With 7 million visitors in a year, Versailles is one of the most popular attractions around Paris. You can visit the palace, take the canal route on a boat, or go for one of the many exhibitions that take place here throughout the year. In 1979 the Palace of Versailles was included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
If you visit Paris, you may want to extend your visit out of the capital to see the palace and the park that made over 100 years of history in France. Walk where the kings of France walked. Stare at the gates where Parisian women marched during the Revolution. Admire some of the most beautiful works of art in Europe.
This is the kind of visit, however, that needs to be planned, so we will tell you more about the palace and give you some tips to have a wonderful experience.
A brief history of Versailles
The idea of a place where the king of France could retire from the uncomfortable, noisy, and somehow dangerous Paris, was born during the kingdom of Louis XIII. At that time, Trianon, now included in the palace perimeter, was a small independent village. In that place, king Louis XIII purchased a land with a mill and a house and hired the architect Nicolas Huaut, who planned the construction of the first castle, with the purpose of serving as a small residence for the king and his family during the hunting season, but in 1632 the king acquired the whole land from the previous owner, the archbishop of Paris Jean-François de Gondi, which came with a second castle, while the expansion works of the first one were carried out.
In the decade after Louis XIII’s death, a young king Louis XIV (he was crowned king of France at 4 years old) visited Versailles and stayed in the palace quite often, but when he became an adult and he started to govern the country as the actual king, he struggled to find a place that could satisfy him.
After trying to live at Palais Royal, the Louvre, and les Tuileries, king Louis XIV decided to expand the castle of Versailles and put in charge a new team with the instructions of planning the expansion of the castle and provide offices and rooms for his ministers in order to deal with state matters.
Between 1668 and 1672 a second building surrounding the first castle was built, and the king and queen had their own, symmetrical apartments, with a wide terrace between them. The old castle was refurbished with new, modern materials, and the main yard was paved with marble.w
After the works, Louis XIV ordered to demolish the small Trianon village and build new apartments, and this provided enough space for him, when he needed to stay away from his court.
Around 1680, the idea of the king moving to Versailles with the whole court was clear: Versailles became what les Tuileries and the Louvre were for his predecessors: a symbol of an era. The era of Louis XIV.
In 1682, the king officially moved to Versailles.
Before entering the palace, you may want to have a closer look at the wonderful gardens spanning more than 86,000 sqft. Each section includes different kinds of plants and flowers, as well as fabulous fountains and busts and statues.
West of the palace, you will find Versailles’ Grand Canal, 1.5 km long, which you can visit by renting one of the rowboats available. Visiting Versailles from the water is just one of the many perspectives you can choose.
Not long after the canal was built and dedicated to floating parties, Louis XIV received two gondolas from the Doge of Venice as a gift, with two gondoliers included. They established their residence near the canal, and the area was named Petit Venise (Little Venice).
Another place worth mentioning, outside of the palace, is the Hameau of Marie Antoinette: a place where the queen could be free from royal conventions and feel a deep connection with nature. This small village includes a mill, a farm, ponds and canals, and long paths among the trees.
Later, we will also see something about the city of Versailles, which inspired the engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant to build Washington DC, the capital of the United States.
What to see in the palace
A Versailles palace tour is mandatory. If you manage to book a guided tour, you might be able to access some normally restricted areas.
Before entering the main palace, we recommend visiting Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, because it is where the kings spent most of their time. You will find substantial differences between the interior of these buildings and those of the palace. The baroque style is still predominant, but it is applied in a more elegant way, rather than the ostentatious design that characterises the palace.
The most admired area of the palace is the mirror gallery: 73 m long, 10 m wide, 12 m tall. During the kingdom of Louis XIV there were over 300 mirrors in this long room, and at night over 3,000 candles were lit. Can you picture that?
On two opposite sides, there are the Salon of Peace and the Salon of War. The former is decorated with paintings that picture the magnanimity of France in conceding peace to other nations. There is a big fireplace, and the room is very bright, thanks to the big windows.
The latter is decorated with marble and bronze low relief sculptures on the walls. One of them pictures king Louis XIV riding a horse.
Exactly in the middle of the palace, there is the king’s bedroom, which features a huge bed and a touch of gold everywhere, from the walls to the bed itself. On top of the bed, there is a high relief representing the nation of France guarding the king’s sleep.
The queen’s bedroom is no less lavish, with its Rococò style and golden decorations. The walls are coated with silk, and there is a marble-finished fireplace.
We also recommend visiting the Cabinet Doré, which was basically the queen’s office, the Cabinet du Conseil, where the king used to meet his ministers, and the royal guard salon.
The most common way to reach Versailles from Paris is using the RER C, getting off at Versailles-Rive-Gauche station.
Outside of the palace, Versailles is a lively town with monuments, shops, and nice photo opportunities.
One of the most interesting buildings in town is Saint Louis Cathedral, home to the bishop of Versailles, and a monument of historical significance for France.
There are also three museums that may be worth visiting: Lambinet Museum, Carriage Museum, and Parliament Museum. If you want to track the history of this town, Lambinet Museum will give you a lot of insights about that, as it documents the history of Versailles from its birth to present day. It also features a nice, quiet garden where you can take a break.
Grab a bite or get a majestic meal
Speaking of taking a break, where are you going to get lunch during your Versailles palace tour?
Some of the best rated restaurants are located exactly on the route between the station and the palace.
If you want to taste authentic French cuisine and your pocket is not afraid of spending a bit more than usual for a unique culinary experience, then you will love La Table du 11 and its fine atmosphere.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something not so expensive, but still delicious, Chez Stef’s could be just the right place for you, however, even if you find it quiet, it may get busy in the blink of an eye.
For a more advanced culinary experience with a view on Grand Trianon, you must know that the famous chef Gordon Ramsay can offer that in Versailles: La Veranda is his cuisine temple.
Finally, if you just want to grab a snack during your visit, there are quite a few kiosks in the gardens where you can buy a sandwich or an ice-cream.
How long does it take?
Even if you plan your trip, seeing everything you want to see, including the gardens, might take a full day (and it could still be not enough). Guided tours, however, are well organised and allow you to see more in less time.
Also, consider that some days are busier than others: the palace is closed on Mondays, so on Tuesdays the place is very crowded. If you cannot avoid it, at least book your skip-the-line tickets in advance.
Best time of the year to visit
The gardens show their best during Spring and Summer, and the rooms are very bright. If you visit the Hameau of Marie Antoinette, with the good weather you are more likely to see a lot of farm animals.
If you scheduled your trip to Paris during winter, however, don’t miss the chance of a Versailles palace tour just because it is not the best season: it is amazing all year round.
Contact us to organise your Versailles tour.