Exploring the Château de Versailles: A Visitor's Guide
In an age of absolute monarchy, the Château de Versailles was designed to dazzle. King Louis XIV wanted his palace to inspire envy in every king and awe in every noble. The Château de Versailles became Louis XIV's showpiece, his symbol of power. After all he was the "Sun King" around whom the world revolved. Accordingly, he transformed the small hunting lodge of his father Louis XIII into a magnificent palace. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created a spectacular Baroque facade and monumental interior. With its grand entrance and stunning reception halls, the often-imitated château set the standard for royal courts in the 17th century.
The idyllic natural setting of Versailles provided a beautiful backdrop for the château but it also served another purpose. The location distanced nobles from their base in Paris. When courtiers arrived in Versailles, they were on Louis XIV's turf and the palace's grandiosity reminded them of the King's glory. Successive monarchs Louis XV and Louis XIV made their mark with finely gilded details and lavish entertainment. However, the party ended with the French Revolution. Now the Château de Versailles is a UNESCO-listed monument, offering a window into the opulent royal lifestyle of a bygone era.
Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)
The glittering Hall of Mirrors is the most famous room of Versailles. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart dreamed up a completely new and spectacular look for this room. The 73-meter-long hall is lined with 17 massive ornamental mirrors, each in 18 segments. This ensemble of more than 300 mirror segments creates a striking effect. The room sparkles with sunlight entering through the windows and reflecting off the mirrors. Extravagant crystal chandeliers, gilded statues, and marvelous ceiling paintings add to the grandeur. Designed to impress, this hallway was the passage between the King's and Queen's apartments in the Grands Appartements. In this stunning hall, courtiers waited upon the king and queen. While admiring the overwhelming space, one can imagine the jitters courtiers must have felt.
In this historic hall, the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 and the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. At either end of the Hall of Mirror are two other magnificent halls: the Salon de Guerre (War Salon) with paintings depicting military victories and the Salon de Paix (Peace Salon) with a ceiling painting by Le Brun and portrait of Louis XVI by François Lemoyne. The Hall of Mirrors faces the Parterre d'Eau (Water Parterres)-the ornamental pools of the château's formal gardens.
King's Grand Apartments (Grands Appartements du Roi)
The Grands Appartements du Roi (also called "Appartement de Parade") represent the State Apartments-the public area of the château where official meetings and ceremonies took place. In these glorious rooms, the king held Court from 6am to 10am every morning. The salons (reception rooms) are named after classical deities, making a connection between Louis XIV's reign and the history of the Western world.
- Salon d'Hercule features The Triumph of Hercules ceiling painting by François Lemoyne and two Veronese paintings given to Louis XIV by the Venetian Republic.
- Salon de l'Abondance is decorated with many precious objects and was where refreshments were served for evening soirees.
- Salon de Vénus shows the original marble Palace decor (including the marble walls, classical columns, and statues) that Louis XIV favored to reflect his power and glory.
- Salon de Diane displays the painting of Diana at Versailles by Gabriel Blanchard and the bust of Louis XIV by Bernini.
- Salon de Mars is celebrated for the exquisite painting of Marie-Antoinette and her three children by Madame Vigée-Lebrun.
- Salon de Mercure features a renowned ceiling painting Mercury on his Chariot Drawn by two Cocks by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne.
- Salon d'Apollon is decorated with valuable tapestries and has a fabulous ceiling painting of Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun by Charles de la Fosse. Over the fireplace is the well-known portrait of the King in a robe trimmed with ermine.
- Chambre du Roi is part of the château's public area. Although it may seem odd that the King's bedroom is part of the State Apartments, the famous ceremonies of the "Lever du Roi" (Rising of the King) in the morning and the "Coucher du Roi" (Bedtime of the King) in the evening took place here, when the King granted audiences.
- Cour de Marbre: The reception rooms of the Grands Appartements are organized around the impressive Marble Courtyard.
Queen's Grand Apartment (Grand Appartement du Reine)
Next to the King's Grand Apartments, the Queen's Grand Apartment contrasts the masculine King's decor with a more feminine sensibility. The rooms are flowery and delicate in style. The decor has been preserved since the time of Marie-Antoinette.
- Chambre de la Reine (Queen's Bedroom): This was the Queen's bedroom as well as where she would receive guests in private. The bedroom became a public space when the Queen gave birth to her children in front of an audience. The Queen's Bedroom was created for Queen Maria Theresa and updated for Marie-Antoinette. Rococo-style ceiling paintings depict the four virtues of a queen: compassion, generosity, wisdom, and fidelity. The jewelry cabinet to the left of the bed was a gift to Marie-Antoinette from the city of Paris two years before the Revolution.
- Appartements de Marie-Antoinette: Behind the Grand Apartment, Marie-Antoinette had several private rooms decorated in her signature feminine style. Here she would read, paint, or meet her closest friends. The Cabinet Doré (Gilded Study) served as a music room, the Cabinet de la Méridienne was primarily used by Marie-Antoinette's servants, and the Cabinet du Billard was the billiard room.
