltmore
Bring the whole family along on your next biking adventure at Biltmore

4. Biking for All Ages

Ready to explore our wide-open spaces? Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center or Bike Barn in Antler Hill Village and rent mountain bikes for rugged trails or comfort cruisers for paved paths. Tandem rentals also available so the younger members of the family can join the fun.

Tip: You can bike all the way from Antler Hill Village to the Lagoon and back on a level, paved trail.

Costumes inside Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
Detailed and luxurious costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village as part of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

3. Explore Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

Now through September 7, 2020, the whole family can enjoy Downton Abbey: The Exhibition hosted in two locations on the grounds of the estate. This interactive exhibition connects you with the characters, fashions, and historic events depicted in the global hit television show and new feature film.

Tip: Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore!

Top 5 Biltmore family activities for Summer
Plan a Biltmore visit today to explore our gardens and grounds

2. Play in Our 8,000-Acre Backyard

With 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain backyard, you’ll never run out of places to explore at Biltmore! Enjoy more than 20 miles of hiking trails along the French Broad River, through lush green forests, or in the open meadows of the estate.

Tip: Visit the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center for a detailed trail map and orientation to the trails.

Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village at Biltmore
Marvel at the wonders of miniature trains during Biltmore Gardens Railway!

1. Biltmore Gardens Railway

One of the absolute must-see elements of the estate this summer is Biltmore Gardens Railway, featuring beautiful botanical model train displays in Antler Hill Village. New for 2020, this charming outdoor exhibition features iconic American train stations—each handcrafted in meticulous detail from all-natural materials.

Tip: Experience Biltmore Gardens Railway July 1, 2020 – February 15, 2021.

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition by the Numbers

In honor of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition—on display at Biltmore now through September 7, 2020—let’s take a closer look and add up some of the elements of this immersive estate experience.

Costumes from Downton Abbey
Showcased at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village

58 costumes on display

This tally includes 53 costumes from the television series—plus 5 costumes from the recent feature film. Notable pieces: both of Lady Mary’s wedding gowns and both of Lady Edith’s wedding gowns.

44 ½ minutes of video from 16 segments

Video segments and compilations are played throughout the exhibition itself, including a 5-minute introduction film as well as a 6-minute farewell film.

Guests at exhibition
Take a deeper dive into Downton Abbey

35 display drawers and glass cases

The interactive display drawers and showcases feature a variety of props from the series—from books, letters, and postcards to gloves, necklaces, and tiaras.

The Crawleys' Dining Room
Marvel at the Crawleys’ Dining Room

6 of the series’ most recognizable sets

Get a remarkably up-close look at Mrs. Patmore’s Kitchen, the Crawleys’ Dining Room, Lady Mary’s Bedroom, the Servants’ Stairs & Hallway, the Servant’s Dining Room, and Mr. Carson’s Pantry.

Downton Abbey characters
Rediscover your favorite characters

21 characters highlighted

These profiles are largely featured in the exhibition’s “Great Hall of Character Stories”—an interactive hallway where you can get better acquainted with those associated with Downton Abbey.

22 days of installation

While plans to bring this exhibition to Biltmore began long before, it took the better part of a month to prepare the infrastructure and physically install the exhibition in its entirety.

Exterior of Amherst at Deerpark
Exterior of Amherst at Deerpark

10,860 square feet spanning 2 estate locations

Multimedia presentations in the ballroom of Amherst at Deerpark (8,260 square feet) combined with costume displays at The Biltmore Legacy (2,600 square feet) make for one not-to-be-missed experience.

Plan your visit today and join us for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.

Who Runs the House: Differences in Domestic Service

In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, we’ve recognized some of the similarities—and differences—between these two great houses.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into one of the primary differences in how American and English households of the era were managed. It all boils down to one simple question: Who runs the house?

Sketch of Biltmore House
Archival sketch of Biltmore House Façade, drafted prior to construction

George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates, much like Downton Abbey; however, the American interpretation of this system had its differences to the British one.

Though they often hired British staff to manage Biltmore House, in the United States it was the standard for the head housekeeper to be in charge over the staff, rather than the butler.

