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AN ALTERNATIVE GUIDE TO VERSAILLES TOWN (THINGS TO DO THAT DON’T INCLUDE THE CHÂTEAU)

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… 

le phares louis crêperie versailles town

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…

dream house versailles town

Best things to do in Versailles town

Les Carrés 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. The home can be found within the Quartier Saint Louis district of Versailles.

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.

Les Carrés Saint-Louis versailles town

Versailles Cathedral

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. The ecclesiastical building can be found at 4 Place Saint Louis and is easily one of the best-kept secrets of Versailles.

versailles town cathedral

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!

versailles town

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’…

french market versailles town

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?!

macaron paris has my heart

Discover about the history of tennis at the Jeu de Paume

Rue du Jeu de Paume

Price: Free

Open: 2-6 P.M.

Tennis and Versailles: say what?  Tennis and Versailles are not usually synonymous with one another. In fact, they are two words that rarely occur in the same sentence. And yet, the precursor to tennis was regularly played in French courts, a sport actually favoured by French nobility.

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.

As with most sports- and a lot of other history, no one is quite sure on the exact origin of tennis. However, it’s widely believed that the precursor to tennis was actually played without rackets. Instead, players were encouraged to use the palm of their hands as ‘bats’- hence the name ‘jeu de paume’- the name of many of France’s oldest tennis courts- and quite literally meaning ‘game of the hand’.

There is a lot of talk that games similar to tennis have been around since time immemorial, with many claiming that the Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Ancient Greeks all had their own version of the game.

However, many historians now believe that the origins of tennis actually lie in 12th century monastic cloisters in Northern France. The monks would shout ‘tenez’ (tenez/ tennis- what’s the difference?!) literally meaning ‘hold, receive, take‘ as they hurled the ball over makeshift nets and against walls of the monastery. It’s said that the game became so prolific, that at one point, the pope tried to ban tennis!

It wasn’t until Henry VII Henry VIII and his courtesans came along that rackets were brought into the Jeu de Paume game and tennis as we know it was officially born. Tennis courts were built far and wide- many of which can still be found today (including at Hampton Court Palace- the official residence of Henry VIII).

Tennis became known as the sport of the nobility and ‘Jeu de Paume‘ courts were set up all over France.

jeu de paume versailles jeu de paume versailles town

Why Versailles?

On a fairly recent trip to Versailles (where I wrote an ‘alternative’ guide to Versailles that doesn’t include the Château/ Palace), I wandered into the ‘Jeu de Paume’. Today, you can visit the old tennis court. It’s now a free museum located in the heart of the old town part of Versailles.

This was a tennis court turned political battlefield. Today, the building is 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.

DSC04078

Musée Lambinet

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 (open Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons).

musée lambinet versailles town

musée lambinet versailles town

Hôtel de Ville of Versailles

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!

hotel de ville versailles town

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.

le potager du roi versailles town

Visit the Gardens of Versailles

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… There are actually several entrances to the Gardens of Versailles. Visitors should also note that, during certain times of the year, visitors have to pay to visit the gardens as special events take place.

versailles-gardens-guide-to-versailles town

Visit:

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.

versailles town

And finally, if you enjoyed reading about Versailles Town, why not pin it?

An alternative guide to Versailles town- things to do in Versailles which don't involve visiting the Palace Châteaux!an alternative guide to versailles town

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Suzanne

Monday 19th of April 2021

This is serendipity! I’ve researching places in France to spend an extended visit.....Versailles is the most recent but I was having much luck. This is a wonderful article and much appreciated! merci.

NOrman

Monday 26th of September 2016

Oh wow. what a wonderful article. been to versaille like what.. 5 times already but never took the time to explore the rest of the city. Guess I should take more time on my next visit. heh! : ) Can only say the same as the adventurerer above. thank you for this off the beaten path article :)

Ellen

Sunday 31st of July 2016

Lovely post! I didn't make it to Versailles when I was in France because I thought it would just be for the palace. Regretting it now I know there's more going on!

Laura

Thursday 28th of July 2016

That macaron, oh my! I can't wait to return to Versailles and see the rest of the city. Looks gorgeous!

the adventurer

Wednesday 27th of July 2016

I've been to Versailles twice now but never got a chance to visit the surrounding area. Thanks for this inspiration! I will definitely be exploring more of the area next time I go =o)

http://dreamofadventures.blogspot.com/

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