Group tours to North Carolina can discover a wealth of stories within the majestic mansions that dot the landscape. Far from just being large homes, these historic Carolina castles serve as portals to different times, providing groups with an opportunity to explore the evolution of American society and artistic expression.

The colonial world comes to life at Tryon Palace in New Bern. Once the administrative headquarters of the British governor, the home was built to impress—but with a price tag paid by taxing the colonists. It was little wonder that patriots seized the residence during the Revolution.

Today, the meticulously reconstructed mansion transports visitors to the eve of war and the birth of America. Costumed reenactors greet groups in the stately chambers. Groups can hear the tales of the influential figures who shaped the early days of North Carolina. “Life on the Lesser Stairs,” a special experience for groups, highlights the lives of those who worked to make the household function. This tour covers the three main buildings of Tryon Palace with a special focus on the cellar, stable, and kitchen.

The Smith-McDowell House in Asheville is the oldest surviving mansion in the city. The brick home was built by enslaved individuals for one of the wealthiest landowners and businesspeople in the area. Today, the home has been restored to its original interior and houses exhibits and a timeline telling the history of western North Carolina and the people who lived here. The home is part of the new Asheville Museum of History, which enriches groups’ visits with exhibits, guided tours, and a variety of educational programs.

Nearby, groups can explore the grandeur of Biltmore, the largest privately owned home in the United States. One of the best examples of Gilded Age architecture, the mansion was designed by Richard Morris Hunt. It boasts 250 rooms, including 35 richly decorated bedrooms for family and friends, 43 bathrooms, and three kitchens. From the banquet hall and sunken winter garden to the library and bachelor’s wing, guests are surrounded by masterpieces of painting, statuary, and tapestry—to say nothing of the interior finishings of the mansion. Visitors will also see examples of turn-of-the-century innovations that made the home a “modern” marvel.

There is more to see than the mansion on this 8,000-acre property. Antler Hill Village is home to plenty of eateries and two hotels that allow groups to extend their stay and imagine living like the Vanderbilts. Whether groups desire an active or leisurely retreat, Biltmore has an abundance of offerings. Groups can find activities as diverse as yoga, croquet, guided bike adventures and horseback rides, afternoon tea, wine tastings, workshops, or specialty tours.

Reynolda House, Winston-Salem, North Carolina;
Credit: Reynolda House

Reynolda House in Winston-Salem fuses traditional architecture styles with contemporary art. The 1917 home is a beautiful backdrop for an impressive collection of American art that spans the family’s original collection to the modern day. Through workshops and a menu of specialty tours, groups can unpack the collection of masterpieces and the stories they tell. The establishment is set on 170 acres and comprises Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Gardens, and Reynolda Village Shops and Restaurants.

“Group tours are a great way to experience Reynolda’s extraordinary estate,” says Stephani Eaton, coordinator of tours and volunteers. “Consider a guided walkthrough of the formal gardens or village, a general highlights tour of the historic house, or a curator-led discovery of our permanent collection of American art masterpieces. Each experience provides visitors with an expert guide who brings the history and present-day joys of Reynolda to life.”

The museum presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds’ 34,000-square-foot home. Its collection is a chronology of American art and featured exhibitions are offered. In the village, the estate’s historic buildings are now home to a vibrant mix of boutiques, restaurants, shops, and services.

By Michael McLaughlin

Main Image: Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina; Credit: The Biltmore Co.