Versailles is an immense art piece. Everything currently on the 2,000-acre estate was thought out, designed, and built meticulously over 100 years (1683-1785) to become the outstanding place it is today. And although every single nook and cranny of the estate, from the furniture in the palace to the groves and paths in the gardens, is worth seeing, you probably only have a limited amount of time in your hands. That’s why we’ve asked French art historian and architecture expert Dorian Dallongeville to give us the lowdown on how to make the best out of your day in Versailles.
Dorian Dallongeville started studying Art History in high school when he was 16 years old. He made the discipline his major at the University of Nantes, France, for one year and then attended the Ecole du Louvre for four years where he graduated in 2009. Dallongeville’s area of expertise is architecture between the end of the Middle Ages (1492) and the French Revolution (1789). Dallongeville was the senior curator at French Lines for eight years. He’s currently training to become a civil servant.
Before you go: the #1 piece of advice for visiting Versailles
The estate is huge, the crowds are massive, and security is very high, all of which translates into very long lines at the entrance, so you need to come to Versailles prepared.
Buy a “passport with timed entry” online before your visit. Dallongeville explains that if you don’t you will spend hours in line outside to get in.
The “passport with timed entry” will give you access to the whole estate (which is exactly what you want) and guarantees entry within half an hour of the selected time. We recommend that you splurge a little and choose the option that includes the amazing Musical Fountain Shows and the Musical Gardens — just make sure they are happening on the day of your visit before you purchase your ticket
This ticket also includes an audio guide, but we strongly suggest that you download the free app on your phone or tablet before your visit instead of waiting at the audio guide desk. It includes the audio guide tour of the palace and an interactive map of the estate. It can be used without an internet connection.
The best times to visit Versailles
Versailles is gorgeous all year round, but because the gardens are just as important and beautiful as the palace, we suggest you visit in June when the blossoms are out, the big events are on, and the crowds are still manageable. (July and August are the busiest months of the year.)
Visiting in winter can be magical, especially if there is snow, but you’d be missing out on the spots that make Versailles the amazing estate that it is, i.e. many of the sculptures in the gardens may be covered, the Orangery will be closed, etc.
Plan to spend the entire day visiting the estate, so come before opening time (9:00 AM) and leave at closing time (5:30 PM) — you won’t regret it.
To maximize your time in Versailles, visit the estate during the day and take part in one of the events organized in the evenings. Check out the program of the events and schedule your visit accordingly. There are incredible concerts, operas, plays, ballets, art exhibits, masked balls, fireworks displays, and more that take place within the palace or the gardens — not your run-of-the-mill venue. Dallongeville insists that the icing on the cake after a visit to the estate is attending one of the night fountain shows. They are mind-blowingly beautiful, but they only take place every Saturday and Sunday in the summer months, so plan ahead.
How to get to Versailles
Versailles is a town outside of the city of Paris. It’s a quick one-hour train ride, but be organized and arrive at the entrance before opening time with your “passport with timed entry” all ready to be presented to the staff.
There are three train stations in the town of Versailles. Hop in the RER C train in Paris to arrive at the train station Versailles Rive Gauche, which is the closest to the estate (10 minutes on foot). It is the last train station on the line, so you’re sure to not miss your stop.
The estate is huge and filled with amazing stuff to check out. Dallongeville suggests that you don’t book a guided tour and use the audio guide and map available on the free Palace of Versailles mobile app to visit the at your own pace, so you’re not stuck inside on a visit of the King’s State Apartments (which are stunning, by the way) when you just want to be enjoying the break in the weather to roam the beautiful gardens.
How to organize your visit
Refer to the map of the estate to plan your visit.
All visitors arrive to Versailles through the main entrance gate (Grille d’Honneur) and walk across the Courtyard of Honour to reach the ticketing desks and security check. Once done with the entry requirements, don’t rush inside the palace. Instead, take the time to walk the Royal Courtyard, followed by the Marble Courtyard, and admire the facade of the palace — it’s pretty swanky.
