Day Trips From Paris: Versailles

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When I first visited Paris at 19 years old, one of the items high on my priority list was visiting Versailles. A fan of French history and Louis XVI style architecture and interior design, it was a place that I had to see on what I thought could be my only trip to the French capital. And so, I bought a group train ticket together with a few people from my hostel and waited in line for hours on end outside the palace gates on a hot June day.

After we were eventually let inside I lost track of my co-travellers as we were pushed through each hall, which was packed with people, making it difficult to see and enjoy many of the rooms. While the experience left me feeling a bit bewildered, I managed to catch my breath outside in the gardens, where there was enough space to walk around and appreciate the orangery, fountains, sculptures, and Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon estate.

After a few hours outside I did a quick visit to the gift shop, where I marvelled at the perfumes, candles, and other fancy souvenirs, before I tried to find the train station and promptly got lost, resulting in a late arrival back in Paris.

Fast forward eight years, I’ve lived in Paris for over three of those and still hadn’t made it back to Versailles, despite it being less than an hour away and incredibly easy to access via public transport. That was, until this weekend, when a friend of mine who lives in the town asked me to come visit a Versailles that was tourist-free post-COVID 19.

How to Get to Versailles

If you live or are staying in central Paris, getting to Versailles is simple (and cheap!). All you need to do is look up your local metro station, and find the best connection to the RER C line. From there, you simply need to enter your nearest metro station, and purchase a round-trip for “Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche”, which costs around 7.50€ and will allow you to take whichever combination of Metro and RER lines to reach your destination. 

Note: If you go this option you will receive two tickets, so be sure to keep the second one somewhere safe for your return trip.

Alternatively, if you possess a Passe Navigo that covers zones 1-5, you can use this to get to Versailles without paying any additional cost.

Things to Do in Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Versailles is, of course, best known for its palace. Containing over 2,300 rooms, it’s a colossal and ornate building that famously served as the home to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the place of the lavish and decadent French court before the French Revolution. 

The palace contains marvels such as the Hall of Mirrors, Royal Chapel, Royal Opera, Marie Antoinette’s private chambers, the King’s and Queen’s apartments, historic galleries, a congress chamber, and more. While it’s typically quite busy and crowded, as I mentioned above, it’s something I believe is worth seeing at least once in your life.

For 18€ one can have access to the palace and gardens, while for 27€ you can have access to the entire estate, including Trianon and the gardens. If it is your first time visiting Versailles I would personally opt for the latter option.

Gardens of Versailles

If you don’t feel like going inside of the palace, a separate ticket for the gardens can be purchased for 11€. This covers the Orangery, musical fountain show, and the section of the classic French formal gardens preceding the canal. With things like an outdoor ballroom, whimsical sculptures, and meticulously cared for parterres and hedge mazes to discover, I personally think it is worth the cost.

However, if you’d just like to spend some time outside without paying an entry fee, past the canal the estate gardens are free of charge. I enjoyed this part as much if not more than the paid section, as there were restaurants where one could grab a coffee or sorbet, a canal with boats for rent, and a stall with bikes for rent.

This time around, my friends and I opted to rent bikes. It was an excellent idea, as it allowed us to go as far as the end of the estate – a point difficult to reach by foot – and explore uncrowded areas. It cost roughly 9€ for the hour, and was worth every penny!

Estate of Trianon

Also out past the main gardens is the estate of Trianon, which is compromised of the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet.

The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are extensions of the palace and built in reminiscent styles. They served as the private getaways of the King and Queen, respectively, with Petit Trianon having been gifted to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI.

Both are stunning pieces of architecture – the Grand Trianon Italian-inspired with pink marble and the Petit Trianon in neo-classical style – and filled with grand apartments. I’d recommend the Petit Trianon in particular to anyone who is a fan of Marie Antoinette, as it serves a museum of sorts dedicated to the memory of the late queen. 

The Queen’s Hamlet, meanwhile, is a more rustic model village inspired by Marie Antoinette’s fascination for rural life in the French countryside. A peculiarly humble addition to the grand estate, it’s nevertheless a lovely and peaceful place built around a small lake, and a nice spot to rest after hours of exploring Versailles.

Notre-Dame de Versailles

Believe it or not, Versailles is more than just the palace and gardens! While tourists mainly visit the city for this, there are still other parts to explore. While a few return trips are in order to see everything in the town, already I can encourage visitors to wander and see places such as Notre-Dame de Versailles.

A stone’s throw from the palace, the elegant 17th-century Neoclassical cathedral (and historical site to French royal family events, including a number of baptisms, marriages, and burials) is worth a visit.

Versailles Markets

Whether you visit Versailles on a weekday or weekend, there are many markets worth checking out. I was personally recommended the infamous Notre Dame market.

Made up of a covered area that’s open every day, and a market around the square that is open Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, it’s a great way to purchase fresh local products, and is a good place to stop by and stock up on produce, bread, meats, and whatever else you fancy before going for a picnic in the gardens.

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