- Salon des Nobles: This salon was Queen Marie-Thérèse's antechamber. Marie-Antoinette completely redecorated the room with damask striped wallpaper, majestic furniture, and a gorgeous marble fireplace.
- Antichambre du Grand Couvert: In this sumptuous room, the King was served his meals according to strict protocols. The ritual was a sort of public performance in which the Royal Family would take their places at the table and once they were seated, the Duchesses, Princesses, and high-ranking persons were allowed to sit down.
- Salle des Gardes (Room of the Guards): The Queen's corps of 12 bodyguards used this room to perform their duties; they stayed in this room all day and night. The ceiling paintings and marble walls date from the time of Louis XIV. The four pictures in the arches represent divine virtues with examples from antiquity.
King's Private Apartments (Appartements Privés des Rois)
Behind the Grand Apartments are the Private Apartments of King Louis XV and King Louis XVI. These apartments give historical insight into the private life (including the social events) of the French Royal Family. This area of the château is accessible only by taking a Guided Tour (not included in the standard Palace Ticket).
- Chambre de Louis XV: This Rococo-style room was designed by J.A. Gabriel in the late 18th century. In this serene room, Louis XV could relax and get away from the ceremonial etiquette of the court.
- Salle à Manger des Retours de Chasse (After-the-Hunt Dining Room): Louis XV hosted dinners once or twice a week in this gilded room, inviting the lords and ladies who accompanied him on hunts. Many nobles sought this prestigious invitation.
- Salle à Manger des Porcelaines (Porcelain Dining Room): Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had their meals here, including private dinners and official banquets.
- Opéra Royal: This glorious private Opera House is one of the most beautiful of its kind. Built by Jacques-Ange Gabriel for Louis XV, the auditorium was completed in 1770 just before marriage of (the future King) Louis XVI to Marie-Antoinette. The Opera House features a harmonious Neoclassical colonnade of Ionic columns. The interior is ornately decorated, with gilded bronze, marble, and mirrors.
- Chapelle Royale: The Chapel at Versailles was begun by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1699. The wars delayed construction and the chapel was completed by Mansart's brother-in-law, Robert de Cotte, in 1710. Louis XIV used this exquisite chapel when it was opened in 1710. Previously, he worshiped in a chapel on the site of the Hercules salon. Every morning at 10am, the court would attend mass. The gallery reserved for the Royal Family is the one with a tall Corinthian colonnade.
Gardens of the Château (Les Jardins)
To fully appreciate Versailles, spend as much time in the gardens as in the château. The masterwork of the famous landscape designer André Le Nôtre, these orderly gardens are more like a piece of artwork than a scene of nature. Perfectly trimmed shrubbery and tidy lawns are shaped in geometric patterns, symbolic of controlling nature. The first impression is made by the Parterre d'Eau (Water Parterres), two ornamental pools decorated with fountains and statues. Look out for the Vase du Soleil (Sun Vase) that depicts the sun-god Apollo, the emblem of Louis XIV.
Beyond the Parterres are Les Allées, expansive pathways that invite visitors to take a stroll. The Allée Royale (Royal Walk) is known as the "Green Carpet" and the Allée de Flore et de Cérès has a charming fountain featuring a goddess surrounded by little cupids. Throughout the gardens are decorative pools and flower beds. There is also a vegetable garden and the Orangerie where Louis XIV kept his orange trees. The classical Colonnade designed by Mansart is one of the most peaceful areas of the park. Further into the park, Les Bosquets (Groves) are secluded woodland areas. If visiting during spring or summer, try to attend one of the musical fountain concerts.
Grand Trianon Palaces (Le Grand Trianon & Petit Trianon)
One of the highlights of Versailles is this marvelous palace of pink marble. Le Grand Trianon was created for the mistress of Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan. The splendid palace was built between 1678 and 1688 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. The Grand Trianon stands on elegant raised terraces with colonnaded arcades that bring out the beauty of the pink marble. The building has two wings, one was for Louis and the other for his mistress. Here, the King had a private space, free from court etiquette. The Grand Trianon palace is surrounded by delightful French gardens filled with orange blossoms, flowers, and well-groomed shrubbery.
The Petit Trianon at Versailles was built by Jacques-Ange Gabriel in 1763-67 as a retreat for Louis XV. Later, Louis XVI presented this lovely "little" palace to his wife Marie-Antoinette, as a place to escape from formal court life. The romantic garden of the Petit Trianon imitates nature with wandering paths, bubbling streams, and rustic bridges. For those feeling in need of the royal treatment themselves, there is a wonderful option a few steps away. The Trianon Palace Versailles hotel has an elegant tea room as well as the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
Domaine de Marie-Antoinette (Hamlet of Marie-Antoinette)
This miniature country hamlet was created for Queen Marie-Antoinette as a make-believe world where she could escape the stress of royal life and commune with nature. The hamlet lies next to the Trianon palaces on the site of Louis XV's botanical garden. This enchanting little domaine includes mock peasant houses and a mill as well as real working farm buildings, a dairy, and dovecot. When Marie-Antoinette got tired of court ceremonies, she would dress up as a peasant girl and come here to get away from it all. As much as she aspired to return to the simple life, poor Marie-Antoinette was most famous for being out of touch with the people. She was infamous for having made the statement "Let them eat cake!" and ultimately was led to the guillotine. Continue exploring this area of the Château Gardens until stumbling across the Temple de l'Amour (Temple of Love), the Belvédère pavilion, and the Pavillon Français by Jacques-Ange Gabriel.