Downton Abbey Bell Board
Bell Board from below stairs in Downton Abbey, as seen in our newest exhibition

At Downton Abbey, it’d be hard to imagine Mr. Carson, the butler, serving beneath Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper—though she certainly illustrated that she was more than capable of influencing him.

At Biltmore, head housekeeper Emily Rand King, affectionately known as Mrs. King although she was unmarried, ran almost everything downstairs at Biltmore just as Mr. Carson does at Downton Abbey.

Biltmore House Call Box
Detail of Call Box in the Butler’s Pantry in Biltmore House

“Mrs. King was the boss,” said Winnie Titchener-Coyle, associate archivist. “That’s one of the differences—in the U.S., women could have that high-level managerial role.”

While Mrs. King didn’t oversee the butler’s work per se, she certainly had more responsibilities than that of a head housekeeper in a British household—Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes, for instance.

“Mrs. King administered salaries and had to have her own budget,” Winnie said. “She supervised staff, and she managed household supplies and linens, cleaning supplies and tools.”

Biltmore House Butler's Pantry
The Butler’s Pantry, as seen on The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Plan your visit for now through September 7, 2020, to discover Downton Abbey: The Exhibition—on display at both Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

We invite you to learn more about the staff of Biltmore House—as well as the staff of Downton Abbey—with our new Through the Servants’ Eyes Tour during your next visit to Biltmore.

Feature image: Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize when not on duty

Top 5 Winter Activities for Overnight Guests

While winter is Biltmore’s most peaceful season, it still offers plenty to do for overnight guests! Whether you’re interested in escaping the cold or exploring the estate, here are our top 5 winter activities:

Red Wine & Chocolate tasting setup
Our Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting is offered daily at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.

5. Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting

One of Biltmore’s most popular Specialty Wine Experiences, our Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting is a lovely opportunity to stay warm. Sip your way through a number of our red varietals paired with locally produced artisan chocolates from French Broad Chocolate and discover why each is a heavenly match.

Afternoon Tea setup
Afternoon Tea is served daily from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m.

4. Afternoon Tea

Another way to chase away the chill is with the elegant charm of Afternoon Tea at The Inn. Inspired by Vanderbilt family traditions, this lovely experience offers a welcome moment of leisure spent enjoying a delightful assortment of teas, English finger sandwiches, scones, fruit, cheeses, and tea pastries.

West facade of Biltmore House in snow
Guided Hikes take place Thursday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

3. Guided Hikes

If you’re feeling adventurous despite the lower temperatures, bundle up for one of our Guided Hikes—offered exclusively to overnight guests. Choose from the moderate to fast-paced Trail Blazers or the more relaxed River Stroll and spend time enjoying the long-range views that winter brings to Biltmore.

Biltmore Blacksmith at work
Blacksmith Demonstrations are offered Thursday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

2. Blacksmith Demonstrations

While strolling through Antler Hill Village, be sure to make your way to the Barn to see our incredible Blacksmith Demonstrations. Not only is it fascinating to watch our blacksmith work—it’s also quite cozy in the Smithy Shop. For a memento of your visit, check for hand-forged items at The Barn Door shop located next door.

Downton Abbey The Exhibition at Biltmore
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is open daily from 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

1. Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

And finally, the must-see event at Biltmore this winter is Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. Showcased in two estate locations, discover multimedia presentations, interactive elements, and multiple sets from the series, as well as a stunning display of more than 50 costumes from the series’ six-season run.

Stay overnight at one of our distinctive properties to ensure you have enough time to experience all of the top activities the estate has to offer this winter. For the ultimate escape, consider one of our special overnight packages.

Top 5 Downton Abbey-Related Activities at Biltmore

From November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020, Biltmore is hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an immersive, must-see event that pays homage to the show.

The multimedia display in Amherst at Deerpark includes holograms, video, and life-size imagery—plus some of the series’ most recognizable sets, including Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and the gossip-fueled servants’ quarters.

The estate has a variety of additional offerings that connect to the exhibition. Here are our top 5 picks:

Costumes from Downton Abbey on display
The limited-time exhibition continues in Antler Hill Village with costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy.

