If you happen to stumble into Versailles, chances are, you’ll even forget that there’re other things to do IN Versailles. You might even forget that Versailles is in fact, an entire city. The little town must be quite used to being looked over I assume, housing one of the most famous Palaces in the world, with such extravagant splendour, such enormous, flawlessly planned and created gardens AND the largest sculpture museum in the world. So what are the best things to do at Versailles France?
It should be noted however that Versailles has much to offer beyond it’s Palace. It is also home to one of the most renowned wines in the worlds, the Château de Versailles, and the birth place of famous bands such as Daft Punk, Air and Phoenix, great examples of the popular “French Touch” music.
So if you do find some time in a day at Versailles, in the midst of admiring the meticulous details of the Palace, we suggest you also take a walk around town, keep an eye out for these things to do in Versailles France, in order to really throw yourself in to the French way of life for a while.
What to do in Versailles - The town of Versailles
It is not surprising that this charming little town exudes elegance and royal demeanour, being host to a royal empire and everything that comes with it.
The town, interlaced with little alleys and avenues, exhibits a number of small shops, ranging from the ancient markets to smaller boutiques. Unlike Paris, you may not find the biggest names in the fashion world, but definitely come across unique, one piece items.
The gracefulness of Versailles even spills out to the food they eat. Being in the countryside means that locals are able to savour fresh, locally sourced produce and the food you find at these markets, which date back to the 17th century, will have come straight from the farm, so visiting one is well worth it. The market of Notre-dame may be the most famous of all, but if you want only organic produce, head over to the Jussieu-Montreuil market.
Also watch out for the king’s vegetable farm around Versailles. It still provides fruit and vegetables and is an area which is often overlooked.
The Academy of Equestrian Arts
Out of the things to do in Versailles, this may be the most unique. It doesn’t seem surprising that Versailles would have one of the most prestigious Equestrian academies, being close to the Palace and all, the king would have needed a place to train his horsemen and his royal horses at after all.
It is said that the academy, “The Grande Écurie” stables were completed in 1682 and it is where the king kept his hunting horses.
If you visit the stables on Saturdays and you might even be greeted with a show of equestrianism, fencing and dance, which apparently all students are trained for in order to improve their horse-handling and riding skills. The public is welcome to witness their training on Sundays.
What to do in Versailles - Notre Dame de Versailles
This majestic church amidst the city of Versailles is spectacular example of neo-classical architecture, from the detailed floor to vaulted ceilings. Even though small in size, it holds great historical importance, having served as a place of worship since 1686. This is also where all marriages, births and deaths of the French royal family were registered till very recently and exhibits sculptures by Pierre Mazzeline and Noël Jouvenet. It can be called a historic exhibit in itself.
To the Versailles Palace
The entire city revolves around it, from the architecture to the lifestyle of the people, a building gone through so many historical moments that I believe none of us can quite fathom the magnanimity of it’s importance. We are I believe, almost blinded by the extravagant, colossal, sheer beauty of it. So simple in so many ways, like landscaping using the simple orange tree as the protagonist, but even that simplicity done with such precision and symmetry to leave one awe struck.
King Louis XIII and the ones who succeed him, along with consultants like architect Louis Le Vau, landscaper André Le Nôtre and painter Charles Le Brun (creator of those indescribable ceilings) are responsible for all the interiors. Each king began embellishing the palace till the French revolution when the king was forced to move to Paris. Funnily, this Palace was actually meant to be a countryside retreat, so to speak, with the Palace in Paris holding much more importance in both status and luxury. It has been a museum showcasing the history of France since 1837 , with each room dedicated to housing painting, sculptures and ornaments expressing and exhibiting the history of France. The palace has now been brought to its original glory of the times of the Ancien Régime.
With the first steps into the premises, you will be entering an 17th – 18th century painting. This is the aura that lingers around Versailles.
To start off, we should mention that the palace in itself, is a single structure. Around Versailless, spread across 2000 acres, are many parts of it, having their own stories and importance.
