Aaaahhhhh, the Palace of Versailles.
A place of splendour, extravagance, and romance.
Easily the highlight of our short trip to Paris, we would happily return to explore the grounds again. This time with a better camera!
Meanwhile, enjoy this comprehensive tour of the Palace of Versailles, the Gardens, the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet. (Yeah we made sure we covered everything!) Click here for the official complete map. A lot of walking was involved!
Getting there is easy. Take the RER-C metro line to Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche (last station). The trip takes under an hour, depending on where you’re originating from. Our train was decorated in Versailles fashion, so we knew we were on the right one. 😉
Then follow the crowd. The streets here are wide and open, and you’ll spot the Chateau in no time.
I planned the route with Google Maps and the free (and wonderful) Next Stop Paris app. I highly recommend this app – it’s the official transit app of Paris, is completely free, and works offline! Just make sure you download the offline data before going off the grid.
Built by the Sun King Louis XIV, the beloved French monarch who could do no wrong, the Palace of Versailles boasts beautiful architecture and gardens fit for Gods. He viewed himself as a God, and his people didn’t argue. There are several instances in the Palace of Versailles where this is evident.
Equipped with our pre-purchased passports (18-25 Euros each), we entered the magical palace.
Be sure to grab a complimentary Audio Guide, which is super nifty in understanding what you’re looking at. The narration was clear, concise, and very interesting. You can find them beyond the main gates, on the way into the Palace. There is really only one path to follow, so don’t worry about getting lost.
We entered an exhibition area displaying portraits of Versailles’ progress, a few royal portraits, and a video of Versailles projected on the walls. Here is a large portrait of what the Palace of Versailles looked like in its heyday. Oh, what it’s like to be King!
The Royal Chapel, probably the only semblance of Christianity at the Palace. Versailles celebrates Man (i.e. Louis XIV), and this is also where others worshipped Louis XIV while he worshipped God. This is also where young Louis XVI married Marie-Antoinette.
Enter the Hercules Drawing Room, where the balls, suppers and receptions were held. On the ceiling you will find Hercules (club in hand) rushing to heaven on his chariot, late for his wedding to the king of the gods’ daughter. This mirrors real life, as Louis XIV built this room for his daughter’s wedding reception (hence implying he is a god).
Pictured on the right: Hercules rushing up to heaven.
The Mercury Room is where the Sun King held his “bedtime rituals”. Louis XIV was viewed as the perfect human, and so his wake-up, bedtime and meals were all public events. Here, the nobles would watch the King rise and shine, and at bedtime they would scramble for the privilege of holding the candle. This isn’t his actual bedroom, though.
Enter the Hall of Mirrors, the first of its kind when it was opened. Mirrors were a great luxury, so of course the Sun King needed a room full of them! The hall is 250 feet long, with 17 arched mirrors matched with 17 windows that open into a phenomenal view of the Gardens. There used to be two large carpets mirroring the ceiling artwork.
At the end of the Hall of Mirrors was an strikingly modern art piece. Can you spot my sister and myself in the middle ring?
At the end of the tour you’ll find this room, along with a small exhibition space with beautiful paintings. Then it’s onward to the Gardens!!
The Gardens are usually free, but the Musical Gardens show was going on when we visited that Tuesday, so they weren’t free. Good thing we’d bought a Passport, which gave us access to every part of the Palace of Versailles for 25 Euros, so while other tourists debated whether they should pay for Gardens access or not, we traipsed on through. I highly recommend visiting the Gardens either way – they’re a large part of the Versailles experience!
My favorite part of the Gardens was definitely the Orangerie, a gorgeous space the King built to flaunt his wealth and power. Orange trees don’t usually grow in France, so he had them shipped over in tubs, and they decorated the gardens during warm season. In winter, the orange trees were wheeled inside. I loved the spiral design. Everything about Versailles reminded me of my favorite scene in Disney’s Hercules, where Meg sings I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) in a gorgeous garden.
Pictured above is the Royal Drive, or “The Green Carpet.” Beyond that is the Grand Canal, in which you can row a boat if you can spare the change.
Apollo and his sister Diana stand on the top of the Latona fountain with their unwed mother, Latona. Latona was insulted by the locals, so she called on Zeus – the children’s father – to avenge her. Zeus did exactly that by turning all the peasants into the frogs and lizards that ring the fountain. Love this story!
And the large green space? Those are the Groves – trees from all around the world, laid out in a grid and dotted with statues and fountains. They’re HUGE. If you’re interested in exploring all of the Gardens + Palace + Grand and Petit Trianon, make sure you arrive just when the Palace opens, because we arrived at about 9.30am and had just enough time to see everything before the Palace closed at 6pm.
