Well, yes and no. In my opinion.
The tickets were $59, more if you wanted the $17 audio tour of the house. Online advance purchase brought the price down to $44 without an audio tour.
If you are going because you want to see the house, I think that price is steep. It is a 33 room period-era showplace, operated as a hotel for the Vanderbilts and their endless guests. To me it seems overdecorated in heavy Victorian style, designed to make you gawk at what money could buy in the 1890s.
It is most impressive, but you have to be a real fan of this kind of architecture to get $60+ worth of enjoyment out of an hour and a half tour.
Or you have to be a real fan of the Victorian era, or lifestyle excesses to get a kick out of seeing it at those prices.
Many visitors seemed less interested in the history of the Vanderbilts and more into whether Anderson Cooper ever lived here (he didn't, but with his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, he did visit some of the rooms that were still available just to the family when he was young.)
Parking is free, shuttles from the lot to the house are free, restrooms and cafe food are convenient, and the whole enterprise is well run, clean and efficient. If you don't want to buy the $17 tape recorder tour, there are docents in many rooms and they were very informative.
Now, on to the gardens. Were those worth it?
I'm a gardener and I have studied Frederick Law Olmsted's career, and so I say yes.
There was much to see and appreciate, including the eye candy kinds of showy gardens -- pergola walks, a walled perennial garden, a rose garden, a tropical conservatory. There were fields of mums, blocks of annuals, all heavily maintained and in pristine condition for late in the season.
But if you are only interested in flowers and European-style gardens, the price is still steep -- even if you justify it at $30, half the ticket price (assuming half the cost is for the house tour, half for walking the gardens).
I thought the real value was seeing the designed landscape beyond the formal gardens around the mansion. This was Frederick Law Olmsted's last commission at the end of his life, and he had not just hundreds of acres to design, but hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and mountain to work with.
Originally the Vanderbilts owned 125,000 acres. This view is what you see from the house. The estate is much smaller now, but still vast.
Olmsted insisted that the forest be preserved, and not cleared out to make sweeping open lawns. While my companions (my sister and my husband on this trip) saw only trees and meadows and a pond, I recognized that what Olmsted built to look so natural was completely manmade.
He expanded a millpond to become a lake (where scenes from Last of the Mohicans were filmed. I had trouble imagining that, but ok). He cleared land for farming on the estate, and leveled hills and built paths.
He built dips in the terrain, sheltered by trees that only now, 100 years on, are mature and stately. It all looks natural, like he didn't do anything, but it is a highly designed space. Money, of course, was no object.
The bridges and man made structures are reminiscent of Central Park, but more rustic.
For a little more on Olmsted's impact on Biltmore click here.
For a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted click here.
I read about his life in the biography "Genius of Place" and was amazed. He was uneducated, barely getting any kind of elementary tutoring as a youth. He never attended a college.
He was not a landscape architect. He was first an experimental farmer, then a reporter for the NY Times writing about slavery in the south, a gold miner in California, the commissioner of the Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, and several other things. He fell into creating Central Park sort of by accident, late in life, and then went on to do other park commissions.
He is a native son to us -- Olmsted was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and is buried here.
Bottom line, in this blogger's opinion: a visit to Biltmore is too expensive for the ornate house and showy gardens. You can see those in Europe and you can see those in Newport, Rhode Island or New York.
But the evidence of Frederick Law Olmsted's genius shaping the geography in subtle and barely noticeable ways is well worth it if you know what to look for.
Read the biography before you go.