Visiting Versailles Palace On the Outskirts of Paris, France

Versailles Palace, located in the western suburbs of Paris, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France. I’m not often a fan of such iconic tourism sites, as they’re often overrated and offer little opportunity to truly experience local culture. But visiting Versailles falls into an entirely different category, as it has figured prominently in so many historic events. The Treaty of Paris, in which France pledged to help the United States fight the Revolutionary War, was signed here in 1763. Versailles also figured prominently in the French Revolution. It was from this palace that Marie Antoinette supposedly declared, “Let them eat cake,” and from which Louis XVI was sent to the guillotine. Chocolate, which we take for granted today, was popularized at Versailles during the reigns of Louis VIII, XIV, and XV, all of whom believed it to be an aphrodisiac. I particularly wanted to see the Hall of Mirrors, site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, and the magnificent gardens designed by Louis XIV.

Gold ornamentation of Versailles Palace glows in the early morning sun
Gold ornamentation of Versailles Palace glows in the early morning sun

Of course, it is always an option to take one of the many day trips offered by local tour operators. However, since I dislike being tied to a strict schedule, I usually prefer to make my own arrangements. With the help ofย  this article about how to plan day trips from Paris to Versailles, I was able to travel independently and spend as much time as I wanted exploring Chateau de Versailles. In an effort to avoid the mob that descends upon the palace every weekend, I opted to visit Versailles on a Tuesday. Even so, the crowds were suffocating. Shoulder-to-shoulder, I shuffled from one opulent room to another, stopping whenever the throngs parted enough to capture a decent photo. After what seemed like hours I finally reached the Hall of Mirrors. Though somewhat smaller than I expected, it did not disappoint. Seventeen mirror-clad arches reflected floor-to-ceiling windows on the opposite wall and the gardens beyond. This was the room used by Louis XIV to demonstrate his power; the long walk down the gallery, leading past priceless mirrors, statuary and crystal chandeliers on the way to his raised throne, never failed to impress. Today the sight is no less affecting. I stood in open-mouthed awe, trying to fully grasp the historical events that had been hosted in this chamber over the past 334 years.

Photo gallery of the interior of Versailles Palace:

Can’t view the above photo gallery of the interior of Versailles Palace in Paris, France? Click here.

Unable to tolerate the crowds for one more minute, I fled to the palace’s meticulously manicured gardens. Though more than six million people visit each year, the groves are so extensive that a bit of serenity can be found, even on the busiest of days. I strolled down the wide central promenade known as the Great Perspective, enjoying classical melodies broadcast from speakers tucked in among the greenery. My delight was short lived, however. At the end of the walkway I stopped in front of the Fountain of Apollo’s Chariot, waiting for jets of water to spout from the mouths of half-submerged stone fish and churn up under the hooves of trampling horses. Fifteen minutes later the basin was still glassy so I sought out an employee and asked about the schedule.

Our fountains are only activated on weekends and public holidays. On Tuesdays we play the music,” she explained. “Today is our Musical Gardens day.

Photo gallery of the gardens at Versailles Palace:

Can’t view the above photo gallery of the gardens at Versailles Palace in Paris, France? Click here.

I was crestfallen. For the next few hours I explored maze-like paths, many of which led to elaborate fountains. The weather was perfect, the music was soothing, and the 2,000 acre grounds were so large that many of the groves were totally deserted, but my disappointment grew with each silent fountain. The Ballroom, a semi-circular arena of stone steps over which water is designed to flow, was the ultimate letdown. Undoubtedly beautiful when operating, in its dry state the fountain was uninspiring, if not downright ugly. I finally called it a day and headed back to the train station, wishing I’d chosen to visit Versailles on the weekend, despite the crowds .

Visiting Versailles Palace On the Outskirts of Paris, France

38 thoughts on “Visiting Versailles Palace On the Outskirts of Paris, France”

  1. ID LIKE TO SEE WHAT ITS LIKE TO WORK IN THE ARCHIVES DEPARTMENT,STABLES OR JUST THE ATTIC OR MAIDS QUARTERS SOMETHING SO BEHIND THE SCENES . IN
    WW2 WHO PROTECTED VERSAILLE?

