Everyone knows the Palace of Versailles as the famous French chateau that housed several kings and Marie Antoinette.
Located about 20 kilometers southwest of Paris, the lavish palace was originally a countryside hunting lodge for royalty. It was developed into an extravagant chateau by Louis XIV and expanded upon by successive rulers.
While the glittery Hall of Mirrors and other ornate rooms inside the chateau are definitely worth a look, our favorite parts of Versailles are the extensive gardens. Designed by Andre Le Notre, the gardens represent the height of the French formal style.
THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES
The gardens cover about 800 hectares or three square miles and consists of lawns, topiaries, flower beds and fountains. The fountains are especially interesting due to the 17th century hydraulic systems they still employ. The gardens of Versailles have been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are a wonder to behold.
If you have never seen the interior of the Palace of Versailles you will likely not want to miss it. I have been inside twice and while it is amazing, the throngs of tourists herding you along like a sheep is not really conducive to awe, in my opinion. Marie Antoinette’s Estate and Trianon are side features that are much less busy and very interesting in and of themselves. Be sure to visit Orangerie de Jussieu and The English Garden as well. If you want to skip the chateau you can purchase a ticket for Marie Antoinette’s estate only, and we recommend doing so online before you go to avoid the ticket queue. You can purchase tickets which include Versailles Palace as well as Trianon, or just get tickets for Trianon if you have already visited the palace on past trips.
A fun or romantic way to spend a sunny day could also be to hire a row boat and float on the Grand Canal. Don’t forget your picnic! For food shopping tips at the local Versailles market see below.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES
Spring, summer and fall are wonderful times in the gardens. The summer months will be the most crowded with tourists, but the weather is perfect for picnicking. The gardens can also be beautiful in the winter but bundle up!
If you plan to go inside the palace be warned that lines might be very long. Check this handy chart that shows the busiest days and times at the palace. We highly recommend purchasing your tickets online ahead of time and printing them out to avoid waiting in two lines at the palace. In the low season from November to March, admission is free on the first Sunday of the month.
The Musical Fountains show takes place every weekend from April to October and on Saturdays from June to October there is a spectacular show at night with lights and fireworks. The perfect romantic idea! Check the Versailles websites for dates and ticket information.
GARDENS OF VERSAILLES BIKE TOUR
A stroll on the grounds at the Palace of Versailles is always a good idea but our favorite way to see the Versailles gardens is a bike ride with a picnic. That way you can cover more ground and discover all of the bosquets and secret spots, lounging for lunch at your favorite fountain.
You can rent a bicycle on the northern side of the grounds at Place de la Petite Venise or at the Velo Versailles in the Chantiers train station in the city and create your own Versailles bike tour. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine and some tasty cheese and fresh baguettes in town for the perfect picnic.
If you are coming from Paris you can also book a Versailles bike tour with Fat Tire Tours. On this all day excursion you’ll bring bicycles with you on the train and stop at the farmers market for picnic supplies before heading off on an easy bicycle ride around the grounds. You’ll pass farms and mansions and get a good view of the manicured lawns, bosquets and fountains of Versailles. The friendly guides give information about the sights and you can ask them more questions or just enjoy the feeling of the breeze as you pedal along. The tour also gives you skip-the-line access to the palaces.
Blue Fox leads bicycle tours of the palace grounds including Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet. Pick up a picnic at the markets in town beforehand and enjoy it in the gardens on a break from cycling. The Blue Fox Versailles bike tours are similar to the one above. You meet in Paris at their shop and take the journey on the train together, picking up the bikes in Versailles and continuing on the adventure.
Of course with most bike tour companies you can join an organized tour or get a private bike tour for your group of friends or family members.
And if you don’t feel like cycling, why not try a tour by Segway?
PICK UP A PICNIC AT THE VERSAILLES MARKETS
The most popular market in Versailles is held at the Place du Marché Notre Dame, an indoor and outdoor market with every kind of edible product you can imagine. You’ll have your pick of fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, pastries, olives, flowers, spices, prepared foods, chocolates, fresh breads, wines and more. The outdoor market, Carrés Notre Dame, is held Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, while the indoor market, Halles Notre Dame, is open daily. You can also hit up the Halles for lunch or an early dinner if the weather is not suitable for a picnic by the palace.
The market is located close to the Palace of Versailles and near the Rive Droite train station.
There is also an organic farmers market held every Saturday at Place de la Cathédrale Saint-Louis near the RER C station.
MARIE ANTOINETTE’S ESTATE: QUEEN’S HAMLET & TRIANON
Have you already visited the palace and would like to see something a little different? Make your way to Marie Antoinette’s estate, which includes Petit and Grand Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet.
Hop on your bike or even take the Versailles bus to Trianon, you can walk as well if you have time for the stroll. Be sure to budget enough time to explore this area. You’ll find gardens, palaces and my favorite part: the Queen’s Hamlet, straight out of a storybook.
The Hamlet is a replica French village modeled on Normandy. The rustic looking buildings were glamorous inside, and provided a place for Marie Antoinette and her friends to frolic. They are perfectly picturesque!
Click here for more information about this part of Versailles.
While the Palace of Versailles is the perfect day trip from Paris, spending the night in Versailles is a smart way to visit the chateau early in the morning to avoid the crowds. If you plan to stay in the area there are many options for Versailles hotels and accommodations.
Would you like to sleep in a palace fit for a king or queen? Soon Versailles will open a luxury hotel in the mansions near the property as a way to bring in more income. The new lodgings will be called Hotel de l’Orangerie and should open in the next year or two. In the meantime, book an elegant room at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace Hotel just a few steps away from the manicured lawns of the Palace of Versailles.
HOW TO GET TO VERSAILLES FROM PARIS BY TRAIN
Versailles can be reached on three different train lines from Paris.
- Starting at Paris Montparnasse train station, get off at Versailles Chantiers train station.
- Starting at Paris Saint Lazare or Paris La Défense train station, get off at Versailles Rive Droite train station.
- On the RER C line from Central Paris, buy a Paris-Versailles Rive Gauche ticket (zones 1-4), get off at Versailles Rive Gauche train station.