The U.S. may not have the fairytale castles common throughout parts of Europe, but we do have some stately mansions that can be just as impressive. Occupied by names like Rockefeller, Versace and Vanderbilt, the eight estates in this gallery were once home to some of our country’s most prominent businessmen, a world-class fashion designer and a famous heiress. Today, all remain open to the public and waiting for a spot on your bucket list.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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As the largest privately-owned home in America, there's truly no grander a mansion than the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This nearly 180,000-square-foot chateau-style home was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and the Gilded Age beauty remains in the family today. It continues to occupy 8,000 acres with expansive gardens and pristine landscaping. Many of the original buildings on the estate have been converted to appeal to visitors, including a former barn that now serves as the Biltmore Winery. Not only is the mansion and its grounds open to the public for a $50 entrance fee, but visitors can stay at one of three accommodations there, including the 4-star Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Cottage on Biltmore Estate.
Photo by D L, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton's former home sits on nearly 50 acres around Laurel Lake in the the Berkshires. Named the Mount, Wharton called the house home from 1902 until 1911. The estate includes a magnificent main house built with classic Italian and French-inspired architecture, as well as a stable and gardens. The Mount went on to serve other purposes after Wharton moved out, including a girl's dormitory for a nearby school and the site of a theater company. Today it remains open May through October as a cultural center and museum, offering daily tours for around $18. Having penned several scary stories throughout her career, it's only fitting a ghost tour is offered at her former estate.
Photo by David Dashiell, CC BY 2.0
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Originally owned by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the Hearst Castle, formally La Cuesta Encantada, is a National Historical Landmark overlooking San Simeon, California. Construction of the 165-room mansion completed in 1947 and included a main building, guesthouses, fountains, gardens and pools on 127 acres. The hilltop estate is open to the public and several tours are offered starting at $25.
Photo by Edwin Sutanto, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Newport, Rhode Island is famous for its Gilded Age mansions and none is more famous than the Vanderbilt family's 125,339-square-foot summer estate known as The Breakers. Construction of the 70-room mansion began in 1893 and was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It was inspired by 16th-century Italian palaces and features Renaissance-inspired architecture. This National Historic Landmark is open to the public and a variety of tours are available through the Preservation Society of Newport County, which includes an array of other Gilded Age mansions in the area.
Photo by Matthew and Heather, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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American heiress Doris Duke's Hawaiian estate is architecturally unique compared to the other mansions in this gallery. The Islamic-style Shangri La sits on nearly 5 acres and was built between 1936 and 1938 near Honolulu. Duke's inspiration for the oceanfront home's design came after her honeymoon travels took her through Africa and the Middle East. While living in the mansion she collected some 2,500 Islamic artifacts from countries like Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Turkey. They remain on display within the home today, which is maintained as the Shangri La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures through the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Photo by karendesuyo, CC BY 2.0
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The 40-room Kykuit overlooks the Hudson Valley and once served as home to four generations of Rockefellers. The Westchester County, New York estate was originally built for patriarch John D. Rockefeller, who moved in with his family in 1913. The stone house features Colonial and Classic Revival architecture and sits on nearly 250 acres. Among Kykuit's other occupants was Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York and U.S. vice president, who added noteworthy art collections to the estate, including work by Pablo Picasso. Today the estate is maintained as a National Trust house and is open to the public. A variety of tours are available and range from around $25 to $40.
Photo by Matthew and Heather, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Known most famously as the Versace Mansion, this Mediterranean Revival-style estate in Miami was designed in 1930 and occupied by Adlen Freeman, who inherited his wealth from his father who served as treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. Originally and formally known as Casa Casuarina, the mansion has undergone several reincarnations, including as an apartment complex and later as private residence of famed Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace. He lived there from 1992 until 1997 when he was shot and killed on its front steps. Versace expanded the mansion and commissioned $32 million in renovations. Today, it's open to the public as the Villa Casa Casuarina hotel.
Photo by cointernet, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site is a true American palace. The 54-room mansion was built by Frederick William Vanderbilt between 1896 and 1899 to serve as a country home. This Gilded Age beauty features Beaux Arts architecture and sits on 211 acres along the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York. The property includes Italian gardens, a formal garden with 2,000 rose bushes, a natural woods and views of the Catskill Mountains. The Vanderbilt Mansion is open to the public every day from sunrise to sunset. Entrance passes are $10.
Photo by mksfca, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0