The Palace of Versailles is one of the most visited destinations in France, welcoming over 10 million people every year! Here, we’ll explore a little bit of the history behind this famous royal residence, as well as some of the most notable attractions to visit while touring the Palace.
The Palace of Versailles has surprisingly modest beginnings. In 1623, King Louis XIII was in need of country getaway. OK, to be fair, he already had a few ‘country getaways’. He commissioned the construction of a hunting lodge on what is now the site of the palace. Situated 16 km south-east of Paris, it was far enough away to be remote, yet close enough to easily return to the capital if needed.
Also known as the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV is one of France’s most prolific kings! The Versailles we know today was his grand vision. Louis wanted to show the rest of the world the might and grandeur of France. What better way than through art, architecture and amazing parties? He also wanted a ‘modern’ palace, and eventually moved his power base from the Louvre in Paris to Versailles. Louis XIV forced all of his nobles and government officials to move in as well. Cozy!
Though there were modest updates to the ‘hunting lodge’, which began in 1661, it wasn’t until 1664 that the great plan was put into place. Louis XIV was heavily involved in the design process, the Hall of Mirrors, The Great Canal, the many fountains and groves, and most importantly the gardens, were his conception. OK, he might have had a little help along the way…
The gardens were as important to Louis XIV as the palace itself! He collaborated with André Le Nôtre, famed landscape architect and Chief Gardener to the King. It took over 40 years before the gardens reached the level of perfection Louis was after. A labour of love, it was all in the name of the ‘grand perspective’ (the direct line from the Hall of Mirrors out onto the canal where the sun rises) and to the grandeur of Louis XIV.
Also, Louis loved oranges! He enjoyed both the taste and the smell of oranges. In 1663, the Orangerie was added to Versailles. Orange trees were put in planters so they could be brought outside when the weather was warm, then brought back inside when it turned colder. The building directly across from the Orangerie gardens has such thick walls that it would keep the temperature warmer in the winter months.
Hot tip: If you’re not up for strolling the expansive grounds, or have mobility concerns, the Palace rents golf carts! But beware, if you drive off the main grounds, ie. where you shouldn’t, your golf cart will automatically turn off.
Both the Petit and Grand Trianons are palaces unto themselves, though compared to the splendour of Versailles, they seem like little cottages…almost!
The Grand Trianon was built in 1687, in order for Louis XIV to get away from the pressures of life at court. Fun fact, Napoleon I’s mother lived there for a time. The Petit Trianon was built in 1758, under the reign of Louis XV. Later, it was gifted to the ill-fated Queen Marie-Antoinette by her equally ill-fated husband, King Louis XVI.
We highly recommend purchasing your ticket in advance! Just to be safe, print your tickets out as well. Please be advised that tickets to visit the inside of the Palace, and Garden tickets can be bought separately or as a package. Also, there are timed entries into the Palace.
Traveling to Versailles:
Important to note, the Porte de Versailles and the town of Versailles are two very different things! The RER C train line goes directly to the town of Versailles. Conveniently, it is the final stop on the line.
Eating at Versailles:
There are several dining options on the grounds of the Palace that fit every budget, though it ranges on the pricier side of things. Other options include bringing your own food to picnic on the grounds, or eating in the town of Versailles.
While it is possible to hire a private guide through the Palace itself, you can also book one through one of Paris’ many guided tour companies! Why not enhance your experience with a knowledgeable guide? What is history but artful storytelling? Guess it depends on who’s telling the story…
Interesting fact: Anyone can lead a guided tour through the Gardens of Versailles, however only licensed guides can take you through the Palace. Licensed guides have an intensive education on French history, and are certified by the French government.
For more information on ticket packages, and the Palace itself, try here.
If traveling to Versailles isn’t for you, and you would rather stay in Paris, we’ve got you covered! Please check out our Local’s Guide to Paris.