Musée de l'Histoire de France (History of France Museum)
After the 1830 Revolution, King Louis-Philippe transformed part of the Château de Versailles into a museum focused on the history of France. The museum displays pictures and sculpture illustrating French history from the Crusades to the 19th century. The works by Laurent de la Hyre, Philippe de Champaigne, and Noël Hallé are of particular interest.
Galerie de l'Histoire du Château (History of the Château Collection)
Versailles has a collection devoted to the château's history in the North Wing's ground-floor rooms. The Galerie de l'Histoire du Château presents a thematic and chronological collection representing milestones of the palace's creation-from the transformation of Louis XIII's hunting lodge to the grandiose Baroque château. The collection includes films that explain each stage of the château's history.
Tips & Tactics
- Avoid the Crowds: Arrive at 10am before the crowds show up or after 4:30pm when attendance starts winding down. This is especially important on weekends and Tuesdays.
- Timing: Plan to spend two hours in the château. If also visiting the King's Private Apartments, note that the Guided Tour takes about 90 minutes. Allow two hours in the gardens. To further explore the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon palaces and the Hamlet, allow at least an extra two hours; the walk to this area takes about 30 minutes from the château.
- Skip the Lines: Buy tickets in advance online. Proceed to Entrance A by providing the printout of the prepaid ticket.
- Tickets: Château de Versailles has three separate ticketed areas, each with its own admission cost. The Passport ticket options allow entrance to the sights included in the Palace and Trianon tickets.
- Palace Ticket: includes entry to the most famous sights of the château: Hall of Mirrors, Grand Apartments of the King, and the Grand Apartment of the Queen.
- Trianon Ticket: includes entry to the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and the Hamlet of Marie-Antoinette, which are in the Gardens.
- Guided Tour: Take a private guided tour to gain access to the King's Private Apartments, including the Opera House or the Royal Chapel.
- Passport: Allows entry to all the sights except for the King's Private Apartments.
- Passport for 2 Days: This specially priced ticket offers entry to all the sights except for the King's Private Apartments on two consecutive days.
- Consider a Paris Museum Pass: The Château de Versailles is included in the Paris Museum Pass, an economical pass, which offers entry to any of the 60 listed museums and monuments. For those planning to visit several museums in Paris over a 2-day, 3-day, or 6-day period, this pass is definitely worth it.
- Free Entry: Take advantage of free admission to the château on the first Sunday of the month from November through March.
- Public Gardens: The gardens of the château are open to the public; there is no admission fee.
- Audio-Guide: The Palace Ticket includes an audio-guide tour (in 11 languages).
- Stop for a Café Break: Le Grand Café d'Orléans lies at the end of the Grand Apartments at the Garden level.
- Indulge in Afternoon Tea: The celebrated Salon de Thé Angelina (an outlet from the Paris establishment) is located on the First Floor, accessible by the Marble Courtyard. This fashionable tea room offers sweet and savory dishes as well as Angelina's world-famous rich hot chocolate.
- Musical Fountain Shows: From April through October on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Gardens of Versailles become even more enchanting with special fountain shows set to the rhythm of classical music.
- Fountain Night Shows: Every Saturday evening from June through September, Versailles stages a spectacular nighttime fountain show complete with special lighting, lasers, stage effects, and fireworks.
- Royal Serenade: Experience the drama of royal court life as musicians and dancers from the Compagnie Baroque create the scene of a French ball in the Hall of Mirrors.
Live Like a King or Queen
- Dine Like Royalty: In a sensational setting by the Trianon palaces, the Gordon Ramsay au Trianon is a 2-star Michelin restaurant that delivers a decadent gastronomic experience. The luxurious dining room features views of the Château Gardens. Make a reservation in advance.
- Stay Overnight in Versailles: For a truly pampering experience, spend the night on the château grounds at the 4-star Trianon Palace Versailles, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Getting to Versailles
- By Train: Take the RER C train from Paris. Make sure to get a Paris-Versailles Rive Gauche" ticket including zones 1-4. The ride takes about one hour.
- By Express Bus: The Versailles Express departs from Paris at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, leaving twice daily at 8am or 2pm and returning at 12:30pm or 6pm.
- By Car: Take the A13 motorway and exit at Versailles Centre.
- Château de Versailles, Place d'Armes - 78000 Versailles