Versailles Palace, Paris visitors guide
Visit Versailles Palace, France
The spectacular Palace of Versailles is one of the most beautiful and lavish buildings in the world and should not be missed if you are visiting Paris.
Brief history of Versailles
The palace and the associated spacious Versailles Palace gardens were commissioned by King Louis XIV and took almost 50 years to construct. At one time, almost 2200 men were employed on its construction.
By 1682 it was ready and Louis XIV transferred the court to Versailles, where all French monarchs lived until the revolution, and the town of Versailles became the unofficial capital city of the Kingdom of France. About 3000 people lived at Versailles at that time, mostly servants necessary fulfill such duties as holding the king’s ermine robe, and to support the lavish entertainment and fabulous banquets that Versailles was well known for at the height of its power.
Versailles stopped being a royal residence in 1789 when a mob marched on the palace and forced the king and queen (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) to return to Paris.
The events that followed helped shape the history of Europe and of course was the start of the French revolution. Versailles was prevented from being demolished by King Louis-Philippe, who donated his own money to turn it into a museum.
The whole palace is of course spectacular and lavishly appointed, but there are some highlights that should not be missed.
- The Hall of Mirrors, with its 17 great mirrors facing the windows, is probably the best known room in Versailles – this is where the treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, ending World War I.
- The clock room contains a famous astronomical clock, which took 20 years to construct and you can set your watch by as it is designed to keep time until the year 9999! Mozart played in this room for the royal family on several occasions, at the age of 7.
- The other “must-see” sight in the palace is the collection of 6 bedroom suites known as the Grands Appartements. As you might expect, each one is magnificently decorated and each one is named after a painting on the ceilings. In one of the rooms, known as the Hercules Salon, you can see the largest and most ornate fireplace in the palace, which was carved from a single slab of marble. In the same room, the body of Louis XIV was put on display in 1715 after his death
In addition to the palace itself there are two separate smaller buildings known as the Grand and Petit Trianons. The Grand Trianon is built in lovely pink and white marble, while the smaller building is noted for its ornately decorated woodwork.
These buildings were used as lodging houses for guests, and by Marie Antoinette as a peaceful retreat from the hectic palace life. In more recent years the buildings have been used to house important guests – President Nixon once slept in the Grand Trianon on a state visit to France.
The latest attraction at Versailles is the newly renovated and recently reopened Royal Stables. The huge stables were once home to 600 of the king’s horses, and today they house 20 beautiful Lusitanian horses from Portugal. In addition to the usual guided tour, you can also watch costumed riders demonstrate skillful equestrian choreography, all set to period music.
Versailles Palace Gardens
One of the best things you can do at Versailles is simply to have a picnic lunch in the spacious gardens, which are some of the loveliest in the world. The gardens are so large, you can actually take a train or horse drawn carriage ride around the grounds. There is even a mile long Grand Canal, laid out to catch the rays of the setting sun, where King Louis used to take gondola rides.
If you visit Versailles during summer there are frequent programs of classical music concerts which take place in the palace grounds. One of the unforgettable spectacles is the event known as “Dreams of the Sun” which occur occasionally. These festive affairs feature not only spectacular fireworks and music, but also 200 actors dressed in period costume. It is an experience not to be missed.
As a fitting finale to your visit, try to stay until the grounds close around dusk when the palace is beautifully floodlit.
Visiting the Palace of Versailles
Versailles is easy to reach by frequent train service from the center of Paris, being about a thirty minute train ride from central Paris to Versailles Rive Gauche station. When you first arrive at Versailles it is quite striking to see the contrast between the town of Versailles, with its typical provincial main street, and the spectacular palace which dominates one end of the town.
When you visit, try to avoid weekends and holidays if possible, when the place can get packed with crowds of French schoolchildren, and arrive early in the day as you need to allow a full day to see everything.
Admission to Versailles only gets you into the palace itself – there are separate admission charges for the gardens, the stables and the Trianons, so you really have to decide what is worth seeing. The highlights are the palace itself, and if you have extra time, the gardens. You can tour the main building on your own, or pay extra to join one of several guided tours.
Versailles tries to make visiting easy and as well as the usual selection of restaurants and souvenir shops the palace boasts several ATMs and places where you can leave luggage. Restoration continues almost constantly at the huge palace, and you may find some areas are temporarily sealed off when you visit.
Note: the town itself has a reasonable selection of bars, restaurants and shops as well as a lively market in the town square several days a week. Some people choose to stay in this area rather than Paris itself, as accommodation is generally cheaper than in Paris and the journey into Paris is easy and convenient.
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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Parc de Versailles: remarkable garden
- Potager du roi, Versailles: remarkable garden
- Versailles: secteur sauvegarde
- Velizy-Villacoublay: ville fleurie 4* (5 km)
- Maison des Jardies: national monument (6 km)
- Eglise de Saint Martin et Saint Blaise (Louveciennes): religious monument (6 km)
- Domaine national de Saint-Cloud: remarkable garden (6 km)
- Saint Cloud Parc: national monument (6 km)
- Eglise de Notre Dame (Bougival): religious monument (7 km)
- Domaine de la Malmaison: remarkable garden (8 km)
- Meudon: ville fleurie 4* (8 km)
- Rueil-Malmaison: ville fleurie 4* (9 km)
The French version of this page is at Versailles Palace (Francais)