My first visit to the Palace of Versailles did not go well. In fact, whenever anyone would ask me about the former residence of France’s royal family, I’d be downright surly. The reason for my grumpy attitude? On the day of my first visit, I woke up with a nasty headache, which didn’t improve as I wandered the estate, overwhelmed by its size. No wonder my memories were less than stellar! But when I took the time to revisit this legendary palace, I appreciated the splendor that has delighted millions of visitors over the centuries.
Here’s everything you need to know before planning a visit to this spectacular place.
When To Visit The Palace Of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is open from April through October from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (on Sundays, it closes 30 minutes early). From November through March it closes at 5:30 p.m. The palace is closed on Mondays and, for that reason, it tends to be busiest on Sundays and Tuesdays (when many Paris museums are closed). In my experience, Thursdays are the best days to visit.
The gardens, which are open until 8:30 p.m. from April through October but close by 6 p.m. during the off-season, are one of the most popular attractions at the Palace of Versailles. While there are many attractive things to see in the gardens during the winter, they’re certainly at their best between late spring and early autumn.
How To Get To The Palace Of Versailles
Versailles is about 15 miles west of Paris. There are several options for getting there.
A taxi ride to the Palace of Versailles takes between 15 and 20 minutes and costs between $45 and $60. This isn’t the most economical option, but it is the quickest and most flexible. If you can round up a few travel partners to share the ride, the price ends up being much more reasonable.
From the Saint Michel-Notre Dame station, you can catch the RER C train for about $8. Trains leave approximately every 30 minutes, and the trip takes 37 minutes. Once the train arrives at the Versailles Rive Gauche station, it’s an 11-minute walk (or very quick taxi ride) to the main entrance of the palace.
There are many tour companies that offer trips to the Palace of Versailles.
On the plus side, they take care of all your transportation needs and offer all-inclusive pricing that includes admission and possibly a guided tour. Some even combine a visit to Versailles with a stop at Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny.
On the downside, the quality of guided tours can vary greatly from company to company. And you are traveling on their schedule, not your own. Before you book, read the reviews to make sure the tour program meets your expectations.
Tickets And Tour Options
Believe it or not, there are two parts of Versailles that are almost always free. The gardens are open every day, and you can visit them at no cost (save for the days when there are fountain shows). The Gallery of Coaches is also free on days when the Palace of Versailles is open.
The Palace of Versailles itself is also free for certain people: everyone under 18 years old, residents of the European Union under 26 years old, French teachers, and people with disabilities (along with their caregivers). During the off-season, which runs from November through March, the entire estate is free to visit on the first Sunday of the month.
Alas, for everyone else admission fees apply. The Palace Ticket costs 16 euros and includes access to the palace, an audio guide, and any temporary exhibits that might be taking place.
Guests who have already visited the palace itself will find the Estate of Trianon Ticket to be a good value. For 12 euros, you can visit the Estate of Trianon, the beloved woodland hideaway of Marie Antoniette. This ticket includes any temporary exhibits that might be taking place at the estate. However, it does not include admission to the palace.
The Passport Ticket includes all of the attractions included in the Palace Ticket and the Estate of Trianon Ticket. It costs 20 euros, or 27 euros if you choose to add on the musical shows in the gardens (when available). You can buy a Passport Ticket with a timed entry that guarantees access to the palace within a 30-minute window. This is the way to go!
If the idea of seeing the entire property in one day sounds like too much, you can purchase a Two-Day Passport Ticket starting at 25 euros.
At 10 euros, the guided tour is an exceptional value. It takes you through parts of the palace that are normally off-limits to the public. Visitors can choose from two themed guided tours (“Louis XIV at Versailles” and “Splendorous Versailles”), both of which can be booked online.
What To Do At The Palace Of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles has 700 rooms, 67 staircases, 6,300 paintings, 2,100 statues, nearly 2,000 acres of garden and parkland, and 50 fountains. No wonder I didn’t feel well during my first visit -- my head spins now just thinking about it!
Suffice it to say that the majority of visitors see only a fraction of the estate. If you hope to take it all in, you can rent an electric shuttle car, hire a bike or a boat, or hop on the scenic shuttle train (which costs 7.50 euros -- the best deal of all, in my opinion).
Whether you try to take in the entire estate or just the highlights, here are some activities you shouldn’t miss.
See The Palace
If you’re visiting the Palace of Versailles for the first time, head straight for the spectacular palace itself! This is where the famous Hall of Mirrors, the king’s private chambers, and the royal chapel are all located.
The effort to restore the palace is ongoing and mind-boggling. After the French Revolution, all the furniture and fixtures were auctioned off. The process of tracking down those priceless antiques and repurchasing them has been a costly and painstaking one. The available audio guides, which are included in the price of admission, will help you make sense of it all.
Visit Marie Antionette’s Refuge
The Palaces of Trianon are cozy woodland escapes where the ill-fated Marie Antoinette would retreat from the pressures of everyday life. It’s an intimate look at an otherwise very public life.
The palaces are open during the afternoon, and you should reserve at least 3 hours to explore the many buildings and gardens.
Go To A Musical Show
The gardens of the Palace of Versailles are filled with spectacular fountains. They’re wonderful to visit at any time of year, but they really come to life during the musical fountain shows, which take place from April through November on Saturdays and Sundays. During the summer months, a fountain show is held every Saturday evening. There are many additional dates; see the palace’s calendar of events to take advantage of this special programming.
Partake In Sports (No, Really!)
The Palace of Versailles is a gorgeous green space, and joggers love it. It’s also hugely popular as a cycling spot, and you can rent bikes on-site. Tai chi is practiced in different parts of the park, and rowers rent boats to get their strokes in (in fact, Olympic medalists train here!). Road races, triathlons, and equestrian events also take place in the gardens. You can read more about the estate’s history of sports and the different activities available here.