5. Costumes at The Biltmore Legacy

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition itself extends to The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village where more than 50 official costumes from the series’ six-season run—worn by actors such as Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Dame Maggie Smith—will be on display.

Lush summer blooms in the Walled Garden at Biltmore
Stroll through lush late summer blooms in the Walled Garden

4. Stroll Through Stunning Gardens

In one episode of the series, Lord and Lady Grantham had the delightful task of presiding over the annual village flower show. While visiting Biltmore, be sure to stroll through our four-acre English-style Walled Garden filled with roses and a glorious mix of summer annuals and perennials, exotic grasses, and more–and don’t miss the glass-roofed Conservatory that houses hundreds of tropical specimens.

Tea sets
Our charming estate shops offer a wide range of Downton Abbey-inspired items, including a variety of lovely tea sets.

3. Downton Abbey-Inspired Products

For a limited-time, shops throughout the estate are offering a variety of Downton-inspired items. Browse fashions such as fascinators, jewelry, scarves, hat pins, and more—inspired by the styles worn by characters in the show. Tea sets, books, and additional accessories relating to the era are also available.

Biltmore Sub-Basement
Our newest tour takes you into rarely seen areas of Biltmore House, such as fascinating parts of the Sub-Basement.

2. The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Developed exclusively to coincide with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour is a brand new behind-the-scenes tour. Hear the fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate while visiting rarely seen servants’ areas including the Butler’s Pantry and beyond.

The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate
With so much to see and do at Biltmore during this exciting time, stay overnight to ensure you have time to experience it all.

1. Stay Overnight to Make the Most of Your Visit

Both The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate® offer an exciting opportunity to stay overnight on the property, ensuring you have time to see and do it all. Take your time while enjoying Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, and take in all the glorious costumes from the series on display at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

Decanting Downton

In honor of hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition through September 7, 2020, we thought it would be fascinating to look at Downton Abbey—and Biltmore’s own history—through the lens of a wine bottle.

A thoughtful collector

We know that George Vanderbilt was a thoughtful wine collector in his own right, and he also relied upon the services of professional wine purveyor Alexander Morten who was well-known for his excellent taste and recommendations.

To learn more about the process of procuring and preparing wines in the late 19th century, we turned to Jeff Plack, business development manager for Biltmore Wines and a wine aficionado in general, to “pour out” what he knows about the subject.

Archival list of wines in Biltmore's wine cellar
March 12, 1913: list of wines in Biltmore’s cellar

The business of wine

“I love the fact that in the new Downton Abbey feature film–and in many episodes of the six-season PBS Masterpiece seriesthe characters were sipping wine at some point,” said Jeff. “Wine consumption was a direct measure of one’s wealth in that era and it was not unusual for large estates to have thousands of bottles in their cellars. At that time, the wines were mostly French.”

Jeff explains that Mr. Carson, the Crawley family’s beloved butler in the series, would have been largely responsible for the wines served at Downton Abbey.

“The family might have taken an active interest in wine,” Jeff said, “but the butler was generally the person who oversaw the supply and prepared the wines for the dinner table.

Decanting wines

Formal place setting on the Banquet Hall Table in Biltmore House
This formal place setting on the Banquet Hall table features six pieces of crystal, including a champagne coupe and a cordial glass for port or sherry

In one episode of the series, Carson is seen decanting wine using an interesting contraption.

“It’s appropriately called a decanting machine or cradle,” said Jeff. “The cradle holds the wine as someone turns a crank which slowly pours the wine out of the bottle.”

In the scene, Carson is using a lighted candle behind the bottle to help him see any sediment in the wine. This technique, along with a piece of muslin over the decanter, would help filter out impurities.

(Note: the featured image for this blog shows the decanting cradle in Mr. Carson’s pantry as part of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition currently hosted at Biltmore.)

The circle of wine

For wealthy households like the one depicted in Downton Abbey, the variety of wines consumed at dinner made a circle of sorts.

Glass and silver wine decanter
A delicate silver and glass wine decanter from the Biltmore collection

“Evenings would usually begin with port or sherry and possibly a glass of champagne as an apéritif,” said Jeff. “Each subsequent course of the dinner would be paired with a different wine.”

