Versailles, just 12 miles from Paris is home to the most famous castle in the world. But there’s more to this fabulous town than the chateau and most visitors miss out.
Here are our top 10 things to do in Versailles…
Palace of Versailles
Of course you can’t go to Versailles and not see the world famous chateau created by King Louis XIV after he visited the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte and was inspired by (and jealous of) it’s beauty. It is absolutely magnificent and is one of the most visited sites in France.
Extravagant, glitzy and glamorous, the rooms look just as they did on the fateful morning of October 6, 1789 when a mob arrived to drag the King and Queen to Paris.
The Hall of Mirrors, the Queen’s Hamlet, the Trianons, wonderful furnishings, exquisite tapestries and paintings – it is even better in real life than you could possibly imagine. More on the Chateau of Versailles…
However, there’s Loads more to see and do in the town of Versailles.
Wander the streets of the town
The town of Versailles is well worth your time. Frankly, if it were anywhere else, visitors would love it for its splendid houses and grand buildings even without the Chateau. But, overshadowed by the monumental castle, it’s easy to miss the fact that there is history everywhere and lots to see and do. Pop into the Lambinet museum which is located in a grand mansion built in 1751. It has a great exhibition of paintings and decorative arts objects from clocks to snuff boxes. And there’s a collection dedicated to the French Revolution. Many of the rooms retain their original fittings and the museum is worth visiting for that reason alone (54, rue du Boulevard de la Reine).
While you’re in Versailles, whatever you do, don’t miss the fantastic Versailles market. How it hasn’t been voted top market in France is beyond me. Marché Notre Dame was created in the early 1600s and it’s the second largest food market in France. Open every day except Monday, it’s brimming with shoppers. The smell of spices, oranges, cooked chickens and fantastic street food is superb. Go through the historic pavilions which serve as indoor markets and when you come out on the other side, you’ll discover little squares lined with cafés full of locals.
Considered a French national monument, Versailles Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Versailles. The architect was Jacques Hardouin-Mansart de Sagonne (1711-1778). He was the grandson of the famous architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who amongst much else, designed the Petit Trianon. It looms majestically over a large square, and if you’re lucky enough to be there when the bells are rung, it’s a moment you’ll remember.
The Chateau gardens
The Gardens of Versailles cover 800 hectares of land consisting of formal gardens, manicured lawns and grand fountains. In summer months, water shows are performed in the evening (you’ll need to book tickets). You can visit the gardens for free and it’s very popular with locals who love to have a picnic here or take boat rides on the famous canal.
The Gallery of Coaches
Just across the street from the palace in the former royal stables is now the Gallery of Coaches. You’ll find a collection composed of grand ceremonial Berlin Coaches for special occasions. It includes the coach used for the marriage of Napoléon I and the baptism of the Duke of Bordeaux. There’s also the coach used for the coronation of Charles X and for the funeral of Louis XVIII. The decadent and highly ornamental vehicles were made by hand using the best sculptors, embroiderers, cabinetmakers, and metal workers of the time. They really are quite extraordinary. The Gallery of Coaches: 1 Avenue Rockefeller, 78000
The King’s Vegetable Garden
A short walk from the Palace of Versailles you’ll find the “King’s Vegetable Garden” – the Potager du Roi. The stunning walled garden was built between 1678 and 1683 by French gardening genius Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie, at the request of Louis XIV. Not only gardeners, but anyone who loves beautiful gardens, will love its beautiful paths, raised beds, statues and fabulous planting. Read more about The Potager du Roi here.
Enjoy an equestrian show
In the 1600’s, “Horse Ballets” at the court of Louis XIV were all the rage. The king always appeared dressed as the sun, furthering his image as the center of the French universe and most of the nobles at court were expected to participate. In the spirit of the past, an equestrian academy resides in the Grand Écuries of the Chateau de Versailles. They were originally built in 1679 and finished in 1683. These huge stables, as well as smaller ones known as the Petites Écurie were created to house the Sun King’s 600 horses. Now there are around 35 horses from Lusitania, Portugal and Argentina living here. Each weekend they perform in a beautiful 17th century hall decorated with Murano mirrors putting on a sublime show. Read our review here
Party at the Castle
It might surprise you to know that every year, the chateau hosts a ball that’s open to the public. You need to book tickets well in advance, and dress in appropriate baroque costumes. Masks are de rigeur. Music and dancing until dawn! Channel your inner Cinderella or Prince Charming and enjoy the palace just as the royals did with a party night to remember.
And, did you know that Versailles has a private opera house? King Louis XV commissioned the construction of his own opera house in 1768 by his architect in residence Ange Jacques Gabriel. The opera house was inaugurated in 1770 for the marriage of the Dauphin (soon to be King Louis XVI) and his bride the Archduchess Marie Antoinette. The majestic, small gem of only 702 seats is open for public performances.