A visit to Versailles as a day trip from Paris is a popular choice. The historic palace dominates the small city and is a must-see if you go. While I’ve been there on my own, I’ve found that joining a bike tour is the best way to enjoy the palace, its extensive grounds, and the town itself.
The Palace of Versailles dates to the 17th century and began its life as a hunting lodge. Then King Louis XIV set up his government and court at Versailles in 1682. Louis XV and Louis XVI, who married Marie Antoinette, also ruled from this palace until the French Revolution in 1789 forced royalty to flee. Since then, the palace has served as a museum featuring art from several centuries. It also hosted the negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I.
The palace sits on about 2,000 acres of land featuring tree-lined lanes, rolling grassy hills, and a grand canal. Hopping on a bike will help make it possible for you to see as many of the sights of Versailles as you want to in a day. No steep hills will slow you down, either.
Here are some other reasons to consider signing up for a bike tour of Versailles.
1. You’ll Discover The Town
The biggest surprise for me came when our group alighted from the train and walked into the town of Versailles. I thought we would head directly to the palace. Instead, after picking up our bikes at the tour company, we spent an hour or so in the charming town center, where we shopped for food for a picnic lunch. I had plenty of time to roam the side streets and take in the architecture of the homes and shops built centuries ago. This was a pleasant addition to what I had expected from the tour.
2. You Can Try Delicious Local Food
The day of my tour happened to be market day in Versailles, which is known for offering one of the best farmers markets in France. Even if you miss market day, you’ll find plenty of food in the little bakeries and stores. We came across an abundance of cheese, fruit, and fresh baguettes. I bought blackberries, a veggie sandwich, and caramels handmade in nearby Normandy. And it was fun to mingle with the locals who were out doing their grocery shopping.
Back at our bikes, we stashed our goodies and rode to the palace.
3. You’ll Get A History Refresher As You Ride
From the moment my group entered the palace grounds, we were treated to an ongoing history lesson from our guide. You can read the facts yourself, of course. But imagine resting on the lawn after pedaling along under a canopy of trees on your bike. Your friendly guide explains what happened on this very site hundreds of years ago as you sit in the gentle breeze. What a pleasant way to experience French history!
4. You’ll Discover Marie Antoinette’s Play Village
It may surprise you to hear that Versailles is actually home to three palaces. Besides the main, large palace, the grounds include the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. Built by the monarchy as a sort of escape from their massive home, these smaller homes are still fit for a king. These were the first stops on our bike tour, and we went inside and admired the simple yet elegant furnishings.
The most delightful place in all of Versailles, I think, is the Queen’s Hamlet in the garden area of the Trianons. Marie Antoinette, only 14 years old when she married, decided that a tiny dollhouse would not do for her, so she designed for herself this life-size play village. The young monarch donned peasant clothes and came here for the day to play at being a commoner. At sunset, she would make her way back to the big palace for dinner.
We parked our bikes and spent about an hour in the Hamlet. The buildings, farmland, waterwheel, and lake are real and actually function. When I was there in the fall, a pumpkin patch flourished, and goats entertained us by jumping around their “farm.”
The people who work there will chat with you; even their friendly dogs will run over to greet you. We all found it hard to leave this fairy-tale world and get back on our bikes.
5. You’ll Enjoy An Unforgettable Picnic
For lunch, we rode to the end of the beautiful grand canal and set up our picnic on the lawn. The palace at the other end of the canal provided an outstanding view. Our guide passed out plates and utensils (and the all-important corkscrew) so that we didn’t have to worry about bringing anything. We sat back and savored our market food in the vast backyard of the palace.
6. You’ll Be Able To Skip The Line For The Palace
An entry ticket to the palace is included in the tour price. Our guide made sure we got through security and inside without difficulty. I was stopped because I wore a jacket. My guide made sure I responded correctly, since I didn’t understand the French commands. I was glad to have a friend looking out for me at that moment.
Once inside, we were on our own to tour the rooms open to the public. Some housed collections of paintings and sculptures depicting the history of France. The motto of this museum is “All for the glory of France,” after all.
The central portion of the Palace of Versailles has been restored to the way it was when the kings and queens lived there. The palace chapel is especially beautiful; the Hall of Mirrors is the best known of the rooms.
7. You Can Spend As Long As You’d Like In The Gardens
I’ll confess that I moved through the palace quickly, somewhat overwhelmed by all the glitz, and I soon went outside for a stroll around the gardens. Along with Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, these gardens were my favorite part of the property.
8. It’s A Great Way To Make New Friends
One of the best aspects of taking a bike tour is enjoying the company of others who speak your language. While I love trying to immerse myself in the culture of another country, sometimes I get a bit lonely and want to chat with someone in English.
On a bike tour of several hours, it’s easy to get to know your fellow explorers and learn about their lives and home countries. Swapping stories with people from England, Ireland, and Australia enriched my view of the world and made the day more fun.
9. You’ll Have A No-Hassle Travel Day
One practical reason to tour Versailles by bike is because it makes the planning easy.
We met at the tour office in Paris and walked together to the metro line. The cost of metro tickets was included.
Later, our guide spoke with each one of us to ask where we were headed for the evening. He gave specific instructions for taking the metro there. If you’ve ever gone the wrong way on the Paris metro (I have!), you will appreciate these start-to-finish directions.
I booked my tour with Fat Tire Tours, which offers day tours of Versailles as well as night tours that include fireworks.
A bike tour of the Palace of Versailles is a full day’s outing if you want to include Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, the palace, and the gardens. It’s a day well spent, full of fresh air, friendly people, and the history and elegance of France.