Versailles: Hobnobbing with (Past) Royalty

Versailles is one of those historically significant places. The first time I heard of it was at 14, a student learning of world history and the eponymous Treaty that was the fallout of the first World War. At the time, I was too young to really understand what it meant, but the name tickled me. Versailles. Ver-suy. Fast forward over a decade later, as we’re planning our trip to France, and I receive many recommendations to visit the Château. And so, we went!

Getting to Versailles from Paris

Inside the RER C. The train is decorated with photos of Versailles.

Inside the RER C. The train is decorated with photos of Versailles.

Paris and its surroundings are easily navigable by train and metro. We were based in the Bastille area, so we took the metro line 5 to Gare d’Austerlitz and from there, the RER C was a straight shot to Versailles. It took about an hour, but it was a bright, beautiful Sunday, there was plenty of seating on the train (at least at Gare d’Austerlitz; the train filled up eventually), and the views outside the window were pleasant and intriguing.

Here’s a Metro map for you; Versailles is on the bottom left corner of the map, reachable through RER C (the yellow-orange line). If your hotel is near an RER C stop, awesome, no need to take the Metro. Otherwise, just find the quickest way to connect.

Versailles Admission Cost

This part is complicated. The Versailles estate covers more than 2,000 acres, and most of that is outside the Palace itself. There are basically three different areas that you might want to see: the Palace itself, the Gardens and Fountains, and the Trianon Palaces/Marie-Antoinette’s Estate.

There are various combinations of these, all of which can be found on the official Versailles website. It gets even more complex when you consider the dates when Fountain Shows are available, and the various people who can receive free or discounted admission. Below I’ll detail the best options (in my opinion) for the typical visitor who does not qualify for any discounts. I strongly advise checking the Versailles site to see if you can see the Fountain Shows on the day of your visit, as they are a large part of the Versailles experience.

  • The Passport, 18 EUR for 1 day, but 25 EUR if you include the Musical Gardens and Fountains. This is the all-inclusive pass, with entrance to all 3 areas, and may be the simplest thing to do. You also get a free audio guide for your Palace tour. If you’ve dedicated 2 days to Versailles, it’s 25 EUR for just the Palace and Trianon/Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, and 30 EUR to include the Musical Gardens and Fountains.
  • The Palace, 15 EUR. Just the Palace. Audio guide included. If you only have time for one thing at Versailles, this is what you must do.
  • Musical Fountains/Gardens, 9 EUR. I include this separately because you may have separate access to the Palace, for example if you have the Paris Museum Pass.

The Château de Versailles

The actual palace is huge. Construction began in 1623 at Louis XIII’s behest, but it was a mere hunting lodge then. Louis XIV decided to make it into a royal palace, and eventually the royal court in France. Much of the opulence and drama of Versailles is thanks to Louis XIV.

The daily events at Versailles at the time of the monarchy were pretty fascinating. Louis XIV and his successors used the courtly intrigue and politics to keep the nobles occupied. This meant that the King’s power became absolute, and the nobles didn’t have time to focus on gaining too much power in their own domains.

The Palace has a chapel, ballrooms, some very fancy bedrooms, and an Opera. There’s a lot of gilding, crystal, and paintings. It would probably have been really awesome to see the Palace in its heyday, with all the antique furniture and the impeccably dressed nobles parading in and out of the complex.

The Gardens and Fountains of Versailles

As I mentioned above, the palace grounds occupy a LOT of land. Here’s an interactive map, and here is a list of all the fountains. The Gardens were as carefully constructed as the Palace itself. There are various little nooks, some amazing fountains with different themes, and a couple of snack bars. Some of the fountains perform in time to music. Here are some of the highlights.

  • The Latona Fountain is the first fountain you see when you exit the palace to the gardens. You can gaze across it all the way down to the edge of the grounds, to the Grand Canal, and the view is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, during our visit, it was under repair.
  • The Fountain of Apollo is the other main fountain along the east axis, located directly in front of the Grand Canal. It shows Apollo rising out of the sea in his chariot.
  • The Neptune Fountain is the largest of the fountains in Versailles. It has 99 jets of water, and is typically where the grandest fountain shows are held, complete with fireworks in the summer nights.
  • The Grand Canal is about a mile long and stretches to the edge of Versailles. It was originally a setting for boat parties. You too can rent a boat for 12 EUR/half hour or 16 EUR/hour.

Versailles is a lovely palace complex and makes for a lovely day. Imagine royalty moving around the Palace, or sailing gondolas in the Grand Canal. Sit on the grass by the Mirror Fountain, watching the water move to the music. Amble through the garden paths with a gelato, or watch children play by the Fountain of Apollo. There are a lot of activities that may strike your fancy. Just make sure to wear sturdy shoes!

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