If you’re in Paris, then a trip to Versailles should be at the top of your list (along with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower).
From mysterious mirror murders to architectural endeavors that make projects on Extreme Home Makeovers look like kids playing with LEGO, the grounds and buildings built during King Louis XIV’s reign are still as impressive to this day.
This guide also comes with insider information on rooms not to be missed, and more insider tips from the Palace of Versailles’ Head of Business Development.
Best things to do at Versailles
When you’re visiting Versailles, the amount of things to see can be overwhelming, and to add that the grandiose views before you even reach the palace may leave you flabbergasted. But the real shock will come when you reach the palace’s rear and see the Grand Canal stretching toward the horizon. Armed with the knowledge of how big the grounds are – including its many concealed gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon – it’s time to start planning your visit to Versailles.
Tour the palace
With a Palace of Versailles skip the line ticket you’ll be ushered inside by a guide who’ll start you on the right foot before you begin to explore the palace with an audio guide.
You’re free to plot your own course, but the path with the most highlights begins upstairs. There are 2,300 rooms in the palace, but you’ll only see a select few. Luckily they’re some of the most interesting. These include King Louis XIV’s bedroom, the Queen’s Apartments, and the illustrious Hall of Mirrors. After passing by the apartments, you’ll arrive at the Coronation Room, dedicated to all things Napoleon.
The Coronation Room – centred around the Austerlitz Column, commemorating Napoleon’s first imperial victories – houses some of the most famous paintings of the French Emperor. Every wall displays his grandeur, most notably The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Josephine.
Make sure you don’t miss out on The Gallery of Great Battles that dominates the top floor, which houses 30-some paintings spanning 15 centuries of French military victory.
Downstairs from the Coronation Room you’ll find Louis XV’s daughters’ Apartments, the Marble Courtyard, and the Grand Crusades Room. Keep your audio guide handy and get ready to learn about the intrigues of courtly delight.
Versailles Hall of Mirrors
This is the one you’ve been waiting for.
The palace’s most famous location is less than 100 metres long, but if those walls could speak… well, they’d probably wonder why so many people are taking photos of themselves. But, they’d also boast the hall’s wealth of history, including the declaration of the German Empire in 1871 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War One.
While you’re snapping a selfie – and getting frustrated at the bottleneck growing inside the War Room (tip, it’s quieter at the far end of the hall inside the Peace Room) – keep in mind just how rare that glass was at the time, and the assassinations and politicking it took to get there.
Louis XIV wanted everything inside the palace to be made in France. However, at the time, Venice had a monopoly on mirror making. With incredulous wealth comes incredulous tactics. Louis was able to secretly smuggle out some Venetian masters (willing to defect for the right price) to teach the French. Venice struck back though, and the wealth they gained from betrayal was paid for in blood.
Don’t forget to look up – there are 30 painted compositions displaying Louis’ political, economic, and military victories during his first 18 years as king, with images from antiquity used to express each scene.
Visit an exhibition
Don’t rush out of the palace straight after seeing the Hall of Mirrors. Your ticket includes entry to the current exhibit on show at the palace. Whether the attention is on an artist or on the history of the palace’s transformation into the museum it now serves as, you’re sure to find fascination.
Visit the Trianon Palaces and Marie Antoinette’s private estate
If you pick up an access-all-areas ticket, there’s a whole new set of palaces waiting for you on the east side of the Grand Canal. Make your way downhill from the Palace of Versailles’ rear – admiring both the Latona Fountain and the Fountain of the Chariot of Apollo as you go – before enjoying a leisurely stroll by the side of the canal.
While the Trianon Palaces can’t compete with the Sun King’s not-so-humble abode, the Grand Trianon, constructed under Louis XIV, and the Petit Trianon, commissioned by Louis XV but later gifted to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI, bring a different flavor of Bourbon royal life. If you save the Petit Trianon for last, you’ll notice the changes between the former’s Rococo style to a much more sober Neoclassical style (sober, of course, meaning having an entire theatre inside).
See how Marie Antoinette stayed in touch with the people while staying out of touch with reality in her private hamlet, where she would play pretend as a peasant. The Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet) was a village in a bottle for the young queen, complete with functioning farm, milkmaids, and herdsmen to add to the authenticity. You’re still able to roam the grounds, with its pond, streams, mills and cottages.
Rent a rowboat on the Grand Canal
If you’re at Versailles in summer, then act like a royal and row down the Grand Canal. Head to Little Venice at the end of the canal and a rowboat can be yours for €17 an hour. It won’t match up to one of Louis XIV’s 17th-century gondolas, but it still makes for a leisurely time in the sun.
Wander through the maze of the gardens at Versailles
In the low season, the gardens are free to enjoy. As you head towards the Grand Canal, you’ll be surprised at the number of green getaways that branch off from the main concourse between the Latona Fountain and Apollo’s Fountain.
As you make your way back to the palace, make sure to stop at the Orangery. During the summer, the Orangery parterre is filled with orange trees, pomegranate trees, palms, oleander, and Eugenia bushes.
After walking the busy halls of the palace, the seclusion found inside the gardens’ thirteen groves is the perfect escape. Created largely between the 17th and 18th centuries, they showcase an intertwining of nature and masterful craft.
Make sure to stop at sites like Enceladus Grove, displaying the punishment of the giant after a failed uprising against the Greek pantheon. Between the end of March and the end of October, the groves come to their full glory. Versailles holds its famous Fountain Shows and Musical Gardens, where each part of the park reaches its peak beauty.
