Last Updated on 01/04/23 by Rose Palmer
For King Louis XIV of France, size mattered. There is nothing small about the Palace of Versailles and its gardens. Along with size, there is also lots of bling. He built it purposely to impress and overwhelm, feelings that are as much a part of a visit today as they were 350 years ago when the palace was built. Spend a day in Versailles and let yourself be awed by the experience.
How to get to Versailles
There are a number of ways to get to Versailles:
- You can take an organized tour from Paris
- You can get there on your own by train
- You can go on your own by bus
- You can drive there in a car
If you are limited on time, then an organized tour from Paris is probably the best option. They take care of all the logistics and get you in quickly without having to wait in line. I often use Viator when I am looking for a specific tours or day trips.
However, if you are not pressed for time and have a whole day to devote to visiting the palace and gardens at Versailles, then doing the trip on your own might make more sense, and it is not difficult. Since most visitors to Paris do not drive a car in the city, getting to Versailles by train is the easiest option.
Versailles is on the outskirts of Paris, about 12 miles away, and is serviced by the C RER train line, which is colored yellow on a Paris Metro map. The RER C line follows the south bank of the river Seine and can be accessed from a number of stations, many of which also connect to metro stops (ie: St. Michel-Notre Dame or Invalides are convenient).
At a Metro or RER train station, purchase a round trip ticket Paris-Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche either from a ticket machine or from a ticket window. You can use this ticket on both the Metro and the C RER train. Once you reach the Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche stop it is a quick 10 minute walk to the entrance gates for the palace.
The paristoversailles.com site has a lot of detailed information on train travel to Versailles if you need it.
Best way to visit Versailles
Start with the official Chateau Versailles website and study the different ticket options for the day you plan to visit. Note that the palace is closed on Mondays. For Tuesday through Sunday, opening hours vary by season. What is open or showing will depend on the time of year and the day of the week. Summer will provide you with the most options for things to see and do but will also have the most crowds.
Study the different ticketing options. The amount of time you have for a visit and your interests will determine which ticket works best for you. If you want to see it all, then the Passport ticket is the best option. Note that the Passport ticket also include the special musical or fountain performances in the gardens if they are running the day you plan to visit.
Travel Tip: Pre purchase your tickets for Versailles online ahead of time to avoid waiting in line at the ticket window.
There are also additional guided tours available that take you into other parts of the palace. These will require another ticket and reservation.
Along with the palace, the gardens are also a big part of the Versailles story. Entrance to the gardens is normally free unless there is a fountain or a musical performance, in which case you will need another ticket for these events if it is not part of a Passport ticket.
Travel tip: If you are planning a Versailles day trip, I highly recommend planning your visit for a day when the fountains are spouting in all their glory. Not only are these fountains more beautiful when they are working, but it is easier to appreciate these 17th century engineering marvels when they are running.
If you are visiting on a Saturday in summer, and you still have the energy after a full day of walking, then you can also purchase tickets for an evening performance in the Hall of Mirrors and/or a nighttime fountain show (this is something that I still want to do).
My impressions from a day in Versailles
The palace and grounds are so large that trying to see it all in one day was a whirlwind blur. I started in the gardens to catch the fountain show and then did the palace tour at the end of the day. This worked out well since it was much less crowded in the late afternoon.
There is certainly a lot to take in at Versailles, but besides the vast size of the building and the gardens, it was the extensive details of the artistry and craftsmanship inside and out, that made this such an amazing creation. Everything was over the top and was designed to impress, and it certainly impressed me, which was the point.
If first impressions are everything, then Louis XIV did it right with the blindingly bright, gold plated gates at the entrance to the main courtyard in front of the palace.
The decorations on the gate made it very clear who was in charge. Everyone who passed under the gates, also passed under a large gold plated crown, symbolic of the absolute monarchy that was, as Louis XIV believed, his by divine right.
Louis XIV adopted the symbol of Apollo the sun god as his personal symbol representing himself as the sun king. The symbol can be seen in the decorative details both inside and out.
Inside the palace, there is an overabundance of paintings and statues of Louis XIV leaving no doubt about who was in charge. This bas-relief in the War Drawing Room is titled Louis XIV on Horseback Riding in Triumph over his Enemies. On either side are gold reliefs of prisoners in chains, leaving no question as to what happened to those he conquered.
As the sun god, gold was clearly the color of his monarchy. Not only did it show off his wealth, but it also reflected light, brightening the space around him. Gold leaf on the walls and woodwork and gold thread in the fabrics are present in all the major rooms on view. When you enter the King’s bedchamber, there is no doubt about who slept there.
