Last Updated on 2nd March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Rich with history and brimming with fascinating tales of times long gone by, Versailles is famous the world over. Once home to one of the richest kings in history, Louis XIV commissioned the Palace that would have cost over $2 billion to build in today’s money. Here’s a guide to Versailles on what to see, when to visit, and the best time to go to Versailles, as well as how to take a Versailles day trip from Paris!
So large is the palace, that the King would often be forced to eat his meals cold, owing in part to the distance between the kitchens and King’s dining quarters. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, millions of visitors flock annually to explore the wealth of riches contained within the Château and its surrounding grounds.
In more recent years, the site has been used as a film location for Coppola’s movie ‘Marie Antoinette’ and the backdrop for the Anish Kapoor’s exhibition highlighting chaos amongst the pristine gardens at Versailles.
Parts of a recent BBC TV drama series, known simply as ‘Versailles‘, and all about the reign of the Sun King was also filmed here. Last but not least, that wedding between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West was held here.
Book your Versailles Skip-the-Queue guided tour experience here
- Where is Versailles?
- Things to do at Versailles Palace
- Practical tips and tricks for first-time visitors to Versailles
- Best time to visit Versailles Palace and Gardens
- How much time do you need to visit Versailles?
- How to visit Versailles as a day trip from Paris (and plan your excursion in advance)
- France Travel Information
Where is Versailles?
Versailles is a beautiful town in the Île de France region of France. Located to the west of France, Versailles has a population of around 85,000 residents. The Palace itself was once home to between 1000 to 3000 people.
Things to do at Versailles Palace
There is perhaps no palace in the world that is quite as famous as that of Versailles, a French château just a short train ride from Paris. Best known for its status as a seat of royalty, over-the-top opulence, and of course, where the Sun King Louis XIV himself lived in the lap of luxury, Versailles started out life as a hunting lodge in the 17th-century. Here are the best things to see and do in the Palace and its grand gardens.
Château of Versailles
Of course, when it comes to visiting Versailles (be it as a day trip from Paris or a weekend escape from the city to explore the rest of the town), the main attraction of the city is the ornately decorated Versailles Palace.
Despite the fact that the town itself was first attested in the 11th-century and is incredibly close to Paris, no royals arrived on the scene until some time later- in 1624 to be precise.
Home to the coveted Hall of Mirrors, the Palace of Versailles is a gold gilt, jewel-encrusted, velvet lined display of opulent wealth in every sense of the word.
The original palace was divided into around 350 living quarters. This ranged from small cupboards behind stairwells for servants to the King’s palatial chambers.
Every room conveys a sense of divine entitlement; Louis XIV heralded himself as ‘the Sun King’, often commissioning tapestries and frescos depicting him as the sun god Apollo. One such example of this can be found at the National Trust property, Castle Drogo in Devon.
Following its construction, Versailles remained a relatively small hunting lodge for several decades. This is just as the equally sumptuous Palace at Fontainebleau had done so prior to its transformation into the ornate château you can visit today. However, everything changed in the 1660s when architect Louis XIV arrived on the scene and started expanding the palace.
His ideas were grand, and over the course of his reign, Versailles would be transformed into one of the largest palaces in the word. The three main designers brought in for the expansion project had worked together previously.
André Le Notre, Charles Le Brun, and Louis Le Vau first formed a partnership during construction of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a palace so sumptuous that the King had thrown away its original owner and confiscated the castle for himself.
Together, the trio gave rise to the beautiful French Baroque architecture of the 17th-century that’s so synonymous with France today.
André Le Notre worked on the gardens, Charles Le Brun on interior design, and Louis Le Vau on the architecture. And as you can clearly see for yourself, the results were breathtaking…
Gardens of Versailles
The Le Notre designed gardens are worthy of a visit in themselves and if you venture to the Palace of Versailles on a Monday, they remain open to the public (despite the rest of the buildings being closed).
If you’re not too fussed about seeing the French interiors, then Monday is definitely the quietest time to enjoy the green spaces without the usual tourist crowds! Known in French as the ‘Jardins du château de Versailles,’ the gardens were expanded at the same time as the palace in the 17th-century.
Sprawling as far as the eye can see, neatly trimmed topiary, grand boulevards, and pretty lakes a plenty span the vast planes surrounding the Château.
I can hardly begin to imagine the maintenance costs… Don’t believe me as to how beautiful the gardens of Versailles are? Here are photos of Versailles which prove the palace is worth another visit!
