Visiting the Château de Versailles: 10 Top Attractions, Tips & Tours
In an age of absolute monarchy, the Château de Versailles was designed to dazzle. This awe-inspiring palace became Louis XIV's showpiece, his symbol of power. After all, he was the "Sun King" around whom the world revolved. His reign would become known as Le Grand Siècle (The Great Century).
Louis XIV spent over 50 years reconstructing, expanding, and embellishing the country estate that he inherited from his father, Louis XIII. The original small château (a former hunting lodge) at Versailles was eventually transformed into Europe's most magnificent palace.
To realize the vision of Louis XIV, architect Louis Le Vau created a refined neoclassical palace, while Jules Hardouin-Mansart later added the sumptuous Galerie des Glaces..The château exemplifies French Classicism and 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 government administration and Court of nobles were obliged to relocate from 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 XVI made their mark on the Château de Versailles with elegant Baroque and Rococo decor, as well as gorgeous gardens. The luxurious lifestyle and lavish entertainment that began during the reign of Louis XIV continued. However, the party ended with the French Revolution.
Today, the 2,300-room Château de Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers a window into the opulent lifestyle of France's Ancien Régime. The Domaine of the Château de Versailles covers over 800 hectares; this vast parkland is open to the public. Much of the palace, including the apartments of the King and Queen, may be visited by ticket holders.
You can reach Versailles from Paris by a combination of Métro and train, but a more convenient way is to join a full-day tour to Versailles from Paris that includes direct transportation by bus or minivan.
1. 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 dazzling Baroque reception hall, created between 1678 and 1684. Mansart succeeded in achieving an ambience of grandeur that Louis XIV envisioned.
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. On special occasions, the Hall of Mirrors was used for ceremonies, balls, concerts, and diplomatic events.
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. Enormous floor-to-ceiling windows of the Hall of Mirrors perfectly frame the gardens.
For a truly magical experience, visitors may attend the Royal Serenade held in the Galerie des Glaces every Saturday evening from mid June through mid September. The Royal Serenade recreates the scene of a royal Court ball, complete with authentic 17th-century costumes and entertainment performed by Compagnie de Danse l'Éventail dancers and Folies Françoises musicians.
2. King's State Apartment (Grand Appartement du Roi)
The King's State Apartment includes the royal bedchamber and other private rooms that were open to the public for daily ceremonies and official meetings. The series of seven salons (reception rooms) was known as "L'appartement de parade" ("The parade apartment") because courtiers walked through the rooms every day on their way to chapel services.
The salons are named after mythological deities, making a connection between Louis XIV's reign and the history of the Western world.
- Salon d'Hercule features one of the world's largest ceiling paintings, The Apotheosis of Hercules by François Lemoyne, as well as The Meal in the House of Simon, a masterpiece by Veronese 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 and faux marble decor (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 Charles Le Brun's painting, The Family of Darius before Alexander, created around 1665.
- Salon de Mercure features a renowned ceiling painting, Mercury on His Chariot Drawn by Two Roosters, by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne.
- Salon d'Apollon boasts 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 by Hyacinthe Rigaud of Louis XIV in his coronation attire (a robe featuring fleur-de-lys motif and trimmed with ermine).
3. Queen's Apartment (Grand Appartement de la Reine)
Arranged in the same layout as the King's State Apartment, the Queen's Apartment has 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): 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.
- Salon des Nobles: This salon was Queen Marie-Thérèse's antechamber. Marie-Antoinette completely redecorated the room with damask wallpaper, mahogany furniture, and a Bleu Turquin 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): This room has retained its 17th-century decor, including ceiling paintings from the time of Louis XIV. The Queen's corps of 12 bodyguards stayed in this room all day and night, to perform their duty of protecting the Queen. On October 6th of 1789, one of Queen's guards alerted Marie-Antoinette to flee as rioters were trying to enter her apartment.
