On our second full day in Paris, Kaila and I visited Château de Versailles, home and court of King Louis XIV. Many guidebooks consider this a day trip outside of Paris, although it is still easily reached by the French railway system. From the end of the line, the walk to the palace is just a few short blocks through the suburb of Versailles. If you don’t know which direction to head after exiting the station, follow the crowds of other tourists on their way there.
Arriving at 9:00am, we were able to spend several hours in Versailles, heading back to Paris around 3:00pm.
Getting There: Château de Versailles can be reached along the Réseau Express Régional (RER), which seems to be comparable to Amtrak on the United States East Coast. The RER is a regional railway system that stretches across much of France, and has many stations within Paris. It is not quite le métro, which stops frequently and extensively within the city of Paris, although the RER and le métro share several common transfer stations. We took le métro from ligne cinq (line 5) to the RER at Gare d’Austerlitz. From Gare d’Austerlitz, we boarded a train toward Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche.
Getting In: The Versailles website is moderately confusing; there are different hours and different prices depending on the time of year and day of the week. We paid 15€ per person for entrance to the palace during the month of July. The palace opened at 9:00am and the gardens opened at 8:00am, so our plan was to arrive early and visit the gardens first, then the palace as soon as it opened. We ended up arriving around 9:00, so went straight into the palace and did the gardens second. There is an admission fee for the gardens on three days a week, and we chose to visit on a Friday to avoid that. The Versailles FAQ website provides all of this information and more about the busy times of year and day.
Although we purchased our tickets ahead of time, we still had to stand in quite a long line just to get through security. A headset was included with the tickets, which gave you information about each room you were in. They were available in several languages.
About Versailles: Château de Versailles originally served as the hunting lodge of King Louis VIII. In 1682 his son, Louis XIV, began a campaign to transition the site into an entire royal palace, complete with living, entertainment and worship quarters, and space to hold court.
One of the first stops on the Versailles walk-through is a short film describing the history of Versailles and the layout of the estate. Following that, there are several rooms full of famous art pieces from the palace, 3D models of the gardens, and extra information on the history. The crowd generally flows one-way only, so you’ll probably feel a bit like a sheep being herded from one room to another.
La Grande Galerie (The Hall of Mirrors, shown above) is perhaps the most famous room in the entire palace. Even though the royal family moved out in 1789, it continues to impress visitors from around the world. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the hall has seventeen enormous mirrored arches (357 mirrors total) matched up against seventeen enormous windows that overlook the palace gardens. At the time this room was being designed, mirrors were some of the most exorbitant of household items, and merchants from the Venetian Republic were enticed to craft for France.
Another one of the main attractions in Château de Versailles is King Louis XIV’s chamber. Also known as the Sun King, it makes sense that his room faced the rising Sun. Each day, the ceremonies of the King’s awakening and retiring were performed here.
This was already emphasized with a photo above, but never forget to look up when touring the palaces and chapels in France. The ceilings are always intricate and Versailles seemed to have hundreds of chandeliers. Plus, you can see the ceiling no matter where you’re standing in the crowd.
Even though we entered the palace almost as soon as it opened, the crowds were tough to beat. There were several rooms we passed very quickly due to crowd frustration, or where we stood at the back and listened to the headsets instead of pressing up close. After a couple of hours, we were both hungry and ready to have some sense of personal space back.
After exiting the palace, we wandered around a bit trying to find the gardens. We turned in our headsets and reentered the castle to reach the gardens. It looked as if their were tram rides available around the estate for a fee, or, since it was a Friday, entrance to walk around on your own was free as well. There were also golf carts for rent, which seemed nice for families with small children.
The estate and the gardens are absolutely huge, and we only saw a small part of them. The Versailles website has a nice tour of the gardens and everything you can see there.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon we decided to retire for a few hours and rest up for the evening. Getting out of Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche was an ordeal in itself. There was only one machine to purchase RER tickets, and about 20 people were standing in line. Probably 75% of tourists (including us) discovered upon reaching the front that you had to have exact change or a EU credit card to use the machine. Standing in line for the ticket window took less time and was far easier than trying to use the machine.
Although not included in this post, we decided to visit the Louvre on Friday night as it was free for all ages under 26, regardless of nationality. Some images from the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay will be shown in a few blog posts. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!