Mariporta dessert wine on a tray with glasses
Our Mariporta is a port-style dessert wine reminiscent of the ones the Vanderbilts might have enjoyed

According to Jeff, wine pairings were different than the ones we make today.

A common practice of the era was to serve a white Burgundy (generally a Chardonnay) with the first course and then a red Bordeaux with the main meal. 

“It was less about the science of which wines ‘go with’ or complement which foods, and more about wines that they preferred,” Jeff said. “For dessert, they would move back to something like port, similar to our Mariporta Red Dessert Wine, and then end with sparkling wine again; a happy circle of wine life.”

Celebrate with Biltmore sparkling wines
Biltmore sparkling wine is perfect for any occasion

With modern winemaking techniques, we no longer need to use decanting machines and filters, and though we enjoy pairing wines based on qualities such as acidity and tannins, we also love complementing favorite flavors with wines we enjoy.

Savor Biltmore Wines

Join us at the Winery for complimentary tastings of our award-winning wines. You can purchase Biltmore wines at most estate shops or online. In addition, experience Downton Abbey: The Exhibition hosted in two locations on estate grounds, November 8, 2019–April 7, 2020.

Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.

Archival image of estate workers during harvest season at Biltmore, ca. 1900

A Working Estate

The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.

Servants' Hall in Biltmore House
The Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize

Household Staff

Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.

Detail of electrical switchboard in the sub-basement of Biltmore House

Technological Advancements

Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more. 

Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House
Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House

Preserving the Home

One of the primary themes in Downton Abbey is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.

Join us November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020 to experience Downton Abbey like never before—amid George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate—with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore.

Feature image: Biltmore House, ca. 1910

A Desirable Destination for Romance

Even before construction of Biltmore House was officially completed, George Vanderbilt offered world-class hospitality—and a desirable destination for romance—to family and friends who visited his estate.

Destined for romance

In honor of the romantic traditions of Valentine’s Day and hosting our own guests for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the very first Biltmore visitors: newlyweds Jay and Adele Burden.

Adele was George Vanderbilt’s niece, the daughter of his sister Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. She had been a frequent visitor to the estate, even during early stages of construction, and Adele’s love of Biltmore is evident in her diary entries.

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore's ferry

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore’s ferry

Words in a diary

Welcoming in the new year of 1894 at Biltmore nearly a year before the house officially opened, Adele wrote:

“Only a word to begin the New Year with. I made my good resolutions last night sitting over a little dying fire. The window was wide open, and the cold night air blew in. The stars were all out, and there was a hushed stillness everywhere as if something were expected. It has been so gloriously beautiful out today; it made me feel wild.”

A courtship begins

In fact, 1894 would be a significant year for Adele. She was courted by a handsome young man, James “Jay” Abercrombie Burden, whose family owned the Burden Iron works, one of the most successful such firms in the country.

Adele had no shortage of suitors, but with his clean-cut good looks, Harvard education, and superior athleticism, Jay soon won Adele’s heart. He proposed in December and the couple married on June 6, 1895, in what was reported to be one of the costliest American weddings held at the time.

Jay and Adele Burden on the steps of River Cliff Cottage at Biltmore

Happy honeymoon!

Of all the possible destinations far and wide, the Burdens chose Biltmore as the place to begin their honeymoon. They spent the first 10 days of their married life at River Cliff Cottage, which was built at the same time Biltmore House was under construction.

Just before her wedding, Adele wrote:

“The next day we go down to Biltmore to spend ten days in the dear little house Uncle George has given to us. How perfect it will be!”

Adele and her husband Jay were the first in a long line of friends and family welcomed as guests at Biltmore to experience what would become George Vanderbilt’s legendary hospitality.

Experience Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

Amherst at Deerpark interiors during Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
Amherst at Deerpark interiors during Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

Join us to experience a rich history of hospitality, intrigue, and romance with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an immersive indoor experience celebrating the global hit television series.

Now through April 7, this one-of-a-kind exhibition is hosted in two Biltmore locations—Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village—each of which invites you to shake winter’s chill while enjoying an exciting glimpse into the past.

Featured image: George Vanderbilt and Cedric the St. Bernard with newlyweds Adele and James Burden at Biltmore