The most famous and undoubtedly the most breathtaking room in the palace, is the Hall of Mirrors. It is impressive not just for the mirrors that reflect the daylight from the windows which they parallel, but also for all the chandeliers which would have generated a vast amount of light with all the candles burning in them at once. The chandeliers hang from a ceiling covered in murals that depict Louis XIV’s numerous military victories.
The Hall of Mirrors also has rows of large gold and crystal statues lining both sides of the room, adding to the reflective light.
Gold and mirrors are not dedicated just to the Hall of Mirrors. The Queens’s bedchamber had its share along with a flowery elaborate bed fit for a queen.
As big as the palace was, the gardens were even more extensive, covering an area of about 3 square miles of orderly, symmetric formal gardens, sculptures, ponds, a canal, and many, many, many fountains.
The message was clear – King Louis was in full control of his natural environment, just like he controlled all other aspects of daily life at the palace.
The gold theme also continued in the garden, with a lot of the fountains gleaming brilliantly in the sunshine. I had a chance to explore quite a few of the water features, but the gardens are vast, and I did not get to all of them.
For me, the most impressive fountain was the gilded Fountain of Apollo where the horses look as if they are about to spring out of the water and gallop away.
For Lous XIV the Grand Trianon was where he escaped the formal responsibilities of the main palace. Though significantly smaller in size, it is – as the name describes – no less grand than his main digs.
The Petit Trianon Palace was a gift from Louis XVI to his wife Marie Antoinette’s as a formal escape from the court life at the main palace, though smaller than the King’s version, it is still equally fancy.
Recommended itinerary for visiting Versailles in one day with the least amount of crowds
Get to Versailles early, or better yet, spend the night in town nearby.
Start the day with a with a visit to the gardens in the morning since they open early and are free. If you have a ticket to the Musical Fountains Show, visit those water features that are scheduled for the morning.
Then go to the Estate of Trianon which opens at noon and tour all the sights there.
Grab a quick bite as you walk through the gardens back to the Palace. Enjoy the afternoon fountain shows or the musical fountain shows depending on what is on and which ticket you have.
Tour the palace later in the afternoon, closer to closing time – it should be less busy then since most guided tours are in the morning. Allow about 90 minute for a leisurely self guided tour of the palace.
Travel tip: I booked the last time slot of the day which let me be the last person walking through the Hall of Mirrors and allowed me to take a photo of it without any people.
Stroll the gardens some more until they close and catch any fountain displays you missed.
If it’s a Saturday in summer, then grab another bite to eat and enjoy one of the night shows in the gardens or in the Hall of Mirrors. A couple of times a year, there are also fireworks displays. (This is still on my bucket wish list).
Spend the night nearby so you do not have to rush back to Paris late at night.
Tips for visiting Versailles
- Versailles is closed on Mondays – plan your visits for Tuesday through Sunday
- Opening hours for the palace and the various garden events vary by season so check on the official Versailles website.
- There are a number of different ticket options. Study them carefully and pick the one that works best for your timeframe and interests.
- Guided tours to rooms in the Palace which are not normally part of the regular tour are a separate ticket.
- If you want to see as much as possible, purchase the Passport ticket which includes the Palace, all of the sights that are part of the Estate of Trianon, and also entry to the Musical Gardens or Musical Fountain Show events if they are playing on the day of your visit.
- The gardens are free except during Musical Fountain Shows or Musical Gardens. These are two separate events for which you will need separate tickets.
- There are also evening events and shows which are also a separate ticket. Take note of the dates when there are also fireworks displays.
- Purchase your tickets on line to avoid waiting in line on site to purchase tickets
- Allow at least 90 minutes to tour the inside of the palace, though you may want more time to take it all in and to listen to all the audio guide details
- You can download a free Castle of Versailles audio guide app.
- There are a number of spots throughout the grounds where you can get a bite to eat or a drink.
- If you have the time, spend the night in Versailles to get a jump on the crowds and to enjoy the evening performances without having to get back to Paris late in the evening.
- Photography is allowed inside the buildings without a flash.
Final impressions on Versailles
Louis XIV ruled France for 72 years and left a far reaching legacy that spanned both time and distance. The court life that he established at Versailles lasted for 100 years. His reach even extended to the New World.
In the French colonies in America, the Mississippi River was discovered and was followed to the Gulf during his reign, and thus lands of the Mississippi basin were claimed in his name and called Louisiana. But 300+ years after his death, his most lasting and famous legacy still remains the Palace of Versailles.
Other stories from my travels in France you may enjoy:
For garden lovers the home and garden of impressionist painter Claude Monet: Impressions of Monet – Spend a Day in Giverny in Monet’s Garden
How to visit one of France’s greatest cathedrals: A Paris to Chartres Day Trip – Exploring one of France’s Greatest Cathedrals
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