Visiting Versailles: My Best Tips and Tricks

The grandiose Palace of Versailles is high on the bucket list for many travelers. And I was no exception! So one Sunday in August, I decided to take a day trip to the palace, some 20 kilometers outside of Paris. But when I arrived, a crowd of people suddenly appeared before me. There appeared to be a queue of more than two hours (!). In the blazing sun! And yet within ten minutes (!) I entered the castle, without waiting. Curious how? Here are my best tips and tricks for visiting Versailles!

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History of Versailles

Most people will be familiar with the history of the Palace of Versailles. But first, let’s start with the real term. In French, it is called “Chateau du Versailles,” or “Castle of Versailles”. The French term “Palais” is only used for city buildings, so the commonly used English translation of “Palace of Versailles” is actually not correct.

Location of Versailles

Versailles was a favorite hunting place of King Henry IV, who had been coming there since 1589. At that time there was only a small village and a church. His son, King Louis XIII, also liked to come. He built a hunting hut in the village after he became king. In 1631, he bought the rest of the village and had the hut replaced by a castle.

Louis XIV’s Influence

The huge palace that you know, however, was built by his son, Louis XIV, the Sun King. His goal was to build a grand castle that could serve as an escape from busy Paris. He also wanted it to be able to serve as a location for amazing entertainment. Louis XIV’s love for entertainment is most obvious in his nickname, “The Sun King”, which he received because he played the sun god Apollo in a ballet.

Over the years, he continued to expand the castle with new wings and buildings. The king spent more and more time there, until in 1682 Versailles even became the official seat of the king and the government.

The French Revolution

His son, King Louis XV, also governed from the Castle of Versailles until the French Revolution in 1789. During that period, there were probably between 3,000 and 10,000 courtiers who worked for the royal house in some way. There were hundreds of houses and apartments.

Versailles was finally in the spotlight during the French Revolution. The enormous renovations to the palace put considerable pressure on the French treasury. The anger of the poor and hungry people turned against the nobility, including the French royal family. During the storm, Louis VX, his wife Marie Antoinette and their children were captured and tried in Paris. The castle was closed, and the interior auctioned. The Palace of Versailles was reopened in 1793, but this time as a museum.

Versailles Today

The following government leaders (including Napoleon Bonaparte) occasionally used the palace for official functions, but it never became an official residence again. The restoration of the palace began in 1892, but has never really come to an end since then. The castle is now visited by more than 7.5 million people a year.

Although it is very difficult to calculate how much Versailles would be in current currency, it is estimated that the royal family spent an equivalent of over $2 billion on the castle. However, this amount was probably much higher. The castle is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

What to See in the Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is full of sights, and you really need a lot of time of to see the palace in its entirety. The tour of the castle (with a free audio guide) takes about an hour and a half, but the gardens can easily take 2-3 hours. So take the time for your visit if you want to see everything.

Hall of Mirrors

The most important highlight in Versailles castle is the Hall of Mirrors. In Frenche, it’s called the “Galerie des Glaces.” When you enter the room you will immediately understand why many consider this the most famous.

The grandeur is almost overwhelming. The room is more than 70 meters long and the mirrors must reflect the view of the gardens, making the room seem infinitely large and light. On the ceiling you will find all kinds of paintings that record the successes of Louis XIV. The room was mainly used for events such as a masked ball. Can you imagine going to such a party at a place like this? ABSURD!

But it wasn’t just the place for wild parties. Important historical events also took place: the German Republic was proclaimed here on January 18, 1871, and the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War on June 28, 1919.

The King & Queen’s Apartments

If I remember correctly, you will first go through the apartments of the King in the tour. The furniture that you see in the rooms is mainly from the Baroque style.

What I found very interesting, was to see how little privacy the royal family had. They really did nothing themselves. Spectators could sit and watch them eat. Every morning and evening, there was a ritual in which sevaral people dressed and undressed the king and queen. BIZARRE, really.

The Royal Opera House

Although the building order was originally given by Louis XIV in 1682, the project at that time was too expensive to be carried out. It was ultimately Louis XV who had the project built faster, before the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 1770. The opera consists of wood painted as marble. This was to save costs, but also works better for the acoustics.

The Gallery of Great Battles

I think my favorite part of the Palace of Versailles was the Gallery of the Battles, a large hall full of gigantic paintings that depict the most heroic battles in French history.

This room only dates from 1830 when King Louis Philip I decided to turn the dilapidated and vacant Versailles into a museum that showed the glory of France. Some paintings came from the Louvre, and others were painted especially for this room. The room has not changed since the deposition of Louis Philippe I in 1848.

What to See in the Gardens of Versailles

Another highlight are, of course, the Gardens of Versailles, perhaps the most famous gardens in the world. Here you can walk around for hours and not see everything. The gardens are a perfect example of the French style and are so large (the largest French garden in the world) that the idea was that the gardens (at least optically) would reach the horizon. The French style is reflected in the symmetrical layout of the garden, among other things.

