The palace of Versailles was the residence of the King and the seat of the French government for over a hundred years. This magnificent palace offers visitors a chance to walk in the footsteps of royalty and stroll through French history.
In this article, I share the history, architecture, and planning of a perfect day trip from Paris to the Palace of Versailles.
History of Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles) is located about 20 km west of Paris. It’s a symbol of the power of the French feudal dynasty and the residence of the French royal family under Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.
The humble beginning
Versailles wasn’t built in a day. Instead, the palace sprang from a surprisingly humble beginning.
It began in 1629 when King Louis XIII had a hunting lodge built. It was replaced sometime later by a stone and brick chateau.
The dilapidated hunting lodge and the tiny hamlet around it were far in the countryside, 12 miles from Paris. Versailles was in the middle of nowhere.
How the palace was built
Louis XIV inherited the chateau. Once he became a king, the massive expansion began.
In 1666, the sovereign embarked on significant building work. Over 50 years, Louis XIV extended and transformed what became the most famous European chateau – the Palace Versailles.
From a sleeping cozy of 15 guests, this first phase of construction provided rooms at Versailles for 600 of Louis’s closest friends.
Louis XIV then moved his government and court to Versailles. In 1684, Jules Hardouin-Mansart replaced the terrace overlooking the grounds with the Hall of Mirror (Galerie des Glaces), which became the court’s main reception room.
Mansart extended the palace to accommodate the royal family, the court, and all the government departments. He built the Grande Ecurie, Petite Ecurie, Alles des Ministres and Grand Commun. There were close to 10,000 servants, the kitchen, and the stable staff bustling in the palace.
At the end of his reign, Louis XIV moved his bed-chamber to the center of the palace (Chambre Du Roi). This room was the hub of the king’s daily ceremonial routine.
In 1770, Louis XV built the Opera House. Architect Gabrielle modernized the facades closest to the town (Pavillion Gabriel) in 1774.
The French revolution and the future of the Palace
In 1789, the French Revolution forced the Royal family to leave Versailles for Paris. The future of the Palace looked uncertain.
After the French Revolution of 1789, King Louis XVI had to leave Versailles to return to Paris. Since then, this place is no longer the royal residence.
In 1837, the Palace of Versailles became a museum of French history by order of King Louis-Philippe, who ascended the throne in 1830.
More about Louis XIV
This palace was all about Louis XIV – the ultimate divine monarch. He spent about half of France’s entire annual GNP to turn his dad’s hunting lodge into a palace suitable for European King.
The palace of Versailles is the greatest legacy of the Sun King – Louis XIV.
Louis XIV wanted to make Versailles the most beautiful palace in the world – a symbol of his mighty power and the official residence of the Kingdom.
During 72 years on the throne during his reign, he turned France from a country wracked by civil war, his Dukes and Nobles constantly at each other’s throat into the most glorious and powerful state in Europe. And he came up with a way of running a Royal court that never been beaten. The key to his success is the Palace of Versailles.
Never before had a king and his entire court lived together in a single palace. This was a new type of building for the new type of ruler.
Around the 1700s, Versailles was the cultural heartbeat of Europe. The classical themes throughout the palace underline the divine right of France’s kings and queens to rule without limit.
Here, Louis is shown with his entire royal family. All are depicted as gods on earth, ordained to rule without question.
Things to see in Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is a classic architectural masterpiece with symmetry, multi-column corridors, and artworks. It carries the quintessence of French art of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Each lavish room has its own theme, and every inch is sumptuously decorated.
The current Versailles castle still retains almost the current state of the court of King Louis XIV. With an area of about 800 hectares, the castle campus has the following main items.
The royal gate
During the French Revolution, the royal gate was disappeared. Now, it stands in the palace courtyard restoring its original double enclosure.
Replicas of the 80-meter steel gate decorated with 100,000 gold leaves were unveiled after 2-year of work to recreate the Baroque style piece by Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
You can also see the two famous sculptures on the gate: Victory over the Empire by Gaspard Marsy and Victory over Spain by François Girardon.
In 1710, French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the Royal Chapel (Chapelle Royale) on the same scale as the palace, and it took nearly 11 years. It is consecrated to St. Louis – Louis IX of France, the French monarchies Crusader King.
The chapel’s architecture is simultaneously gothic and baroque. Its floorplan loftiness reaches over 25 meters high. Stained glass, pointed roof, and gargoyles all hark back to medieval cathedrals.
The interior of the chapel is decorated with white marble and colorful murals. Also, the view from the second floor is magnificent. If you come to Versailles, do not miss the church and the beautiful frescoes of heaven.
