My first visit to the Palace of Versailles did not go well. In fact, any time someone asks 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 get better as I wandered around the estate, overwhelmed by its size. No wonder my memories are less than stellar! But when I took the time to revisit this mythical 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 location.
When to visit the Palace of Versailles
the Castle of Versailles is open from April to October from 9am to 6.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday (Sundays it closes 30 minutes earlier). From November to March, it closes at 5:30 p.m. The palace is closed on Mondays, and for this reason it tends to be busier on Sundays and Tuesdays (when many Parisian museums are closed). In my experience, Thursdays are the best days to visit.
The gardens, open until 8:30 p.m. from April to October but closed at 6 p.m. off season, are one of the most popular attractions at the Palace of Versailles. Although there are many attractive things to see in gardens in winter, they are certainly at their best between late spring and early fall.
How to get to the Palace of Versailles
Versailles is about 15 miles west of Paris. There are several options to get there.
A taxi ride to the Palace of Versailles takes between 15 and 20 minutes and costs between $45 and $60. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s the fastest and most flexible. If you can get a few travel partners together to share the ride, the price ends up being much more reasonable.
From Saint Michel-Notre Dame station, you can take the RER C for around $8. Trains leave approximately every 30 minutes and the journey takes 37 minutes. Once the train arrives at Versailles Rive Gauche station, it’s an 11-minute walk (or very quick taxi ride) to the main entrance to the chateau.
There are many travel agencies that offer trips to the Palace of Versailles.
On the plus side, they take care of all your transportation needs and offer all-inclusive rates that include admission and possibly a guided tour. Some even combine a visit to Versailles with a stop in Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny.
On the other hand, the quality of guided tours can vary considerably from company to company. And you travel on their schedule, not yours. Before booking, 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 for free (except on days when there are fountain shows). the Coaches Gallery is also free on opening days of the Palace of Versailles.
The Palace of Versailles itself is also free for certain people: everyone under 18, residents of the European Union under 26, French teachers and people with disabilities (and their carers ). During low season, which runs from November to March, the entire estate is free to visit on the first Sunday of the month.
Alas, for all others, admission fees apply. The palace ticket costs 16 euros and includes access to the palace, an audio guide and any temporary exhibitions that may take place.
Guests who have already visited the palace itself will find the Estate of Trianon ticket to be good value. For 12 euros you can visit the Domaine de Trianon, the beloved wooded refuge of Marie Antoniette. This ticket includes all temporary exhibitions that may take place at the estate. However, it does not include admission to the palace.
The Passport Ticket includes all the attractions included in the Château Ticket and the Trianon Estate Ticket. It costs 20 euros, or 27 euros if you choose to add the musical shows in the gardens (if 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 whole property in one day seems like too much, you can buy a two-day passport ticket from 25 euros.
At 10 euros, the guided tour is exceptional value. It takes you through parts of the palace that are normally closed to the public. Visitors can choose from two thematic guided tours (“Louis XIV at Versailles” and “Versailles Splendide”), both bookable 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 hectares of gardens and parks and 50 fountains. No wonder I didn’t feel well on my first visit — my head is spinning now just thinking about it!
Suffice it to say that the majority of visitors only see a fraction of the domain. If you’re hoping to take it all in, you can hire an electric shuttle, rent a bike or boat, or hop on the scenic shuttle train (which costs 7.50 euros – the best deal of all, in my opinion).
Whether you’re trying to take in the whole area or just the highlights, here are some activities you shouldn’t miss.
See the palace
If you are visiting the Palace of Versailles for the first time, head straight to the spectacular palace itself! This is where the famous Hall of Mirrors, the King’s private chambers and the Royal Chapel are located.
The restoration effort of the palace is ongoing and breathtaking. After the French Revolution, all furniture and fixtures were auctioned off. The process of finding these priceless antiques and repurchasing them was expensive and laborious. The audio guides available, included in the price of admission, will help you understand it all.
Visit the Refuge of Marie Antionette
The Trianon palaces are cozy woodland getaways where the unfortunate 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 in the afternoons and you should set aside 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 are wonderful to visit any time of the year, but they really come alive during the Musical Fountain Shows, which take place from April to November on Saturdays and Sundays. During the summer months, a fountain show takes place every Saturday evening. There are many additional dates; see the palace Event calendar to take advantage of this special programming.
Exercise (No, really!)
The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful green space, and joggers love it. It is also very popular as a cycling location and you can hire bikes locally. Tai chi is practiced in different parts of the park, and rowers hire boats to do their swims (in fact, Olympic medalists train here!). Road races, triathlons and equestrian events also take place in the gardens. You will be able to find out more about the sporting history of the estate and the various activities on offer here.
Want to enjoy more of Paris off the beaten track? Discover these hidden gems, charming boutiques, surprising things to do and lesser-known churches in the city.