Highlights of the gardens of Versailles, which were designed by Le Notre (yes, the same man who designed the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte) include the Bassin d’Apollon (Apollo Fountain), parts of which were made in the Gobelins Factory, as well as plenty of stunning topiary.
Of all the waterworks, meticulously manicured hedgerows, and sumptuous sculptures in the gardens, the Bassin d’Apollon is likely the most famous of them all.
Situated in the very heart of the expansive and terraced gardens, the feature is named for the Greek god, Apollo, the deity of art, song, music, poetry, and light. The fountain was first installed in the gardens in the 17th-century and several of the fountain features were created by the Gobelins factory.
If you thought that the Palace at Versailles was stiflingly busy today, this is nothing in comparison to how it was during the reign of the French monarchy. After all, the main château of Versailles was conceived by the Sun King as a place where nobles would have to venture to with the specific goal of seeing the king.
Deodorant hadn’t yet been invented and toilet facilities were in no way up to today’s hygiene standards. People would take baths once a year, if that, and due to the lack of toilets in the palace, courtiers would go behind curtains and statues. The floors were only cleaned twice a year.
Any old commoner (that’s us) was allowed to visit the palace in order to ask for various favours and allowances from the royal court. The palace became a melting pot of diseases and unpleasant odours. The court smelt so bad that everything was covered in rose and orange water perfume.
The King used to retire to the Grand Trianon when he could no longer stand the hustle and bustle of the castle; not a bad escape plan…
The Grand Trianon is complete with its own gardens and fountains; tiled courtyards are complimented with flowering borders and magnificent views over a grand lake.
Constructed at the behest of Louis XIV, the Sun King himself, the Grand Trianon palace was designed to be the French Ruler’s escape from the busy hustle and bustle of the grand Château.
Although it may not seem like it would have been the case, during the 17th and 18th-centuries, the main Palace of Versailles was always filled with people running around.
While the King had the ‘Grand Trianon’ where he and his mistress of the time would retreat to, the Queen of the time would escape to the rather deceptively named ‘Petit Trianon’. Yes, admittedly it might be smaller than the nearby ‘Grand Trianon,’ but it’s still a mansion-sized palatial French château by any standards!
Marie Antoinette was by far the most famous occupant of the Petit Trianon. She lived there during the late 1700s. At the young age of 14, the young Austrian archduchess was married off to the dauphin, Louis XIV’s 17-year-old grandson, and next in line, in a bid to end tension between France and Austria.
By the age of 19, Marie Antoinette was Queen of France and likely out of her depth. Continuously being accused of being out of touch with the French people, she actually likely never said ‘let them eat cake‘. Instead, however, she was involved in the French Revolution and died just aged 37.
If you want to learn even more about the life and times of Marie Antoinette, be sure to check out our pick of the best movies about Marie Antoinette.
The gardens for the Petit Trianon are complete with a series of winding pathways exploring lakes, woodland, and follies alike. One particular highlight of the extensive gardens is the Belvédère. Created in the late 1700s for Marie Antoinette, it was originally intended as a summer dining room.
Hameau de la Reine
Somehow, many visitors manage to miss out on a trip into the ‘Hameau de la Reine‘ (Queen’s Hamlet) and the farm where Marie Antoinette would go with her ladies to play ‘dress up’ with her ladies in waiting. The elaborate buildings were extensively restored in the 1930s, and then again in the 1990s.
They’ve been open to the public since 2006 and a wander around quite literally feels like stepping into another universe. That, and a wander around the Queen’s Hamlet may well be the best thing to do in Versailles…
The incredible excess of wealth enjoyed by the French bourgeoisie is thrown into sharp relief by a single visit to the ‘Ferme’. Marie Antoinette commissioned the farm, also known as the ‘Hameau de la Reine‘ during her time at the Petit Trianon in order to give the impression that she resided in the countryside.
An entire mock hamlet was constructed; thus ensuring that the Queen never felt too ‘metropolitan’. Complete with grain towers, a large lake, and stables, everything was kept in pristine condition. The animals wore bows around their necks and the eggs were collected and cleaned before being redistributed.
Tales of her visits recount how animals and produce alike were thoroughly washed before her arrival in order to ensure that she didn’t ‘dirty’ her outfits; heaven forbid she got chicken poo on her hands…
In the past decade, the hamlet has been completely renovated, allowing visitors to get a glimpse of how the farm would have looked during Marie Antoinette’s reign.