The Chambers and Hall of Mirrors
As you enter, massive corridors adorned in crystal chandeliers and golden statues, the Royal Courtyard and the Marble Courtyard, lead you to the area which was dedicated to the monarch and their family’s living. All this of course, has to be breathed in, a step at a time. Each passing step taking you to passed an intricately painted ceiling, delicate gold statues and much more detail that the eye can hold.
The apartments comprise of the King’s Grand Apartment, used by King Louis XIV, extravagant and opulent in all aspects, with bed posts nearly reaching the ceiling. Louis XV, his successor on the other hand had preferred the more solemn King’s Private Apartment. Each king designed these to suit their own needs, libraries to laboratories were added to suit each of their needs to be enjoyed in private.
The kings also had mistresses. Who held enough importance to be given chambers of their own. These, along with the children’s rooms and the queen’s apartments were also kept in this same area, the queen’s being parallel and symmetric to the king’s. Each of these rooms decked with immeasurable detail, from the furniture to the curtains, all designed to exude grandeur.
In between the king’s and queen’s chambers is one of the most important rooms in the palace, the Hall of Mirrors. This is where Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. 17 great arched windows throw light on to 17 identical mirrors placed right across them, making it seem like every corner of the room emanates light.
Hotels in Versailles
- Experience World-class Service at Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace
- Stay on a stone’s throw from the palace with Novotel Château de Versailles
- Hôtel du Jeu de Paume if you are looking for French Charm
- Stay close to the train station with Hôtel Versailles Chantiers
- Looking for luxury? Book a room at Le Louis Versailles Château – MGallery
What to do in Versailles - the Royal Chapel and Royal Opera
The splendour of the Palace spills to the rest of the areas such as the Royal Chapel, a baroque style 2 level chapel with roman columns where you can marvel at the Cliquot organ above the altar. This is where the wedding between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette took place. Look out for the painted ceilings and flushed marble floors.
The Royal Opera, a theatrical piece of art which took nearly a century to complete, built entirely of wood, carved and then painted to look like stone, this also being the reason for it’s excellent sounds. The design of this opera house was the first of its kind and has been replicated all over France till the end of the reign of Louis XVI.
One should not forget the Gallery of the Great Battles, one of the latest additions housed in the largest room in the palace, it is a hall dedicated to paintings showcasing France’s greatest victories over a good 15 centuries.
around Versailles and into the gardens
Kings and queens needed privacy and getaways too, except that their hideouts were built using elements like pink marble with their own set of gardens. This would be the “Le Grand Trionon”- hideout to Louis XIV. It is said that this was built specially for him to spend time with his mistress. Some decades later came the “Petit Trionon” located in the same gardens, Marie Antoinette’s private hideaway. This is built as more of a small village really, with 12 little cottages, farm buildings, a functioning dairy farm, a mill with a waterwheel, and a barn. The fairytale tower reminds people of how young the little queen was, maybe innocent and maybe spoilt, since she couldn’t go to the village, she brought the village to her. This would be an ideal visit near Versailles for the kids.
We finally arrive to the splendid gardens. You’ll be lured into the pathway designed to lead you out to the Grand Canal, however, there’re many littler gardens hidden well before, also housing some of those famous sculptures found in the palace. The canal was used to host boating exhibitions and races and even housed gondolas sent over from Venice. During the winter, this became an arena for ice-skating and sledging. To savour 30mins in the shoes of the king and see the Palace from a different perspective, you can hire a paddle boat and ride along the canal.
From an enormous 3 acre orange garden, designed to look like a geometric pattern to be admired from the Palace, which houses no less than a whopping 1055 orange, lemon and pomegranate trees, to the Orangery, specifically built to shelter the trees during winter, and in such a way as to avoid the temperature dropping below 5 degrees even in the winter, Versailles will ensure the air is knocked out of you for at least a few hours. There is always more than meets the eye, and always one more detail and one more accent to catch.