Planning a visit to the grandest palace in all of Europe? Well, let me tell you it is massive! And without a little preparation you may feel completely lost and stuck in lines all day long. The Château de Versailles is an easy day trip from Paris, roughly a 30 minute train ride from any of it’s central neighborhoods.
Originally, Versailles was designed as a small hunting lodge for Louis XIII right in the center of a vast forest. Location wise it was very convenient as it allowed for an easy trip from Paris every time he needed to escape the city and trade it in for some peace and tranquility in the countryside. Fast-forward a few years and his son, the now infamous Louis XIV aka the “Sun King”, had grander plans for the humble lodge. His vision was to turn it into the grandest palace Europe had ever seen. Construction began in the mid-17th century and ran for decades, even past the death of Louis XIV. It was the site of great balls, dinners, and eventually, the main residence of the French Court and government in 1682.
Today, the château spreads over more than 800 hectares (that’s over 10 football fields put together!) and is divided into 4 main sections: the palace, the gardens, the Trianon Estate which includes the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet. Versailles has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 1979. It is definitely worth a visit during your stay in Paris and in my opinion warrants a full day’s worth of sightseeing. And even then you probably won’t be able to cover 100% of the grounds. This is a well known fact and the option to purchase a 2-day pass is available should you wish to stay a night in town. Here, I will focus on how you can maximize your time in Versailles when you only have one day to visit.
Tip #1: Buy your tickets in advance!
Trust me, you won’t regret this. Versailles is arguably the most famous palace in all of Europe and as such lines can be kilometric. I recommend you purchase your tickets on the château’s official website (www.chateauversailles.fr) to save yourself a ton of time. There are no processing or advanced booking fees. Simply purchase online and print your tickets. You can also save the PDF ticket copy to your phone and show this to be scanned by the attendant. Once you have your tickets in hand, head over to Entrance A and wave goodbye to those still in the ticket line! Note: Try to avoid Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays as these tend to be the busiest days. The château is closed on Mondays.
Tip #2: Visit in off-season
I know this may not be always possible, but if it is consider visiting the Château during off-season times. Generally November-March sees a lower number of tourists. Although, don’t get me wrong, there are ALWAYS tourists in Versailles with an average of 5.3 million visitors EACH YEAR.
Visiting in off-season allows for a more relax, albeit colder, experience. The only downside (for some people) is that the gardens will not be in full bloom and statues may be covered to protect them in the winter time. Also note that certain services, such as the petit train that takes you from the main Château to the Trianon Estate may be closed, as well as the boats that run along the canal. Either way, I visited on a very cold, snowy day in February and would not have had it any other way. It was truly amazing to see everything covered in snow!
Tip #3: Travel like a local
Traveling like a local pays off. The Château is an easy train ride from central Paris– about 30-40 minutes via the RER-C. Simply stay in the train until the end of the line and you will have arrived at Versailles-Château Rive Gauche station. Double check that this is indeed the direction the train is going before boarding as there are several other RER-C lines. From there it is about a 10 minute walk to the entrance gates. To get back to Paris just hop back on the RER-C that is Paris bound. By taking the train you are also saving time as this is the fastest way to get there; thus, increasing your overall time at the Château.
Tip #4: Map out your visit
You have plenty of options at Versailles should you wish to take a guided tour. The Château offers a 90-minute English guided tour at least twice daily. For an additional €7.00 (on top of your entrance ticket) it may be worth looking into. Otherwise, if you like the freedom of touring independently at your own pace take advantage of the free audioguide that is included with your ticket. These are available in multiple languages and can be picked up upon entry to the palace. Also, keep in mind the Trianon Estates and the Queen’s Hamlet open only after 12:00pm, so the smartest thing to do is to tour the main Château first.
Tip #5: Take a break at Angelina’s
Ok, maybe this is not directly related to Versailles but c’mon, how can you resist when it is conveniently located inside the Château?! Founded in 1903 this famous tearoom boasts an assortment of delicate and traditional pastries. So, if you are looking for a quick bite before heading over to the gardens, I recommend stopping by Angelina’s. Definitely give its famous ‘chocolat à l’ancienne’ a try before you leave!
The cute little tearoom is great for a snack or light lunch on the go. Feeling like having something a bit heartier? Have some time to spare? If so, try the dining room for a more robust meal course and a well deserved break from sightseeing. Your body will thank you before heading out to the maze gardens! Note: There are two locations inside the Château grounds. One inside the palace and the other adjacent to the Petit Trianon in Marie Antoinette’s Domaine.
Bonus Tip: Visit the town of Versailles before heading back to Paris
If you have some time to spare before heading back to Paris and still have the stamina to do some more walking after traipsing around the palace gardens, consider a small detour to visit the charming little town square in Versailles. Yes, there is more to Versailles than just the famous château. In fact, many local French people call this town home.
To get there from the château, I find it is easiest to exit via the gardens. Walk straight down from the Petit Trianon and make a left at Avenue de la Trianon, past the Neptune Basin. Continue walking toward Rue de la Paroisse and you will find the cute little market square of Place du Marche – Notre Dame. It is a leisurely 30 minute walk from the Petit Trianon and there are many shops and restaurants along the way if you are in need of a rest stop. If you are lucky to stumble upon it during market days, you will find lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and cheeses. Excellent way to finish off a long day of sightseeing!
Hopefully these tips can help you plan your French adventure more efficiently and hassle-free! The Château de Versailles could be a small town in and of itself. Do not stress. See as much as you are able to. Map your route. Enjoy your experience to the max as there really isn’t any other palace quite like it. But above all have fun! Bon voyage!
Have you been to Versailles? Do you have other tips you would like to share? Leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear your stories 🙂