With more and more Covid-19 restrictions being lifted in different countries, I have started seeing more and more people deciding to travel abroad. It is only natural – we have all awaited this moment for so long so now we are eager to get on new exciting adventures the moment we can. If you are looking for your next destination, I have a whole series of posts dedicated to our trip to Paris in 2019 in which I share the best tips and tricks, places to go, sights to visit and so on. Today I wanted to share the one-day trip that we made while we were in Paris – the one to the Palace of Versailles.
The grandiose Palace of Versailles is high on the bucket list for many travelers so it’s no surprise that we decided to include it in our itinerary as well. But why is that so? The huge Palace, that we all know today, was mainly built by Louis XIV, the Sun King – his goals was to build a grand castle that could serve as an escape from busy Paris and a location for amazing entertainment. Over the years he continued to expand the Palace with new wings and buildings until the point in 1682 when he even made it the official seat of the king and government.
Versailles was really in the spotlight during the French Revolution when the enormous renovations to the Palace put considerable pressure on the French treasury. The anger of the poor and hungry people turned against the nobility, including the French royal family – Louis VX, his wife Marie Antoinette and their children were captured and tried in Paris. The Palace was closed and the interior auctioned until it reopened in 1793 as a museum.
The best way to visit the Palace of Versailles from Paris is by train – the journey takes about an hour and you need to buy a separate ticket as the metro card is not valid. Line C of the RER train will take you directly to the closest station to the Palace (Versailles Château Rive Gauche) but the line was under some construction work when we visited Paris, so we used line N which is also an option.
So now that we have covered the basics, what are my top 5 tips for visiting the Palace of Versailles? Read along to find out more.
SKIP THE LINE
I am sure that I will speak for the majority of the people who have ever visited the Palace of Versailles in high season that the worst part of the visit is definitely the waiting time at the entrance. When we arrived on that fine August day in 2019, a crowd of people suddenly appeared before us even though we arrived a good half an hour before official opening time. There appeared to be a queue of more than two hours in the hot August sun and we immediately knew that we had made a terrible mistake not purchasing the correct tickets in advance.
Speaking of tickets, it can be quite confusing as to which ticket exactly you need to purchase as there are a few options on the official website. First of all, the Gardens of Versailles are free to visit, unless there is a music or fountain show (on specific days), then a ticket costs €9.50. The entrance fee for the Palace itself is €18 including entrance to the gardens. Visitors under the age of 26 get free entry. Tickets can be purchased on the spot but you can also buy them online to bypass the queue. Just a warning, this is tricky, because if you buy a normal online ticket on the official website, you still have to be in the general queue (the two-hour wait, yes). You’re better off following my tip below.
The real trick (and one that very few people use) is to buy your ticket with fixed access time. Then you can queue in a separate line, which is much shorter than the other. You may then enter within 30 minutes of your entrance time – before Covid-19 came you were allowed to choose between 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00. At the moment, however, ticketing is suspended on the official website as the Palace is closed for visitors.
GET AN AUDIO GUIDE
Don’t do the mistake to go around the gardens first – the best way is to visit the Palace first and then go for a leisure walk around the massive area that is the gardens. The tour of the Palace takes about an hour and a half but if the crowd is too big, you may need a bit more time to go through all the rooms. The whole building is quite large and you will find something new every time you visit it – for example, even though this was my second visit, I did not know that the Palace houses a huge theatre, the Queen’s Theatre, which was large enough to seat two hundred and fifty spectators. Also, don’t miss on the history and meaning of what you are looking at – get the audio guide at the entrance. It is completely free but it will make your visit so much more wholesome and interesting.
MAKE SURE YOU VISIT THE GARDENS
Once you’ve done your tour of the Palace, it’s time to go around the gardens. This is a massive area full with different sections, botanical gardens, fountains, lakes, and sculptures so most probably you will need the greatest part of the day. We spent close to 3 hours wandering around and admiring the sheer vastness of the place. We even had some time to rent a boat at the big central lake and just enjoy our time together before making our way back to Paris.
The gardens also hide a few less-known places that often get overlooked by tourists – the estate of Trianon is a particularly interesting one as the French royal family built it to be used as more intimate spaces close to the main Palace. Louis XIV commissioned the building of the Grand Trianon in 1670 to get away from the pomp of life in the court and to pursue his affair with Madame de Montespan. “A little palace of pink marble and porphyry, with marvelous gardens,” wrote Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the architect of this private castle, set a stone away from the main Palace. A hundred years later, Louis XVI gave the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette, who had such trouble adapting to life in court. She rapidly made it her own and set about redecorating it in her own style, so much so that she developed a great attachment to it. Last but not least, did you know that you can find a cute little village, built in the charismatic Normandy style, right beside the huge central lake? Apparently you can and you can see not only a windmill and dairy but also a dining room, salon, billiard room and boudoir. Even though Marie-Antoinette used it primarily for the education of her children, she also used it for promenades and hosting guests.
GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME
If you haven’t realized this by this point in today’s post, let me reiterate – the whole place is massive! It covers 8.15 km2 and when it was fully operational, around 5000 people, including aristocrats, courtiers, and servants, lived in the Palace. We spent a whole day there and it was still not enough to see it all – for example, we did not have the chance to even get to the estate of Trianon so this is definitely on our list for our next visit to Paris (whenever that might be). If you have a whole day to spare, give yourself this time so that you can at least visit the main Palace and wonder around the gardens.
DON’T GO ON A WEEKEND AND ON TUESDAYS
And one last thing before I finish this post off – before Covid-19 came into our lives, the Palace of Versailles used to be visited by close to 10 million tourists every year! The majority of them visited it during the high summer season like we did and I can guarantee you that the crowd of people was insane. So to make your life easier, try to avoid the high season and if this is not possible, try not to visit it during the weekends and on Tuesdays. Weekends are, unsurprisingly, the busiest days for many places of interest and the Palace of Versailles is not an exception. On the other hand, many museums in Paris are closed on Tuesdays so many tourists head over to Versailles instead.
Have you visited the Palace of Versailles? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.