The Palace and Park of Versailles have had a large influence on the artistic form of other palaces and gardens in Europe. It is a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy and its court life of the Ancien Régime.
The Palace started out as a small royal hunting lodge. From 1661, King Louis XIV expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world, and moved his court and government to Versailles. Versailles became the unofficial capital where government affairs were conducted during the reigns of the Kings Louis XIV, XV en XVI. It was used intermittently between 1682 and 1789.
After the First World War, Versailles hosted the opening of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Germany was blamed for causing the First World War in the Treaty of Versailles which had to be signed in the same room on 28 June 1919.
Map of VersaillesLoad map
Visited Versailles last week (Summer 2021), and I got the sense that due to COVID crowds were relatively sparse. A mistake on my part led to the happy accident of having the park almost to myself, at least for a few sublime minutes, so I thought I'd share:
I arrived on foot in the morning, having taken the train from Paris to the Versailles-Rive Droit station. (Rive Gauche, which is closer, was closed due to work on the RER.) I thought I'd just intuit my way to the palace, yet somehow I ended up missing the front gates altogether. (Yes, this seems weird to me, too.) I found myself entering through the Grille de la Reine, then backtracking up the Av. de Trianon. Lucky me! I discovered an entrance to the park there -- just on the west side of the Bassin de Neptune -- where a guard scanned my ticket and let me in. Still feeling completely lost -- I still hadn't even caught sight of the palace -- I wandered up through the Bosquet des Trois Fontaines and finally arrived at the gardens behind the palace itself.
There, overlooking the gardens, fountains, and the Grand Canal, I had the completely surreal sense that I was the only person present within the entire palace complex -- It was a wild feeling! Eventually I made my way up to the palace, where a gardener directed me to the front entrance (and the queue to enter.) Only then did I realize that I'd made my way through the back gate, so to speak. Very glad I did, though.
Similarly, there are two ways of going from the Grand Trianon to the Queen's Hamlet; I accidentally took the long route, through the woods (as opposed to the path beside the Petit Trianon), which meant that I approached the pedagogical farm from the far side. Again, this meant that I had about half an hour walking through the park without seeing a single other person. It was lovely, and I'd recommend taking that route either to or from that part of the estate.
Final advice: Before you enter the palace, stop at a boulangerie in town and pick up a sandwich and bottle of water. You'll be glad to have a little picnic, and you won't have to pay as much as if you buy food at one of the garden cafes/restaurants.
Here is a practical tip for those who want to skip the lines, and are not the morning bird type, like myself. Completely serendipitously I discovered that if you book a guided tour from Versailles itself (no third parties) to the king's private apartments, you'll skip all the lines, no matter what day or no matter the size of the line. My wife and I visited on easter weekend (worst timing possible) and were extremely discouraged by the HUGE lines: the entire front square was packed (est. waiting time 2h). We had booked the 'passport' ticket that gives you all access, and for €10 extra the guided tour in the apartments (which you otherwise can't visit). The apartments itself were worth the money, but the best part was for sure when our guide (we had the 12pm slot) walked us past busloads of astonished (and sun-scorched) tourists straight to the front of the line and into the castle. All in all we waited 5 minutes in the airconditioned waiting room for the guided tours (Building on the right side of the entry gates) and never waited a second in line. So to all my dear fellow WHS enthusiasts who happened to plan a Versailles visit (and don't like 8:30am on a holiday) ... you know what to do.
The Palace of Versailles was well known to me from history classes in school, and I found the interior of the palace, and the magnificent Hall of Mirrors in particular, to be as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped when I first visited in the fall of 2003. I was just as enthused to visit the renowned gardens, after having already seen the gardens dubbed the "Russian Versailles" at Peter the Great's Peterhof palace outside St Petersburg. The gardens at Versailles were as expansive and impressive as expected; unfortunately I missed the fountains, which were not scheduled to run on weekdays in the fall. Two years later when I visited Paris again, I made sure to plan a trip to Versailles on a summer weekend to see the fountains running. This time, the gardens were more crowded, but they also seemed more lively as the fountains soared above the basins and ponds throughout the grounds. Although I liked Peterhof's smaller, more intimate sea channel, the Grand Canal at Versailles provided an impressive main avenue with numerous side trails serving smaller gardens and grottoes. The Palace of Versailles is one of the best palaces I've seen in Europe, and I highly recommend timing a visit when the fountains are on full display in the gardens.