From 31 March to 31 October, admission to the gardens is charged on Tuesdays, Fridays, weekends, and French national holidays for the Musical Fountain Show and Musical Gardens. You’ll need to buy a separate ticket, but it will make your visit to Versailles even more memorable.
Insider tips from the Château de Versailles’ Head of Business Development
We spoke to Audrey Farrugia, head of business development at Versailles. With 12 years at the palace under her belt, a love of its setting and history, and the chance to regularly go behind the scenes, Audrey has some top tips for visitors.
What are the hidden gems in the Palace of Versailles that visitors sometimes miss?
The apartments of King Louis XV’s daughters, for the intimacy of the place; the Royal Opera, for its atmosphere; but also the Hameau with its bucolic and timeless setting, and the Petit Trianon.
The gardens of Versailles are a must-see – they’re also very big! What part of the garden should visitors definitely try to see?
The Trianon’s park and gardens, and the Hameau in particular, contrasting with the castle’s French formal garden.
As someone who knows the Palace inside out, what are some of your tips for visiting the Palace? What should people look out for, what should they know before going, and what should they do before or after their visit?
Take your time, and plan a whole day to see everything. The estate is gigantic! You should wear comfortable clothing, good shoes, and bring a fully charged battery to take nice pictures.
What time of year is the best time to visit?
Each season has its benefits. Spring, to see the gardens blossom; summer, to walk along the Grand Canal and enjoy the on-site shows; autumn, to appreciate the colors of the gardens; and winter, to enjoy the soft light on the site when it’s covered with snow.
“Everybody thinks they know the castle, when in fact they only know a tiny part of it.”
Parts of the palace are more than 400 years old. How is a building of its size and age maintained?
Restoration and preventative conservation work help keep the buildings in good condition. These are carried out by different teams of the castle, in partnership with external companies.
Do visitors from different countries seem to have distinct interests in different parts of the palace?
Yes, especially for the famous personalities connected to its history. The Japanese are fascinated by Marie Antoinette, the Chinese by Napoléon, and the French by Louis XIV.
Do you stay behind after closing and pretend you’re the king or queen?
Practical Information about visiting Palace of Versailles
How to get to Versailles
Versailles is more than just the palace. It’s a town, too. Getting there from Paris isn’t too difficult. Head to a metro station, then go to a ticket machine (or practice your French at a service window). Order an RER ticket to Gare de Versailles-Château–Rive Gauche.
Trains also run there, but if you’re travelling from Paris the RER is a safe bet. You can even fly over Versailles in a helicopter!
What time does Versailles close?
The Palace of Versailles is open from 09:00-17:50 from Tuesday to Sunday.
The palace is closed on Mondays, so it goes without saying that Tuesdays are busy! If you can make it mid-week then you’ll get to avoid the major crowds.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the Coach Gallery and the Estate of Trianon don’t open until 12:30 and 12:00 respectively.
The palace is open year-round, with the exception of December 25 and January 1 (and of course, Mondays).
How much do tickets to Versailles cost?
Prices range from €18 for basic entry to €45 for a guided tour of the palace, with plenty of options in between.
Standard Palace entry which grants access to the palace (with the audio guide), the temporary exhibitions, the gardens (except on Musical Fountain Shows or Musical Gardens days) the Coach Gallery, and the park start from €18.
If you want to visit the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet – which are well worth your time if you’re spending the whole day in Versailles – tickets are only €4.50 more.
As one of the most popular attractions in Paris, it’s no surprise that the palace can get busy, so a skip-the-line ticket is worth the extra investment. Tickets start from €32 for express entrance to the palace.
If you want to get a complete experience that includes entry to the Trianon, the Palace, the Fountain Show and the Musical Gardens, then tickets start from €28.62.
Can I get free tickets?
A number of people qualify for free tickets.
- Disabled visitors and the person accompanying them
- European Union citizens ages 18 to 25 (inclusive) with proof of age and citizenship
- Young people under the age of 18
- Students studying architecture, history, art history and archaeology at university
A full list of qualifying conditions can be found here.
What’s the best time to visit Versailles?
Versailles, and its many gardens, come into bloom during summer.
From late March to late October you can visit the groves and admire a fountain show. The cost is €9.50, but you can also book a Passport Ticket for €27 that will give you access to the whole estate, comprising the palace, the gardens, the Trianon Estate, and the Coach Gallery.
More information on the Fountain Show can be found here.
What should I wear to Versailles?
If you’re travelling to Versailles, it’s likely you’ll be there from roughly the time it opens until the gilded gates swing shut, so it’s a no-brainer to wear comfy shoes.
As for what else you should wear, check the weather! A raincoat is always a safe bet in winter, and a hat in summer. If in doubt, bring a jumper even during the warmer months – the wide open spaces of the grounds can mean you’ll feel the breeze. Better safe than chilly.
Where should I eat in Versailles?
Before you even reach the palace, you might be waiting for your tour group and guide opposite the station. If you’re looking for a cafe, there’s a McDonald’s, a Starbucks and a French bistro less than five minutes’ walk from Versailles-Château-Rive Gauche station.
Inside the palace complex and grounds itself, there’s a number of options, so don’t immediately go to Restaurant Angelina after the Empire Rooms. You’ll find something to fit your budget, from bringing your own picnic to visiting Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Au Trianon in the Waldorf Astoria at Trianon Palace.