A Day Trip to Versailles from Paris

by Gray Cargill on January 21, 2011

En route to Versailles

En route to Versailles

If you’re in Paris for a week or more, why not take a day trip to see some sites beyond the City of Lights?  When I was in Paris in November,  I had time for one such day trip.  I chose, as many tourists do, the Palace of Versailles, and I’m so glad I did. I’m fascinated by history, and Versailles is nothing if not steeped in relevant French history.  Yes, it’s a popular tourist destination, and can get a bit packed with student or tour groups, but don’t let that turn you off from a visit.  Even if you have to go on a brutally cold day in November (as I did).

Versailles

I had done my research online ahead of time, so I was well-prepared for what I needed to do to get there (see directions at the bottom of this post).  Finding the Palace from the train station in Versailles was also easy.  I followed the instructions I found in the Rick Steves’ guide, but I could have just followed the crowd.  You essentially cross a street, walk down a block, turn left and straight ahead is the Palace. It’s an easy walk. I stopped at the tourist information office on the way to the Palace to purchase my ticket.  Because of how cold it was, and because I really wanted to get back to Paris before it got dark out, I chose to skip the Queen’s Hamlet and focus on the Chateau and the gardens.

Rick Steves’ audio guide for Versailles is spot-on.  Once I figured out the correct entrance at the Palace, it was smooth sailing from there.  From first glance, you can see the Palace of Versailles is all about extravagance–gold accentuates everything from the gates to the statues ornamenting the exterior of the building, to furnishings inside.  Opulent chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and nearly every square millimeter of every wall and ceiling is covered in some sort of adornment–paintings, sculptures, tapestries, you name it. Without a doubt, the highlight of the palace for me was the spectacular Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed following World War I.  The chapel, the war room and the king’s and queen’s bedchambers were also as impressive as you would expect them to be.

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed

Room bled into room bled into room, as I listened to Rick crack corny jokes about the history of the royals at Versailles.  After awhile I started wondering how anyone could have lived at the Palace without carrying a map around all the time just to find their way from the bedroom to the front door.  The Palace alone is huge–and I never even made it to the Trianon or Marie Antoinette’s estate.

Versailles chapel

Somehow, I don't think the chapel had folding chairs "back in the day"

One thing I will say did not impress me at all was that the Chateau was hosting a Japanese Manga exhibit throughout the property during the time I visited.  I don’t know who thought that was a good idea, but imagine the juxtaposition of walking into a room perfectly modeled as it existed in historical times, with gorgeous frescos on the ceiling, massive paintings on the walls, exquisite furniture, tapestries, chandeliers. . . and in the middle of it all, completely out of all context, these crazy, cartoonish manga sculptures.  It was so bizarre.  And it really irritated me when I was trying to take photos, because in some rooms I couldn’t find an angle where those damn manga sculptures weren’t in the way.  I have no opinion on the relative merits of manga art in general, having had absolutely no previous exposure to it–just that it didn’t belong in the Versailles.

Golden Buddha Manga

This manga monstrosity actually blended better than most I saw

When I had finished with the Chateau, I wandered out to the gardens.  It was very, very cold.  The sky was grey and looked as though it was going to snow or rain or otherwise spit upon us.  It was not the kind of day you want to spend much time outdoors.  But I couldn’t very well leave without exploring the grounds, so I walked all the way down to Apollo’s Fountain, snapping photos of the Palace, the gardens, and the Latona, or “frog”, fountain along the way.  One of the interesting tidbits I picked up from Rick Steves’ audio tour (which of course, you can read about at the Versailles website as well) was that the Palace has an orangerie. The citrus trees are kept inside in the winter, but brought outside in the summer.  The orangerie dates back to the 1600s.  Way to avoid scurvy, royals!

Versailles grounds

Versailles grounds

I called it quits when I lost all feeling in my fingers and began shivering uncontrollably beneath my coat, hat, gloves, scarf and long underwear.   I was also ravenous. There were some food carts selling meals on the grounds , but the idea of eating outside when I couldn’t feel my fingers didn’t appeal.  I wound up eating at the McDonalds on the way to the train station with about a hundred other tourists.

Queen's bedchamber, Versailles

Marie Antoinette slept here

Aside from its historical significance and mind-boggling opulence, I think Versailles offers a valuable life lesson:  Just because you’re wealthy and powerful and surrounded by expensive things doesn’t mean you’ll live happily ever after.  King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, had every luxury known to man at the time, as well as ultimate power, yet both were imprisoned and later killed at the guillotine during the French Revolution.  Personally, I’d rather have a lot less wealth, a lot more happiness, and keep my head.

