The Palace of Versailles is a beautifully massive structure surrounded by extraordinary gardens, out buildings and a farm and public park. I budgeted enough time in my itinerary to spend most of the day here and I’m happy I did because this once humble hunting lodge expanded by Louis XIV could take you the whole day to explore.
I took the RER C (Versailles Rive-Gauche) and it was a quick and easy way to get to the palace from the city. Paris Metro has a great app for smart phones that I used frequently throughout the week. Thanks again goes to the best purchase of the trip, the Paris Museum Pass, as it gives you access to the château without waiting in the line for a ticket and then in another line again for entrance into the palace so once again that little pink card was a time saver.
Once you enter there is a desk on the left that offers video guides which I would suggest unless you are planning on taking a guided tour of the palace. The château is so massive and full of such history that I’d highly recommend it, you’ll appreciate it all the more if you get to know all the details. There are oh so many details. With over 2,000 rooms (not all open to the public) everywhere you look there is something different to marvel, artwork, ornate furniture, decadent wall paper and tapestries, Versailles is truly the epitome of royalty.
The beginning part of the tour allows you to see how Versailles has changed over the years, its many additions and all of the French history that followed with it. It’s a perfect overview for guests who are unfamiliar with the history or a great refresher for all you francophiles.
The Hall of Mirrors
Built in 1690 the ‘Galerie des Glaces’ is probably one of the most famous rooms in the building. It’s a 250 foot long room with 17 glass archways along the wall that mimic the 17 arched windows the mirrors face. It creates a wonderful play on light with the sun from the manicured gardens beams through the windows and bounces off the glass wall illuminating the gold and marble statues throughout the room and rainbows through the prisms on the dozens of candelabra that hang from the ceiling. Once a place for the royal court, in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed in this room.
Traveler tip: There are over 3 million people who visit Versailles each year, and everyone wants a photo of the Hall of Mirrors. Once you enter the room head to the opposite end of the hall, there are always fewer people and you’ll be sure to get a better shot for the scrapbook!
Each room ends up feeling more opulent than the previous one, The King and Queen’s apartments and chambers are all adorned with elaborate fabrics and golden details. The voice on the audio guide uses the word ‘sumptuous’ and ‘opulent’ almost ad nauseam, but you soon realize the decadence is beyond words. The rooms in Versailles would be redecorated seasonally so below is an example of how the Queen’s bedroom would look during the summer. I learned quickly that once you step into a room everyone’s first instinct is to immediately photograph and turn on the audio guides so I started making my way to the opposite side of the room, then listening to the guide and taking it in. You end up hearing about what things are most important in the room to photograph and you are away from all the crowds near the front doors.
The Gardens of Versailles: Bring your walking shoes!
I pictured Versailles gardens to be a beautiful little French garden behind the château but I was in for a shock when I rounded the corner and viewed a 800 hectare park behind the palace. The first half is full of gardens and groves, mazes of dusty, alabaster gravel walkways through meticulously shaped shrubs and bushes. The walks lead you through to uncover small greens, gardens full of statues, fountains and water features. Don’t forget to check out the Orangerie on the south side of the garden. The main walkway takes you down to the famed Grand Canal. Originally a Venice-inspired lake for boating parties in the late 1600’s, today you can sit, enjoy a light lunch and watch the row boats float along the water. The Apollo fountain at the top of the canal is about the halfway point where the park begins and the gardens end.
The second half of the garden has more of a feel of the french countryside, as you weave through the tall grasses you step back into time and come upon Marie Antoinette’s estate, the farm and Queen’s Hamlet. If the weather is cooperating it’s a long walk but it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Serving as a retreat from the pomp and circumstance of life in Versailles, these buildings offered a glimpse into the more personal life of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. In the northern corner of the property you can tour both the Grand and Petite Trianon, a haven for both the King (his Maitresse) and Queen respectfully. The Hamlet and farm was the best part of the garden for me, a magical little section transporting me back to the french countryside in the late 1700’s. It’s serene gardens, small thatched roof houses and wildlife made for the perfect afternoon oasis.
Traveler tip: If you want to explore all the Versailles gardens have to offer without paying the price with sore piggies there is a little tram at the entrance of the gardens that makes frequent stops throughout the day. Hop on to take a ride down and then work your way back up by foot. If you get tired you can always hitch a ride!