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  2. Not a helpful comment in the lot. When (not what day of the week ( e.g., “Tuesday afternoon”) but month or week or exact time of year) will we find the Spring gardens leafed out and beautiful. Can you help?

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    • Hello Dr. Savage: I’m afraid I can’t help. I have been there only the one time, so my experience is limited. You might try Googling your question; I’m sure some local has opined about this subject.

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  3. Our visit to Versailles was many years ago in March, so we also missed out on the true beauty of the gardens and fountains. We are planning to visit once again this year and will brave the crowds on a Saturday in May to get the full experience. My camera is ready, I just have to prep for the crowd.

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    • Unfortunately, that’s all you can do, Tom. However some have suggested skipping the palace and doing the gardens first, then returning to the palace in the afternoon when most of the traffic is in the gardens. Sounds like it might be worth a try.

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  4. I visited once in belting snow and though slightly less crowded, there were still lots of people there. The beauty of some of the rooms is staggering but it is a bit like sheep herding in feel.

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    • Hi Celeste: I went in late October last year. I now know the information is on their website (afterwards I went back to the site and did some digging), but it’s pretty well buried (three levels down, assuming you click on the “plan your trip link on the top navigation bar). At first glance you wouldn’t know that the fountains don’t operate every day; there is absolutely nothing about it on their home page nor on their “Plan your Trip”home page. I really felt there should have been much better disclosure.

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  5. I really wanted to make it Versailles last time I was in Paris, but I had so much to see there last time I couldn’t fit in! I saw a really cool tour that leaves from the center of Paris, and you ride Vespas out to Versailles, I’ll probably opt for that one if it’s a nice day.

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  6. Barbara, It seems like opulence and crowds go together wherever you go in the world. The more “money” on display, the more excited people become. I try to enter that into the equation whenever I’m at one of these sites. Put the blinders on and ear plugs in (figuratively speaking) and keep a smile on your face. I don’t see it getting any better any time soon.

    What’s interesting is that my first visit to the Vatican, forty years ago, was quite the opposite of what Lyn T’s (above) was. I remember it to be one of the most crowded places I’d ever been. It could have been the time of year or day of the week, who knows. But when you’re 25, single traveling solo and it’s your first trip to Europe, you see things through quite a different lens.

    Even though I’m sitting on my front deck, no crowds, sunny and quiet, I’m still envious of you and where you are despite the crowds. Keep on taking great pictures and writing great stories, as It’s my form of travel at the moment! Thanks again.

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  7. I enjoyed Versailles when I went in winter, but when I visited during a hot summer, with the crowds, I didn’t find it as enjoyable. However, braving the heat and crowds lets you understand what it was like during the times it was inhabited. The king and royal court would be surrounded with sometimes as many as 10,000 courtiers, servants, petitioners, and hangers-on. In a time without indoor plumbing or frequent bathing. People used the STAIRWAYS as toilets, and it was said the stench from people relieving themselves was almost unbearable.

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  8. Impressive opulence! Thank you for posting the info, great photos, and good to know the fountains won’t be running in March when I am in Paris. This factor will help to decide to go or not, and, the upside is that if I do go, a weekday will be ok if the fountains don’t flow until April anyway.

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  9. I didn’t get to see the fountains running, either, Barbara (I was there on a Wednesday in November, so I didn’t even get the music). And it was bitterly cold that day. Even so, the grounds were pretty impressive. Totally agree about the crowds inside the palace. I wish they would do what they do at Iolani Palace in Honolulu–hand out tickets with a scheduled time that you can enter the palace. Then they could limit the number of people inside at any given time, which would greatly improve the experience for everyone.

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    • What a wonderful idea, Gray. Something definitely needs to be done; as it is now, the tour of the palace is less than enjoyable.

