What is the Palace of Versailles?The Palace of Versailles was built by King Louis XIII, who initially bought the land for a hunting lodge but later decided to expand the modest house into a château. The more extravagant building was constructed between 1631 and 1634, and the works also extended the gardens and park. Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King) was responsible for many of the additions and extensions which make the palace recognizable today, specifically the outfitting of the King’s, Queen’s, and Dauphin’s apartments and the landscaping of the gardens into the largest and finest example of the French garden. His rule also saw the addition of the Grand Trianon, which was used by the royal family for relaxing during summer. It was Louis XIV who brought the royal court to Versailles, moving his courtiers into rooms in the palace and ruling France from the estate, and his successors also governed from Versailles. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette weren’t able to do much to change the palace, though Marie Antoinette built a Hameau (or hamlet) in the arboretum, essentially a model French village complete with farmhouses, a dairy, and a watermill, where the queen and her companions could pretend to be peasants and escape the court of the main palace. The royal couple were at Versailles during the French Revolution, and on October 5, 1789, they were compelled to go to Paris when a crowd of several thousand besieged the palace. After the abolition of the monarchy, the contents of the property were sold at auction and the empty building was repurposed. Napoleon decided not to use Versailles as a residence, but he did use the Grand Trianon as a residence in spring. The Palace of Versailles has had great symbolic importance, even after the fall of the monarchy. It was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 when the United Kingdom officially recognized the independence of the United States, and it was famously the place where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, formally ending the First World War. Since the 1950s the palace has been slowly restored to the state it was in just prior to the French Revolution. One of the most expensive parts of the renovation project has been the tracing and purchasing of the original furniture which was auctioned off, but the majority of pieces you’ll see when you visit will have belonged to the royal family.
What’s there to see inside the Palace of Versailles?The Palace of Versailles has 2,300 rooms, so there’s no way you’d be able to see all of them in one visit. You’ll be able to see the State Apartments, which includes the Kings’s Apartments, the King’s State Apartments, and the Queen’s Apartments. The King’s State Apartments are particularly impressive, having been decorated with the theme of ancient Greek and Roman heroes and gods. Rooms such as the Hercules Room and Diana Room feature imposing marble statues and elaborately painted ceilings as well as paintings from the former Royal art collection. The State Apartments also contains the famous Hall of Mirrors, which is where banquets and lavish entertainments were held, and also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. The Royal Chapel is also worth a visit - the staggering ceiling is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and was completed by three different painters: Antoine Coypel, Charles de la Fosse, and Jean Jouvenet. Look out for special concerts and operas which take place in the Royal Opera, the Royal Chapel, or the Hercules Room.
What’s so special about the gardens of Versailles?The gardens of the Palace of Versailles have inspired French formal gardens around the world. The fundamental principles insist on imposing order and symmetry onto nature in order to demonstrate the owner of the garden’s mastery over his property. Nowhere was this clearer than at Versailles, where landscape gardener André le Nôtre created the largest gardens in Europe at the time between 1662 and 1700. The garden is filled with surprises and smaller, more intimate areas, but from the palace windows, the garden seems to stretch beyond the horizon. The gardens are full of fountains and water features with a range of mythological themes, and they really come to life during the Musical Fountain Shows and Musical Gardens events. In addition, guests will enjoy discovering the 221 statues and sculptures which decorate the gardens, including gods, goddesses, nymphs, giants, and other symbolic entities.
Are there guided tours of the gardens?There aren’t any official walking tours of the gardens available at the moment, but many tour companies will offer a guided tour of the gardens from one of their own guides. It is possible to take a guided tour on a segway, which is an option available to those over-12 and costs €35 for an hour and €55 for two hours. You can also join the little train, which will drive guests through the gardens and around the Trianon palaces. The train costs €8 for adults, €6.10 for under 18s, and is free for children under 12. You can hire an audio guide for use while you’re on-board the train for €4. While not a tour, you can create your own tour by hiring bikes from Little Venice and exploring the gardens and park by yourself. Bike hire is available between mid-February and mid-November. You can also enjoy the serenity of the Grand Canal by renting a rowing boat! Boat hire costs €13 for half an hour and €17 for an hour.
What are the Musical Fountain Show and Musical Gardens events?The fountains at Versailles aren’t always switched on, but when they are it’s an incredible sight. The Musical Fountain Shows are on at weekends between the beginning of April and the end of October and on Tuesdays from the end of May until the end of June plus a handful of additional dates throughout the summer. During the show, the fountains in the gardens are turned on and are choreographed to move in time with classical music, creating an impressive effect that will delight visitors of all ages. There are more water features involved in the afternoon session which begins at 3.30 pm than there are in the hour-long morning session, and you should definitely make sure to be at the Neptune fountain at 5.20 pm for a grand finale. There are also occasional evenings where the fountain shows are on after dark, which gives the event an extra, magical touch. The Musical Gardens events take place at intervals throughout summer and allow guests to explore the gardens while enjoying music played throughout the grounds. During these events, the fountains are not switched on.
How long should I plan for my trip?You should plan to spend between half a day and a full day exploring Versailles, depending on what you’re intending to see. If you’re just going to see the Palace or the Trianon Estate and gardens, then a morning or an afternoon will probably let you see everything you want to see. If you want to see both, or take a guided tour of one and explore the other by yourself, then you’ll probably need to spend the whole day exploring, with a break for lunch. Remember to factor in traveling time from Paris when planning your day, or choose a day trip run by a tour provider that includes transportation.
What dining options are available on the palace estate?Whether you’re looking for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a fine dining experience, you won’t be left hungry on your trip to Versailles. There are two dining options inside the palace itself: the Angelina Tea Room and Restaurant and Ore, which offers breakfast, lunch, and tea menus. Ore also offers the option of Le Grand Lever, which is a large breakfast including juice and a hot drink, plus a Passport ticket to the palace, Trianon estate, and gardens. At night Ore transforms into Ducasse au Château de Versailles, a fine dining experience from the Michelin star winning chef Alain Ducasse. In the center of the gardens, you’ll find the Brasserie de la Girandole, which has a terrace and the option to take away food to eat in the park. There are also a number of orange juice kiosks in the gardens. At the border of the gardens and the park, you’ll find La Petite Venise restaurant, which offers fine Italian food. Nearby there’s also La Flottille takeaway kiosk, which offers sandwiches, salads, and drinks. There’s another terrace and takeaway restaurant outside the Trianon estate, Angelina, which offers hot and cold drinks and light meals. If you’d rather save money by bringing a picnic from home, then Plaine Saint Antoine is the area where you can kick back and relax. It’s the designated area for eating picnics or some of the takeaway food from one of the kiosks, plus it’s one of the areas where ball games are allowed.