How to take the train to Versailles from Paris:

  • Purchase a round trip RER-C ticket; this is combined with a metro ticket, so you only need the one ticket to take the metro and change trains at the RER stop.
  • Depart from (or take the metro and transfer to) one of the RER-C stations in Paris:  Invalides, Gare d’Austerlitz, Musee D’orsay, Notre Dame, Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel, or Pont de l’Alma.
  • Follow signs to the platform for the train going to Versailles Rive Gauche. Trains going to Versailles have names beginning with a V.  (I believe mine was Victor or Victory).
  • Get off the train in Versailles, which is the last stop.
  • Length of time: 30 minutes
  • Cost: about 6 Euros.
  • Cost of Admission to the Palace: 15 Euros.
  • For more information about Versailles, including hours, events and advance ticket purchase, visit the Versailles website.
James August 29, 2012 at 5:18 am

I went in august and boy it was far too hot! couldn’t make it round the gardens as there was no shade. Wish someone would have held an umbrella above my head :) it was so packed unfortunately I didn’t get to see the palace very well. I shall have to go back in a month when it’s less busy… if it ever is :P

Gray August 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

I bet it was hot in August. Unfortunately, I don’t think it gets less packed. I was there in cold, dreary, rainy November, and it was still packed. They really should take a page from Iolani Palace’s handbook–this royal palace in Hawaii only lets a certain number of people in at a time to tour the building. Makes it far less crowded, easier to take pictures.

Marsha January 25, 2011 at 12:56 am

Whenever I make it to Paris, I’m definitely making sure I get to Versailles. Talk about bling!

Gray January 25, 2011 at 2:22 am

That is the perfect word for it, Marsha, “bling”.

Johnny January 24, 2011 at 11:32 pm

this pics are truly awesome Gray, i’ve been to Paris maybe 6 times and never made it to versailles, im clearly missing out!

zablon mukuba January 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm

your pictures are great, now i know where to go when am in france

Gray January 25, 2011 at 2:21 am

@zablon @Johnny Thank you guys, I’m glad you like them. I definitely recommend it. It’s an easy trip and worth the visit.

Anonymous January 22, 2011 at 3:28 am

Granted it’s probably way better in summer, but Marie Antoinette’s estate is without a doubt my favorite part of Versailles! It’s just shocking to see how wasteful she was–new flowers were trucked in every day! No wonder the peasants were mad.

Gray January 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Oh yeah, I don’t blame the peasants at all. The royals were out of touch with reality. Of course, I think it’s a little extreme to cut off their heads for it…I do wish I’d seen the other part of the property. I must go back in the summer sometime.

Eurotrip Tips January 21, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I strongly suggest buying your tickets online, because once you get there, you will wait. A lot. There’s a line for the tickets AND a line for security, both around an hour long on busy days.

But it is truly worth the visit. The gardens are superb and the palace is beyond words. The only thing I can’t understand is why they keep trying to incorporate modern art in this Renaissance gem. Is this really necessary?

Gray January 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm

That’s why I bought my ticket at the Tourist Information office in town. I figured there’d be lines. I didn’t want to buy it ahead of time, in case I changed my mind about going once I got to Paris. I was lucky, there were no lines to speak of in November. The art exhibit definitely was NOT necessary, IMO. Perhaps if it had something to do with Versailles, I could understand. Or even if it was in a gallery on the property and not spread throughout the Chateau. But I thought it was poorly executed.

Alouise January 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Before going to Paris I had a whole bunch of grand ideas. I figured I could do Versailles, and Notre Dame and the Louvre all in one day. I realized when I got there that wasn’t possible. But it’s not all bad, just gives me a reason to go back to Paris… not that I really need one.

Gray January 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Exactly, Alouise. There will always be a reason to go back.

Andi Perullo January 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm

This was such a fun day trip for me!

Gray January 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I hope the weather was much nicer when you went, Andi.

The NVR Guys January 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Wow – those pics are great! Glad you posted this. We’ve wanted to make the trip to Versailles but never have. Next time we’re in Paris (hopeful thinking), we’ll use your tips.

Gray January 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

So glad you liked them! Believe me, if I could not only manage to get to Versailles on my own but help advise other lost sheep who were trying to get there as well, you guys will find it super easy. :-)

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