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    • It is a little surreal Turner, especially when you consider this palace is nearly 350 years old, was inhabited by three Kings, and visited by uncountable dignitaries and heads of state over the centuries. It was hard for me to wrap my head around that!

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  10. Eesh, what a shame that your time at Versailles was such a disappointment. It reminds me of when we (er, my family and I) went to the Vatican. When you’re dealing with such an oppressive (hot day = smelly tourists too btw) crowd, it’s hard to find a “travel moment” and enjoy a place for its beauty and historical significance.

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    • Oh gosh, Jen, the Vatican (Sistine Chapel) was even worse! I stood online for three hours under a brutal August sun and, when finally inside, suffered through a two hour circuitous walk, hemmed in on all sides by pushing and shoving tourists. To this day I believe the route was designed to lead us past every gift booth in the place. When I finally arrived at the barrel ceiling that held Michelangelo’s masterpiece, I discovered we were not allowed to take photos. One of the biggest disappointments in all of my travels.

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      • Barb, I feel your pain! I spent a semester studying in Rome when I was in college–40 years ago! We had the Forum to ourselves in the mornings…and I don’t remember the Vatican being crowded. I went back in 2009 and was horrified by the mob scene. I think the only way you can take photos is to sign up for an exclusive private tour (before the Vatican opens to the public). Friends of mine did this in 2011, but I think it cost over 400 euros…not something I’d consider.

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        • $400 Euros???? That would pay for three weeks in a hostel. No way I’d fork out that amount of money for a tour. But I also don’t want to fight the crowds, so I find myself avoiding these overcrowded sites more and more. It’s a shame.

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    • Hi Cristina: I’m still glad I went but just wish I’d known about the fountains. They don’t exactly make it easy to understand on the website. I’ll know better next time.

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  11. I was there in September, 2011. Thanks to my trusty Rick Steves guidebook, I knew the fountains only run April – October during the weekends. And they don’t run all day–only from 11 -12, again at around 3:30, with a finale around 5: 30. This is because there is simply not enough water to keep the fountains operating all day. The fountains have been plagued with this water shortage problem for over 300 years. I went on a Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and surprisingly, not that crowded. It was worth it to see those fountains flowing!

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    • Forgot to say: it’s even more beautiful in the spring and summer, when lots of flowers are blooming, but your photos are stunning anyway!

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    • How interesting Lyn! Had no idea about the water shortage. That certainly puts things in a different light. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Sorry you didn’t have a great experience at Versailles. I visited a couple of years ago and was enchanted. Yes it was crowded but we arrived early in the morning and started our tour with Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet while most of the crowd was in the palace.

    We spent most of our day exploring this enchanting ‘pretend’ village and then after a very short time fighting the crowds in the palace we escaped out to the gardens, had a picnic and people watched. Magical.

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    • Hi Dian: I actually tried to do exactly what you suggested, but they would not let me enter the gardens until after I had gone through the palace. Thought it was a bit weird at the time. I’d go back again just to see the gardens.

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  13. Why can’t they play music AND let the fountains to their thing? Beyond me! I was there forty years ago, and although I don’t remember everything and don’t have such fabulous photos at hand as you have to trigger my memory (well, now I have, thanks to you ;), I wouldn’t go back. Not because it wasn’t worth it – it is – but because it has become an overcrowded place. And I am not dealing well with crowds ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Fida, I am SO with you about the crowds. I get more and more sensitive to big crowds and just can’t stand them for very long, no matter how impressive the attraction or site is.

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  14. I went once in April and once in January. The latter was the least crowded I had seen it. Unfortunately, it had also snowed the week prior, so the gardens were closed. Luckily, I had already seem them before, but I so wanted my son to experience the full expanse of the place.

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    • Hi Talon: The gardens are impressive, even without the fountains working, and I have to confess that I spent the whole day there and still never saw everything, so I have an excuse to return. Net time I’ll just time it better ๐Ÿ™‚

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