Why do I, and so many other people, love visiting castles and palaces so much? Of course history, art and architecture all play a role, but it’s also a chance to step outside your own reality and see what it might have been like to live in such a place. After all how many of us live in actual castles or palaces?
What better place for those “life of royalty” daydreams than the Chateau de Versailles? Even on an overcast day the golden gates of this world famous palace can be seen shinning brightly in the distance.
Versailles is a place where the walls, ceilings and floors are equally, if not more ornate than the furniture and art found inside. As you wander through the palace peeking inside the Royal Chapel, the King’s bedroom and the Hall of Mirrors, you’ll find yourself surrounded by opulence.
Speaking of opulent, it doesn’t end when you step outside, in fact quite the contrary. A stroll in the almost 2000 acres of Gardens features among other things a Grand Canal, which is over a mile long, groves, the Orangerie, and at least 50 different fountains.
Taking the SNCF train from the Paris Gare Montparnasse station, (You can’t miss it, it’s the only tall building in all of Paris!), we arrived at the Versailles Chantiers station about 40 minutes later. Wanting to see the town, we decided to walk to the Chateau.
Plan in Advance
If you can I highly recommend planning your visit in advance! Purchasing our tickets only one day prior to our visit we made some mistakes and discovered some things we would have done differently. The day we visited was incredibly hot, but more than that, it was humid, and a late afternoon/evening visit might have been more enjoyable. Keep in mind this is a very popular destination (10 million visitors every year) and it will be incredibly crowded.
Tickets and Other Useful Information
Skipping the line would have been nice, but with short notice I was unable to work out exactly how to make that happen. Here are a few things I did learn that might make things easier:
- Arrive early! The gates open at 9 am. If you can, be there before they open.
- Purchase your tickets in advance online. Even with advance purchase you’ll need to go through security, which seems to be the cause for the very long entrance lines. However, it moves quicker than the ticket purchase line.
- The Passport Ticket option gains you entrance to everything, including the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Petite Chateau. Children under 18 are free however the exception is: there is a garden entrance fee for children on days with the Fountains Show and on Musical Gardens days.
- There are guided tours, but not all tours are given in all languages everyday. Unfortunately there were no English speaking tours being offered on the day of our visit. Check the website for tour options before your arrival.
- Bring sunscreen, water and wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- If you’re visiting in the summer, consider going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and possible fireworks. Its also possible the crowds could be lighter later in the day… though we ended our visit around 4:30 pm and noticed the lines were still incredibly long. It was July after all…
Once inside the Palace I picked up the audio guide that came with my Passport ticket, while the boys chose to go without. It was very crowded, so lingering over anything wasn’t really possible, but we were able to see everything we were interested in. Before heading out to the garden we stopped in the Palace cafe for French ham sandwiches. I got a kick out of the restroom signage!
As I mentioned the gardens are vast, but we did our best to see as much of them as we could. I loved the Enceladus Grove, especially the fountain in the center, which was sculpted in 1675. Our visit took place on a Musical Fountains day, so we were lucky enough to see many of the fountains in action! I was somewhat surprised to see that there weren’t that many flowers in the garden, but I must admit my knowledge of French gardens is lacking. We ran out of steam so boating on the Grand Canal didn’t happen, but we did discover some yummy gelato!
Petit Trianon – Marie Antoinette’s Estate
My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.
The Petite Domaine was her private chateau and was by invitation only. The tour here was self guided, and because it is indeed a very petite palace, doesn’t take long. Afterward, we took our time wandering the chateau’s private gardens, which to my delight had more flowers!
Another Women’s March
Our visit to the Chateau de Versailles took place this past July, and 6 months later I’m finally writing about it. Coincidentally this also happens to be the same week that there were women’s marches around the world. It was while reading an article about these marches that I learned about another historic women’s march.
The Women’s March on Versailles, is also known as the October March or the March on Versailles, which might be why I never knew it was actually started by women. Either that, or I might not have been listening in history class that day… Though not peaceful like this week’s marches it was a defining moment in history, which involved women standing up for what they believe is right. The timing seems significant, so I thought I would mention it.
If Those Walls Could Talk
Many important figures in world history and government have walked the halls of Versailles, among them, to name just a few are: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and Pope Pius VII. A UNESCO World Heritage site, I was surprised to learn that Versailles is still in use today by the French Government.