Nowadays, you’d be unlikely to pick up any Parisian guidebook and not find at least a page or two dedicated to visiting the Château of Versailles. It’s a tourist staple for any first timer to the city of lights. I’ve even written a post myself about visiting the iconic palace. While it’s beautiful, and it would be a crime to not visit at least once, when you visit a place enough times, you start looking for alternative things to do, especially in the surrounding Versailles Town.
And besides, finding the most adorable little cafés is always a good idea…
Recently, (and by recently, I mean, like, today…) I realised that I had boarded the wrong train. I was going in the wrong direction as a result of French signage confusion, language complications and general problems with following the confusing signs that make up the RER.
“Okay. No worries”, I thought to myself, “Today would be a lovely opportunity to visit the Château”. But the longer I thought about it, the longer I realised that although Versailles is popular with tourists, it’s predominantly for the Royal Palace.
Versailles town proper is often overlooked- which is obviously a shame! This becomes especially apparent if you want to do as locals do and really experience some French culture. So when in France…
Les Carrés Saint-Louis
Quartier Saint Louis
With architecture that is unique to Versailles, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the quaint little homes that form Le Carrés of Saint-Louis.
Situated near the cathedral, they were commissioned during the reign of Louis XV to be used as market stalls. Although they were never intended to be used as houses, that’s their primary use today.
4 Place Saint-Louis
This baroque inspired cathedral was opened in 1754. Although the cathedral was badly damaged during the French revolution, it was restored soon afterward and sits in the centre of town today with a unique domed roof.
Wandering the streets
Filled with boutique shops, cafés, brasseries and antique shops, you can’t go wrong by simply wandering around the town and getting to know a feel for the place.
I found that I easily lost myself for hours by meandering down the little cobblestoned roads to take photos. No matter how long I live in France, the architecture still manages to surprise me!
Pay a visit to the market
Carrés Notre Dame
When in France, if you really want to do as the French do, then eat well! Fresh and local produce is always on the menu. The fresher the better.
I recently discovered that there’s even a French TV show about a dating show featuring farmers looking for love. It’s called ‘L’amour est dans le pré’…
Pick up a French pastry from a French patisserie shop
Any independent café…
What is more French that sitting on a pavement terrace, sipping on a coffee and watching the world go by- especially if it’s simultaneously done with nibbling on a little pastry?!
Jeu de Paume
Rue du Jeu de Paume
Open: 2-6 P.M.
The site of an old tennis court turned political battlefield, the building has played an important role is French history. Today filled with marble busts of former politicians and French courtesans alike, it’s a great place to find out more on the history of Versailles.
It was also the site of the ‘Tennis Court Oath‘. This is the building where many rich French men congregated to vow to stick together no matter what- even in spite of the high tension within society prior to the French revolution.
54 Boulevard de la Reine
Price: €4.50 / €2.50
Open: 2-6 P.M.
The Royal palace isn’t the only museum in Versailles! The Musée Lambinet covers all sorts of interests such as local culture and architecture. It was originally the home of the Lambinet family and was left to the town for use as a museum.
When I first arrived at the museum- which has over 30 rooms to explore- I had a hard time believing it was even a real museum- and not some fairytale castle from a movie.
Just outside the museum, there’s one of the cutest cafés I’ve ever seen (opencThursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons).
Hôtel de Ville
4 Avenue de Paris
Pronounced without the ‘h’, the Hôtel de Ville of Versailles is an impressive feat of architecture just to look at. It’s situated right next to one of the train stations and so is difficult to miss!
Le Potager du Roi
10 Rue du Maréchal Joffre
Price: €7- weekend, €4.50 weekday / €3 concessions
Open: 10 A.M. – 6 P.M.
Literally ‘the King’s vegetable garden’, this former kitchen garden has been fully restored to its former glory. Constructed under Louis XIV (known as the sun King due to his opulence and enormous wealth), today, you can wander around the flowers, shrubs and vegetables alike.
There’s even the chance to purchase some vegetables that were grown here.
Visit the Gardens
Of all the things I’ve listed to do in Versailles town, I may have said that this guide wouldn’t include the palace, but there is no better place to have a Parisian picnic than in the gardens of Versailles themselves. With enormous fountains, grand boulevards and topiary so on point that it puts my nails to shame, the gardens are a must see for any budding gardener- or sight-seer alike…
Train- The easiest way to get to Versailles is via train from Paris. It takes roughly 45 minutes.
Saint Lazare – Versailles Rive Droite
Gare de l’Est – Versailles Rive Gauche
Montparnasse – Versailles Chantier
Obviously French is the main language spoken here. To help you, I’ve compiled a list of 20 useful and Interesting French words and phrases.