Practical tips and tricks for first-time visitors to Versailles
Pickpockets frequent the site due to the number of tourists and packed nature of the palace- watch your belongings at all times. This is true of both the palace itself, the town of Versailles, and of the RER train en route to the château. For other common tourist scams, read this post about Parisian tourist scams.
Although food onsite is expensive, there is plenty of space to bring your own picnic and eat it in the gardens. After all, what better way to soak up the ambiance of the gardens than to enjoy a picnic, Parisian style, en plein air!
For those who wish to eat on site, it’s worth noting that there are cafés and restaurants dotted around the grounds of Versailles; including in the gardens and main palace.
Everyone under the age of 18 and EU citizens under the age of 26 can visit the palace for free with valid ID. During certain times of the year, i.e. when a special exhibition is on in the gardens, everyone has to pay to visit them. While in the gardens, there’s the opportunity to rent rowboats to paddle on the lake and rent golf buggies to get around the enormous site.
As with most things in France, there is a queue to visit the Palace and by midday, it is not uncommon to have to wait for over two hours to be allowed entry. As such, it’s best to arrive earlier in the day rather than later.
While at Versailles, be sure not to miss the beautiful Versailles town. Home to countless cafés and boutiques, there are also several museums to explore. Some of the best museums include one which relates to the origins of tennis and a house museum that’s not very expensive to visit.
Best time to visit Versailles Palace and Gardens
The Castle and grounds are closed on Mondays. Versailles busy times tend to be during peak season (i.e. during the summer months), during school holidays, and even on weekends during warm weather.
Visiting hours during the rest of the week are between 10:00 – 18:00, though these times often change during holiday seasons etc. For those who love gardening, the best time of the year to visit Versailles is in the summer months when everything is in full bloom.
However, a visit during the warmer months will also mean that it’s peak season at Versailles. If you’re more interested in good weather with fewer crowds, then a trip during the shoulder seasons (i.e. spring and autumn) is an absolute must. Finally, if you’re planning to visit Versailles during wintertime, be sure to wrap up warm and bring a cosy pair of gloves!
How much time do you need to visit Versailles?
Truth be told, one of the most important questions to consider before planning your day trip to Versailles is how long do you need to visit Versailles? After all, you’ll need to allocate time to visit the Château, accompanying buildings, and estate.
In my opinion, if you truly want to enjoy all that Versailles has to offer, you’ll likely need several days. After all, there is the castle and the gardens but there is also the Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon and also the Hameau de la Reine.
Just to walk from the Chateau to the Hameau takes over half an hour. However, if you’re short on time, then the estate and grounds can be seen over the course of a long day, though prepare to take the evening off afterwards to rest!
How to visit Versailles as a day trip from Paris (and plan your excursion in advance)
Purchase your Versailles & Gardens Skip the Queue Ticket with Audio Guide ticket here.
Although the castle is around 15 miles away from Paris, it is easily accessible by the RER line A from Invalides (there is also a metro station here). The journey takes about 50 minutes. Once in Versailles, there are clear directions pointing towards the palace (or you could simply follow the crowds)!
In order to truly make the most of your time at Versailles, which also happens to be the best-known day trip from Paris, I highly recommend setting aside a full day. For those who have just half a day to visit, be sure to squeeze in a trip to the main palace, grand gardens, and the Hameau de La Reine- you certainly won’t regret it!
If you’re looking for a complete guided tour of the Palace and Gardens from Paris itself, then this Skip-the Line Audio Tour from Paris includes transport to and from Paris via coach. Included is access to the gardens, skip the queue entrance to the Palace, and an individual audioguide.
France Travel Information
France uses the Euro (€)
The main language spoken in France is French. Though you can get by with English is more touristic places, it’s always a good idea to learn some of the local language. Bring along a simple phrasebook like this one to help make your travels easier.
The capital of France is Paris. For more information and inspiration, check out our best Paris travel tips.
France uses plug types, types C and E. As such, if you’re travelling from the UK, USA, Canada, and many other destinations, you’ll need to buy an adapter. I recommend buying a universal travel adapter that you can use for multiple destinations (rather than buying a new adaptor for each place you visit).
As one of the most popular destinations in the world, you should always consider booking your accommodation well ahead of time. Check out this website for price comparison details and detailed reviews.
Be careful with your belongings. I also highly advise to avoid wearing a backpack and to instead opt for a crossbody bag like these ones. I personally use a crossbody bag by this brand and love its shape, size, and versatility.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.
Tuesday 12th of November 2019
I wish I had been able to check this out. I only had two days :-( I'll be linking to this in my paris post for other readers to find information! Thanks!