To enter the Palace of Versailles is to enter another world. All those period films we have seen about Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette or Louis XVI are condensed in the richness of its rooms and the beauty of its gardens.
There are several types of tickets to visit the Palace and its gardens, some include a guided tour or transport from Paris... I'll summarise them all for you to make it easier to choose:
The best value for money option to visit Versailles from Paris
Discover Versailles and its gardens with a specialised guide. You will be taken by private coach from Paris.
With this guided tour of Versailles you will join the group from one of the three pick-up points that the bus has in the city of Paris and you will arrive directly at Versailles, where you can skip the queues at the Palace thanks to the tickets included in this option. Once inside, you will be guided through the rooms by your guide, who will tell you the best-kept secrets and anecdotes about the Palace and its construction.
You will also take a tour of its impressive gardens, fountains, statues, flowers, colours... a real marvel.
Lunch is not included, but you will have time to eat or even buy something there.
Why I like this option: with this tour you will be able to visit Versailles and its gardens without worrying about anything, with a specialised guide.
Recommended if... you prefer to join an organised group from the beginning and be picked up in Paris by bus to go to Versailles and back.
The best value for money option to visit Versailles from Paris
Perfect if you want to tour Versailles with an expert guide but travel at your own pace.
The palace and gardens of Versailles are about 50 long minutes from Paris, but it is such a popular attraction that it is very well connected.
With this guided tour of Versailles with entrance to the palace and gardens, a local guide will meet you at the palace, show you around the gardens, tell you all the stories of this historic site and then leave you the option to see the palace at your leisure after the guided tour. Please note that the transfer to and from Paris is not included in this tour, but you will get to Versailles quickly and comfortably by train.
Why I like this tour: This is the most economical way to visit the Palace of Versailles and its gardens with an English-speaking guide.
Recommended if... you want to save money on your visit and don't mind travelling by public transport.
Visit Versailles with the Paris Pass
If you are purchasing the Paris Pass during your visit to the French capital, entry to Versailles will be free as part of the Paris Museum Pass which is included in this pack. What will not be included is the return trip to Versailles as, although this tourist card includes the metro, Versailles is outside the city centre.
If you want to know more about this "tourist card" you can read this guide I wrote about Paris Pass in which I also tell you about other similar cards with which you will get free entry to the most important tourist attractions and museums in Paris.
On the first Sunday of the month the entrance to Versailles is free, but you should discard it during the high season because the massive influx of tourists can make you not enjoy your visit.
How to get to Versailles from Paris
The Palace of Versailles takes its name from the commune in which it is located; it is situated on the southern outskirts of Paris, about 45 minutes' drive from the city. The palace complex and gardens are, of course, the main attraction of Versailles so getting there by any means of transport is easy and well signposted.
Getting to Versailles by private transport
Organised tours of Versailles or guided tours of the Palace and gardens usually include transport from central Paris. Normally a private bus will take you from a central point in the city, but you can also find more exclusive options that will take you by car or in a well-appointed van.
Getting to Versailles by train
This is the easiest option. In Paris, the metro and RER trains are perfectly integrated and from any point in the city you can access the RER C, which is the line that takes you to Versailles and stops at the palace. However, bear in mind that this line forks at the end of the line, so before getting on the train, check on the screens that the final stop is Versailles-Rive Gauche and not Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
Getting to Versailles by bus
There is a bus, 'Versailles Express' which leaves from the Eiffel Tower from Tuesday to Sunday and takes you directly to the Palace. It costs 25 euros and runs only once or twice a day depending on the season; for these reasons people tend to discard it in favour of the city line 171 which will drop you near the Versailles complex for a much lower price.
What to see in Versailles
The interior of the Palace
The Palace of Versailles is the main attraction of the complex. The route is perfectly marked out, so once you enter through the main entrance (the Verge d'Honneur), it is easy to walk through the entire palace without missing anything. The first thing that will impress you is the luxury and ostentation that every corner of this palace exudes, but what is really interesting is the stories behind each room.
If you haven't booked a guided tour, don't hesitate to make use of the audio guide that you are entitled to with your ticket; it will tell you incredible stories about the characters who lived within these walls, such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I assure you that the eccentricities of what was once the most powerful monarchy in Europe will leave you as impressed as the beauty of the palace and its decoration.
A classical French-style layout, carefully tended vegetation, fountains and statues as decorative elements and a surface area of 800 hectares; that is what the gardens of Versailles are like. Many people don't know that the gardens of Versailles are actually free (except when there is a show) and you don't have to buy a ticket to the palace to enter them.