In the garden you will find fountains, ponds, statues, pavilions, flower beds, a cave, a canal, a fake village, and more. And almost everything is exactly as it was in the time of Louis XIV. Except that the garden was once 6,000 hectares and was enclosed by 43 km wall. It is now “only” 815 hectares.

The Grand Trianon

This is a large garden house in the gardens of Versailles. It is also called a pleasure pavilion, where the royal family could escape the strict court etiquette. The name “Trianon” comes from the hamlet that originally stood on the site of this garden house, which was demolished for the construction of this building. Napoleon had the building restored, but only visited three times. Nowadays, part of the building is used as accommodation for visiting foreign heads of state.

The Little Trianon

This is a small pleasure pavilion built between 1762 and 1768. Funnily enough, this building is square, and has four different facades. Even funnier is that this building was a gift from Louis XV to his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Because she died before the building was finished, he simply started using the building with Madame Du Barry, another mistress. In 1775 the building became Marie Antoinette’s and she (naturally) expanded it.

The Orangery

The most beautiful part of the garden is the Orangery. This piece of garden features palm trees, orange trees, and pomegranate trees in the summer. In the winter, the creeping plants are moved to nearby building where the temperature is always stable.

Hameau de la Reine

The ultimate example of privilege? The small village that Marie Antoinette had built in the French garden. Here she could pretend with her friends that she was a peasant woman, and escape the court etiquette. The village consists of a dozen buildings, including a water mill, a farm, and a sheep stable.

There’s so much more! I have really only mentioned a fraction of all the halls and rooms and gardens. There are two thousand rooms alone!

Visiting Versailles: My Tips & Tricks

As already mentioned, Versailles attracts more than 7.5 million visitors a year, so obviously it gets crowded. Preparing your visit is therefore a wise plan. The queues to come in are usually more than two hours long!

Versailles opening times

The palace is open every day of the year, except on December 25 and January 1. It is closed on Mondays.

Best time to visit Versailles

The busiest days to visit are Tuesday (when many museums in Paris are closed) and on the weekend. The palace is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and it’s best to go as early as possible.

Tickets

There are a number of different tickets that you can purchase for your visit to Versailles. First of all, the Gardens of Versailles are free to visit, unless there is a music or fountain show (on specific days), then a ticket costs € 7.

The entrance fee for Versailles is €20 (on a fountain / music day that is € 27) including entrance to the gardens. Visitors under the age of 26 get free entry.

Tickets can be purchased on the spot. You can also buy them online  to bypass the queue. Just a warning, this is tricky, because if you buy a normal online ticket on the official website, you still have to be in the general queue (the two-hour wait, yes). You’re better off following my tip below.

How to Skip the Line at Versailles

The real trick (and one that very few people use) is to buy your ticket with fixed access time. Then you can queue in a separate line, which is much shorter than the other. You may then enter within 30 minutes of your entrance time. The entrance times are: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00.

When I arrived at the Palace of Versailles (without a ticket) and saw the queue, I immediately bought a ticket online for the next access time (ten minutes later). I then had it on phone in minutes, and could stand in line immediately. I would personally recommend that you simply purchase a ticket in advance and ensure that you are on time.

Book a Tour to Skip the Line

If you’d also like to do a tour of the palace, you can book ahead to both skip the line and get a 90-minute tour. Check availability here

Bonus Tip

make sure you wear comfortable shoes, you will walk a lot. And in the gardens, you are naturally outside, with little shelter. Make sure you cover yourself well with sunscreen, or take an umbrella with you.

How to Get from Paris to Versailles

The best way to visit the Palace of Versailles is by train. The train takes about an hour, and a ticket costs around €7 (this is not the metro, so you have to buy another ticket).

Don’t make the mistake we made, and make sure you buy a return ticket. On the way back you don’t have to wait in line between the ALL of the people who also want to return to Paris.

The closest station to the castle is Versailles Château Rive Gauche. This is on the C line of the RER train, and you can board at different stations in the center of Paris.

You can also book this tour, which will transfer you from Paris by coach and still offer a skip-the-line tour of the palace. Check availability here

My opinion on the Palace of Versailles?

What did I actually think of the Palace of Versailles? It had been on my wish list for a long time, and as someone who loves castles, you would think this was a dream come true. But it’s a bit … more nuanced.

I thought the castle was far too busy. It will undoubtedly be my own fault that I visited the castle in August, but it was so busy that I really didn’t like it. If you shuffle through all the rooms with two hundred of your best friends in a kind of slow motion dance, the fun quickly goes away.

Of course the fun was also somewhat dampered by the fact that I was stung by a wasp when I had just entered. And that ruined my visit to the gardens of the castle, because I only ran away hyperventilating every time another wasp came by (and there were really quite a lot).

I really liked the castle itself. But the grandeur is a bit disappointing when you are sweating with hundreds of other visitors in a small room. Anyway, I think it’s a completely different story if you visit Versailles in the off season, and early in the day for example! I can imagine that it will be very impressive and much quieter.

And there you have it! All you need to know about visiting Versailles, including my best tips and tricks!

Do you plan on visiting Versailles? Or have you? What did you think?

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