Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s a great destination for food, culture, photography and unbelievable architecture. I could spend months there and still not see everything I want to see. Having said that, I’ve also seen the value in taking day trips out of Paris on my past visits in order to get a different perspective. If you’re in Paris and are looking for something different to see, a day trip to Versailles Palace may be just what le docteur ordered! Versailles Palace is filled with stunning art, beautiful gardens and a deep and rich history. This post will give you an overview of the Palace and provide information on how to make a quick and easy trip from Paris.
The History of Versailles
The village of Versailles, located approximately 12 miles (20 Km) from the center of Paris, came into being in the 11th century. The Palace of Versailles was built in 1624 as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII of France. Beginning in the 1660s the Palace was expanded and became the official seat of royal power in France in 1682. The expansion and move to the Palace at Versailles was undertaken by Louis XIV, the son of and heir to Louis XIII. Louis XIV, also known as “Louis The Great” or “The Sun King”, financed the expansion of the Palace out of his private funds. Therefore, there is no accurate record of exactly how much the various phases of expansion cost over the years of development.
The Palace was enlarged after the first expansion program, and this expansion lasted through the life of the Sun King. The second and last major expansion phase ended in 1715, the same year Louis XIV died. His son and successor Louis XV added to and remodeled parts of the Palace, although his expansion plans were nowhere as elaborate or expensive as those of his father.
The Palace at Versailles remained the seat of royal power in France until 1789. Just three months after the French Revolution began, King Louis XVI moved the seat of power back to Paris in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to retain power. Because of its strong ties to the pre-Revolutionary rulers of France, the Palace is seen to this day as a symbol of l’Ancien Régime (“The Old Rulers”).
Political and Ceremonial Functions of the Palace of Versailles
Versailles has a long and storied history of serving as a location for world leaders to gather and to sign agreements and treaties:
- At the end of the US Revolutionary War, two of the three Treaties of Paris of 1783 were signed at Versailles. In these treaties, the United Kingdom recognized the United States as an independent and sovereign nation.
- After the end of World War I, Versailles was the site for the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Conference opened on January 18, and the final treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919.
- Traditionally, France’s Parliament meets in Versailles when changes to the French Constitution are to be proposed. This began after the country’s 1875 Constitution.
The Layout Of The Palace of Versailles
The Palace is roughly symmetrical, with two wings and corresponding gardens extending from a center section. The center area is recessed and the approach to it is via two courts: the larger Cour Royale (Royal Court) and the smaller Cour de Marbré (Marble Court) behind it. Behind the Marble Court is arguably the most-recognized feature of the Palace at Versailles: the Hall of Mirrors (shown above in red). The Hall of Battles is to the left (shown in green above). To the right is the Royal Chapel (shown in yellow) and the Royal Opera, which was added by Louis XV (shown in purple).
The courts near the entrance are exquisite and are immaculately maintained. If you’re interested in photographing the palace, the courts make a great center piece – especially on a partly cloudy day, as we had during our visit.
The Gardens of Versailles
The gardens of Versailles are worth a visit in their own right. The gardens are positioned to be viewed perfectly from the central windows of the Hall of Mirrors. The palace and gardens are arranged in an east-to-west alignment, which makes for interesting lighting all throughout the day.
While the gardens of Versailles predated the reign of Louis XIV, he is responsible for enlarging the area, bringing more formal structure to it, and enhancing it to the beauty we see today. In 1661 he commissioned a rebuilding of the gardens – he considered them just as important as the palace itself. The construction project was a Herculean effort – many tons of soil were brought in from the countryside, small hills were leveled, and areas for large ponds were dug.
The gardens have been enhanced and well-maintained throughout the years. Nowadays, flowers and plants are changed out based on the seasons. The gardeners also plan various themes of color or style of planting to celebrate various holidays and special days in the year. The garden also hosts concerts, parties and social events.
Planning A Day Trip to Versailles Palace
There are multiple ways to take a day trip to Versailles Palace from Paris. The easiest is to get on the RER C (Réseau Express Régional, or the Regional Express Network). You can take it from any of the stations along the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) of the Seine, and the trip to Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche station is approximately 30 minutes. A return ticket for this journey is €7.10. You can also take the journey by coach. The coaches tend to be more comfortable but are also more expensive. Most, if not all, coach rides are combined with a tour provided by one of the tour company’s guides. Some companies also offer small or private tours, but these are available only at limited times. Some of the tours also combine visits to other sites around Versailles on the outskirts of Paris.
Once you arrive at the Palace, make sure to secure your ticket to beat the crowds. A timed-entry ticket + audio tour is priced at €27, and a general entry ticket is €20. If you are doing the tour on your own, plan on four to five hours’ time to adequately tour the palace.
Regardless of the season or the weather, the Palace at Versailles is a stunning and historic site that you should definitely make time to see. A day trip to Versailles Palace is easy, relatively inexpensive, and a lot of fun!
If you’d like to see more of my photos from my day trip to Versailles Palace, please visit my photo gallery!