Versailles, Home of the Sun King

The Chateau de Versailles, or Palace of Versailles, is located about 25 minutes by train or car from Paris and works great as a day trip from the capital city of France.  Many people place it near the top of their list of what to see when they are in Paris. Is a visit to Versailles worth it?  It definitely is, but it is good to do some planning ahead.

Gilded Ceiling in the Battles Gallery
Gilded Ceiling in the Battles Gallery

The Chateau itself has over 700 rooms although you only visit a fraction of them on a self-guided tour.  The gardens cover nearly 2000 acres.  Plan to spend a full day – and expect you will probably be tired at the end of the day.  Bring your camera – there are many places you will want to use it!

Getting There
Approaching the Palace at Versailles, France
Approaching the Palace at Versailles, France

The RER-C train connects Paris to Versailles; round-trip tickets cost around €7. You may think that a regular Metro ticket will work – it might – but if you get caught without the correct ticket, you will be fined, and a regular ticket will not let you on the train back to Paris.  You can purchase your Versailles round trip ticket at a ticket window or from a machine at any station.  The ticket will cover your entire trip so you don’t need to use a metro ticket to get you to the RER station.

The Gilded Palace - Chateau de Versailles
The Gilded Palace – Chateau de Versailles

When you get off the train, just follow the crowd to the palace. It’s a short walk.  If you have a Paris Museum Pass or Versailles Passport ticket, you will need to follow the signs to “Entrance A.” Tickets can be purchased at Tourist Information (TI) offices or online at www.chateauversailles.fr; Paris Museum Passes can be purchased at any participating museum.  If you do not have a ticket before you arrive, you will need to follow the signs for tickets; however, there is a TI between the train station and the chateau where you can avoid long lines.

When to Go
One of the Many Fountains at Versailles, France
One of the Many Fountains at Versailles, France

Some days are busier than others.  Weekends are extra busy; Tuesdays are also busy because the Louvre is closed, but also because the gardens will have music or fountains (more below). The Chateau and Gardens are closed on Monday.  Get to the palace when it opens at 9:00 AM or wait until later in the afternoon – in that case, see the gardens first.

View of the Gardens and Grand Canal
View of the Gardens and Grand Canal

If you cannot spend the entire day, skip the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Domain.  Tour the Chateau and spend some time in the gardens. If you have trouble walking great distances, you can skip the Domain or you can ride in a golf cart or take the trolley (for an extra fee).

A Little History
King Louis XIV, the Sun King
King Louis XIV, the Sun King

Louis XIV was a charismatic leader – he had great rapport with his subjects but was also a strong leader.  He reigned for 72 years, making France into the most powerful European country at the time. He was called Sun King because he likened himself to the Sun god, Apollo. There are statues of Louis and Apollo, and images of the sun throughout the chateau and gardens.

Unfortunately, the next two Louis that reigned did not share Louis XIV’s qualities.  They continued to spend the state’s money, adding more gilding to the already luxurious palace. Louis XV saw France weakening while revolutionary talk began.  Louis the XVI was a timid leader whose greatest accomplishment was marrying well. The revolutionary actions continued to grow, however, and eventually Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, both lost their lives by way of the guillotine.

Chateau

As a child, Louis XIV loved to hunt and spend time out of doors. He took the family’s hunting lodge and turned it into his palace, adding on a wing or two at a time.  He started his renovations in the second half of the 17th century.

Chapel at the Chateau de Versailles
Chapel at the Chateau de Versailles

Touring the chateau, the first room you come to will be the chapel.  Louis and his family celebrated mass every morning before turning their thoughts to more secular activities. Parties, dinners, games, and hunts were usually on the agenda.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles, France
Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles, France

On your tour you will pass through several other rooms – Venus, Diana, Mars, and more – before arriving at the well-known Hall of Mirrors.  You can almost hear the music and see the dancers as you look around at the chandeliers, large windows, decorative art and mirrors.  Spend time taking it all in.

The Hall of Mirrors is where Bismarck established the German Empire in 1871 after defeating the French.  The Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI was also signed in this room.

The Queen's Bedchamber, Versailles
The Queen’s Bedchamber, Versailles

Leaving this famous hall, the tour continues through the king’s and queen’s bedchambers and ends in the coronation room. Notice the beautiful tapestries and fabrics used as bed covers and wall coverings.

Gardens
A Small Section of the Gardens at Versailles
A Small Section of the Gardens at Versailles

Acting like a god, Louis built the gardens and tried to control nature to suit his wishes.  He had a river redirected so it would bring water to the canal, the fountains and to water the plants. He built huge greenhouses so he could bring the orange trees and other tropical plants indoors during the winter.

The Apollo Fountain, Versailles
The Apollo Fountain, Versailles

There were over 1500 fountains throughout the gardens, although only around 300 remain.  The Apollo Fountain, the garden’s most famous, shows the sun god in his chariot rising out of the water.

Grotto-like Area with Sculpture and Fountains
Grotto-like Area with Sculpture and Fountains

The water in the fountains flows on the weekends and on Tuesdays in the spring. On other days throughout the year – usually the remaining Tuesdays – classical music is played through speakers in the gardens.  If you can stand the crowds, I recommend going to Versailles on a fountain day. Although most fountains have set water patterns, a few change in time to music – either way, they are beautiful.  (Admission fees are higher on fountain or music days).

The Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Domain
The Grand Trianon, Versailles, France
The Grand Trianon, Versailles, France

Louis XIV wanted a retreat from the busyness of palace life so he built the Grand Trianon (started in 1670). The beautiful little palace and summer home was also inhabited by Napoleon in the early 19th century.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was still young (14) when she moved from Austria to marry Louis XVI, and in many ways it seemed like she never grew up.  She loved play acting and putting on shows for her friends. Marie Antoinette spent most of her time in the area near the Grand Trianon, adding a theater and other buildings.  She was enthralled by simple peasant life and had her own country village built. Servants tended to animals on the working farm.

Things to Remember

The Chateau and gardens may be crowded, especially if you go on a weekend.  You will be tired at the end of the day.  However, you will see more opulence than you have likely seen before in one place. A visit to Versailles is one you will not soon forget.

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