Visiting Versailles | How to Plan a Day Trip to the Palace & Gardens
On my first visit to Versailles, I got hopelessly lost in the acres of 'countryside' near Marie Antoinette's Hamlet. It was raining and, after a lot of wandering, we eventually stumbled upon the English Garden of the Petit Trianon and found our way back to the road. Versailles is not such a terrible place to wander, but it is a terrible place to lose time when you only have a day to spend.
For our return visit last fall, I determined to be prepared. I made a map of all the spots I wanted to see and researched the best days to go along with plenty of other tips. This time we were lucky enough to visit on a perfectly sunny autumn day, and didn't get lost once. Below, I'm sharing what I learned and how you can plan your own day trip to Versailles.
Planning Your Visit
Visit on Wednesday or Thursday. It can feel like a game of Tetris when choosing a day to visit Versailles. On Mondays, the buildings are closed, so you can only tour the gardens. Tuesdays, when many of Paris' major attractions are closed, are by far the busiest days. On Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and holidays through the high season, an extra ticket is required to visit the gardens. Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually best - fewer people, no garden fee - but check the calendar to make sure a special event isn't planned.
Plan to arrive early. Try to arrive when the palace opens at 9am to beat the 10am tour groups. Buying tickets in advance will save some time, but not even the Paris Museum Pass lets you skip the long security line. A ticket with timed entry allows you into a priority line as long as you're there on time.
Don't schedule anything else. It's hard to overstate how vast and opulent Versailles really is - photos do not do it justice. Six hours should be enough to explore the palace and the gardens, but don't rush yourself and certainly don't schedule anything for the evening.
Be prepared. Between the sheer size of Versailles and the millions of visitors per year, being prepared for the day is sure to save you a lot of frustration. Get an early start and eat a filling breakfast. Pack your bag with water, snacks, and maybe a picnic lunch. Save the map at the bottom of this post to your phone, or download the palace's official app. If you're catching the RER C train to Versailles, be sure to buy round-trip tickets to avoid the long return-ticket lines - or take the 30-minute taxi ride from central Paris instead.
A Day at Versailles
It's easy to know which way go when you arrive in Versailles; just follow the signs and other visitors up to the gilded gates. The experience truly begins once you're through security and making your way through the many ornate rooms of the palace. Each space is so extravagant, it's no surprise that this place incited a revolution. The famous Hall of Mirrors is incredible to see, but always crowded with everyone reaching their phones up into the air - and you'll probably do the same for a moment. I personally enjoy the side rooms and royal apartments most, finding a glimpse of a gilded hallway or a view over the black-and-white marble courtyard.
You'll notice things getting busier around lunch, which is the perfect time to head out into the gardens. There's a patch of grass along the Grand Canal that's a great spot to roll out a turkish pestemal towel for a picnic with wonderful views. Nearby, the restaurant La Flottille has a lovely terrace next to the water. You can also escape to the hidden courtyard of La Petit Venise, or dine inside the palace at Angelina.
After lunch, spend the rest of your visit exploring the gardens, the Trianon Palaces, and Marie Antoinette's Hamlet. It's about 30 minutes by foot out to the Grand Trianon, but you can rent a bicycle, a golf cart, or catch the Petit Train if you'd rather not walk. Tour the refined Grand Trianon Palace and take in the wonderful views outside. Take your time walking through the gardens on your way over to the Petit Trianon - these gardens and their tiny buildings are my favorite part of Versailles.
The Petit Trianon was Marie Antoinette's estate, and the interior is just as beautiful as the gardens. Between this little palace and the Queen's Hamlet you'll find an English garden dotted with the beautiful Belvédère building and the Temple of Love. End the day in the quiet thatched-roof village where the young queen would famously escape to pretend a simpler life for herself, complete with farm animals and pumpkins.
If you really want to avoid the crowds, plan your day in reverse:
Spend the morning out in the gardens, explore the Queen's Hamlet, then the Trianon Palaces as soon as they open at noon. Tour the Palace of Versailles at the end of your visit when the crowds are fading.
what to wear:
'star' the map below to access it from google maps on your phone.