The palace of Versailles
Though it is located in the suburbs, no trip to Paris is complete without taking a day trip out to Versailles. The opulent, extravagant palace of Louis XIV or “The Sun King” had fairly modest beginnings as a hunting lodge, until the King felt it would better suit his needs as a palace. Louis XIV was determined to build a palace large enough to house the entire court – a body of people the size of a small city – which resulted in Versailles monstrous size.
The earlier that you can get to the palace, the better. As the day progresses the lines at Versailles grow longer and the crowds walking through the hallways larger. Try to arrive shortly after the palace opens if you can. When approaching the palace Versailles can be seen from miles away. The entrance to the palace was designed to allow full viewing as you walk across the courtyard, to better take in the scope of the building. When entering, take note of the golden gates.
Louis XIV greatly admired the ancient Greeks and Romans, which ultimately led to the construction of Versailles in the classical style. As you walk through the rooms, note the mythological references imbedded in the décor, as well as the extensive homage that Louis XIV dedicated to himself – including the many suns. When strolling through the numerous bedrooms, chambers of state and court halls, don’t forget to look up. Each of the ceilings is a work of art, often gilded and frescoed.
Beyond being a tribute to the King, Versailles was built to serve as an impressive point from which to arbitrate state functions. As such, when you walk through the palace you will see several rooms that were built to influence. One such example is the famous hall of mirrors. At the time of the construction of the hall, mirrors were an extremely rare and expensive commodity. To have a room that was paneled with them showed the wealth and power of the French crown.
After walking around the palace, make your way out to the grounds. One of the very best features of Versailles is the extensive network of gardens and fountains behind the palace. In the summer, the grounds are alive with a riot of activity. You can rent bikes and cycle around the property or boat on the lake. Bring a picnic lunch or stop and get ice cream from one of the stands. You will also find Marie Antoinette’s personal estate, which she used as an escape from the pressures of her queenly duties.
Need to know
Getting there: Take the C5 RER line to Versailles-Rive Gauche. From there, Versailles is a short walk.
Hours: The palace is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am – 5:30pm
Travel Tip: If you plan on visiting more then the palace, make sure that the ticket you purchase will give you access to everywhere that you want to go. Buy your tickets online to save time when you get to the palace.
Image via Flickr/david.nikonvscanon