Visiting Versailles: The Crown Jewel of Any Paris Trip
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, you’ll want to include more than just the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum. I recommend heading out of the city on a day trip from Paris to visit the spectacular Palace of Versailles.
Located just a short train ride from Paris, Versailles Palace offers a beautiful trip through France’s 17th and 18th century history.
Best known for its opulent interiors, the gardens and adjoining estates are worth making a full-day trip from Paris, or even staying for a night or two.
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Planning your visit
If you aren’t planning to a car during your trip to France, the easiest way to get from Paris to Versailles is by train, as part of a guided tour, or with a private car and driver.
To take the train from Paris on your own, RER C will take you to the Versailles Château Rive Gauche station, about a 10-15 minute walk from the palace. SNCF trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse will take you to the Versailles Chantier station, a 20-30 minute walk from the palace.
Make sure to book your Versailles ticket in advance to ensure you can visit at your desired time. There are several options available, from a palace ticket that only includes the main palace and gardens when shows aren't running, to the full passport ticket that allows access to all parts of the Versailles estate including the Trianon Palaces and Queens Hamlet.
If you have a Paris museum pass you'll still need to book a timed ticket online in order to enter the palace. Note that the Paris pass doesn't include access to the Trianon Estate or the Musical Garden or Musical Fountain show.
Why you should visit Versailles
After starting its life as a hunting lodge under Louis XIII in the early 17th century, Versailles began to take shape as the Palace we see today under Louis XIV. From 1661 to 1715 King Louis XIV undertook a series of building projects, transforming the estate from a humble hunting lodge to a royal estate that would host grand parties and become the seat of the French Court in 1682.
Under kings King Louis XV and Louis XVI work on the palace continued, and the palace continued to host numerous parties, festivals, and entertainments for the French court and prestigious visitors.
Today the palace is best known for its connections to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the excesses of the French court and monarchy that could be seen there were part of what led to their downfall during the French Revolution.
What to see in the Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles contains over 2,300 rooms. Ranging from small, intimate apartments only accessible on a pre-booked tour to the not-to-be-missed Hall of Mirrors, there’s plenty to see inside the palace.
Hall of Mirrors
By far the most famous room in the Palace, the Hall of Mirrors is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 officially ending World War I. This long room is lined with 17 windows down one side, and the 17 arches opposite the windows are filled with 357 mirrors.
At the time the room was built, mirrors were very expensive and a sign of great wealth. To install this many in one room would have told a visitor all they needed to know about the wealth of the French monarchy.
The ceiling is covered in 30 paintings depicting the reign of Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. With its beautiful marble, crystal chandeliers and gilded candle stands, the room will probably be the most spectacular you’ve ever seen.
The King’s State Apartments
In these seven rooms, with their marble paneling and painted ceilings, the king would undertake his official business. This grand apartment is where he’d receive visitors and where evening receptions and entertainments would take place.
The fifth and final chapel to be built on the site, the Royal Chapel was inspired by Gothic architecture with its large windows and buttresses. Finished in 1710, the chapel covers two floors with a large vaulted ceiling covered in paintings dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
The Gardens of Versailles
Unlike English gardens, which aim for a naturalistic look, French formal gardens are all about symmetry, straight lines, and meticulously manicured shrubs. French gardens are an exercise in control and harmony, where nature is tamed and sculpted into a carefully designed masterpiece.
Fountains, paths and parterres, or flower beds, are arranged to create statements of power and precision. Water is integral to formal French gardens, with waterfalls, fountain jets and calm water reflecting the surroundings all playing important roles in the overall form of the garden. All of these elements were included by landscape architect André le Nôtre when he designed the gardens of Versailles.
In contrast to the precise layouts of the Versailles gardens as a whole, the groves are secluded, tree-lined areas designed to surprise and delight visitors. They’re like hidden rooms filled with sculptures, fountains, and even hidden mazes.
Together, these elements make the Gardens of Versailles a living spectacle where nature and artistry merge, offering a perfect parallel to the opulence inside the palace walls.
If you visit the gardens on a day when the Musical Fountains show is running, you’ll see the water features spouting to the rhythm of Baroque music played through the grounds. During the Musical Garden program the music is played through the gardens, but the fountains don’t run.
For evening entertainment, plan your visit for the evening of a Night Fountains Show, when the gardens are illuminated, music is played, and fireworks in front of the Grand Canal conclude the evening’s program.
Situated just below the palace, the Orangery houses orange trees, lemon trees, pomegranate trees and palms from warmer climates during the winter months. In warm weather the trees are spread across the Orangery parterre.
Beyond the Palace: The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon
The smaller estates of Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon provide a unique glimpse into the royal lives outside the main stage of the palace.
The second residence of Louis XIV, the estate at Grand Trianon allowed him to be less constrained by the protocols and formalities of the French court. Grand Trianon was also the residence of Napoleon and Empress Marie-Louise during the First Empire.
Visit the apartments of the Emperor and Empress, as well as the French Gardens. Each of the rooms of Grand Trianon overlook the beautiful gardens, which were always filled with colorful and fragrant flowers.
Marie Antoinettes estate of Petit Trianon was gifted to the Queen by Louis XVI in 1774, and it was here where she went to escape the pressures and formalities of the court.
Make sure to visit the French and English Gardens of Petit Trianon, with their beautiful monuments, grottos and water features.
The Queen’s Hamlet
Built to resemble a Norman village, each house of the Hamlet has its own garden, and would have been planted with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers to supply the palace.
Where to Stay
If you want more than a day to explore Versailles, stay overnight either in the town of Versailles or, even better, on the grounds of the Palace itself.
Airelles Château de Versailles
The only hotel on the grounds of Versailles, a stay at Airelles Château de Versailles will give you exclusive access to the palace that is otherwise nearly impossible to secure. Each guest has a dedicated butler, who will make sure you lack nothing during your stay.
After the palace closes guests have a chance to explore the most famous rooms of the palace without the crowds. Imagine having the Hall of Mirrors all to yourself! There are also many other exclusive experiences to indulge in to make the most of your stay. No request is too large when you’re a guest at the Airelles Château de Versailles.
Waldorf Astoria Versailles - Trianon Palace
Situated mere minutes from the main estate of Versailles, the luxurious retreat of the Waldorf Astoria Versailles blends the timeless elegance of its historic setting with modern amenities designed to pamper.
Its rooms offer a sumptuous sanctuary, complete with plush beds, spacious baths, and a view that's nothing short of royal. Immerse yourself in its regal essence, enjoying hospitality that's fit for a king.
The bottom line
From the majestic halls to the gorgeous gardens, visiting Versailles offers an experience in extravagance and history, making it the crown jewel of any Paris trip. Make the most of planning a trip to France with a day trip or an overnight stay in Versailles.
Want more France travel inspiration? Check out our other France travel blog posts.