4. King's Private Apartment (Appartement Intérieur du Roi)
This suite of rooms provides a glimpse of 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 (Bedroom of 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 Chasses (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. At Christmas time, Louis XVI presented gifts of Sèvres porcelain here (explaining the name of the room).
5. The Gardens (Les Jardins)
The masterwork of 17th-century 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, characteristic of French formal gardens.
The first impression is made by the Parterre d'Eau (Water Parterres), two ornamental pools decorated with fountains and statues. To enhance the garden's visual effect, Le Nôtre landscaped the space in a symmetrical fashion. This allowed for a sweeping view, the Grande Perspective, which stretches from the Parterre d'Eau to the Allée Royale along the garden's east-west axis.
Beyond the Parterres are Les Allées, expansive pathways that invite visitors to take a stroll. The Allée Royale (Royal Way) is also known as the "Tapis Vert" ("Great Lawn") and leads to the Bassin d'Apollon (Apollo's Fountain), which features Charles Le Brun's celebrated statue of Apollo (the Sun god), the emblem of Louis XIV.
Throughout the gardens are decorative pools and flower beds. There is also a vegetable garden and L'Orangerie where Louis XIV kept orange, lemon, oleander, and pomegranate trees during the winter. Built in 1663 by Louis Le Vau, the Orangery still houses fruit trees, some of which are over two centuries old. During summertime, the trees are brought out to the Orangery parterre.
The classical Colonnade designed by Mansart is one of the most peaceful areas of the park. Farther 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.
6. Grand Trianon & Petit Trianon Palaces
The Grand Trianon is a marvelous neoclassical palace created for the mistress of Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan. Featuring a splendid peristyle of pink Languedoc marble, this exquisite 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 Jardins à la Française (French Gardens) filled with orange blossoms, flowers, and well-groomed shrubbery. The gardens showcase a multitude of flower beds, planted with a wide variety of blossoms, chosen for their vibrant colors and intoxicating fragrances.
The Petit Trianon at Versailles was built by Jacques-Ange Gabriel in 1763 to 1767 as a retreat for Louis XV and his mistress, the Comtesse du Barry. In 1774, Louis XVI presented this lovely "little" palace to his wife Marie-Antoinette, who redecorated the palace in her distinctive feminine style.
The Petit Trianon estate features a lush English Garden (Jardin Anglais) landscaped in an unrestrained style that was popular during Marie-Antoinette's time. This romantic garden imitates nature with wandering paths, a gently flowing stream, waterfall, and grotto.
A highlight of Petit Trianon garden is the Temple de l'Amour (Temple of Love), a decorative structure built in 1778 that resembles an ancient Greek temple. Marie-Antoinette's apartment looks out directly onto this monument.
7. Le Hameau de la Reine (The Queen's Hamlet)
This little fantasy hamlet was where Marie-Antoinette came to escape the formalities and politics of Court. Ornamental "country" villages were a new feature of estates in the 18th century, revealing the influence of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ideas about returning to nature.
A group of half-timbered cottages (created in 1773) at the Domaine de Chantilly was the inspiration for Marie-Antoinette's fabricated pastoral village at Versailles. About a one-hour drive away, Chantilly is one of the top day trips from Paris and is worth a detour for those interested in exploring another historic estate.
Constructed between 1783 and 1786, the Queen's Hamlet is nestled on the edge of the Château de Versailles parkland. This enchanting model village includes buildings resembling a Normandy farmhouse and thatched-roof cottages, all surrounding a tranquil lake. Behind the faux rustic facades are luxurious interiors.
A watermill, dovecote, vegetable gardens, and orchards complete the dreamy bucolic scene. The Queen's Hamlet also maintained a working farm; a fishery with a jetty for boating on the lake; and a dairy, where Marie-Antoinette sampled products from the farm.
Marie-Antoinette hosted parties and informal social gatherings at the hamlet. A billiards room, game room, dining room, and an enormous kitchen attest to the entertaining that took place here. The Queen also used the farm for educational purposes, to teach her children about the natural world.