Logistics: Versailles can be reached by the RER C rail line from Paris, but it can also be reached via private transportation.
Versailles, the symbol of absolutism and decadence, a highlight of Baroque architecture, and a must-see, even if you are (like me) not very enthusiastic about visiting palaces. Once it was the royal palace of the Sun King Louis XIV and his successors, now it is occupied by the ‘common people’ – tourists, crowds of tourists from all over the world.
To avoid the crowds, we followed the advice of Els with the exception of no. 1: our visit was in early September 2015. Our hotel was in walking distance of the palace and we arrived at the entrance half an hour before opening time. After passing the security check, we went quickly through the first rooms and headed directly to the Hall of Mirrors. For a few minutes we had the gallery almost to ourselves. We only had to share it with the guards, but they readily stepped aside so that I could take photos of the deserted hall. Then we visited the other rooms, first the apartment of the king and the rooms in the Queen's wing. Again, we were almost alone in the rooms, but when we went back to the first rooms for a second and closer look, it was hardly possible to get through the oncoming crowds. Each room was crammed with visitors, so we gave up and left the interior. I agree with other reviewers that the Hall of Mirrors is the highlight of the palace. The rest is more or less the usual sequence of rooms, certainly larger and more luxurious than elsewhere, but nothing special.
We spent the remaining day in the Gardens of Versailles. The park has an enormous size, it is more than three kilometres from the palace to the end of the Grand Canal. We walked about two thirds of the distance along the channel, here you find only a few tourists, no large tour groups, only some cyclists and strollers, no trace of the hustle and bustle at the palace.
But even if you don't want to hike so far, you can spend hours exploring all the fountains and other small architecture in the French Garden. I liked best the Enceladus Grove, the fountain depicts the fallen giant sinking in volcanic lava. Also remarkable are the Ballroom and the Colonnade Grove.
The cherry on the cake was the temporary exhibition by Anish Kapoor, one of my favourite contemporary artist. Five installations were shown in the gardens and a sixth in the nearby Salle du Jeu de Paume. The photo shows the "Sky Mirror" in the foreground.
Nothing particularly fascinating about Versailles with the exception of two specific elements. Firstly, the Royal Chapel is stunning. Surprisingly, during my visit it was all but deserted. Secondly, the vast garden which has some extraordinary portions which plainly stated, is a truly beautiful landscape. The Hall of Mirrors while stunning is often far too busy.
If I returned I would spend almost my entire time exploring and photographing these two elements of Versailles. The main portions of the palace, while the prototype of countless European Palaces, is rather stark.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
I visited this WHS in August 2012 by car. I went there early and bought the tickets online to avoid long queues. There still was quite a queue already at 08.30 although the palace opens at 09.00. I explored the royal courtyards and gates before entering the historic palace. The Hall of Mirrors and the Queen's Bedchamber were the highlights of the Palace although crowded. However, the highlight of this WHS for me are the enormous gardens with fountains and the canal. I walked to the Petit and Grand Trianon and visited both together with Marie Antoinette's Estate and the Queen's Hamlet away from the crowds. Very peaceful to walk around and interesting monuments (such as the Temple of Love).
I think I found the clues to beat the crowds here at Versailles:
- visit in the low season
- book your ticket beforehand on the internet and print it
- stay overnight in the pleasant town of Versailles
- be at the gate a little before opening time (9 a.m.)
- go fast at the first rooms (to shake off other early birds)
I just did all that on a Sunday morning in December. There were about 40 people waiting at the gate at 9 a.m., including a Chinese tour group. I beat them all at the start, was the first to go in that day and had the rooms almost to myself.
The gardens open already at 8 a.m., and I wandered around them a bit before visiting the interior. It was quite foggy, but that gave an extra mysterious touch to the surroundings. The grounds were still muddy and slippery from the heavy snowfall that had struck the Paris region last Wednesday (and even caused the Palace to close for half a day). A large golden sculpture by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami attracts a lot of attention at the moment. It is part of a temporary exhibition, his works are also in the interior of the palace.