Dallongeville highly recommends that visitors start with the palace where the royal families of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI lived from 1682 to the French Revolution. It is less crowded inside at 9:00 AM than it is at 11:00 AM, so get cracking with the lavishly decorated and furnished Private Apartments, including the underrated but gorgeous Mistresses’ Apartments (that’s right) and Louis XV’s daughters’ Apartments. The Royal Chapel, Royal Opera House, State Apartments, and Hall of Mirrors are also not to be missed. Finish off your morning with the Gallery of the Great Battles, which is sumptuous. This visit should take between 90 minutes and two hours. When you’re done, head outside to the gardens.
Once outside, don’t get sucked into the magnificent perspective — going straight down the steps to the Latona fountain and parterre and down the green carpet towards the Grand Canal is a rookie mistake. Instead, spend a couple of hours exploring the many secretive gardens and groves on the left and right of that perspective — that’s where the good hiding spots and the cool sculptures are located. The parterre of the Orangery is also well worth spending some time in to see orange trees, lemon trees, oleander, palm and pomegranate trees spread outside in the French formal garden in summer.
There are places to grab a snack, a cup of coffee, and a drink throughout the estate, and there are three restaurants where you can sit and have a restful lunch. If the weather’s good, grab something to go and sit outside to admire the gardens — picnic spots don’t get much fancier than that.
Visiting Versailles involves a lot of walking, so if you want to give your feet a little break and if time allows it, rent a rowing boat for 30 minutes and take a little paddle on the Grand Canal. It’s always a hit with the kiddos, and on a sunny day, it’s a lovely activity to see the estate from a different point of view.
Once you have a little food in your belly and have a taken a break from walking, head to Marie-Antoinette’s estate to visit the recently restored Petit Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet — fans of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette will love checking this area. Dallongeville recommends that you take the time to wander around this bucolic and serene part of the park, which transports you well away from the city.
You should still have about one hour before closing time (5:30 PM), so head back to the Courtyard of Honour and through the main gate where you started and visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Stables. There, you’ll see the most amazing collection of travel vehicles, from coaches and small carriages for Marie Antoinette’s children to sedan chairs and sleds, all adorned with carvings, golden embroideries, golden decorations, etc.
Most underrated spot to check out
The Grand Trianon, although not mentioned in our one-day visit of Versailles above, is worth checking if you have time to spare. People flock to the Petit Trianon, so the Grand Trianon is much less crowded yet as magnificent.
The Peristyle, a sheltered colonnade connecting the two wings of the Grand Trianon, is surrounded by gardens and is the highlight of the Grand Trianon. Plan your visit to be there at sunset when the light hits the beautiful pink marble columns — it’s a spectacle like no other.
In 1963, General de Gaulle restored the Grand Trianon to use it to host visiting foreign dignitaries. It’s not the case since 2009, but stately events are still hosted for foreign officials.
If you have more time
The city of Versailles, like the estate it was built around, is superb. Dallongeville suggests that you spend two days exploring it if you have time. Spend the first day in the estate and the second one visiting the following spots:
When Louis XIV built Versailles, he hired an architect for the palace (Le Vau), a landscaper for the park (Le Notre), an artist for the sculptures (Le Brun), and a vegetable and fruit specialist for the kitchen garden (La Quintinie) to grow and provide the King and his court rare and out-of-season fruits and vegetables.
The 22-acre vegetable garden built between 1678 and 1683 still exists in its original location, a few minutes’ walk from the palace, and still produces veggies and fruit for sale in the shop. It is also the location of a prestigious gardening and landscaping school. To visit this unique spot that is as much part of Versailles’ history as the estate, check out the hours of operation here.
The jeu de paume is an old version of tennis and was a popular sport in the 17th century among the royal family and the court. The Royal Tennis Court, built a few hundred meters away from the palace in 1686, played a significant role in the French Revolution as it was the place where actors of the demand for democracy gathered. The Royal Tennis Court still stands today and can be visited. Check out the hours of operation here.