8. Chapelle Royale
The Chapelle Royale at Versailles was begun by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1699 and completed by Robert de Cotte in 1710. This masterpiece of Baroque architecture blends a Gothic-inspired exterior and stained-glass windows with a serene neoclassical nave. Suspended above soaring columns, the nave's vaulted ceiling is adorned with exceptional paintings on the theme of the Holy Trinity.
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 King and royal family is the one with a tall Corinthian colonnade.
The Royal Chapel is only open to the public on guided tours, or for concerts. Recitals of sacred music are held here, such as Bach's Mass in E Minor, Handel's Messiah, and Mozart's Requiem. Many concerts make use of the chapel's splendid Clicquot organ.
9. Opéra Royal
This glorious 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 lavish interior is ornately decorated, with gilded bronze, marble, mirrors, and chandeliers.
The Opéra Royal is only accessible by taking a guided tour or by attending a performance. The Opera House hosts an impressive calendar of events throughout the year, including theater, opera, ballet, and music performances.
10. Galeries Historiques
After the 1830 Revolution, King Louis-Philippe transformed part of the Château de Versailles into a museum focused on the history of France. Louis-Philippe had assembled a collection of paintings, sculptures, and drawings that illustrate French history dating back to the Crusades. Napoléon III later added new acquisitions to the collection related to 19th-century history.
The Galeries Historiques display historical artifacts from specific time periods. Particularly interesting, the Salles des Croisades are devoted to the history of the Crusades from the 11th century through the 13th century.
Other noteworthy galleries include the Salle de 1792, which shows the history of the French Revolution through a series of paintings, and the Salles de l'Empire, which commemorate the achievements of Napoléon I.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Château de Versailles
- 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.
- During High Season: In August, it is advised to visit the Grands Appartements at 9pm or after 4:30pm to avoid the crowds.
- Timing: Plan to spend two hours inside the château. If also visiting the King's Private Apartment, note that the guided tour takes about one hour and 30 minutes. Allow two hours in the gardens and another two hours to explore the Trianon palaces and the Hamlet (the walk to this area takes about 30 minutes from the château).
- Skip the Lines: To skip ahead of the ticket line, buy tickets online in advance. Simply proceed to Entrance A by providing the printout of your prepaid ticket.
- Tickets: Château de Versailles offers various ticket options: The "Palace ticket" includes entry to the Hall of Mirrors, Grand Appartement du Roi, and Grand Appartement de la Reine. The "Trianon ticket" includes entry to the Grand Trianon located in the gardens. The "Passport ticket" option allows entrance to the sights included in both the "Palace ticket" and "Trianon ticket".
- Audio-Guide: The Palace ticket includes an audio-guide tour (in 11 languages) included in the price of the ticket.
- Guided tours: To gain access to the King's Private Apartment, the Opera House or the Royal Chapel, visitors must take a guided tour. There are also guided tours of the Petit Trianon and the Hamlet of Marie-Antoinette. Guided tours are in French only.
- Paris Museum Pass: The Château de Versailles is included in the Paris Museum Pass, an economical pass which offers entry to more than 60 listed museums and monuments during a two-day or four-day period.
- Public Gardens: The grounds of the château, including the gardens and the 800-hectare domaine of the estate, are open to the public; there is no admission fee.
- Garden Shows: During summertime there are two fountain shows: Musical Fountains, set to the rhythm of classical music (Saturdays and Sundays from early June through November 1st) and Night Fountains featuring colorful lighting, special visual effects, and fireworks (evenings from the end of June through mid-September).
- Dining at Versailles: Within the premises of the Château de Versailles are several dining options, including the Grand Café d'Orléans cafeteria and restaurant, and the renowned Angelina salon de thé (tea room), pâtisserie (pastry shop), and restaurant.
- Château de Versailles, Place d'Armes - 78000 Versailles
- Official site: http://en.Châteauversailles.fr/homepage