If you are going to the palace, I recommend that you see the gardens afterwards because you can use the audio guide; you'll love the stories of the fountains that adorn the gardens if you're a fan of mythology. Like the palace, the gardens of Versailles are not only aesthetically beautiful, but symbolic of an era and the height of a political regime that was among the most powerful in Europe.
The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon
With the full ticket (which is the one I recommend you buy, as it only costs two or three euros more than the one that only covers the Palace and gardens) you will have access to these two independent palaces called trianons. The style of both these palaces and the surrounding gardens is different from the main Palace and gardens, so if you're thinking that visiting them is "more of the same", you'd be wrong.
The Grand Trianon is a baroque palace built by Louis XIV as a place of recreation and later occupied by many French monarchs and Napoleon. The decoration of this palace is exquisitely tasteful, but, between the two Trianons, my favourite is the Petit Trianon.
The Petit Trianon was a gift from Louis XV to one of his mistresses, but was later used by Marie Antoinette for her own private use. The inside of the palace looks like a dolls' house, but what is most charming are its surroundings, known as the Queen's Village. With no other purpose than to serve as a decorative element for her amusement, Marie Antoinette built this miniature rural village with a mill, a farm, a lake and cottages with small vegetable gardens.
Plan your visit to Versailles
When to go
No matter when you go to Versailles, it's going to be crowded. The Palace is one of the most important tourist attractions in Paris and is visited by eight million tourists every year. However, it's so big that you won't feel crowded, especially if you leave the interior of the palace for the afternoon or if you go into the more hidden areas of the gardens.
At the Palace of Versailles on Tuesdays there is a musical show in the gardens and at weekends they light up the fountains; even if it's more crowded, it's worth visiting the complex on a weekend because the lit fountains bring the gardens to life. As for the time of year, plan your visit to Versailles for a sunny day to enjoy the long walk around the Palace.
Duration of the visit
On the day of your visit to Versailles, book your entrance ticket in advance to save time; otherwise expect a minimum two-hour queue in high season. Touring the interior of the palace will take about two hours, especially if you use the audio guide, which I recommend.
After that, visiting the gardens and the trianons can take as long as you want, but seeing the whole thing will take no less than three hours. All in all, between the trip there and back, the visit to the interior of the palace, the gardens and the trianons, seeing the Versailles complex can take you a full day.
What to bring
Backpacks and large bags are not allowed inside the palace; you must leave them at the ticket office. Your bag must also pass through the security checkpoint. If you are going to Versailles in summer, include sun cream in your luggage because you may get sunburnt during your visit to the gardens and, of course, don't forget your camera.
In some rooms of the palace you are not allowed to take photos or take them with flash, but the colours and the vegetation you will find in the gardens are worth more than one shot. On the other hand, wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking a lot, and don't forget to bring water with you during your visit to the gardens.
Where to eat
Throughout the Palace of Versailles complex you will find different food stalls and restaurants. Can you go out to eat in the surrounding area and come back in? I don't recommend it, as you'll waste unnecessary time, since there are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity that stand out for their quality or prices above those you'll find inside the palace.
What you can do, and not everyone knows about it, is picnic in certain areas of the gardens, so don't hesitate if you visit Versailles on a day with pleasant temperatures.
Going to Versailles with children
Children get free admission to Versailles and both the palace and the gardens are perfectly set up for family visits. There's plenty for children to run around outside the complex, but inside the palace they may get a little more tired due to the length of the tour.
If you're unsure about which day to go to Versailles, there's a musical show in the gardens on Tuesdays and the fountains are lit up at weekends.
If you are interested in the Palace of Versailles, you will also like
Nothing in Paris compares to the Palace of Versailles. In fact, the closest thing in Europe is Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Versailles is unique, but if you want to learn more about the absolutist monarchy and the history of the French Revolution (which is what you'll learn most about on this visit) I recommend taking one of the walking tours of central Paris.
This is where you will be told the most stories about the city's past and you have a wide variety of options which you can consult in this article I have written about. Paris Tours.
If you feel like discovering one of the many symbols of the city, I can recommend (of course) the Eiffel Tower, the Garnier Opera or the Louvre. Here are some of my articles on the subject in case you are interested in exploring some of the options: Eiffel Tower Tickets: how to buy and prices, Paris Opera Garnier Tours y Paris Louvre Museum Tickets and Tours: how to buy, prices and discounts.