During our week in Paris, we made a spontaneous visit to the Palace of Versailles. Versailles is about 12 miles from Paris, making it easy to take an excursion outside of the city. To enjoy all Versailles has to offer, allow yourself a full day to explore the grounds. It is well worth it!
The Palace of Versailles
Ah, the Palace of Versailles. I can honestly say that roaming the halls of kings and queens is a surreal experience. Knowing you are on the grounds once graced by those you read about in history books is both unusual and fascinating. Especially in such a vast, intricate space.
Also known as the Château de Versailles, the palace was built for King Louis XIV in the 17th century and served as the royal residence up until the French Revolution. In addition to the royal family, it was the home of many French nobleman and their families, and government officials. The palace has been a World Heritage site for 30 years.
The Palace as a whole boasts some of the most intricate 17th and 18th century French architecture and design. However, it's the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces), the Garden, the Royal Apartments, the Petit Trianon, and the Hamlet of Marie Antoinette (Hameau de la Reine) that get the most attention.
To me, the two most impressive parts of the entire grounds were the Hall of Mirrors and the Garden. The Hall, formerly a rooftop terrace, is one of the most famous rooms in the entire palace – which is saying something considering there are over 2,000! It is more than 230 feet long and is lined with 17 wide mirrors which were designed to match and reflect the windows facing the garden. The ceiling is made up of 30 painted scenes depicting Louis XIV's reign, accented with large, elaborate chandeliers. The entire space is so extravagant that you can really envision yourself at a 17th century ball.
The Gardens were just so overwhelmingly expansive that you can't help but stare in awe at the intricate designs from above. The size makes it hard to comprehend just how the trees, flower beds and fountains are kept in such pristine condition. Scattered throughout the meticulously manicured lawns and trees are fountains and sculptures galore. There are even fountain shows in the spring through fall, which we did not experience but I can only imagine are a wonderful sight!
Visiting the Palace of Versailles is an incredible experience, but it doesn't come without it's flaws. No, you will not find the Hall of Mirrors COMPLETELY empty, making for the most perfect photo opportunity on the planet (**insert disappointed eye roll**). No, you will not roam the halls without bumping elbows with another sightseer, or enter without having to wait your turn. And yes, you will feel tired, have sore feet and probably sweat a little. Should you go? ABSOLUTELY! But go prepared, and with realistic expectations.
Here are 6 tips for experiencing the Palace of Versailles.
Buy your ticket online AND schedule an entry time. There are a number of ways you can get tickets, but I would recommend just buying them online on the palace website and scanning your ticket on your mobile device upon entry. Or, if you are planning on visiting multiple attractions in Paris, you may considering buying the Paris Museum Pass, which includes admission to Versailles.
We bought our tickets online the morning of our day trip (how's that for being last minute?) and unfortunately, all of the scheduled entry times were filled. Because of that, we had to wait in line with the rest of the ill-prepared visitors. The line was INSANELY long. I'm talking hundreds upon hundreds of people. So many people that the line coiled into itself, as the crowd was forced to queue around the perimeter of the gated area.
When I saw it I thought we were screwed. There was no way we were going to have time to see everything and get photos without a bunch of sweaty and agitated tourists in the background, let alone actually get a good look at anything. We might as well just go home. Girl was about to get cranky! As we made our way closer to the gates, I realized that the line looked scarier than it actually was. But if you can avoid it altogether, why wouldn't you? Save yourself some moodiness and time: schedule your visit.
Get there early. This falls into the same vein as scheduling your entry time. The Palace of Versailles is busy. Not a fan of crowds? Arrive early. If you are claustrophobic and/or get anxious in large crowds and tight spaces, arrive early. Looking to capture photos with the least amount of photo bombers as possible? You know the deal… get there early! We visited at a very busy time of year, but I am willing to bet that crowds are pretty unavoidable year-round. Exhibit A below.
You will likely find that there are quite a few tour buses and groups, but they don't tend to arrive until a bit after the Palace opens. I would highly advise doing your best to avoid these crowds so you can make the most of your experience. Nothing fun about squishing your way you the front of a crowd just to see the sights!
Plan for a day trip. You can easily spend an hour and a half to two hours within the palace, then another couple of hours touring the garden. Depending on how you plan to travel to and from Versailles, and if you are a human and need sustenance throughout the day, this excursion can require the better part of a full day.
The Palace opens every day at 9:00am, except for Mondays when it is closed. The estate of Trianon and the Coach Gallery open in the afternoon. The Gardens are open daily. From March to October, visitors can see fountain shows and musical gardens.
You can get to the palace by train, which I have read is a 2-hour ride. Or, you can opt for a 40 minute Uber ride, which is what we did.
Choose your touring style wisely. If you are impatient like me, skip the guided tours. If you planned well, and have the patience and the time, take a tour. OK, I know. Not exactly the most direct piece of advice but bear with me.
As mentioned, we went at a very busy time of year (June), so the palace was packed. We also didn't plan well, arriving with the crowds, rather than before the crowds. Because of this, we were forced to opt for our own self-guided tour with the headsets provided at the museum's entry. The audio guides come in multiple languages. This worked for us purely because we were able to breeze through what we wanted to breeze through, and take our time where we wanted to. Whereas on a tour, you're kind of strapped to the guide's schedule.
Many say that the best way to see Versailles is with a tour group. With a guide, you'll get more than just the facts rattled off by the audio guide. You will learn the stories around each corner (and there are many!), you will have an easier time navigating the palace, and you will know what's worth your time and what only needs a glance! This will ultimately make for a more seamless visit. A tour guide will really, truly help you see the Palace of Versailles for what it really is. Just be prepared to move with the tour rather than at a pace that suits you.
Finish your visit in the gardens! Just when you think you've seen a lot, you're about to see much, much more. The gardens are comprised of over 800 hectares of land. That is A LOT of land to see, which makes its maintenance that much more impressive. Make a point to see all of the fountains, and eventually find your way over to Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trianon. Tour the gardens after the palace. You will appreciate the breath of fresh air.
Pro tip: Grab a sandwich at one of the palace cafes or pack your own lunch. Have a picnic in the garden before heading back to wherever you came from. We didn't do this, and I wish we did. Much to my surprise and envy, I found out that you can actually enter the gardens for free via an entryway on the left. As we were roaming the gardens, we saw many people setting up picnics in the grass! Such a great place to read, study, and relax. Imagine being a student in the area and being able to study in the gardens of Versailles on a regular basis! Le sigh!
Dress for the day. If you're visiting in the warmer months, dress for it. The interior of the palace is fairly stuffy and the barely cracked windows are not forgiving. The more people there are inside, the hotter it is. Also, wear proper footwear because you will be walking A LOT! The cobblestone roads leading to the entryway can be hard on the feet and the estate is enormous.
I would also recommend bringing sunglasses and wearing sunscreen if you've got good weather, as you will be outside for a while.
Visiting the Palace of Versailles should be high on your hit list if you are spending any amount of time in Paris. It is rich with history and impressive architectural design that will surely take you back a few centuries!