Galerie des Glaces
Designed by architect Mansart, the Hall of Mirror was the highlight of the palace. Here, large banquets were held, and the king met with high-ranking officials.
In the seventeenth-century Baroque style, the hall is 76 meters long, 13 meters high, and 10.5 meters wide, with 17 large floor-to-ceiling windows on one side facing the garden.
On the other side, there are 17 large surfaces with more than 400 mirrors. Symmetrical layout. There are 34 giant windows in total.
Mirrors were a great luxury at the time, and this long hall was astounding. Imagine this place lit by the flame of thousands of candles fill with elegant guests dance in the orchestra. From the palace, guests would gaze awestruck at Louis’s amazing garden.
This is Louis’s ceremonial bedroom. His daily life was a series of symbolic rituals.
Taking part in Louis’s daily routines was a strictly controlled business. Only a chosen elite could share his intimate moments. The most important ceremony was the King’s levy – his rising in the morning.
At 8 o’clock, the curtain of the bed would draw back to reveal the king. While he’d sleep elsewhere, right here, the sun king would rise and set with the sun each day.
His valet would greet him. Then his physician would check him over, and then came the King’s nurse, who he had since a child to give him his good morning kiss. Then came the privileged few who had a right to attend the grand entree. These highborn normal then helped the king into his shirt.
Everything he did was the display of wealth, authority, harmony, and modesty.
The Venus Room
This room is a reminder that love ruled at Versailles. In this room, you can see Venus is depicted on the ceiling as the goddess of love, associated with the planet in Ancient Greece.
The Apollo Room
This room was used as a throne room from 1682 onwards. Like in other rooms, you can find the symbol of the sun here. The celling was dedicated to the Sun King, the arts, and peace.
The Mercury Room
The Mercury Room was originally the royal bedchamber.
The war room
This room reminds Louis that Louis had Europe’s leading army and his reign came with lots of expensive wars. Here, you can see the paintings of Louis bestowing an olive branch on Europe as his queen cradling their baby twin daughters.
The peace room
In the Peace room, peace was granted to Germany, Holland, and Spain as cupid play with discarded weapons and swords are pounded into violins.
King Louis XIV commissioned the gardens in 1661 and considered this to be as important as the palace. The Garden of Versailles was designed by André Le Nôtre, a famous landscape master.
The construction and renovation of the gardens lasted for many years. The items here include fountains, small gardens, sculptures, paths, etc. All items are designed and arranged harmoniously and reasonably.
At the rear of the garden is the Grand Canal, where during the Louis XIV period, sailboats were set up in the canal to conduct sea battles, and gondolas and sailboats were arranged to simulate the landscape of the Venice canal.
Nowadays people can also enjoy the scenery by boating on the canal for 13 euros/half-hour and 17 euros/hour.
Built in 1687 by Louis XIV, the interior decoration is relatively simple. In the days of Louis XIV, the king sometimes tired of the luxurious Versailles and would live here too. From 1805 to 1815, Napoleon used to live here.
How to get from Paris to Versailles?
The RER C line links central Paris with the Versailles Rive Gauche station—five minutes from the palace on foot. Trains also run from Paris Montparnasse to Versailles Chantiers and from Paris Saint Lazare to Versailles Rive-Droite—each a 10-minute walk from the palace. The RATP bus 171 runs from Pont de Sèvres metro station to Versailles.
You can enter through the forecourt with the minister’s wings on either side and by an iron gateway.
Tips for visiting the palace
The palace of Versailles is filled with many visitors throughout the year. To avoid the crowd and enjoy the best of the court, here are some tips.
Avoid the weekend
Come late in the day
Use a museum pass to skip the ticket line
Also, on your way to Versailles, don’t forget to stop by the Versailles market and sample some delicacies.
Versailles ticket prices
It’s free for visitors under 18 years old (or under 26 years old if you are a European resident).
Tickets are sold online or purchased directly at the ticket counter (recommended to buy tickets in advance).
Best time to visit Versailles
Summer and spring are the best times to visit when the natural landscape is gorgeous. However, weekends, French independence holidays are usually more crowded.
Palace of Versailles
Open daily, except Monday and December 25, January 1.
Opening time: 9:00am-5:30pm
Last pick-up time: 5 pm
The ticket office closes at 4:50 pm
Open every day except Monday, December 25, and January 1.
Opening hours: 12:00pm – 5.30pm
Last pick-up time: 5 pm
The ticket office closes at 4:50 pm
Parks & Gardens
From 8 am to 6 pm, open daily closed in bad weather (snow, strong wind).
What to pack for Versailles
The palace is enormous, so you should wear comfortable footwear. Also, bring water and snacks on your trip.