What did I think of my visit? The bottom line of all the other reviews below I found to be true: the Hall of Mirrors and the Gardens are the most memorable parts. I had visited the Castle of Fontainebleau the day before, and I enjoyed its interior more than Versailles. The latter is better on the exterior and the gardens (it's quite a hike to get to the Grand Trianon for example). The walk through the apartments in Versailles gets a bit tedious, rooms aren't as bright and interesting as in Fontainebleau, and I found the audio guide too boring to listen to. But maybe 2 European castles in 2 days is too much to bear...
I am not a big fan of Palaces, however Versailles made it on to my list of visited sites for perhaps being the premium example of the European Royal Palace, it is the point of reference for all the grand residences on the continent and beyond, and I am pretty sure that if the WH list was just an exclusive list of the best example of certain types of building, this would be the one that would be inscribed.
The palace is the absolute height of Monarchical absolutism and Baroque decadence. This was essentially the seat of French government until the revolution, as Louis XIV proclaimed 'L'Etat, c'est moi' (I am the state). Every wall ceiling and floor space seems to be crammed with decoration (I must admit to not being in the best shape to view this as we were hit by a particularly dizzying bout of seasickness whilst in the royal apartments).
The Hall of Mirrors (pictured) was pretty astounding, even if only half is currently visible, as there were very impressive restoration works whilst we visited. This is also where the famous Versailles Treaty of 1919 was signed, one of the most important moments in modern European History. The royal apartments were the usual parade of bed chambers and anti rooms with paintings of princes walking their favourite dogs. The Battle Gallery is an impressive pictorial account of French military victories.
The grounds were massive and well worth spending a few hours walking around. We visited in winter so the fountains were offm the statues covered and the trees bare, but it was still a pleasant way to spend our time and entry was free. I was also quite surprised to find that the surrounding town was also very well planned and much in keeping with the Palace itself perhaps worth exploring.
Versailles is easy to reach from central Paris especially by rail. I am sure the site is always busy as it was on a Thursday in February but it is defiantly worth a visit and I am pleased that I have seen it but it is not a site I think I could even grow to love.
Versailles is the model after which most European royal palaces were modeled, from Schönbrunn to Caserta and Drottningholm, but none quite matches its splendour and simple greatness. It is just vast in every respect, including the gardens that are about the size of Liechtenstein. The interior is just as impressive as the exterior, and its opulence and ornateness are hard to describe. Versailles is so well known that it is on almost every tourist's trail, and it shows. I was there twice, once in June and once in October, and both times the number of visitors was just incredible. So to experience Versailles at some amount of solitude, you probably have to come one early February morning, but nonetheless Versailles is a must-see, even with tens of thousands of other people sharing your visit.
This is truly worth the visit, and still costs a very reasonable amount. EUR9 at the time of writing for the palace and its gardens.
You can reach there using the metro, the stop is the last one on that line, Versailles Rive Gauche (now, maps conveniently state "Chateau de Versailles"). Do not get off on the earlier halt, also called Rive Gauche.
The Chateau is only a very short walk. Just turn right from the main entrance from the station and then turn left. You will see the walk up to the palace. There are souvenir shops on both sides of the street.
The palace grounds and gardens are awe-inspiring. You can spend a week here, but I had about 6 hours. Be sure to rest occasionally, or better use the mini-trains if you are not used to walking. The length of the tour is supposed to be 5km. The gardens seem to stretch as far as the eye can see, with lakes and ponds with little boats on them. There are innumerable bronze fountains in the gardens if you walk in any direction, several large sculptured fountains in the walk directly facing the rear of the palace proper. This is one of the most awesome palaces I have ever been to, only Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany may be slightly bigger in area if you take the new palace and the whole park into account.
The state rooms themselves are gilded and very ornate with quite a lot of Louis XIV furniture, but perhaps not as ornately as say, Windsor Castle's restored wing and Schönbrunn in Vienna. The rooms are also always very crowded and you can keep bumping into people taking photographs if you are not careful.
There is a war gallery, which has art depicting great French battles from the 5th Century to the 19th. Be sure to spend some time in studying these giant canvasses. They are as interesting as those in the Louvre in central Paris and the Getty in L.A.
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