As part of the Musical Fountains show, there was a really tall tower in the middle of the lake. Water spewed from the top and cascaded down in a waterfall at intervals, as tourists rowed on the tranquil lake. You can also see the Apollo Fountain here.
Petit Trianon and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette
It was a 30-minute walk from the main palace to the Petit Trianon/Grand Trianon. We visited the Petit Trianon first. The Petit Trianon has a more idyllic, countryside feel than the rest of the palace.
The Petit Trianon was built so Louis XV could spend more time near the Gardens, and also as a private residence for himself and his then-mistress Madame de Pompadour. It later became home to his next mistress Madame du Barry. In 1774, Louis XVI gave it to Marie-Antoinette. The main house is free to visit, and the attic and entresol are viewable by guided tour.
Pictured below is the Temple of Love – 12 marble Corinthian columns supporting a dome, with a statue of Cupid making a bow. This was significant in a society where only the rich could afford the luxury of romantic love.
As a hopeless romantic, I couldn’t help but linger around the temple for a bit.
The Hamlet was constructed because Marie-Antoinette longed for a fairytale countryside life, without the hard farm labor of course! So she constructed a real, working farm, and hired farmers to work on the land. This farm still exists today, and you will find vegetable farms and farm animals here!
I can definitely see the why Marie-Antoinette built this place. If you don’t have to deal with the hard labor/starvation that comes with typical farm life, the countryside is really quite beautiful.
We got a little lost in the Hamlets, but eventually found our way to Marie-Antoinette’s estate with the help of the official map.
This is where Marie Antoinette lived. You didn’t think she was going to live in a thatched cottage, did you? 🙂
Her place came with a billiard room and was decorated by her portrait and bust. The royals can be a little… narcissistic. It also has a library, dining hall, and two living rooms. No thatched roof here.
We then made our way to the Grand Trianon, but on the way we stumbled upon the French Pavilion, a small building where Marie-Antoinette spent leisurely summer evenings with family and friends.
My favorite gardens were those of the Grand Trianon. A menagerie of flowers added gorgeous bursts of color, and it was more peaceful than the main palace. This is where Louis XIV found escape from the politics, etiquette and scrutiny of court officials.
As you can see, it was an extremely cloudy day. Consider yourself blessed if you arrive on a clear day!
The Grand Trianon is open to tour, and you’ll find drawing rooms, galleries, and various small exhibits.
With aching feet, we made the 30-minute walk back to the main palace. That is not to say we didn’t appreciate the Gardens on the way back. In fact, we popped into one of the Groves to see what the Musical fountains event was all about. I guess they open the gates to the numerous fountains during this event, and at certain times of day these fountains come to life.
At the end of the day, the sun finally peeked through the clouds and blessed our photos with more color.
Admission: 18–25 Euros for a Versailles Passport that grants access to the entire estate (recommended) and includes an audioguide for the main Palace (it’s more expensive on Spectacle days).
Alternatively, if you’ll be visiting other museums in Paris, consider the Paris Museum Pass (48E for 2 days, 62 for 4 days, 74 for 6 days). Admission is free for visitors under 18, or EU residents under 26 (lucky ducks!), or disabled persons and people accompanying them.
Peak Season: Avoid Sundays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays if you can, as these days are when the Palace is most packed. (We were forced to visit on Tuesday due to our short itinerary in Paris.)
Guides: I relied heavily on Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook to familarize myself with the palace prior to arrival. I highly recommend reading it before your trip! It includes a thorough walking tour of the entire estate (and the rest of Paris!). Pick up a physical map of the estate upon entry so you know where you’re going. Click here for the virtual version of the official map.
Also download the free Versailles official apps before arrival. We had no 3G access and so weren’t able to use these tremendous resources.
Food: We popped into a small cafe at the main Palace and chowed down on sandwiches in the dining halls prior to exploring the Gardens. The prices are reasonable (4-8 Euros each) and you’ll definitely need the energy!
Versailles is a culture-buff and photographer’s haven. Even if you’re neither of those, this royal palace and extravagant gardens will wow anyone. It was definitely one of the highlights of our 2-week Europe trip and I look forward to coming back with a higher quality camera! The above photos were taken with my iPhone 6 Plus and my sister’s iPhone 6S.
This concluded our short 2-day trip in Paris. At night we caught the last Eurostar train to London and said hello at long last to the United Kingdom!
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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime! (And here’s to many more!)
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